Triumvir: Chapter Twenty-Six

Fiction By Clare Marie // 7/28/2010

 

            “Where’s Tortei? I need him! Ropsy, where’s Tortei?”
            Bettle was running frantically about the throne room, followed closely by the ever-present Royal Bodyguard. He gestured wildly at his brother who had just then entered.
            “I beg your pardon?” said Ropsy mildly, glancing up from some dull, important paperwork he was studying. (He was, after all, the Royal Secretary, and often studied such dull, important paperwork.)
            “Tortei!” repeated Bettle, hopping from one foot to the other. “I need the Master Carver!”
            “Why do you need him, Bettle?” asked Ropsy, calmly striding over to a side table and stacking the papers together.
            “Why? My gold tooth chipped, and I need him to fix it! That’s why!”
            Ropsy turned and stared at the little king. “You are unlike yourself, my brother. You are not usually this agitated about minor troubles such as a chipped gold tooth. What is wrong?”
            Bettle’s shoulders sagged, and he slumped onto his throne. “I guess I’m just worried, that’s all,” he said. His kindly face looked sad and old. “About Tortei, about the twins – about everything!” 
            Ropsy shooed the Royal Bodyguard away – who was looking thoroughly awkward and embarrassed, not knowing what to do – and came and squeezed into the throne next to Bettle. (Not only was Bettle small enough to enable Ropsy to squeeze, but the throne was accidentally made bigger than it should have been – about twice its intended size. There is a story behind this, but there is no time to tell it here.)
            “What exactly are you worried about?” asked Ropsy gently, putting his arm about Bettle’s shoulders. 
            “For starters,” said Bettle, “Asani never sent back a message, after I sent her one. You see, she had sent one of her messenger pigeons, and it arrived just after the twins left. I sent back a message with it, and told her in the message that her ‘Ficum’ had arrived safe and sound, along with Elinor. I expected an answer from her, and soon; but none has arrived yet. I’m worried something bad is happening in their part of the land. No bird of hers has ever failed to bring a message.”
            “Well, things happen,” said Ropsy soothingly. “There are such things as cats, you know. What else?”
            “Ropsy, this is hardly time to jest,” admonished Bettle, a little miserably; though a smile was beginning to appear at the corners of his mouth, and his nose was beginning to twitch, as it always did when his spirits uplifted. 
            “And this coming from you!” laughed Ropsy. “You, who are the king of jesters! Since when has it ever not been the time to jest? You said that to me, once.”
            Bettle gave a lazy little wave of his hand. “Ah, that was when I was young and foolish.” His eyes crackled with amusement.
            “Rather, that was only about a week ago,” commented Ropsy dryly. “What a growth spurt.”
            Bettle chortled and hopped up and down on his seat. “Whippetysnicket! I feel better already! You’re a marvel, Ropsy.”
            “And you’re a little mad. A bit tipsy, right up here.” Ropsy tapped his own head with an affectionate smile. “But since you’re so cheerful now, perhaps it will be easier telling me what else is bothering you?”
            “Was,” corrected Bettle. “I feel careless at the moment. But yes, to the point. Tortei. Has he seemed a bit off to you?”
            “In what way?”
            “Not physically – mentally. He seems a bit down in the gills, don’t you think?”
            “Well, his mother just died recently.”
            “It wasn’t that recently. It’s been some weeks now. But you’re probably right – he must still be in mourning.”
            “Speaking of Tortei, shall I have the Royal Bodyguard summon him so he can mend your tooth?”           
