A Rock And A Hard Place Chapter 10
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Everything was gray in the predawn light and I mentally braced myself for the confrontation that was about to happen. Aaron stepped up beside me and I nodded to him once before heading to the appointed place.
In the clearing we had set up a table and three chairs that we had purloined so that the high and mighty leaders could sit their noble behinds down while they bickered. Aaron had insisted that he would stand but that I had to sit so that I was on their level.
I took my seat and waited, watching the light brighten above the trees as the sky went from gray to pink.
“Here they come,” said Aaron quietly.
I looked up but didn’t move otherwise. The King, two guards in tow, stalked into the clearing. He looked at me archly when I didn’t move to stand but I remained impassive. Then the Duke appeared out of the trees from the opposite direction with his two guards and stopped when he saw the King. The two began a glaring contest. I let it go on for a minute before I sighed in exasperation. If I let them, they would probably stand there all morning.
“Just sit down,” I snapped, already sick of dealing with them.
What was causing such hatred in the first place.
When neither of them moved, I slapped a hand down loudly on the table, making them both jump and look over at me. My face was deadly serious.
“Sit your arrogant behinds down before I have the MAGI help you.”
I heard Aaron crack his knuckles behind me but I didn’t look away from the King and the Duke. They looked from me to Aaron and back to me. It was the Duke who gave in first. He carefully moved toward the chair on my left and sat. After a moment more of hesitation, the King followed suit and took the remaining chair to my right. I took a long, slow look at each of them and then folded my hands on the table in front of me.
“Aaron, if you would,” I said quietly.
The MAGI leaned forward over my shoulder and place the Sound Bubble, no bigger than a button and perfectly round and clear, in the center of the table.
“Expand,” he whispered.
In the blink of an eye, the Bubble expanded to surround the four of us.
“Hide,” Aaron said quietly.
The sphere darkened a bit, signaling that no one outside the Bubble could see us. The King and Duke had gone back to glaring at each other.
“Alright,” I said, getting their attention. “Now tell me, civilly, what this is all about. You first.”
I pointed to the Duke.
“And why should a mere Duke, and a Wizard at that, have the first word?” demanded the King.
“Why should a King, who’s too stupid to see how wrong he is, and an Elf at that, have it instead?”
The King opened his mouth to make an enraged reply but I cut in as he took a breath.
“Shut up, both of you!”
They looked at me in wide eyed offense. Clearly no one ever thought to talk to them like that, much less did. I scowled darkly.
“Here are the rules; You do not speak unless I tell you that you can. You do not speak to each other unless I say you can. You speak only to me and there will be no insulting or name calling to provoke a breaking of these rules. Understood?”
“And if we don’t?” sneered the King, looking at me with distain.
“Aaron?” I said.
“If you don’t,” growled the MAGI from behind me. “Then I’ll be forced to make you comply.”
The Duke snorted.
“Are you threatening us?”
Aaron leaned in a bit over my shoulder and replied with an unpleasant smile in his voice.
“You wouldn’t dare!” said the King shrilly.
I smiled wickedly.
“Wouldn’t he? Personally, I have no qualms about letting him pummel one of you to death and blaming it on the other. Think about it. None of your men can hear or see anything so what’s going to stop us from claiming the other did it before we could stop him?”
The King and the Duke starred at us in horrified silence as Aaron and I continued to smile coldly. After a long moment of silence, the Duke swallowed and spoke.
“Ah, I do believe that the rules sound rather appealing.”
Grudgingly, Malyon nodded in agreement.
“Good,” I said with a nod. “Now, let’s try this once more. Duke Irvan, what is the conflict exactly?”
The Duke cleared his throat and sat up a little straighter. The King looked away with a frown. I caught a pained look as it flitted across his face but I ignored it.
“The problem is the insult that the elves have continued to give my people over the years by denying the colors of our kingdom’s flag.”
I blinked. What? What did that even mean?
“I’m sorry, what?”
He looked at me like I was dense.
“The elves claim that their flag is the one that is the proper color, but it’s a blatant lie.”
I looked at the King, who was scowling fiercely but holding his tongue. Was he paler now than he had been a few minutes ago? I hid my frown.
“And what do you say?”
He scowled at me for a moment and I could tell he was carefully editing what he was saying before he spoke. For once, the arrogance was cowed in him and I was glad of it.
“It’s a lie. The... Wizards are the ones who refuse to admit that ours is the proper color.”
I could tell he’d bitten back what he really wanted to call them and I was glad. Any more blustering and I would have had to let Aaron knock their heads together. But I still didn’t understand it. I shook my head.
“Wait. What exactly are you talking about? What color?”
“The color of the Kingdom’s flag,” replied Malyon, giving me a look as though I should have known that.
Well, as the liaison I was actually supposed to know. I nodded to the Duke to answer the question as well.
“No, it’s the color of the Dukedom’s flag,” he said with a scowl.
