by Den Valdron
HEADS ARE GONNA ROLL
“You're under arrest!” a commanding voice rang out.
I concealed a wince. Vadak Eth, behind me, stiffened.
We had tried to ride our Thoats, close enough to the shipyards to satisfy any watching spies, but not so close that we could be accused of real transgression. The plan had worked up to a point. We had paused in a Courtyard to rest, Vadak Eth had spotted the spies assigned to us, I then fired Aspar Aguus in a satisfyingly histrionic way and then sent Ton Sabat and Japh Leah off on a mission. Vadak Eth, a genuine thern, remained with me to reinforce the illusion, and off we went on our rounds.
By the way, everything that I had ever been told about Thoats was a horrible, horrible, horrible lie!
Now, I was facing three armed guards at the entry to the shipyards, grim and martial men of limited intelligence and evident brutality.
“Excuse me?” I said coldly, with all the Priestess frost I could muster.
“You are under arrest!”
“On what charge?” I demanded.
“Lurking!” He said.
“The High Priestess of the Holy Cult of Issus, Reformed, does not lurk,” I told him coldly. So far as I could see, there was no reason to arrest us. Perhaps I could bluff my way out.
“Well,” he said, “for being a foreigner.”
“This is insupportable,” I said, “I demand to see your commanding officer.”
“The Lieutenant will be along shortly,” he told us.
“Lieutenant?” I snapped. “This is outrageous. I order you to bring your Admiral here, I will have words with him.”
“I'm not going to bring the Admiral here.”
“Insubordination!” I shouted. “You, and you, have this man whipped immediately.”
The two other guards suddenly looked frightened.
“You can't have me whipped. You're not even in the fleet,” he said.
“You utter worm,” I snarled, “how dare you contradict me.”
I turned back to the two other guards.
“I demand that you seize this dog, and have him whipped soundly.”
“Look,” the second guard said, sweating visibly, “he didn't know you were a Holy Priestess. He was just having a bit of fun that's all. You know, a pretty girl, ten minutes in a shed, and....”
He trailed off, as I allowed imaginary storm clouds to gather over my brow.
“Can't we just all forget about this,” he said weakly.
I turned to the first guard.
He snapped to attention.
The first guard and the third grabbed the second one.
“But you were going to have him whipped,” he complained. “Not me.”
“He was foolish,” I said, “I've decided to forgive him.”
“Thank you, Highness.”
“Yes, your holiness.”
“But you were insolent!”
“But I didn't mean to be,” He whimpered. “Mercy, please, your Holiness. I'm a member of the faith.”
Internally, I heaved a sigh of relief. I would bluster a little, and then accept their apologies. Perhaps I would show some grace and consideration, but not too much. Then Vadak Eth and I would retreat off to somewhere safe and wait for the regrouping meet at sunset. With any luck, by dawn tomorrow, we'd be on our way out of this awful city.
“What's all this, then?” another soldier arrived. His livery was more elaborate, he had the look of an officer. My heart sunk.
“Nothing sir,” one of the guards said, “a bit of confusion.”
Perhaps we could still get away.
“What's this Orovar doing out of chains?” He asked.
“An Orovar?” I snarled. “How dare you!”
I turned to the guard that had been trying to arrest me.
“You!” I snapped. “Seize this imbecile!”
Apologetically, the guard grabbed the officer. His companions joined him in taking the officer in hand.
“What is this?” The officer protested.
“Have him whipped, this instant!” I demanded.
“Sorry sir, its orders.”
“Right here, Ma'am?”
“You can't whip me, I'm your officer.”
“Have him flogged immediately, or I'll have the Admiral put you all to death.”
“Wait just a minute.”
“We can't just have him whipped, Ma'am.”
“The Torturer isn't in yet, he had the morning off.”
“Well, one of you do it!”
“We're not qualified, Ma'am.”
“This is outrageous. I'll have you all hanged!”
“I have been taking a few night courses.”
The officer had been stripped to the waist, and gagged. The situation had taken on a bizarre life of its own. I didn't particularly want to see the officer whipped, I'd much prefer to have his apology, which I could accept with appropriate condescension and take my leave. But I could tell by the way he was red in the face that if he got to speak, an apology would not be coming.
“Who is it that presumes to have one of my officers whipped?”
I turned around, trying to be ten ads tall with holy wrath.
“I am Lanku Lans, High Priestess of the True Faith of Issus, Reformed sect, and who are you?”
It was a tall red man, older, with a hook nose and streaks of white in his hair.
“I am Admiral Latta, Supreme Commander of the navies of Diome.”
Suddenly, I felt an inch high. The game was up. We were all undone.
“It's this way, sir,” one of the guards said, “the Lieutenant here, he mistook the High Priestess for one of them Orovars you see.”
“Yeah,” said a guard, “an Orovar. They're common as lice around here.”
“Yes, he figured she was one that slipped her chains and was wandering free.”
“We tried to tell him, sir. We tried to tell him different.”
“He put his hands on her, Sir.”
“We tried to stop him! But he wasn't having none of it.”
“We tried our best, Sir.”
Admiral Latta stared at the guards, and at the lieutenant whose eyes were bugging out of his head. His face was scarlet and puffy, I thought he might pass out any second.
He turned to me.
I was still frozen.
“My apologies, Holiness,” he said.
I nearly swooned with relief.
“Carry on with the flogging,” he told the guards.
I could hardly believe it., we were going to get out of this.
He bowed to me again.
“Again, my apologies Holiness, I was not aware that a High Priestess of the Holy Race had taken up residence in this humble city.”
“Not so humble, Admiral Latta,” I said graciously. “The valour of the men of Diome is becoming known throughout the world. We are newly arrived ”
“I am pleased to hear this.”
“We are merely touring the city, before official duties commence.”
“Ah,” he said, “then I would be pleased to show you our shipyards. The Navy is the pride of the city, the mailed fist which strikes our enemies down.”
No! I screamed inside.
I smiled graciously.
“Thank you Admiral, but we would not want to interfere with your important duties.”
“It would be no trouble,” he said. “In fact, we are to consecrate a ship today, I would be honoured if you would grace us with your presence. ... Why, I might be so bold as to hope that you would give it the holy blessing in yourself.”
“Should you allow me such access?” I said, putting on a false smile. “Perhaps I am a spy?”
Admiral Latta laughed.
“Spies skulk in dark corners and strive to escape notice. I cannot imagine a High Priestess of the Faith as a spy. Particularly not one so utterly stunning.”
Having no real response, I tried a pleased tinkling laugh.
“Why Admiral,” I said, “that sounded very much like you were flirting with me.”
For a second, he looked nervous.
“My apologies, Holiness.”
I used the tinkling laugh again.
“No apologies are necessary, Admiral,” I told him. I smiled. “I did not tell you to stop.”
Was that too much? I wondered. His smile told me no. Keep him smiling, I thought. If he stopped smiling and started thinking, we would be in trouble.
Behind us, squads of soldiers were marching in lockstep formation, eyes rigid, postures erect, going from somewhere to somewhere else. For a moment, they caught our eye, and we all glanced at the procession of these stiff stern men. This city was nothing but soldiers marching about.
On the other hand, I thought, in a city like this, having an Admiral for a friend... or a suitor... could be very useful. I had no intention of staying for long, of course. But that was no reason to be reckless. This Admiral Latta seemed quite taken with whoever he thought I was, and with me.
“Well, Admiral,” I said, “I would be honoured to see this fine shipyard of yours. And to bless your noble warship”
He offered his arm, I took it, and we proceeded through the shipyard gates, the muffled howling of a the bound lieutenant counterpoint to the sound of flogging.
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