            Bettle reached up a stubby finger and probed his mouth. “Mmph, yesh, shummon him – ouch! – right away. Thish hurtsh.”
            “It probably wouldn’t hurt so much if you weren’t poking it with your finger. Bodyguard!” The Royal Bodyguard appeared promptly, and Ropsy ordered him to find the Master Carver and return with him immediately. 
            “Now,” continued Ropsy, after the Bodyguard had disappeared, “the twins.”
            Bettle removed his finger. “What about?”
            Ropsy watched him with faint humor. “You said you were worried about them.”
            Bettle’s face suddenly fell and he scrunched his fingers together. “Oh right. My tooth was bothering me so, I forgot. It’s just that – well – I became very attached to them, Ropsy, while they were here. I feel almost like an overprotective mother hen with her chicks. I can’t help myself wishing the twins were here, under my eye, so I could keep watch over them. I’m constantly afraid that something bad will happen to them while they’re gone from my sight. They’re very important, you know.”
            “Yes,” mused Rospy, stroking his black beard. “They may be our only chance of overthrowing Glayde.”
            “But that set aside, I miss the two bumpkins. I feel so afraid for them. Is this what mothers feel like? No wonder our mother was so frazzled. She was probably worried about us more than we ever realized.”
            “Was Mother frazzled? I never noticed.”
            “That’s because you were more independent. I spent more time on my mother’s knee than you did. I was close enough to see her worry lines.”
            “I thought Mother was beautiful.”    
            “Well, she was – in a hassled, anxious-motherly way.” 
            Ropsy tried to look serious as the next thought came to him, but couldn’t suppress a gentle grin. “Why is it that only mothers look beautiful in a hassled, anxious-motherly way?”
            Bettle rubbed his nose. “Exactly! Why can’t I look beautiful when I’m worried, in a hassled, anxious-kingly way?”
            Ropsy stared. The next moment, he was snorting with laughter.
            Attempting to act indignant, Bettle failed miserably, breaking out in breathless giggling fits. “Really – I don’t see what’s so – haha – gasp – funny!”
            A knock sounded on the throne room.
            “Ahaha – ahem – who is it?” wheezed Bettle, recovering himself.
            “The Royal Bodyguard, my lord!”
            “Oh, well, come in!”
            The Royal Bodyguard hurried in breathlessly. “I can’t find him, my lord!”
            Both dwarves sobered. Bettle glanced at Ropsy. “What do you mean?”
            “I first checked his rooms, and his father’s, as well as his workshop. Then I asked around. Chot said he saw Tortei leave on the Southern road, with a pack.”
            “Why didn’t he stop him?” cried Bettle, springing off the throne and twisting his beard. 
            “He tried calling to him, my lord, but Tortei wouldn’t listen. The Gatekeeper was afraid he had mistaken Tortei’s motive and had offended him, so he didn’t send out any of the young dwarves to stop Tortei.”
            Ropsy came down off the throne and patted his brother’s shoulder. Bettle looked up, saddened.
            “What should I do, Ropsy?” he asked.
            “First things first,” Ropsy answered calmingly. “Don’t worry. We’ll send out some of our fastest runners to catch up with Tortei.” He nodded to the Royal Bodyguard, signaling for him to go. The Bodyguard obeyed. Ropsy turned back to Bettle. “Tortei’s a stout dwarf. He can easily take care of himself. Don’t worry about him.” He held on to Bettle’s shoulder for a moment.
            “There’s only one thing you need to worry about,” Ropsy continued. A smile lifted the corners of his mouth.
            Bettle looked wearied. “And that is?”
            Ropsy gazed at his brother seriously. “Who’s going to fix your gold tooth?”
 