“Alright, and what is this color?”
The two looked at me and said in unison,
Then they immediately glared at each other.
“No, it’s the Kingdom’s flag that’s mauve,” said Malyon.
“Wrong. It’s the Dukedom’s flag that’s the proper color,” shot back Irvan.
“What are the rules?” I snapped, slapping a hand on the table.
They both looked at me, startled, and fell silent. I glared at them each in turn for a long moment until each looked uncomfortable and dropped their gaze from mine. Satisfied that they were cowed once more, I sighed and sat back in my chair, crossing my arms as I thought.
I was having a very hard time not throwing my hands in the air and walking away in disgust. These two peoples were fighting over who’s flag was actually mauve? They were getting soldiers killed over that? They were preparing an entire war over that? What kind of morons was I dealing with? If they were stupid enough to be starting battles over that then how in Phyre’s name was I supposed to stop them? Neither was going to see the other’s side. The only reason they had called me at all was so that I would declare one of them right and the other wrong.
I scowled as I realized that they didn’t actually want a liaison. They wanted mommy to settle their nursery room fight over a toy.
I glared at each in turn and opened my mouth to tell them just how stupid they were being, when suddenly the KIng, now white as a sheet, lurched up out of his chair. He opened his mouth as though he were trying to say something and looked at me. His mouth opened and closed a couple times as he managed a strangled croak. His eyes went wide as he clutched at his throat and chest, then suddenly collapsed across the table.
Aaron was at his side the next moment, turning him over, checking for a pulse, and trying to find a sign of life. I could only stare stupidly at the King’s still form, blinking in shock.
What? What had just happened?
A few moments later, Aaron looked up at me very soberly and said in a low voice,
Clearly my thoughts still hadn’t made it past that groundbreaking word.
“He’s dead,” Aaron repeated, gaze not leaving mine. “Probably poisoned.”
I shook my head, trying to jump start it again. The whole thing had happened so fast.
“Wait, poisoned? By who? Why?”
“You’re asking the wrong person. I had no reason to do it.”
Then we both looked over at the Duke, who was pressed back in his chair, eyes wide, and shaking just a bit. When he saw that our focus was on him, he shook his head adamantly.
“I didn’t do it. I wanted peace. Why would I do it? I bet it was you who did it.”
He looked at me, suddenly very desperate and panicky, and pointed a shaking finger.
“It must have been you. You don’t like either of us. You’d rather we were both done away with!”
Irvan jumped up, knocking his chair over.
“Let me out! Let me out this instant! I didn’t do it! You have no proof! You two are the murderers! Let me go! Let me out!”
The Duke began banging on the walls of the Sound Bubble, causing ripples to go running across it’s surface. Great. Because a dead King wasn’t bad enough, now we had a panicked Duke who was going to create a panic outside by doing that.
“Aaron, let him out.”
The MAGI looked at me like I had lost my mind.
“It’ll only cause more panic if we keep him in here now. Look at everyone running around outside already, getting ready for battle.”
Then I looked over at the Duke’s camp and sighed.
“Oh, and look. Here comes his personal guard to try and rip him out of here by force. Just do it.”
“Alright. Retract,” he told the Bubble.
A moment later we were standing out in the open for everyone to see, dead King still laying on the table. The Duke rushed over to his guard.
“Treachery! Murder! The MAGI and Liaison have killed King Malyon! Arm yourselves now!”
“WHAT?!” I heard a familiar shriek ring across the clearing and winced.
Great. Just what we needed. Another idiot to add to the party.
“She killed my father?!” the Princess shrieked. “Guards! Soldiers! Battle stations! Kill them! Kill them! Kill them! Avenge your King!”
I starred at her for a moment in open mouthed horror. Was she seriously giving orders to attack us? Why was she taking her Kingdom’s sworn enemy’s word without a second thought? Without even asking us? Did she really hate us that much? Or, rather, did she hate me so much that she’d leap on any excuse to have me killed?
I knew one Kingdom I actually wouldn’t ever be coming back to after this and it started with an E.
“Korina?” said Aaron, eyes sweeping the clearing as he watched soldiers grab their weapons and start circling us. “Are we staying to try and explain?”
“Depends,” I said as I started backing away from the growing number of armed soldiers.
“Well, how many weapons do you have on you?”
“Well, none. This was supposed to be a peaceful mission and bringing weapons in would have been against regulations. Plus, it might have turned things hostile from the start.”
“Right. I’ve got squat, too, and I know we can’t take on an army.”
“We have before.”
I shot him a look and saw that he was smirking.
“Yes, but we were armed and prepared and they had their sights set elsewhere at the time. This is a completely different situation.”
I turned to see that a group of Wizards and Elves had come up behind us and we were completely surrounded now. I swallowed hard and scanned the clearing quickly to see that several of the Wizards had already caught the Carpet in a magic Circle, rendering it useless and no help.
This was really bad.