“General Dungerame! The new military strategist is here.”
General Dungerame turned around in his seat. “Hello, Geoff.” He dismissed the page with a wave of his hand. “Sit down.”
“Hi, Luke.” Geoffrey walked out through a set of heavy wooden doors onto a stone balcony that overlooked the training field. Below, Heartburgh’s army was doing calisthenics
“They call me Lukomendrius here. General Lukomendrius Dungerame.” He signed. “Not much to look at, are they?”
Directly below them, a group of about two dozen men and women were doing jumping jacks while wearing full leather armor. Then one of the soldiers stumbled into the one next to him and in seconds the entire group was knocked to the ground.
“We don’t get the best recruits up here,” said the general. “We’re a long way from Krim City, and we’re not part of the hottest, latest war. Best we can offer is a few minor skirmishes.”
“If that’s your recruitment pitch, I’m surprised that volunteers aren’t banging down the doors.”
“Well, enough chitchat,” said the general. “What if I were to tell you that I might have that battle schedule you’re looking for?”
“I would say, hand it over, so I could go back to my council meeting.”
“What council? Never mind. I’m more interested in finding out if you even know the difference between right and wrong?”
“You mean, socially acceptable and not socially acceptable?”
“No, that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about intrinsic value. Some actions are simply good, and others evil, regardless of what people think or if they benefit you personally or not.”
“Every action benefits some people and hurts others.” Geoffrey gestured at the soldiers below, who were getting themselves lined back up again. “If they win a battle, someone else loses. Is one side really any better than another?”
“Our side is innocent farmers, and the other side is bandits.”
“No, one side is people playing at being farmers, and the other side is people playing at being bandits,” said Geoffrey. “I don’t presume to judge. I just do what they pay me to do.”
“Well, I guess I can’t really argue with your logic,” said Luke. “Fine, I’ll get you the battle schedules.”
When Geoffrey returned to the atheneum, Flame Bunyips was gone, Bartram was slumped in his chair, asleep, and a couple of new people were there, sitting around the main table.
“Is this our fancy new military strategist?” asked a woman Geoffrey hadn’t met yet.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I invited Abigail and Hephzibah,” said Ayoob. “Abigail Yaxley heads up our non-denominational religious efforts.”
Geoffrey nodded in Abigail’s direction. “I saw you this morning with the Duke,” he said.
“And Hephziba Primrose Livilla Massey is Heartburgh’s logristics coodinator,” Ayoob continued.
“I brought maps,” Hephziba said. “And you can just call me Zee. You don’t have to say the whole name.”
Geoffrey walked up to the table and placed his hands on the back of the chair he’d been sitting on earlier. “I can see why a logistics coordinator would be good to have around,” he said. “Nice maps.”
Zee smiled shyly. “Thank you.”
“But I don’t understand the religious side.”
“I’m here because even virtual battles do real damage to people,” said Abigail. “And to people’s souls. I’m here to bring the word of God — or any nondemination deity — to this abandoned land.”
“Well, to save their souls, of course.”
“No, I meant what does that have to do with defending us against marauders?” asked Geoffrey.
“I’m hoping to convince the desperados to give up their evil ways.”
“No, I’m serious,” Abigail said.
There was a brief uncomfortable silence. Then Geoffrey asked, “So where’s Flame?”
“I’m not sure,” said Ayoob.
“But we can start reviewing our current logistical situation,” said Zee. She stood up, and Geofrey noticed that had somehow found an easel, and had a large stack of posterboards leaning against it. She picked up the first one and put it up on the easel.
“As you can see from the shaded area in green,” she began.
“Wait, wait,” said Geoffrey. “You have a presentation ready? So fast?”
“She’s been trying to give it for days now,” said Ayoob.
“I put a lot of work into it,” said Zee. “I mapped out all the trade routes…”
“We don’t have time for that right now,” said Geoffrey. He looked at Ayoob. “Is Flame coming back?”
“I’m going to go see where she is,” said Geoffrey. “Maybe something happened to her. If she comes back, tell her I’m in the stables, comforting the horses.”
“The stables? I’m confused,” said Ayoob. “Are you going to look for Flame, or to hang out with the horses?”
“Maybe both. Maybe she’s with the horses.”
“And how long are you going to be gone this time?”
“Are we even having an advisory council meeting?” asked Zee. “Because I have some projections…”
“I think we should start the meeting with a non-denominational prayer,” said Abigail.
“Also, what kind of advisory council are we?” asked Ayoob. “Flame isn’t a military person. Neither am I, or Abigail, or Bartram.”
Bartram suddenly jerked awake. “What?” He wiped the drool from his bottom lip. “Did I miss something?”
“No, we haven’t even started,” said Ayoob. “You can go back to sleep.”
“Are you trying to pull a fast one on me?” asked Bartram. “It’s my money paying for all this, you know. Are you talking behind my back?”
“We don’t even know what we’re supposed to be talking about yet,” said Ayoob. “But Duke Percheval this morning said that Geoffrey was a master at strategy. I’m sure he’s got a plan.” He looked up at Geoffrey. “What is your master plan? Are you going to stop the attacks? Increase our population base? Beat Garthram and get the teleportation gate?”
“Yes, that,” said Geoffrey. “All of that. Just give me a minute.” He left the room and closed the door behind him.
“These people are idiots,” he said. “I’ve got to get out of here.”