Polychrome – Chapter 12
“A True Mortal! That little conniving snip of a Faerie and her father have brought over a True Mortal!” The sky darkened above the Gray Castle as Queen Amanita clenched her fist and muttered a phrase in a language so dark that even Ugu winced. He could understand Amanita’s fear; as a Giantess in her origin, she was vastly more bound to Faerie than even he, for the Herkus were mostly mortal, merely using a magical supplement to gain their supernal strength.
But that was not the only thing driving her current anger. “And read this — THIS! A Prophecy of our defeat!” She whipped out a black blade and drew back her arm for a strike that would have taken the head from the armored figure cowering before her.
Ugu caught her wrist and held it effortlessly, concealing his own trepidation as Amanita’s rage transferred itself to him. “Unhand me, you second-rate sorcerer, or –”
“Peace, Queen Amanita. You allow your anger and, yes, fear, to blind you to the advantages of our position.”
Her other hand had been curling in preparation for casting a transformation — which would have revealed his own protections and possibly precipitated a final conflict that he was very loath to pursue — when his words penetrated. The icy green eyes thawed slightly and she tilted her head in curiosity; he slowly loosed his grip and watched as she sheathed the three-foot ebony blade. “Advantages, my lord? If you see any advantages to their gaining an ally who can ignore even the mightiest sorceries, I am astounded and filled with curiosity, for it seems to me that this is a disaster.”
“Indeed, it could be. But first, let us not punish our best servants for bringing us news we would rather not hear. Instead let us reward Cirrus Dawnglory for his long and perilous service.”
The bowed figure raised his head cautiously. “Thank you, your Majesty. Though I no longer have need of that name.”
“As you will; yet you took his name and identity three centuries agone, and in many ways you have become him.” Ugu had spent many years studying his people — the enslaved of Oz, the collaborators, the elemental spirits forged from his magic and Amanita’s and the souls of particular natives of the Four Countries and the City. He had gained much understanding of the thoughts and feelings behind their actions — enough that he would on occasion privately admit to himself that it was his lack of such understanding which had led to his original defeat, in an almost inevitable manner. Amanita, he suspected, was incapable of such understanding in any but the most superficial and mechanical manner. This might — he hoped — prove one of his advantages, in the end.
He applied this knowledge carefully now. “I am sure that it was not easy to return to us with all you have brought.”
The eyes that met his were wary, fearful, and he could see the shift of glance towards the expectant green-haired Queen. “H…how do you mean, your Majesty?”
“It would be a great wonder, Cirrus, if you could pass centuries at the side of a man so capable and loyal, live in a realm of such beauty, speak words of comfort and advice and friendship, and not have part of the lie become truth. Indeed, I would doubt you could have succeeded in your mission if your entire time in Iris’ realm were naught but pure deception.”
Amanita’s eyes narrowed and her hand twitched again towards her black sword, but his hand stilled her. Part of her still remembers it was I who freed her. For now.
After a moment, the false Cirrus nodded. “I… I did like him, Majesty. It… pained me to betray him in the end.”
“I know it felt like a betrayal, Cirrus. Yet you entered there under our orders, following the imperatives of our kingdom. His own Cirrus did not betray him, but died fighting to the last — a noble death.” He kept his face solemn and respectful; and, in truth, he felt respectful, even if Amanita did not. “You, then, have carried out a terrible and perilous mission for your true sovereigns, despite many temptations. Even Nimbus would understand this difference. You have done well. We will have much need of your counsel in the months ahead; go, rest. Refresh yourself. We shall send for you later.”
Clearly amazed at his good fortune, the false Cirrus — once merely one of the twisted Tempests he had forged from a Gillikin soul — rose, bowed, and departed.
Once the doors had closed and they were alone, Amanita turned a slit-eyed gaze to him. “If you ever interfere with me like that again, I will seriously consider… re-negotiating our bargain, King Ugu. Now explain to me these so-called advantages.”
He prevented himself from either an acid retort or a too-condescending smile. He was coming to realize that Amanita was more volatile and possibly even less sane than he had previously believed. I am tied to her, perhaps by destiny… and I had best be cautious until I have found a way to sever those ties. “The advantages are three, my Queen. Of primary and most overwhelming importance is that — unless our plans have gone terribly awry — not even Iris Mirabilis himself suspects that Cirrus Dawnglory has been an impostor, a creature of ours since almost the day that Oz fell. Had any suspicions of him existed, they would have acted long before now. And the attack and destruction of his patrol was complete; none survived to report back that Cirrus had turned on them, and no other Faerie were within any possible range of perception.
“Thus, what we have learned from him is our secret and ours alone.”
She nodded, slowly. “But a minor advantage unless there is much more gained from this knowledge.”
“And there is.” He smiled coldly. “We have the Prophecy — which prophesies our possible defeat, but also victory, and they do not know this. Can you not see how well this is for us?”
Whether as the isolated Mrs. Yoop or as Queen Amanita, the Yookoohoo had never been said to be stupid. She paused and considered, and her red-lipped smile was as a shard of poisoned ice. “Oh… Oh, my, yes, my King. My sincere apologies. We have here in our grasp the way to our defeat… and if we take care, we can guide our enemies to follow that course until it ends in theirs.”
“Precisely. We must take care that none recognize that we know how our end is foreseen. We must not interfere in any way that would reveal our foreknowledge. React, never act, but prepare, here, for the grand finale that will dash their hopes, shatter their belief in their protection from our powers and their futile hope that the Above shall one day rescue them.” He slowly seated himself in the Gray Throne. “And this very Prophecy also shows that — by describing how it may be used against us — the final ritual we have often discussed would, in fact, give us final and total control over all the power of Oz.”
She laughed, that delighted yet chilling glissando echoing through the throneroom. “And they will be delivering to us that vital ingredient which we were lacking!” She settled back in her own throne, looking much more relaxed, and then glanced back up at him. “You mentioned three advantages, your Majesty. What is the third?”
“The third, my Queen, is the major reason that I not only prevented you from killing Cirrus, but have rewarded him, and intend to continue doing so — and I hope you shall join me in this. Even if we succeed in this grand final ritual, you know full well that it is Iris Mirabilis and his Legions — and the connections that it is said he has to the Above — who will pose the final and greatest threat to our eternal power over Faerie and Mortal lands.
“And here, in Cirrus Dawnglory, we have one who knows every detail of that sky-fortress’ defenses — every door, every wall, every passage obvious and hidden, the tactics and strategies discussed by the Lord of Rainbow and his Head of Hosts, every single aspect of their ways of offense and defense… and they suspect not a bit of this. With his help, we may find that we can send our own warriors into the Rainbow Fortress without even sounding an alarm.”
Her laugh rang out again, and a moment later his own chuckle joined hers.