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Yuki: Hello everyone, hope your last couple weeks have been good.
Assistant: The last few days could have been better here…warmer anyway. Here, Yuki. Blankets fresh from the dryer.
Yuki: Yay! Warmth! This’ll definitely keep us nice and toasty for the meantime. And I’ve found a way to keep the whole room heated down here while we work on fixing the heating.
Assistant: Is that the freakin’ cauldron from your Halloween setup?
Yuki: Mhmm. This thing has a few uses: a mere prop for parties, boiling up food and drink, heating a small room in a pinch, even for conjuring up a good story.
‘Is anything coming through yet?’ the commanding voice of King Edmund boomed in the dim chamber. The great windows around the cylindrical tower had all its curtains pulled shut.
Jadugar, the court magician, turned from the large cauldron before him and gazed up at his king from over his right shoulder. ‘Barely, but there is a vision coming through. Shouldn’t be more than a moment or two.’
The king scoffed. ‘Better not be. If we cannot see what is going on in the battlefield, surely Oscar’s men will gain the upperhand.’
‘You sell your men short,’ Jadugar replied, smiling.
‘I would not if you had allowed me to send my knights rather than those…peasants.’
‘I promise you, Sire, that their sheer numbers, despite inferior armor and weaponry, can level a better equipped one less filled out.’
‘We shall see.’ The king’s voice was doubtful. ‘Our knights are at the ready in the event your plan does not work.’
Jadugar turned his attention back to the cauldron, still feeling the frosty daggers shanking his back. He tried to focus on the contents brewing before him. The orange flames occasionally flicked out of the underbelly of the pot like a tongue of a manic dragon. Steam swirled from the innards. The gelatinous liquid began to inflate all about. And over the next few minutes, every bubble that burst sent forth a thick plume of blue-black smoke.
The magician and king watched on as the oblong cloud rose toward the ceiling and spread outward. Portions of the smoke screen flickered, as if it were a miniature lightning storm. One spot would light up, then another, and another. Multiple sections fired off at once. When the whole veil lit up, an image projected out. The two men were looking down upon a field already bloodied in battle. It was expansive with few trees and rocks dotting the scenery—it very well could have been anywhere in the kingdom.
Hordes of peasants wearing a hodgepodge of metal plates and buckets for armour engaged a heavily fortified enemy. The shining protective cover of the enemy were custom jobs for both man and steed. Portions were caked in blood and scraped and dented. None of the grass in the centre of the scrum was visible; the crumpled bodies of peasants, knights, and horses were piled up, but nearly stomped level with the earth.
The king huffed. ‘So many of Ours are dead.’
‘Indeed. But look how many of theirs are as well. Look how much coin was wasted on the other end as compared with us.’
Edmund raised an eyebrow. ‘How much did we spend?’
The wizard smiled. ‘Not a single copper piece.’
‘Mmm. These men are volunteers.’ The king said nothing, so Jadugar took that as a cue to explain. ‘You give the people a person or ideal, or both, to rally behind and make them care enough for them, they will do anything you please. The same goes for an adversary—if you give the people something or someone to fear, they will become increasingly suspicious and violent towards anything they believe to be associated with the offending party. And if you can make said adversary seem, to them, less than human, they will help destroy it. They would risk their lives and commit heinous acts of aggression, even without an order. The best part: you’d not have to reward them with any sort of compensation.’
The king guffawed and sat back comfortably in his chair. ‘An excellent idea…so long as hey can actually put these bastards in the ground.’
‘But of course,’ the wizard chuckled, keeping his attention to the battle before him. ‘We are not only able to view the battle, you can issue commands as well. You were renowned as a warrior and a master strategist, so you can utilise your tactical expertise to conquer the opposition.’
The king thought about this. ‘Yes…And nobody would be able to deny my skill.’ He stopped himself and paused. ‘Say, what about us being there with the soldiers?’
The wizard shrugged. ‘You’re able to see everything that’s going on—you can describe the action to your people all that you see firsthand. You know the commands issued. No one will be able to deny it.’
