by Den Valdron
After that, Aspar Aguus, Heddo Lettus and I settled down to hard negotiation. It seemed that the Orgus Jeddak was as desperate to be rid of Markath Khan as he was averse to taking a risk. Two overpowering drives clashed within him.
“Luckily for you,” Heddo Lettus told me, “Markath Khan has proven intolerable. Normally, I would happily sit back and watch as you and he tore each other to pieces, or until he befell the usual fate of mad ambition. But the man subverted my
Jeds, and thus endangered my nation. I cannot let this pass.”
“So what will you do?” I asked.
“I shall extend my fondest wishes,” he said. “Good luck, remember your friends at your victory parade.”
“I can't do this alone,” I said.
“The Orgus must help,” Aspar Aguus offered.
“Markath Khan told me himself,” I said, “that if he wins, he will see to the obliteration of the Orgus nation.”
“On speaking terms, are you?” Heddo Lettus asked.
“He was trying to rape me at the time,” I said.
Heddo Lettus and Aspar Aguus both looked at me and shuddered. I had the feeling that I should be offended.
“Ah, and this was is idea of pillow talk?”
“Death, ruin, cities burning, nations put to the sword, races obliterated from the face of the world,” I paused, looking for words. “You think he is merely mad with ambition, but his experiences have twisted him. He loathes the world and everything in it. Everything that is not Markath Khan are mere insects that he can barely and only temporarily restrain the urge to crush.”
Heddo Lettus stared hard at me.
“That is quite an insight,” he said.
“When he was preparing to rape me, he let slip the mask, he showed his true self.”
Aspar Aguus caught himself then, his voice betraying concern. “Did he rape you?”
“No,” I said. “I escaped.”
He nodded to himself in satisfaction. “You are the Princess,” he said with quiet pride. “Of course he could not.”
“Escaped quite colorfully from the stories I heard. Best to slit your throat, Princess, rather than ever let him get his hands on you again.”
Then he cocked his head, oddly birdlike, and fixed me with a penetrating glare.
“But,” Heddo Lettus said, “that begs the question doesn't it. Who is Markath Khan, really? I think you know.”
I froze. Suddenly, sweat beaded on my forehead, and for some reason, some instinct, I found I did not want to tell these creatures that he was a man of my race.
“Who he is,” I said, “is someone in desperate need of stopping. Will you trust that what has been done is enough? Will you trust that I can do it without your help? Will you risk him winning, when you could have made the difference?”
“Ah, but if we throw our weight behind you, and he wins anyway, he will exterminate the Orgus swiftly and relentlessly.”
“True,” I said, “but if you simply sit this out, then he will exterminate you slowly at his leisure.”
“So you say,” he said.
“You've studied him,” I replied. “Tell me I'm wrong.”
He cocked his head, birdlike again.
“We could serve him loyally. I could hand you over right now.”
“Do you think he appreciates loyalty?” I shot back.
Heddo Lettus chuckled. “One like that? It's as dangerous to be his friend as to be his enemy, and in the end, both get the same treatment.”
“So join me,” I begged.
He grinned, the evil old monster. He was toying with me.
“There is a difference between swift extermination and the leisurely sort. We might prefer the second, to buy time to defend or escape. No, I think under the circumstances, we may not move against him openly. But that does not mean we can
do nothing. Aspar Aguus,” he asked, “what can we do covertly to assist your Princess.”
“Quite a lot, my Jeddak,” Aguus replied.
“But that would mean sharing so many of our secrets,” he groused.
“She probably knows most of them already,” he said.
“No,” he said, “she's clever.”
And so the negotiations went. The Orgus had networks of informants and spies throughout the area. These were now at my disposal.
The Orgus had contacts with resistance movements in many cities under Markath Khan's rule. They would assist in coordinating and rousing them.
From there, I might contact and enlist the remnant fleets hiding away from their conquered cities, rouse broken armies.
By slow turns, between Aspar Aguus and myself, Heddo Lettus was roused. Grudging concessions became querulous suggestions. By increments, Lettus allowed himself to be dragged deeper, offering points of tactics, ideas for strategy.
By the end the three of us were deep in plotting Markath Khan's downfall, identifying resources and forces I had never heard of, seeking the best ways to take advantage of the chaos I had caused, the uses of the fleet that I had acquired but maddeningly would not do anything useful, like incinerate Markath Khan in his palace.
In truth, I was a gifted amateur at best. I paid attention, I learned quickly, but it was both entertaining and enlightening to watch the two Orgus refine vague ideas into intricate plots and schemes.
For the first time, I began to truly believe Markath Khan could be overthrown. For the first time, I felt the satisfaction, the confidence of taking the initiative, of planning and preparing to act, rather than riding the wave of circumstance.
“Still,” argued Aspar Aguus, “she must go back to her fleet. She can do little as a prisoner here.”
“Prisoner is such a harsh word,” Heddo Lettus said. “I was thinking more along the lines of eternal guest. And there's plenty she could do, she could write inspiring letters. How's your penmanship?”
Of course as things developed, everything depended on me going back out into the world and reassuming the role of the Princess, or the Priestess, as the occasion demanded. Which in turn posed a problem.
As difficult as the fortress of the Orgus was to enter, it was apparently more difficult for someone not Orgus to leave. Of course as things developed, everything depended on me going back out into the world and reassuming the role of the Princess, or the Priestess, as the occasion demanded. Which in turn posed a problem.
As difficult as the fortress of the Orgus was to enter, it was apparently more difficult for someone not Orgus to leave.
“If I had better penmanship,” I said, “I'd write plays, not act in them. Everyone loves writers.”
“Hmmm,” said Heddo Lettus. “That does pose a problem. Maybe we could dress up an Orgus in one of those Thern wigs to take her part? I'm sure that would work.”
“Audiences,” I said, with the voice of bitter experience, “despise understudies.”
“It would not work.” Aspar Aguus said.
The fat monster clicked his jaws.
“You know,” Aspar Aguus said, “the longer we keep her around here, the more likely it will be that she'll insist on having sex with you.”
Heddo Lettus glared.
“You've heard stories of those Orovars,” he said smoothly.
“Actually I haven't.”
“Insatiable, tireless,” Aspar Aguus went on, “pathologically jealous.”
The great Jeddak looked doubtful, and rather perturbed.
“I hate masks,” I said, grimacing in what I hoped was an Orgus expression of lust and pathological jealousy, “I won't wear a bag over my head. You will have to appreciate me for me.”
“Hmmph,” said Heddo Lettus, “so we should have her on her way by morning, you think? Or perhaps sun down would be better?”
“Can you fly your ship alone?”
“Not a chance,” I said.
“Hmmm,” Heddo Lettus said, “have we had her crew put to death yet?”
“No more lord.”
“How disappointing. I really must stop procrastinating. I don't suppose...”
“We do need them.”
“There is that... How about some...”
“I need them all.”
“Well, maybe a bit of dismemberment, do you creatures really need all those limbs?”
The great Jeddak rolled his eyes.
“Fine, gift baskets for everyone! Again! This generosity will bankrupt me, I am sure. Did you at least ensure they weren't actually brought into the fortress.”
“My lord, we kept them under guard at their ship.”
“So we'll have to drag the gift baskets all the way out there?”
The Jeddak made a put upon sound.
“It's such a chore being a good host. Once you don't kill them, they become so demanding.”
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