When Tahm awoke he was lying flat on his back in a small cell, he could see light pouring in from a single window. It must be morning. Then he realized he was still alive. He could feel the many wounds that covered his arms, sides and legs, the leather armor he had worn had done nothing to stop it. Tahm wore nothing but a long shirt now.
I've been filleted, he grimaced as he tried to sit up. Someone had put some sort of cream onto his wounds while he was unconscious. Queen Mabel must still want him alive. She really was soft-hearted, Tahm thought to himself.
He had tried to kill his beloved cousin, Queen Mabel. The sword had hit a thick piece of wood that had been hidden by that frilly fluffy dress. Then some sort of mechanism on the throne itself had swung out and slashed him with two-dozen blades. Tahm was head of the Palace Guard and he had not known of this device. It was ingenious, certainly and he could see that much of the value lay in its secrecy.
Tahm moved his arm and looked at the fiery red welts that remained all over him. He was probably lucky to be alive. Whatever magic ointment they had applied had accelerated the healing appreciably.
Imagine torturing someone during the day and healing them during the night, a barbarous thought.
It was a small, solid cell. Tahm did not recognize which it was. Rupert Grint was the jailer, not he, after all. Still sitting there feeling sorry for himself, Tahm noted that the single window was too high for him to reach, although a normal-sized man might be able to pull themselves up and get a look outside. The wooden door was at least four-inches of solid oak. Besides that and a bit of old hay on the floor, there was nothing at all in there.
Then there was a key in the lock being turned. Tahm hadn't even heard anyone coming, the door and wall were sound-proof apparently. The door opened and two armored guards with short swords drawn came in and glowered over him. They were followed by the unkempt, dirty old, snot-nosed Grint who sneered at him.
“We have been instructed to shackle you and remove you from this place.” Grint told him with his wheezy voice.
Tahm wondered if he might still be executed. The guards and others who followed Grint latched the heavy irons to his arms and legs. Tahm found he could barely move a muscle with all that weight hanging off of him.
“Follow me.” A new soldier, who Tahm did not recognize, said from the doorway. Tahm could barely shuffle ahead, even with the two guards behind him trying to nudge him along. The soldier became very impatient, “Move it already!”
“Piss off.” Tahm told the soldier. “I can't move any faster.”
The soldier backed away from the door and two more soldiers rushed in. “Carry the miscreant.”
It was undignified, to say the least, to be carried into the royal court by soldiers. It was set up for trial and Tahm understood. He was royal and that gave him some benefit. A show trial delaying summary execution being the one at the top of the list.
Tahm stood in front of the judge who read from a sheet of parchment. “You have been accused of attempting to kill the Queen of Valois, how do you answer this charge?”
Tahm shrugged. “It's all true.”
The members of the royal court arrayed around the room mumbled amongst themselves until the judge banged on the desk in front of him.
“Tahm, Chief of the Palace Guard. Second to the Throne of Valois. What was the motive behind such a thing?”
He sighed, “The Pai are massing at the border. We are a matter of months from being invaded and slaughtered by their Han soldiers. They will burn our villages, kill us, impress young boys into their ranks, use and discard the girls and leave nothing but a pile of ash behind. Queen Mable is not inclined to do what needs to be done to stop it. I will.”
The judge cleared his throat. “So this is not a personal vendetta against the Queen?”
Tahm shook his head. “Of course not, I love Queen Mable as much or more than anyone. I simply had to do what needed to be done to save the Kingdom.”
“I see.” The judge said and then shuffled some papers. “Well, in any case, you have been sentenced.”
Tahm tried to look stoic, but the weight of the shackles was starting to get too heavy to keep standing. He feared he would fall to the ground when he was ordered to be executed.
“Ten years confinement. Take him back to the dungeons.” The judge said and Tahm found himself being carried by soldiers again before the words could register. Confinement. Not execution as a traitor. The Queen must have ordered this. Mable was being soft-hearted again.
He was placed into a new cell, a larger one. Shackles removed. The lone barred window was still a little too high to reach and there was a second door on a side wall. The wall next to the heavy oak door was a large opening covered with bars and a heavy curtain out in the corridor. Tahm was confused. This was one of the cells they used to interrogate prisoners.
