Chapter 21: A COLLECTION OF PROBLEMS
Day one, Prince Thomas thought. Day one of being a ruler and it seems that the entire Kingdom has found itself in such a precarious position that it has never found itself in before. He had little doubt that it wasn’t his fault; that he was simply a victim of circumstance, and it was his insanely bad luck that he accepted the ring from his sister the night prior, and it just so happened to be on this day, while the skies were blue, the parents were missing, and the dead were rising, that the Village of Fortis still needed to be dealt with. Even more so, now that Jage’s friend, the sailor they called Juba, had told them that it was the intention of Fortis to overtake Springborough.
Thomas could not tell whether he was angry at this news, or scared, or worried, or what. He simply knew that he was already very perturbed at Fortis for having the absolute gall to take him hostage yesterday, but he was overcoming that emotion a little bit, hearing that the storm made people think vile thoughts. Maybe it wasn’t necessarily the people, and their ill intent, but rather the storm that was making them go crazy; crazy enough to even think about touching him, let alone tying him to a chair in a musty hut.
Hearing that they were planning for battle, Thomas reminded himself of the fact that Corson had removed one of their heads with his sword. He wondered just how that was playing out inside the Village. Whether that scared them or angered them more, perhaps they were soon to see.
“Sailor Juba,” Prince Thomas said from before (his? his father’s?) throne, looking down at the man who was more than twenty years his senior.
“Yes, your highness,” Juba replied, clearly not dressed to speak with a royal. But, Thomas didn’t know whether or not any of the villagers of Fortis, had any clothes that would be deemed appropriate for one of the balls the Kingdom would throw. Thomas also didn’t know if this assumption made him a worse person.
“How many men would you presume Fortis to have?”
“We’re quite large. Our Village is quite large indeed.”
“It didn’t seem it,” Thomas said, wondering if Juba knew about his recent imprisonment. But, Juba, whether ignorant of the fact or a good poker player, simply kept on.
“We have huts outside in the clearing. That’s our main city area. A ‘town hall’ you could call it. It’s where some people live, where the shops are, the place where we throw our parties. A majority of our people live in the woods.”
Thomas looked at Corson with that bit of new information, seeing if his most trusted advisor even knew about it. It seemed to be necessary information to know, to learn exactly where people were living, if they were living on his family’s lands. Corson, watching Juba intently, perhaps playing in his mind past events where the people of Fortis had snuck into Springborough under false pretenses and bent King Thomas to their will, or maybe he was simply eyeing up the man, deciding just how quickly the sword instructor could kill the unarmed sailor. Or, maybe Corson was thinking of both things at the same time.
“People living in the forest, you know of this, Corson?”
Corson, snapped from his reverie, looked up at the young Prince. “I’ve heard rumors of forts and such. I wouldn’t dare say it was the majority of the villagers, though, no.”
“I assure you, we’re a sum of our parts. We have some lean-tos, some make-shift structures of branches on the ground. Some of our people prefer a cooler climate, and so they have created structures under ground, caves, if you will, and we have to be careful of them when it rains hard, like it did last night, because those caves can, for lack of a better word, cave in, burying the families alive. So, we have to be careful. Final place is up in the trees. There’s forts everywhere, and people have become very good at traversing the trees without ever coming down to the ground.”
Thomas took this all in, trying to picture a land filled with people and houses and dwellings he wouldn’t be able to see right away. He found himself picturing the woods, and that was it. Maybe a shadow of a human here or there, but trees, sunlight filtering through the leaves, and dirt was all that was running through the ruler’s mind. Could it be that the forest was alive with villagers?
“How many?” Thomas asked.
“Well, here’s the thing. I know John Parsell the First had a deal with King Thomas that we would keep our numbers low, so I don’t necessarily want to tell you what we have, what we got up to, because that could sour the agreement between our two communities.”
“I was taken hostage yesterday. Consider it soured.”
Juba was becoming keenly aware that he was the focus of attention of all the guards along the wall who, since the crowd of people had left, had taken up a more permanent residence closer to the doors in case the people decided to come back from watching the great kingdom doors closed. Princess Kyrstin had sent Dominic and Rodolfo out to talk with everybody, to let them know to go back to their huts, and she was coming up with a solution where everybody would be visited by a member of the Springborough council soon, and everybody who was missing somebody would be heard.
So, now it was the knights, who would not move unless asked to, the infamous Corson who Juba knew as the greatest swordsman in the land and now as the murderer of one of his people, the pirate captain Jage, the giant and his bear, the princess, and the prince who looked at him as if he was a liar. But, Juba wasn’t lying. He wasn’t now, anyway; not about this.
“Your people are planning to attack, you said it yourself,” Kyrstin interjected.
“Not to mention this isn’t a squabble between two communities. You have a village. We have a kingdom.”
“True. But, it is known that Springborough is an area of families and Fortis is less so. In a time when parents go missing… You’ll have less people. There’s a possibility that we have more men then you have to fight, not to mention that we allow our women to fight as well. While I want no part in the current going-ons, and if Jonathon James asked me to board a boat and sail the Five Seas, or just the Waters of Cornwall, again for The Lost Kingdom of Gambrille, I would be tying up sails by nightfall. But, here we are stuck, and so I figured I would come tell you of the looming threat.”
“Why?” Thomas asked, knowing full well Juba had not answered his question about precisely how many people Fortis had to fight with.
“This is not my people. This is not our way. We are not fighters. That storm, something happened. And I know, if they came to Springborough, armed, spitting out venomous words, looking for a fight, I have no doubts that you would answer in kind, and blood would be spilled on your doorsteps. And who knows who would win? But, I know I would lose, that my people would lose, because we have lost our way, and we will not be completely lost until the first sword strikes. I would like to prevent that.”
“You want peace?” Kyrstin asked, standing shoulder to shoulder with her brother, the two of them tackling the politics of it all quite well, Thomas thought.
“I don’t want war.”
“How many people are coming to fight?” Corson asked again, and with the quiet of the room, it was clear an answer was the only logical response for any more beating around the subject would be clearly noticeable.
“Over five hundred,” Juba said. “Men and women. Some of the older children, even. The trees will shake on their arrival.”
“How many knights do we have?” Thomas asked Corson, who seemed to have gone white at Juba’s words.
“The problem is, your majesty,” Corson began, rewetting his mouth and throat by swallowing hard. “If what Mr. Juba here says is true, we don’t have the same resources. Our women don’t know how to fight. At least, they have not been trained to do so. And, we’re left with just the men we’ve trained.”
“How many?” Thomas asked again, a threat in his voice foretelling that he would not ask a third time.
“Five hundred enemies? I’d wager a guess that five hundred is five times our army,” Corson replied and Thomas’ could feel the hope of victory noticeably melt into thin air.