“This would be a good time for bandits to attack us,” said Ayoob, eating eggs in the great hall the following morning. The room was almost entirely empty. Besides Ayoob and Geoffrey, the only other person who made it up for breakfast was Abigail Yaxley, who was sitting at a table in the corner, working on a sermon. Everyone else was still sleeping off their hangover, including
Geoffrey had already learned his lesson about drinking on Krim and had abstained the night before.
“Maybe that was the plan all along,” said Geoffrey. “Get everyone drunk and then invade.”
“You don’t need a plan for that,” said Ayoob. “You can be reasonably sure that people are going to be hungover every morning. It’s not like there’s a lot else to do here in Heartburgh.”
“That sounds like a major security flaw,” said Geoffrey. “We should do something about that.”
“We could ration alcohol,” said Ayoob. “But if we do, all the soldiers will leave.”
“Maybe we could give them something else to do in the evenings.”
“Like what? Community theater? Chess clubs?”
“I was thinking more of sending teams out to take down the bandits,” said Geoffrey. “Keep half the troops here, for defense, and send two teams out at a time, one with the primary mission, and the second as backup.”
“It’s probably a better strategy than having them sit around waiting for us to get attacked,” said Ayoob. “We should suggest it to the Duke.”
“No,” said Geoffrey, thinking it through. “If I was trying to divide us, that’s what I would do. Make suggestions outside the regular chain of command, undermine discipline, sideline officers. If we take this to straight to the Duke, the general is going to oppose the idea because he didn’t come up with it. Plus, of course, I’m officially off the advisory council until Ohoudulus signs off on me being a team player.”
“Aren’t you being a team player right now? You’re trying to improve our security in a way that doesn’t undermine morale. Anyway, you don’t have to bring it up to the council. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Drop a hint to the general, let him take the credit for the idea.” Ayoob chewed on a particularly stringy fried skirret. “Or I could do it.”
“Why do you care?” asked Geoffrey. “I mean, what brings you here? You’re not being paid, right?”
“I’m working on some ideas for a new game,” said Ayoob. “I want it to be gritty. Realistic. Like Krim is. And I like the feeling of isolation you get out here in Heartburgh. You can’t just walk through a gate and you’re here. You have to find transport, and then spend two weeks, or more, traveling to get here. That makes it feel even more real, more immersive. On World of Battle, you can show up for a weekend, do a bit of fighting, then go back to your regular life. You can’t do that here.” He paused. “Earlier, you said that getting everyone drunk last night might have been part of a plan. Whose plan? Ohouduluses?”
“If I was deliberately trying to destroy morale, I’d have everyone get naked and humiliate them in public,” said Geoffrey.
“It didn’t work, though. Yesterday was great.”
“Well, the Duke put a break on the nudity. And I ran a little interference with the first few contests,” said Geoffrey. “And then the crowd showed up and the competition got more fun.”
“He also stopped the stupid things, like the egg race, and switched to real things, like archery and sword fighting.”
“He went back again to stupid things once the troops went back to the barracks.” The night before, Ohoudulus seemed determined to turn the troops against each other. If Geoffrey hadn’t been there, he would have. The troops would probably have killed the team building consultant, then fought each other.
“Maybe Ohoudulus isn’t evil, just incompetent,” said Ayoob.
“I’m wondering if he was someone like me. If Garthram hired him to undermine us from within.”
“They’re already a bigger city,” said Ayoob. “If anyone gets the new gate, it’ll probably be them, anyway.”
“If I was them, I’d want to make sure.”
“Maybe it’s a good thing you’re here, then. You can keep an eye out for saboteurs.”
“Saboteurs?” The Duke poked his head in from the hallway. “Should I be worried?” He walked to the big chair that was reserved for him at the central table. Olav, the page, scurried in behind him and rushed to get him food.
“Not that we can see right now,” said Ayoob. “But Geoffrey thinks it’s a possibility. He knows what to look for.”
