Polychrome – Chapter 22
“And so I will be sending several Hands of Temblors, perhaps even of Infernos, to teach a lesson to –”
“SILENCE!” roared the King.
Mombi stared at Ugu in confusion. “Y… Your Majesty?”
He pointed his finger down at her and muttered two ancient words. The old witch, dressed in finery terribly unbecoming to her, suddenly hopped as though standing on red-hot coals. “Ow! Aaaaah, have mercy, Majesty, mercy on an old woman who does not understand!”
He withdrew his hand, and Mombi stopped, shivering with fear. “Then I will explain. Perhaps you are fortunate that the Queen is busy with her own work, for if she were of my current state of mind, I doubt not that you would be leaving here in a different form than that which you now wear.” He leaned slowly back in the Throne and glowered down at the Witch and the battered form of Morg. “We are currently at peace with the other Faerie realms. This has been long arranged. Apparently, you have interpreted the word peace in a fashion I find quite enlightening; it means that we simply don’t let anyone talk about the little invasions we’re carrying out, is that it?”
Mombi looked up, fear mingled with defiance. “We all have done this, what makes my actions so terrible, Majesty?”
Idiots. I am completely surrounded by idiots, except for my Queen who is planning to kill me and my General, who may be my best chance. Ugu stood up, causing all around the room to step back a pace. “Make no mistake, Mombi; I have been busy with affairs of policy deep enough that perhaps I have been remiss in watching the actions of my Viceroys. That is ended as of this moment. I assure you, the same message will be conveyed to all the others.
“We have kept here to our borders. We have assured them we mean them no harm so long as they do nothing against us. We all know, of course, that one day we will change that truth to another, but that change will happen when I say, when the Queen says, and not one second sooner! By these raids you give them reason to remain afraid, reason to be prepared, reason, in short, to ready themselves for war. To seek ever and ever for ways to destroy us, to harry us, to weaken us.”
Mombi nodded slowly. “I… I suppose. But there is much that they have which is not to be found in Oz, and –”
“– and we shall trade for it, fairly trade for it, do you understand? Until the time comes that my armies and my spells and the Queen’s are readied and all is decided, until that time we shall be the very model of good neighbors.” He bent lower. “And if you or your compatriots do not understand this,” he hissed, “you shall be once more stripped of your powers and sent to be washerwoman to the Nome King’s armies, Lady Coo-Eee-Oh shall be again a brainless swan,” his voice rose higher, to a thunder that echoed throughout the Throne Room, “I’ll fry that plotting Dictator of the Flatheads to ash along with his entire miserable court of sycophants, and I shall level such a curse of shrinking on Blinkara of Jinxland that not even all the microscopes of the mortal world could find her with a thousand years to search!”
By the end of the speech, Mombi was cowering on the floor along with the Temblor Morg, begging for mercy. He stared down in distaste. We chose people who had no reason to care for the way Oz was, but of course they had little reason to care for anything at all. If we learn nothing on how to rule carefully, we shall soon have nothing at all to rule. “Get up.”
The old witch scrambled to her feet, bowing all the while.
“Enough. Now, Morg. Tell me exactly what happened. Not the account Mombi gave. I want your words, your memories, exactly as it occurred.”
He listened carefully, nodding. Finally, when Morg was finished, he sat back down and gestured, muttering a few more ancient words; Morg looked down at himself in amazement, his injuries now entirely gone. “Well enough done. In this case – and I say, in this case only – it was well you were there. This information is of use to me. So I shall let the issue of your abuse of power drop. For now. Remember you well my words, Mombi. Now leave us.”
Once she had left, he looked back; from his concealed area behind the thrones, Cirrus emerged. “You heard, General?”
“Indeed. So he was landed at the border of the Nome King’s lands.”
“Yes.” Ugu frowned. “Certainly a wise choice if one seeks allies of any credibility. Yet King Kaliko has also been wise, and seeks no war with us; he balances his natural dislike and fear with caution and policy. Unless this Mortal has something quite extraordinary to offer, I doubt he will get much from the Nomes.”