‘So you think I should stay here?’
‘No need to risk your life. What good will it do for your kingdom—your people—if you were to die out there? And with no one of your bloodline that could take the throne…it would be best for you to stay here during any campaign.’
Edmund nodded and focused on the scene playing out before him. He studied the movements of both the peasants and the knights. ‘Can they hear me now?’
‘Yes. As of this moment General Oliver can hear you.’
‘All right. Let’s get this sorted properly.’
Over the next few hours King Edmund passed along his orders whilst taking advice from his most trusted magician. In the beginning, the peasant army had the upper hand with Edmund almost positive the opposing knights would retreat. After a series of follies, the enemy was able to recoup and slaughtered the less experienced men in droves. It was looking dodgy for several minutes, but they persisted and got their second wind. They pushed back against the advanced brigade.
Edmund dabbed his forehead with his handkerchief, cursing the enemy under his breath.
‘Sire!’ Jadugar cried out, startling his king.
‘What is it?’
‘The knights are retreating! They’ve gathered what they could and have taken the horses further back!’
‘Huzzah! What of our men? Can they advance?’
Jadugar shook his head. ‘Not at this stage, Your Worship; if they were to move ahead in their current state, they would surely perish before making it halfway out of the valley.’
King Edmund sighed and wiped his brow dry. ‘Very well. In any event, they will think twice before setting foot on Our land again. Expensive and highly trained warriors broke even with a class lower than themselves.’ He laughed. ‘That will hold them off for a good while!’
‘One would think so, Sire.’
‘Have you any more need for Our presence?’
‘That will be all for now, I believe. I will alert you at once if another attack comes or any urgent matter arises, but I don’t see that happening for the time being.’
‘Excellent. Commanding an army is quite tiring. We shall be in Our quarters if you need anything.’
Without another word, the king took his leave. Jadugar waited until the sound of his footsteps grew quiet and the grand wooden door of his quarters clacked shut behind him. He turned his attention back to the visual cloud. The dead bodies and bloodied grounds faded and was replaced by a smoking vision of a handsome woman’s face. Her sleek black hair was pulled tight into a bun. Light scars criss-crossed over her dark features. The genuine intensity in her eyes caused Jadugar to smirk.
‘You can drop the act, Sieglinde, we’re alone now,’ Jadugar said, chuckling.
Sieglinde rolled her eyes and relaxed. ‘Did he buy into it?’
‘Hook, line, and sinker. Yours?’
‘She did…too easy, it seems.’ Sieglind frowned, unsure of the situation they had put themselves in.
‘Think we’ve found a solution to keep violence and death from spreading?’
Sieglinde took a moment, but nodded. ‘I think we have. No need for the blood of the innocent to flow at the hands of the greedy and the wealthy.’
‘What about the other emissaries?’
‘They’ve all agreed to it as well. By day’s end we shall know how their experiments turned out.’
Jadugar eased himself back onto a wall, and leaned against it. ‘Good. With luck, from this day forward, if any of our “betters” need to flex their egos, we shall let them test their skills over a game.
Sieglinde paused again. ‘Sating petty egos aside, have you come to a solution for how we deal with a king who simply gets too arrogant and greedy? What we’ve come up with here may work for a time, but it’s only a matter of time before someone gets restless.’
‘I have,’ Jadugar stated confidently. He pulled a dagger from within his cloak. ‘We use more traditional means. A shame any time we need to resort to actual bloodletting. Although it would be at a fraction of the scale compared to the meaningless wars our dear kings and queens currently subject us to.’
Yuki: Good news, my wonderful and lovely assistant. I’ve managed to find the parts needed to fix the heating.
Assistant: Why do I get the feeling you need something from me?
Yuki: You know me so well. I mean, it’s nothing much…just crawling through the nooks and crannies to put the replacement pieces in.
Assistant: Oh god…why can’t you have a normal home setup.
Yuki: You wouldn’t have it any other way. You love the lab we’ve got going here.
Assistant: *sighs* You’re right. I want a penalty rate for that shift though.
Yuki: I think we can manage that.