“Yes. Well…no. Well…kind of. Toot-Toot,” she turned to look at him, “tell him I have had about 40 hours of instructions. I know about a hundred words. Speak glavian? Barely.”
“She’s been taking lessons.” Toot-Toot hoped he could diffuse this before Sergeant Ranvir decided she was a lying bitch. “But not for very long. She just knows a few words and phrases. She’s not very fluent. She’s kind of stupid, actually.”
“Hey!” she frowned at him. “Did you just call me stupid? Again!”
An opening. He might not be the world’s smartest person, but he was not stupid. And he had been getting schooled in diplomacy the last three and a half days. He shrugged and smirked, “it still fits!”
“The Queen wants us to bring you to her!”
“He is still insisting that the Queen wants to see us.”
“Can you ask him why?”
He shrugged again. “The idiot would like to know why.”
“She’s the queen. She doesn’t need a reason.”
Siobhan casually reached out and fingered the sleeve of Ranvir’s livery. He jerked his arm back. “What are you doing?”
She looked him up and down, slowly circling him.
“He asked what you’re doing…and I don’t think I would mind knowing that answer to that either.” But it was too late. As soon as Siobhan moved behind Sergeant Ranvir, he had had enough and drew his sword.
Siobhan seemed nonplussed. She gestured slightly for Toot-Toot to stay calm. She looked casually at the other watchmen. And Sergeant Ranvir still held his swing…but was making sure to keep her at the point of his sword distance. She walked back to Toot-Toot, turning her back to Ranvir.
“Tell me what you see,” she said softly to Toot-Toot. Loud enough he could hear, not so loud to carry…again.
He looked over her shoulder. “I see a pissed off orc trying to decide if it’s worth the trouble he’s going to be in if he brings you to the Queen’s court dead instead of alive.” He could see Sergeant Ranvir was definitely thinking about skewering her through the kidneys. “And I see killin’ is getting more appealing by the moment.”
“Toot-Toot…look at their uniforms. They are glavians. Serving a glavian queen. Their uniforms…are old. Threadbare. Tears are not stitched, holes are not patched, minimal insignia…”
Toot-Toot took a quick glace past her head. “He’s pissed, Siobhan…and about to run you through…”
“He’s not gonna run me through right now,” she hissed back at him. “Toot-Toot, right now Sergeant Ranvir is more curious than mad…he wants to know what we are up to. And until he finds that out, we’re fine.”
He looked back over her shoulder again while she let that last statement sink in.
Well…she might be right. Ahh, hell. She may be Siobhan, but what the hell does she know about orcs. Until they met, she had never even seen a real live orc. For months she thought he was a…Milesian or something like that. She did not know the first damned thing about orcs.
“Siobhan!” There…he could hiss at her better than she could hiss at him! “That’s what orcs wear. They are not known for taking care of their clothes.”
“Fuck that, Toot-Toot!” She was scowling at him. “Remember when we got the glavians makeshift uniforms in New Warrendale?”
He looked at her. What the hell did that have anything, he wondered.
“It’s not a damned rhetorical question Toot-Toot!”
“Yes! I remember,” he barked at her.
“Well…do you remember how proud they were of those uniforms? As poor as they were, they would have died rather than let them go unrepaired. And look at their shoes. They are falling apart. You see the chips on Ranvir’s sword? Look at the dents in their armor…what little armor they have.”
Toot-Toot was getting beyond frustrated. “Yeah. Ok. So what? They obviously don’t care.”
“Yeah…but why? WHY, Toot-Toot?”
“It doesn’t matter, Siobhan!”
“It’s the only thing that matters right now!” He could tell she was getting as angry at him as he was at her. But he saw that Ranvir was getting more annoyed as well.
“I don’t get it, Siobhan. But I get that we have about ten more seconds before the killing starts.”
“It’s not theirs! They are not well taken care of. They are not respected. And, while they may have self-respect, they have no respect for what they do or who they work for. In a world ran by gold and silver, they are probably paid in bags of acorns.”
He looked back over her to the glavians and then back to her and then back to them. “So….?”
“So…they are at the bottom, even in Avondale, where it is being ran by a glavian! They have nowhere to go…but up.” He stared at her.
“Is there a point in there somewhere?” Toot-Toot was ready to just give up and draw his sword and get this over with.
“Yes!” She slapped his chest lightly with the back of her hand. “Get him talking…then pitch him!”
“Pitch them all!”