--
 
            The sun was moving hesitantly towards the horizon when the Vulture General ordered his men to halt. With a word, he sent the troops scurrying about, setting up tents, preparing cooking fires. His tent was hurriedly pitched first. The material was colored a red so deep it was almost black, and cushions and fur rugs were scattered about in its perimeter for the General’s comfort. A rabbit-like servant held the General’s horse as he dismounted, and pattered fearfully away to find something for the General to eat.   
            The Vulture General swept into his tent, unbuckling his stiff gauntlets and tossing them aside. He threw himself down on a padded bed, kicking off his boots as he did so. Then, slowly, he began removing his plates of armor, tumbling them in a heap at the foot of his bed. All but his helmet had been removed when the servant returned with a tray of food. He set the tray down on a table and bowed nervously to the Vulture.
            “Is there anything else you wish, my lord?”
            The Vulture General scarcely glanced his way as he flicked his hand dismissively.
            “Get lost,” he ordered. Somehow the silky tone of his voice didn’t coincide with his rudeness.
            The servant bowed shakily and galloped out of the tent. His master, meanwhile, stood up and took off his helmet. A stern face emerged, handsome in a cruel sort of way. Dark eyes flashed under a thunderous brow, and a hard jaw supported a mouth uplifted in a perpetual sneer. Long black hair, tied back, was normally tucked under his armor, but now it hung limply on his back.
            He stretched, cracked his knuckles, and sat down at the table. He spotted a voluminous leg of meat and pounced upon it, ripping off pieces hungrily with his teeth.
            There was a slight commotion outside the tent, and the rabbit servant poked his head in. “My lord?”
            The Vulture, still eating, looked up slightly and raised an eyebrow.
            “Uh, Lieutenant Jorxson is here to give his report, my lord.”
            The Vulture sat up and leaned back in his chair. He spat out a piece of bone. “Send him in.”
            The servant disappeared and was replaced by a stout soldier. He was rather short in stature, but compact and lithe of frame. He tossed his auburn hair out of his eyes and approached his General – if not confidently, then at least without cowering fear. He saluted, striking the top of his fist against his chest.
            The General took a last bite of meat – almost lingeringly – and wiped his face with a napkin, nodding curtly to Lieutenant Jorxson. “Bonebreaker.”
            The man thus addressed bowed smartly. “My lord General.”
            The General waved his hand. “Well, get on with it.”
            Jorxson straightened. “All the men have made camp, sir. The Eastern, Western, and Southern watchmen report no trouble.”
           “And the Northern?”
           “They caught a man, sir. He was sneaking around the camp.”
           “A spy?”
           “Not exactly, sir. He claims to have news of import. He demands to speak with you.”
           “Indeed?” The General thumbed his cutting knife. “Has he said anything else? Revealed any of his ‘news of import’?”
           “No, sir. He insists only on talking to you.”
           “Where is he now?”
           “Near my tent, under guard, sir.”      
           “Well, bring him in. Am I never going to be able to eat my dinner?” he added stormily to himself.
           Moments later, in which time the Vulture had managed to snatch a few more mouthfuls, Lieutenant Jorxson returned with two guards and a prisoner in tow. The prisoner was hooded and cloaked, walking steadily between his guards. Though his face was shadowed, he seemed but little perturbed. That is, until he was brought into the presence of the Vulture. Then a faint trembling was to be seen about his hands.
           “Wait outside the tent,” Jorxson ordered the guards, gripping the prisoner’s arm as he did so. “I can take care of him.”  The guards bowed and departed. Jorxson trudged the prisoner forward and released him in front of the Vulture’s table, taking up his position a little behind the prisoner. 
            The Vulture General fixed the prisoner with a glare. “We do not tolerate spies in our camp,” he stated in an icy monotone. “I believe a punishment is due you.”
            “My lord,” the prisoner replied somewhat faintly, “I am no spy.”
            “Who are you, then?”
            By way of answer, the prisoner held out a signet ring. The General’s black eyes shifted quickly to the ring, and back to the prisoner.
            “I see,” he said, relaxing and leaning back in his chair. Jorxson glanced at both in turn, but if he was ignorant of what was passing, he said nothing. The prisoner tucked the ring back in the folds of his cloak and seemed to gain some confidence, judging from his straight posture.
            The General steepled his fingers and contemplated the man before him. “So? What news have you to report?”
            The man held up his hand. “Not so fast, my lord. There remains the matter of my reward?”
            Jorxson, outraged, looked ready to beat the prisoner over the head for such audacity, but the General silenced him with a fierce look. 