The curtain opened. Sitting behind a desk near the back wall of the corridor was Queen Mable. Tahm's heart was going crazy in his chest. Tears threatened to invade his eyes.
“My Queen!” He said, hoping not to weep openly.
“Tahm, my loving cousin, why did you try to kill me? Is it because I've been a bad queen?” She asked.
He shook his head and looked down at his dirty feet. “You are not a bad queen.”
“You believe you would make a much better King though?” She asked, he didn't answer. “Let us say there are twenty things a ruler must be able to do. Any good ruler probably does fifteen or so well, maybe a few things they don't do so well. Any competent ruler is not much different than another. Of course an incompetent ruler would do very little well and the kingdom would suffer. How many things am I not so good at, Tahm?”
“My Queen.” He said, walking up to the bars and looking in her eyes,“The Pai are on the warpath. We are outnumbered many to one, we are out-powered by the Han and we have no real defense. We must begin preparations at once, we must recall the Dracs!”
Queen Mable looked away from him. “The Dracs are horrible. I do not wish to call up an undead army to fight the Han. There must be a better way.”
Tahm sat but kept his hands on the bars and his face toward his cousin, the queen of Valois. “I would do anything to protect the Kingdom, My Queen. Anything.”
“I know, even killing me.” She said. Tahm began to say something but found nothing came to mind, the queen grinned, “Quite the dedication to your task.”
“Why not execute me?” Tahm asked.
“Why would I do that? You are a very intelligent man, Tahm. You have many good qualities, you are not someone I would want the world rid of.” Queen Mable said. “As a matter of fact, I value your advice, I always have even as children.”
Tahm did not know where she was going with that. “My advice?”
She nodded. “I have decided to make you my Adviser.”
If he hadn't had his butt firmly planted on the floor, he would have fell over. He was confused by this, her whole demeanor was friendly even though he had done a foul deed.
“Your adviser?” He asked, stuttering a bit. “I have been ordered confined for ten years.”
“Being in a cell does not preclude you from giving advice, does it?” The queen asked. He did not know how to answer that. “Nevertheless, I will have you well supplied with what you need. Through that door on the wall, is your bedroom, your privacy will be guaranteed there.”
“My queen.” He hadn't actually accepted the job, but apparently there was no choice.
“I need you. You know things no-one has thought of yet.” The Queen told him, “If Peilon falls, so does the kingdom, you said?”
Tahm nodded. “Of course. Perilon is a walled city that acts as the door to the kingdom, they must march through it to invade us, unless the Han has learned to fly.”
Come to think of it, Tahm could totally dismiss the idea that the Han could learn to fly. The stories of the Dracs regaled in their victory over the Han a century ago, many accounts claimed the Dracs could fly. So why not the Han? Have the Pai somehow limited their demon soldiers in some way?
“Tell me about Perilon.” The Queen said.
“Perilon is the wealthiest city in the kingdom. It is the site where all others trade with our people, all travelers must come through Perilon as well. It is also a walled city that completely blocks the decline into our valley.” He explained.
“Yet, it will fall?” She asked.
“Yes, the Han will tear down those walls. They will reduce Perilon to ruins, hardly a brick will stay atop brick when they are finished. Then the road to the kingdom will be open.” Tahm said, “we do not have the forces or the power to stop five-thousand Han soldiers that the Pai have sent.”
“Let us put the Drac away. How would you prepare to defend Perilon?” She asked.
He shook his head and threw his hands out. “Without the Dracs, I don't know.”
“Yes, you do.”
Without the best weapon he would still have to find a way. The kingdom had an extremely limited supply of lightening stones and no source of fire sticks. The number of men who could be recruited or forced to join the defense was not enough, so what answer was the Queen seeking?
“If we could find a way to send the Han back to the hell they were conjured from, that would be nice. Unfortunately we do not have that ability. What we do have is the Trover. An ancient weapon that none of us have ever seen in action and nobody knows how to use.” Tahm said. The Trover came on four wheels and was nothing like the trebuchet or any other siege weapon he had read about in the archives.
“I will send Jax and some others to figure out the Trover.” The Queen said, “I already have people studying the lightening stones in our possession. I have a special mission for you.”
“What is that?” Tahm asked.
“Design new defenses for Perilon.” She said, standing up and gathering her dress to make walking up the steps from the dungeon easier. “You will have what you need by morning.”
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