“Your Majesty, these arrived for you.” The servant bowed and left after she dismissed him.
“Your Majesty,” Lord Brinlett insisted on being allowed into the Council Chamber.
Her Ericorian men, now doubled, stepped forward to surround her. Selby held up a hand. “Lord Brinlett?” He was a part of the War Council, with a number of ties to the Central Coast towns.
The Ericorian at the entrance of the Council Chamber allowed him through, and he glared up at them as he stepped inward, righting his surcoat.
“Your Majesty, at least one hundred ships were spotted in the Bandle Bay off the coast of Little Wharton!”
Selby’s mouth fell open. She grabbed at her throat. “No… no.” She shook her head. This was not happening. They had barely begun mobilization of troops….
Distantly, she heard a voice ask, “Your Majesty?” with concern. But it just did not process. How?
With incredible effort, Selby heaved in a sigh, forcing herself to breath slowly. Now was the time to appear strong. And thank all the gods ever in creation that it was only Lord Brinlett standing in here with her and not a full Council. And her Ericorian, of course, but she thought of them more as formidable statues who came to life when called upon or if the smallest threat was perceived.
Aloud, Selby said, “Little Wharton…. That will be a direct hit once they make land. And from there, they would march directly here… in just – two days, no less.” Selby felt sick.
The nearest Ericorian grabbed for the tossbasket in the corner just in time for Selby to empty the entire contents of her stomach into it. She heaved one last time, then stood straight again, holding her pounding head.
“Water,” she croaked.
Lord Brinlett supplied her with a cup of water.
Once she stopped panting, Selby sat down. Was it too late to abdicate the Throne? Run away? Crawl into a hole and hide?
She took another deep breath. “How did our Cliff Watches miss this? Are they compromised, all of them? I should think I would have heard if they had been demolished….”
One hundred war ships…. That was five thousand men, just two days away.
“No report of enemy ships passing through, Your Majesty, and Naval Guards report that the Cliff Watch Towers are all functional,” Lord Brinlett replied. She heard the fear in his voice.
“Lord Brinlett, call the other Councilors here at once.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.
Once he left, Selby leaned her temple down into her hands. This could not be happening. They would have to retreat….
And then she saw the letters that had been given to her by the servant.
She picked the first one up and flipped it over, sinking back into her chair to read it.
A Storden seal. This should be interesting.
To: Her Royal Majesty Selby Cylysse Stevanrhut, First of Her Name,
Queen of Clemongard:
As your long term neutral Southern Neighbor, I, His Royal Majesty of Storden, Harvick Whittemore Goddard send to you a gift of good will of three hundred newly built warships. One hundred have a destination of Clemongard’s Bandle Bay, for your personal protection should your Northern enemies suddenly strike.
Two hundred other warships await your use northwest of Clemongard’s Ainsley-by-the-Sea. The troops aboard these ships are yours in whole now as my gift to you, in hopes that you might make use of them in these troublesome times ahead.
Please know that I in no way ordered the construction of these ships nor the enlistment of their troops, nor any of the Army which has mobilized in my centuries-neutral nation. My eldest son, Varley, once my Crown Prince and heir, ordered this unbeknownst to me. I had no design in this whatever.
He has been disowned and removed from my line of succession in favor of my infant twin sons, Tollard and Jonnard Goddard, who will, gods be good, rise to my throne through their Regent, Dordonas Willam Goddard. Should anything happen to me, and you are able, I hope you might watch out for them, as they now are in hiding.
I believe my eldest son to be allied with Ormon and possibly Ambsellon as well. As to his immediate plans, I know not, though he is no longer welcome in Storden. Know that he will react poorly once he knows that his Naval fleet no longer exists, so you should consider possible militaristic action on his behalf.
With this gift, I hope you will remember me as a neutral neighbor who has always meant you and your country well over the centuries, as you and your country has always meant Storden well in return. I wish you a long and fruitful Reign.
With the best of will always,
His Royal Majesty of Storden,
King Harvick Whittemore Goddard
Selby took a deep breath. Her mouth had fallen open while she had read this letter. Harvick’s own son! The Crown Prince of Storden, not welcome in Storden, disowned, in favor of Harvick’s twin infant children… who were now in hiding.
And even more so – Harvick had stolen all his Naval fleet and given it to her. If each ship had a minimum of fifty men, and they were all hers… then… Selby smiled. She now had fifteen thousand more troops. And three hundred war ships.
Was it her, or did Harvick write in such a way as if he was fearful for his life….
Selby could not believe her luck. She would need to thank Harvick in some way. And absolutely watch somehow for his sons, if she ever heard whisper or word of them.
But the idea of Varley attacking, that was frightening. That was cause for alarm, and once her Councilors were assembled, they would immediately plan possible defensive maneuvers all along the borders. Her bridges at the mouths of the Trellis and Rournebourke Rivers were nearly complete now, so they would post full watches all along the coast as well, and mobilize troops at the Cliff Watch towers….
Then Selby recalled the second message. She popped the seal open.
Also another message from Storden, though it was not King Harvick’s Royal seal personally.
She read it, then dropped the message on the table.
King Harvick was dead.
“Well, at least he died peacefully in his sleep,” remarked Lord Wharfstead.
Selby had very different ideas about that.
“He was quite young to die in his sleep. Perhaps it was a brainstorm,” remarked Lord Garrath.
Or a pillow pressed upon his face, thought Selby.
“I remember when he took the throne,” Lord Dansherd declared as he sat back in his chair.
