(Author’s commentary): I love this chapter. A little magic, a little romance, humor and tragedy mingling together. Sometimes it strikes me that it isn’t the big adventure parts of a story that make it real. The battles and the heroics are fun to write, and certainly very important, but it is moments of real life, like the party scene in this chapter, that make a story seem like… well… real life. This is where characters come alive and show their hidden depths.
And once again, these are not your ‘Disney’ ‘fairy tale’ princesses. These are more like Eisenhower and Churchill and Patton and Montgomery, going up against the Nazis… if they were, you know, teenage girls… in an alternate universe…
Once again, you can read all the story so far under the button in my top bar, without the rude commentary interruptions. Also, I am still looking for some editing help. If you are interested, I can send you a couple chapters… they are all short… I can’t pay you, but you get a lovely mention on your own dedication page at the front of the novel… with a blog link, if you want, where I will say any nice things about you that you suggest… oh, and you get a free, signed copy of the book when it is printed, mailed right to you. Leave a comment if you are interested, and I will give you my email.
Also, I am going to stop posting this novel soon. We are getting near the exciting conclusion, and I can’t give the milk away for free, I need to sell the cow. The idea is that when a big publishing house picks up this book… or my action/humor science fiction novels… and makes them into movies, I won’t forget those who helped me when I was a nobody.
The Seven Kingdoms
Chapter Thirty Six
They had a lovely early dinner in the great hall, catching up on all that had transpired, and then the meal evolved slowly into a staff meeting. By now, everyone knew what was expected of them and how to go about doing it. The king and queen, acting as gracious hosts, were aware of the fact that they were not in charge, but were fully committed to lending their help and support in any way that was needed. Hildy was pleased with how smoothly everything went. Her staff were good at their jobs, and she was proud of them.
Zar spent some time detailing to Hildy the production numbers. Things had become ever more efficient back on Smilingman. People kept getting better at what they did, and were constantly coming up with new and better ways to do them. Zar ran down her lists of equipment and supplies that would be shipped to Middle over the following weeks and all the things they had brought with them. And all of this would be accomplished while Smilingman continued to grow stronger.
Lawry and her father filled the newcomers in on what had been done on Middle to get the war production up and running, the training of new men, and the number of conscripts that had been freed. They were suitably impressed. They wouldn’t be starting from nothing. When the flow of supplies and manpower from Smilingman was added to the burgeoning production that was beginning to appear on Middle, the numbers amazed everyone.
“It seems we will be in pretty good shape for the next invasion,” Hildy announced into the silence that followed Zar’s progress report.
No one said a word, watching her in anticipation.
“We are going to take Dancer back, and I want to do it soon, while they are still underestimating us, and don’t know about some of our weapons. We have momentum. We can try the same trick we used here. Sail in Skull ships, dress the landing troops in Skull uniforms. We should be able to get away with it one more time, but we have to hurry before word of our tactics make it back to Skull.” Hildy waited for comments or questions.
Near the other end of the table, king Aluff stood up. “I would like to go with the troops. I don’t care if I have to fight as a regular soldier, but I should be there when we free my kingdom and my people.”
Hildy studied the young king. He looked taller than she seemed to remember him, slimmer and more fit. He looked older and more serious too. She wondered briefly if it was just the lighting in the great hall, then reconsidered. He was growing up. They all were. The war had taken children and turned them old before their time. She nodded. “You should be there to help free your people.” She didn’t intend to put him in danger, any more than could be helped.
Hildy thanked them all, and sent them off to tour the production sites and settle themselves into their new quarters. She stopped Zar at the door. “I’m going to borrow the triplets for a special project, so they can stay with me in my rooms tonight,” she told her friend quietly.
Zar didn’t ask any questions, just nodded, and then cast a curious look at the three girls. “I will miss having them around,” she replied with a grin. “They can be quite helpful, but I must admit, they tend to exhaust me.” She patted her belly, winked at Hildy, and went off to oversee the preparations for war.
The next morning Hildy took the triplets far out of the city. They passed over a low range of hills, down into the valley beyond, and into the woods on the next ridge, not stopping until they had passed over the crest. They spent the rest of the day working with the fog magic. Hildy wasn’t convinced that it was magic, but it might as well be, and she had no better word with which to describe what the girls were doing.
By the time darkness began to fall, they had a good idea of what they could do with the fog. It was Hildy who suggested that the triplets try sending the fog out in front of them instead of making it appear all around them. The girls were delighted.
“We never tried doing it that way,” Andita said, clapping her hands.
“We can see what we are doing now,” Miri exclaimed.
“It’s a lot easier to control it when we can see what we are doing,” Tam Tam added.
“And you are getting quite good at taking turns when you speak,” Hildy teased.
Things fell into a chaotic rhythm. Everyone was busy. People grabbed meals they could eat while they continued working. Five days passed in a blur, and on the sixth day, the rest of the army returned from their circuitous journey of liberation around the kingdom. It was early afternoon when they marched down the coast road and into Middletown, surrounding a long procession of prisoners. These were shepherded into the camp with the prisoners caught earlier in the invasion. Then Hildy ordered all work to be stopped for the remainder of the day. There was a celebration to be had.