Cirrus nodded. “But there are few other choices, as I can see them. Aside from the darker spirits which our Lady the Queen bound, the Nomes were the only faeries who maintained a great army at all.”
“Assume he can gain some trust. What then?”
The former officer of the Rainbow Kingdom wrinkled his brow, trying to take into account all of the factors he knew. “Well, certainly the Nomes have a vast army. None of their warriors individually can match ours, of course. Yet… they must find a way into Oz. The barrier you have arranged is proof above the ground and below, so the prior tactic of digging a tunnel is no longer an option.” His head came up. “There is one way…”
Ugu was startled. “There is? I would have staked my life that no way through that barrier exists for any Faerie or of Faerie born – and while a True Mortal may pass, he does not eliminate the barrier and his allies would remain behind.”
“All true, your Majesty,” Cirrus agreed. “Yet any of us may pass through unstopped, and allow others to return under certain circumstances.”
“Ahh…” Ugu said softly. “What if they have a traitor within our own ranks? Is that your meaning?”
“It is, Sire.”
Ugu thought on that possibility. The ordinary warriors of course could not do that trick. Equally obviously, any of the viceroys or their immediate entourage could. Yet he and Amanita had quite carefully picked those people for their inability to tolerate the earlier regime, and – quite deliberately – inability to work well with others except out of fear. There were of course drawbacks to this, but…
“I find myself drawn to a single rather inescapable conclusion on that subject, General,” he said finally. “None of our Viceroys or their people are at all likely to be traitors. Not that they love our royal persons so much, you understand,” he smiled grimly, “but they fear us greatly, and none outside of Oz would trust any of them. They would see a trap in any offer of assistance.”
“But in that case, Sire…”
“… in that case, General Cirrus, there would be only one person who could possibly let in an enemy army, and who might be trusted enough to do so. You.”
Cirrus looked thoughtful. “I do see your point, Majesty. Yet I brought up the point itself, which you had not thought of at all. Meaning no disrespect, sir.”
“I take none. Yet one with sufficient subtlety to conceal his presence for three centuries in an enemy stronghold might count on the subtle misdirection involved in revealing the weakness to make himself appear innocent.”
“Do you truly suspect me, Sire?”
Ugu looked at him wordlessly for some moments, considering. “In all honesty? No, not at all, Cirrus. Had you wished to betray us, it would have been better for you to do so before you came here, or do it immediately, rather than bringing to us the Prophecy and so much other information as you have given us. You have done marvels at preparing our forces.
“But because of this, I conclude that they are very unlikely to have any traitor of high standing here, and without that, they cannot breach the barrier directly.”
“And yet they shall, if the prophecy is to be believed at all.”
Ugu chuckled. “Oh, now, that is a different matter of policy, my friend. It is quite possible that they will enter without any need whatsoever of treacherous assistance. After all… if I believe they will be easier to defeat here, I can let them in, can I not?”
Cirrus nodded slowly. “Indeed you can, Sire.”
“What of Gilgad? Can you see anything he could gain from there?”
“Not really, Sire. The country does border on the Nonestic Ocean…” a thought seemed to occur to him, and for a few moments he was in thought, then shook his head.”… but no. Yes, the Sea Faeries have considerable forces of their own, but they will hardly be very effective on land, even if a single Mortal could manage to convince them to ally in force with him. Note that we are aware that Iris Mirabilis did seek to build a grand alliance early on, and failed, and – despite the minor depredations of Mombi and her ilk – our keeping our word to stay out of other countries’ business has convinced many of them that their best course of action is to stay out of ours.”
“Then send a few spies to watch the Nome King’s lands. He may try a different route, now that he has encountered some of our people.”
“It is already being attended to, Highness.”
“Excellent, Cirrus.” He nodded, giving leave for his General to go.
Everything seemed to be progressing well. He glanced in the direction of Amanita’s throne. And that, too, will be dealt with. Once he is here.