“Misrule. Ceasefire has been declared. Return to the capital without delay.”
It took the Lords of Misrule three weeks to make their way back through the lines of battle to Ghor Dranas. The march was grim. Hard on everyone except Jester – the Traveller keeping her from the exhaustion of travel. Despite arriving road-weary and drooping, the five members of Misrule were summoned immediately into the presence of Lady Estirwhyr. She looked tired herself and greeted them with something between a smile and a grimace.
“Captain Fancypants. Good to have you back.”
“It is good to be back, but we are all really really tired, so can this wait until tomorrow?” asked Jester. She was not drooping like the others, but she was still tired and would need to give the Traveller plenty of thanks before bed tonight for their safe travels.
“Not exactly,” Lady Estirwhyr said, with her smile leaving her grimace. “We are in the process of brokering peace with the Dwendali ---”
“What?!” Molly exclaimed. “We are so close to circumventing them! Nott was right there for Korhast and his team to take. Without her, they will fall . . . Something happened to Korhast.”
It was not difficult to read her face.
“Nott got the drop on them. We still don’t know how. She outright killed Korhast and the rest were rounded up and captured.” Lady Estirwhyr paused for a moment to rise and walk over to her drinks cabinet. “I know you did the set up, and I do not believe the leak came from you. Not everyone feels the same, given Beau’s . . . past allegiances.”
They stood in silence for a moment as Estirwhyr poured drinks and passed them around.
“Korhast is not the only reason for the peace talks,” Estirwhyr continued after reseating herself and taking a sip. “The Widowmaker was not as . . . distracted . . . as we had hoped. Gefta made the call that he could take Astrid. And he even managed to kill Astrid before it all went belly up. The Archmage burned him down after he was worn out from fighting her.”
“D’ya think the Widowmaker arrived late?” asked Fjord. “Or did he set Astrid up?”
“Definitely a set-up, or at least he didn’t care enough to save her. If he was close enough to block Gefta’s escape, he could have stepped in and helped her. I don’t buy this nick of time bullshit. Not to mention, our people found enough of her remains burned out on the field that he can’t be wanting to resurrect her.”
“So,” said Molly, blinking at her blearily. “We are down two mages and they are down one.”
“Unfortunately, the two we lost were the last who could even give that bastard pause. We have no counter to his firestorms. We must sue for peace.”
“Well this is lovely and all,” said Molly, running a hand down his face, shoulders drooping. “But why could this, frankly, wonderful news not wait until morning?”
“Both sides are pushing for a marriage to seal the peace,” said Estirwhyr. “The royals all have cold feet and are stating incompatible ages as the reason. Three days ago, some brilliant person proposed a marriage between the finest war heroes of our two nations.”
“Was that sarcasm?” asked Fjord.
She frowned at him.
“It wasn’t. It’s actually a good idea. We have angled for Archmage Widogast, but they have angled for a member of our legendary Lords of Misrule. We don’t have any wizards worth their time anymore.”
The room was silent as the five Lords of Misrule stared at their superior officer. She took in their tired but shocked looks.
“I wanted to tell you as soon as I could,” Estirwyr said, rubbing her eyes tiredly. “I know you have taken plenty of shit out there fighting for us, but ---”
“He is a monster,” Yasha stated.
“Yes. Yes, he is. But if all I need to do is marry one of you to him to keep him from burning this whole Empire to the ground, I will drag you kicking and screaming to the altar myself!” She looked them in the eyes one after the other, her face serious. “I told you now so that you would have a chance to think on it while you rest. We will discuss it more on the morrow.”
The Lords of Misrule looked to one another, a bit stunned. Fjord made the first move, giving a bitter chuckle and downing his drink.
“Hope you sleep well m’lady,” he said giving her a mocking salute with the glass before placing it on her desk and stalking out. The others all wearily followed his lead, soundlessly heading to warm beds with cold thoughts to keep them company.
The Lords of Misrule gathered the next morning in the middle of their private barracks. They hadn’t always been private, but the war had been harsh.
“We have to marry the bastard,” said Beau, with shoulders slumped. “We can’t let the war keep going. Gotta do it.”
“It isn’t ‘we’ exactly,” said Molly, delicately. “One of us. And I’m guessing Estirwyr told us early so we’d have the opportunity, nay the privilege, of choosing which of these lambs is sent to the slaughter.”
“Well, I’m out,” said Beau. “Sorry, but I think I’m still technically one of theirs.” She shrugged her shoulders up defensively. “Not that I’m scared or squeamish or anything . . .”
“We know you are not,” said Yasha. “I would also prefer it not to be me. I mean . . . I am not . . . you know.” She ended it with a vague hand gesture.”
“Prone to just wandering off.”
“Thanks guys,” said Yasha, the irritation in her voice and eyes undermined by her small relieved smile.
They stood for a moment awkwardly.
“Now I don’t mean this to be a burden on you two,” Fjord spoke up, gesturing at Molly and Jester. “But I ain’t that . . . comfortable . . . with these sorts of things at the best of times.”
“The best of times involving a woman?”
“Well don’t you worry your chaste little head,” Molly said, patting him on the shoulder. “I’m sure myself and Jester can sort this one out. Isn’t that right Jester.” Jester, when he turned to face her, was drawing little circles on the ground with her toe, pointedly not looking at him.
“AAAActually,” she squeaked. “I, um, I would really, really, really appreciate it if you could cover this one Molly.”
“But, I thought. I mean. You are so proud of your mother, and all that?” Molly had gone from cool and calm to jerky and flustered in just moments.
“Well, I know. I know. She is the best lay ever, and I am really, really good at it,” her eyes flicked across to Fjord. “But, if I’m so good at it. Well, what if he wants it all the time. I just don’t want to do that. Besides, I don’t think the Traveller would be happy with me staying in one place for all that time. Because he really likes it when I go places, but people’s wives mostly have to stay home, but it wouldn’t even be home properly like Nicodranus.”
Molly put his hand on her shoulder to stop her. After a moment she looked up at him and met his eyes.
“These are good points you are making,” he said, gently. “But there is no certainty that either side will allow a barren union. Well, Xhorhas will.” He smiled grimly. “If they do allow it, I will take this one for the team. I mean, chances are he is straight, and I will be off the hook after the first night.”
“But you like sex,” said Yasha, after a moment.
“Not as much as I like the idea of peace and not seeing burned out fields of dead men.” They all stood in sombre contemplation for a few beats. “But, with that sorted. My friends! Breakfast probably awaits somewhere in this miserable keep. And then we can go enlighten our fair lady.”
At Molly’s prompting they did their best to shake of their trepidation, and just enjoy their first proper breakfast in too long.