“Are you kidding?” Oh, hell. He knew she was not kidding. “You’re the pitcher! I’m the muscle!”
“You have been watching and listening to me do this for three days.” He could feel the earnestness of her gaze. “It’s time to step up. Everybody thinks glavians are almost dumb as rocks. How many times have you let me know you are not stupid? Dozens? Hundreds? How many times have I told you, ‘I know, I know’? Well…here it is! I’m putting my well being where my mouth has been. I am putting my faith in you being smart enough and observant enough and flexible enough to pitch this. Here you go!”
“Fuck, Siobhan!” He could feel the panic rising up. Killing would be easier. It is what he would prefer to do. It is what Sergeant Ranvir would prefer to do. It is what he was good at.
She lightly whacked his sternum with the back of her hand again. If it was not for the scowl on her face, he might have mistaken it for a playful slap. “Pitch them!”
“This is crazy, Siobhan. I can’t pitch them! I don’t know the first damned thing about pitching…”
“Man up, Toot-Toot!” Did she seriously just tell him to man up? “Grow a pair and pitch them, Toot-Toot.” She paused for a moment.
“Talking is your thing! Slicing is mine!”
She crossed her arms across her chest and glowered at him like a disapproving parent. Even though he stood a little over half a foot taller than she did, she was making him feel a little small at the moment. He could see Sergeant Ranvir was just moments away from coming unglued. “Toot-Toot…” Disapproving parent voice. Damn. “Either be a man, be brave, and pitch them. Or…” she leaned back slightly, her face openly challenging him…”or be a sniveling little coward who can only face his problems with steel and fury.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Toot-Toot…” her tone mellowed…a lot…”I have faith in you. Faith in your intelligence. Faith in your ability to observe and learn. Am I stupid…stupid for believing in you to be something other than mindless sword swinging killing machine?”
“I’m not a pitcher, Siobhan…” he almost whined. Why was she not seeing this.
“Toot-Toot…” she had that earnestness in her voice again. The earnestness that she used when she thought she knew she was right. “I…have…faith…in you!”
Awww, fuck. She really knew how to cut a guy deep…without ever drawing a blade. He could feel himself wavering.
“Toot-Toot…pitch them! You…can…do this!”
Gods damn her…she was such a bitch. She was sending him into a sword fight with a pen knife. He sighed. How the fuck was he going to do this? Shit! Shit! Shit!
“You got this, Toot-Toot! Pitch them! NOW!” It was little more than a whisper, reinforced by the reassuring presence of the palm of her hand that she just put over his heart.
“You are going to get us both killed, you crazy bitch,” he whispered at her.
Her face lit up. “You say ‘bitch’ like it is a bad thing,” she said in a playful, sing-song voice. Toot-Toot glanced down at her beaming face, then over at Sergeant Ranvir…who seemed to be letting curiosity overcome his annoyance…at least for the moment…with the change in the tone Siobhan’s voice with Toot-Toot.
He took a deep breath and let out a long sigh that could be felt all the way to New Warrendale. Turning to Sergeant Ranvir, he muttered to himself, “I can do this. Fine. All in or not at all. No half assing it. I can do this…” he made a very obvious gesture, snapping the straps back across the crossguard of his kilij, demonstratively showing he had no hostile intent. He seemed to remember her doing that from somewhere. Then, just as he was looking up at Sergeant Ranvir, he felt Siobhan slap him on the ass in encouragement! It made him jump in surprise. He shot daggers at her while she smiled mischievously at him, biting her lower lip while she did so. He snarled at her, then looked back at Sergeant Ranvir who was now also smiling at his discomfort.
“So…” his mind was racing for an opening…”Sergeant Ranvir…what is it like serving The White Queen?” No ‘yes or no’ answer unless you knew what the answer was and knew what you were going to do with it. Get them talking about themselves as quickly as you can. Direct the conversation where you can. Make sure you are having them feed you details you can use. And listen. Listen to what is being said…and what is not being said. Sergeant Ranvir relaxed his shoulders as he began to respond. Out of is peripheral vision, he caught Siobhan slide to the ground to sit down, and then half laid down with her elbow on the ground and her head propped up on her hand…like a naked lady painting over the back of a tavern bar…but with clothes on. She was taking herself out of the fight. She was putting this all on him. She was smiling. She was smiling like he already had this won and she was just going to watch a show. And he knew…he knew that this ‘battle’ was his…as long as he did not blow it.
And he did not blow it.