Food and beverages were distributed all over the city, and guard duty shifts were shortened, to allow as many soldiers as possible to join in at least some portion of the festivities. In the great hall, crowded with people, Sanara enjoyed the party, with absolutely no idea that she was the guest of honor. Hildy waited for longer than she might have before saying anything. She was going to have fun with her role in the night’s entertainment. Fires had been lit in the hearths all around the great hall, and candles and torches aided in fighting the falling darkness. People were broken into groups, sharing stories and companionship. More than a few people had enjoyed more than a few of the available drinks. Hildy judged the time was right.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I have an announcement,” she said in a voice well below a shout. One advantage of being the commander was that people tended to listen when she had something to say. People quieted other people, and the quiet spread, until it had engulfed the great hall. Hildy called Sanara to her side, from where she had been catching up on the news with Zar and the triplets. Sanara came to stand beside her, and all eyes were upon them. Very few of them had any idea what was about to occur.
“This is a little awkward,” Hildy began, struggling to appear solemn. “It seems, Sanara, that you are due for a promotion of a rather unexpected kind. It turns out that you now outrank everyone in this hall in one respect, other than king Aluff and the king and queen of this kingdom.”
Sanara was mystified and more than a little nervous.
Hildy turned from Sanara to scan the crowd. “We mourn the loss of queen Shylar Dubins Smilingman, a queen whose foresight, tenacity and bravery may well have saved the seven kingdoms. She passed away quietly in her sleep just days ago, but before she did, she appointed an heir. We now do honor to that heir, queen Sanara Tris Smilingman!” With that, Hildy turned back to Sanara, and bowed low. Everyone in the hall followed suit.
Sanara just stood there for a moment, a blank look on her face. Then she said, “I don’t want to be a queen.”
The silence in the great hall stretched until it was becoming uncomfortable. Hildy realized at that moment that she had been unfair to her friend, and perhaps even cruel, to spring this surprise on her in such a public setting. It had never occurred to her that Sanara wouldn’t be happy about it.
“I don’t know anything about being a queen,” Sanara continued. “I’m a farmer’s daughter. I have to help my father with the crops. And I’m not even from Smilingman.”
Hildy put her hands on her friend’s shoulders and locked eyes with her. “Zareena is a fisherman’s daughter. She saved a prince’s life and they fell in love. She is no less a princess because of that. Most of the children of the royal families marry someone who wasn’t born to royalty. And you fought for Smilingman, helped save it. You are fighting for all the kingdoms, all the people. That sounds like a true queen to me. The people of Smilingman will come to love you.”
Around the hall, the officers from Smilingman, and the soldiers on guard duty who were also from there, all cheered for their new queen.
“But why would she choose me?” Sanara demanded. “She barely knew me.”
“Obviously, she saw something special in you,” Hildy replied seriously. “And let me ask you this. If the queen were still alive, and here right now, telling you that she was making you her heir, do you think you could talk her out of it?”
Sanara smiled at that idea. “Wouldn’t have mattered how good my arguments were, she would have just pretended she couldn’t hear me.” They both shared a laugh at that.
“You will be a marvelous queen, my dear friend,” Hildy told her. “You are brave and strong and loyal, and you care about people. We will all be there to help you, whenever you need us. And you know that queen Shylar Dubins Smilingman was very good at telling who is good and who isn’t. I think she made a very wise choice for her people.”
“I guess I can get my dad a farm on Smilingman. He might be willing to move there, to get away from an annoying widow who lives near our farm” Sanara conceded. “Fine, I’ll give being a queen a try. I can always drop by the farm to help him harvest the crops. I suppose your offer to help will include a little work in the fields?”
The great hall erupted in cheering and celebration. It lasted far into the night. Much food was consumed, and much wine was drunk. Even Hildy, who didn’t really care for the taste of wine, had a few goblets, and was feeling a little unsteady on her feet. Many toasts were raised to the new queen, and many stories told of the old queen who was no longer with them. From somewhere, instruments were brought forth, and people were found who could play them, with various levels of skill. There was dancing. A fist fight was broken up, the participants of which were later seen, arms draped around one another’s shoulders, singing a song whose lyrics were never meant to accompany the song being played or to fall upon innocent ears.
Hildy observed the triplets, practicing their flirting upon king Aluff, who didn’t seem to notice, as he was busy practicing his on Sanara. She saw Zar, putting a blanket over one of the palace cooks, who had either fallen asleep or passed out underneath the long table. Off in one dark corner, Lawry and Tolly Caster were deep in conversation, never taking their eyes off each other.
And then she saw fleet commander Reef making his way through the throng towards her, for all the world like the Wavebounder fighting through high seas. The look on his face said he bore ill tidings.
“They’re here, commander,” he said, without preamble. “One of the extra ships we sent out was patrolling near the end of the kingdom closest to Skull, and spotted them. They barely escaped. The enemy is landing in force.”