“Well, whatever it may have been, Varley Goddard, formerly Crown Prince of Storden, is not to take the throne, nor is he even welcome in Storden itself. Dordonas Goddard is the Regent for Harvick’s son when he is old enough to take the throne, so we shall be dealing with Dordonas henceforth, and he will see that Storden continues to be a neutral country as its tradition holds.
“Varley, however, is a problem. Now that we have all of his Navy, along with fifteen thousand of his men, it’s likely that he will strike at us, if only as a show of strength. And so, we need a solid battle plan.”
Selby now had four tacticians, three war experts, a retired Navy Admiral, and a retired Army colonel from the Twenty Years War, all serving on her War Council, and she let them throw ideas about.
Finally, she spoke up and told them, “I want troops all along the Stordish border, the rivers, and spread evenly around the Cliff Watches as well.”
“Your Majesty, that will leave us spread thinly….”
“With fifteen thousand new troops out on the water? Whom we can call to land at any time? Possibly not. We have thirty thousand Ericorian as well. If anything, we will be open at the mountain passes, and that’s where we can send our Ericorian troops if must be – let them meet our incoming Northern host until we can move our men around accordingly and our Alliance troops arrive.”
“We could also attack Harbour Town, it’s his northernmost port as well as a fort. He has soldiers there, I guarantee you that. We could take out –”
“No, my lord Garrath. We are defending Clemongard, not attacking Storden. We do not actually know if Varley will even cast his eye toward us for sure yet. He may simply consider Clemongard as a lost cause and ride to attack the Eastern Alliance.
“We are defending ourselves from Varley’s offensive actions, not the peoples of our centuries-neutral neighbor.”
Colonel Gormmick coughed and cleared his throat. “With all due respect, Your Majesty, you have to consider that this young runt may now rule Storden, whether it was his father’s wish or not. The commonfolk all over Storden don’t know that his father disowned him. I’d be willing to rejoin the Army as a Private again if half of the commoners knew the King was father to twins now. Had been, as the case is now. So long as they have food in their bellies, they’re just going to keep farming their fields, fishing, and minding their children, and if the big guy on the throne decides neutral’s not the way to go anymore, then half of them won’t like it and half of them won’t care, but they’ll all have to go along with it anyway.
“So they’re likely to believe that Varley is their rightful King now, unless the Regent does something immediate. If those boys are in hiding, they’re already one step behind. They ought to be in the Castle, where everyone knows about them.
“We need to stay one step ahead. Deploy scouts to the mountain passes and northern Cliff Watches, for with warning enough from scouts, our men, Ericorian or otherwise, can meet the Northern Countries in the same time it will take for them to get through the passes or to one of our towns on the Coast. We need more men in the RiverLands, and thick units all down the border, from Port Collier, Brewer’s Field, clear over to Elm Haven. And Ainsley-by-the-Sea.
“Once that little runt sees our borders are impenetrable, then he’ll just ride his sugar ass – oh, pardons, Your Majesty – he’ll just ride on out and south of here somewhere, and then we can set to planning for the Northern attacks.”
Selby nodded slowly. It sounded sensible, though she had no frame of reference by which to judge it, so how could she refute it? “Very well.”
The Colonel’s eyes narrowed and observed her shrewdly. “Your Majesty, this boy is what we in the Army refer to as a ‘wiggler.’”
Selby rose her eyebrows. “A ‘wiggler.’”
“Yes. A “wiggler” is like a worm on a hook. This runt, he wiggles back and forth, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do next, he doesn’t know how he’s going to do it, he wiggles back and forth, round and round, ‘til a big fish swallows him up. The whole time, he don’t know he’s bein’ used as bait. You follow me?”
Pleased suddenly, Selby smiled. “I do, Colonel.”
“And the big fish, I’d be willing to bet, is that Ice Cu – uh, Queen, up in Ormon.”
A number of the other Councilors and members of her War Council were nodding their heads.
“Unfortunately, Your Majesty,” Colonel Gormmick’s deep rolling voice paused, “and this is the bad news. This little wiggler’s on a big damn hook, and that hook is Storden. Meaning, he’s got a lot of power behind him. He can do a lot of damage before he gets swallowed up.”
Selby’s smile turned immediately to a frown. Her lip curled upward with distaste. Varley. She sniffed. She had met the little… wiggler… years ago, during a state visit, when her father and King Harvick met. He was just a few years older than Selby, but he had such a sense of self-entitlement even then that Selby distinctly recalled disliking him immediately and avoiding him as much as possible. Hmm. She had only been perhaps ten at the time. Who would have guessed she’d be going to war with him in just a few more years….
Lord Wharfstead spoke up then. “Well, that little wiggler is no match for the Cleaver Queen, now, is he?” and he grinned, causing the rest of the War Council to chuckle and roar with cheers. Selby sighed and smiled for Lord Wharfstead’s sake. He was now her fiercest supporter. He had recruited widely down in the Coastal areas and even brought forth one of the men sitting here at her table. However, he had spread talk of the new Cleaver Queen of Clemongard everywhere that people had ears….
Interestingly, an impressive cleaver had been gifted to her by her War Council at the last meeting, with her full name and title inscribed in gold upon the hilt, along with “Cleaver Queen of Clemongard” below it. It even had a beautifully preserved leather scabbard, that she might wear it without the blade causing damage to limbs or anything else. So now she wore it at her side wherever she went, more to appease her Councilors then out of a sense of pride.
Ah. Perhaps she could test out her new cleaver on the Wiggler….