            “Of course,” the General answered smoothly. “As I told you already, when we make our attack, my soldiers will recognize you by your ring and not harm you. Then, if our attack is successful, which depends solely on your competence, you shall receive your reward. There will be another, different type of reward if you should fail to do your duty.  Do I make myself clear?” His black eyes flickered.
            The tremble began again in the man’s hands as he nodded.
            “Good. Now – begin.”
            The prisoner cleared his throat. “Well, my lord, I have just come from Tothy’ta.”
            “The elven kingdom?”
            “Yes, my lord.”
            “Do they suspect you?”
            “Not at all, my lord.”
            “As it should be. Continue.”
            The prisoner reached again into his cloak and brought out two rolled-up scrolls of parchment. “I have here, my lord, a map of the land of Tothy’ta, as well as a plan of the castle, Sterly’ta.” He unrolled the scrolls and laid them out on the table. The General perused them as he went on. “There lies a secret entrance on the Western side of the kingdom, which only the elves know about. There is a watch of two elves there, but if you’re careful, you should be able to dispatch of them without attracting notice. The map will show you where to find the entrance and where to go from there. Few elves roam the forest near the borders of there land, so you will be well embedded in Tothy’ta before they notice you, my lord.”
            “Excellent,” the Vulture said coolly, fingering the scrolls. “You have done well. Anything else?”
            “Yes, my lord. It seems the elves are expecting guests.”
            “So?”
            “Well, my lord, these guests are humans. Two of them.”
            “Indeed?” The General raised his head and looked at the prisoner, hoisting an eyebrow.
            “Yes, my lord. A maid and a boy. Twins, from what I hear.”
            The General’s brow darkened. “How old?”
            “Fourteen or fifteen years, I believe, my lord.”
            “Where are they from?”
            “The North, my lord, is all I know. They are just coming from a stay with the dwarf king, Bettle.”
            The Vulture leaned forward, holding the prisoner with his deadly gaze. “Do you know their names?”
            “No, my lord.”
            “No?
            The prisoner trembled. “I – I shall find out their names when I return to Tothy’ta, my lord.”
            “Make sure you do.” The Vulture narrowed his eyes. “Find out as much as you can and return to me as soon as possible. For that will be the last time you shall come find me. After that, we make our move.” He sat back in his chair. “Is that all?”
            “Yes, my lord.”
            “Then leave.” The Vulture motioned to Jorxson. “Summon his guards.”
            Jorxson bowed and walked to the tent flap, calling the guards. They hurried in and took their places beside the prisoner. Then they turned him about and made to depart.
            “Wait.” The General’s voice arrested them, and they turned. His eyes glittered as he looked at the prisoner. “Remove your hood. I must know if you are the same spy I talked to last time. It wouldn’t do to have an enemy spy in our midst, would it?”
            Slowly the prisoner removed his hood. He stood fearfully, directing his gaze downwards as the General examined him.
            “Yes,” drawled the General softly. “You are the same.” He nodded to the guards. They once more turned the prisoner, and left.
            “Fool,” said the General. He picked up his dinner and again began to eat. He glanced at Jorxson. “That went rather well, don’t you think?”
            Jorxson looked puzzled. “Who was he, sir?”
            “Merely some traitor wretch, friend of the elves. Would do anything for gold.”
            “I knew we were planning on attacking Tothy’ta, sir, but I didn’t know we would use one of the enemy. Can we trust him?”
            “Oh yes, don’t worry about him. As I said, he’s a mercenary fellow. I despise those types of persons, but they’re useful.”
            “Why didn’t you let me reprimand him, sir? He had no right to demand pay.”
            “I think I handled it fairly well myself,” said the General dryly.
            “Oh, I didn’t mean that, sir,” said Jorxson, reddening.
            “Bonebreaker, you are my best soldier and you desired to do the right thing. But I figured, why bother? He’ll be dead anyway.”
            “So all that about the ring, sir, was–” 
            “– a lie, yes it was.”  The General shrugged.  “It's all merely a game, lieutenant.  A game where we are the players.  A war game.  And sometimes you have to cheat a little to win.” 

Comments

Ack! A traitor? Who, who?

Ack! A traitor? Who, who? *good grief, I sound like an owl!*

Heather | Mon, 08/02/2010

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
And now our hearts will beat in time/You say I am yours and you are mine...
Michelle Tumes, "There Goes My Love"

I'm all caught up!!!

Give us a hint - is it someone we know?? Not Raam, surely!

"There are such things as cats, you know." That was a great line, perfect for the melodrama of the dwarves. It's one of those things people in stuffy books never would think to say. :) *applause*

Anna | Tue, 10/12/2010

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

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