“I’m sure I’ll be able to spot anyone trying to undermine your castle from within,” said Geoffrey. “I’m kind of an expert at things like that. And, of course, I’m a team player now.”
“I’m going to wait to hear from Ohoudulus about whether you are or not,” said the Duke.
“Oh, come on, I bent over backwards for him yesterday,” said Geoffrey. “I’m the only reason he’s still alive.”
“From what I could see, he did an excellent job,” said the Duke. “It would never have occurred to me to hold a field day like he did yesterday. I think I’ll make it a regular thing now. Maybe… once a month?”
“Just make sure to have real prizes,” said Geoffrey.
“I’m sure between me and the council we’ll come up with something,” said the Duke.
“Does that mean I’m back on the council?”
As the Duke ate, the rest of the castle’s inhabitants staggered in. Bartram, the financier, headed straight for the hard-boiled eggs. Flame wasn’t there, but she usually ate breakfast at the inn.
Ohoudulus came in carrying a heavy suitcase.
“Are you planning to go already?” the Duke asked. “I thought you were going to be here for at least a week.”
“My work is done,” said Ohoudulus. “Your fighting men — and women — are now full of love, adoration and respect for each other. Allowing them to wear clothing was a handicap, I admit, but we did some intensive emotional work last night after the competitions were over.”
“Fully dressed, I hope,” said the Duke.
“So I’m going to head back to Krim City,” said Ohoudulus. “My work here is done.”
Geoffrey cleared his throat.
“Well, if you say so,” said the Duke. “I hope you’ll come back if we need you again.”
Geoffrey cleared his throat again. The Duke looked at him, and he raised his eyebrows and nodded at the team building consultant.
“Ah, yes,” the Duke said. “How was Geoffrey?”
“He was… adequate,” said Ohoudulus. “He handed out the stars without complaining and found me raw eggs. So yes, he was useful. Thank you.”
“Is he a team player?”
Ohoudulus looked at Geoffrey and shook his head. “I don’t know. He doesn’t strike me as someone with a lot of love for his fellow man.”
“Hmm. I guess we can send him off to disrupt our enemies.”
“Oh? He’s a disruptor?” Ohoudulus looked at Geoffrey again. “I thought that he was just a military advisor with bad people skills. I didn’t realize…”
“Yes, he’s famous. Geoffrey Napadayushyi. From World of Battle?”
Ohoudulus flinched, then forced a smile on his face that didn’t reach his eyes. “That’s outside my area of expertise. I’m more about building people up than tearing them down.”
“Why don’t you join me for breakfast,” the Duke said. Ohoudulus sat down across from him, and Olav hurried over with more plates.
Geoffrey turned back to his own meal.
“I’ll be sorry to see you go,” Bartram said, sitting down next to him. “We had a good time yesterday, didn’t we? Do you think the Duke will send you straight to Garthram? Or will you stay in this area for a while, to deal with the bandits?”
Geoffrey pushed his plate away. “I don’t know.” If he stayed in the area, though, he would still get a chance to see Flame. Maybe save her from a bandit attack or help her deliver a calf. He stood up. If he only had a little time left, he should probably go find her, spend as much time with her as he could before he had to go.
“I heard that there’s another sex cult to the east,” said Bartram. “You want to go up there with me? Maybe we’ll get lucky and find ourselves an orgy.”
“No, I’ve got other plans,” said Geoffrey and headed for the door. Bartram was a lonely, needy man. Keeping him company would waste precious time and give Geoffrey nothing in return. He stopped. “Oh, hell,” he said, and turned around. “Sure, I’ll go to the sex cult with you.”
Bartram stood up and walked over to Geoffrey. “You’re a real friend,” he said. “Give me a hug.” Geoffrey awkwardly leaned in. But instead of hugging him, Bartram grasped Geoffrey’s face in his hand and planted a loud, wet kiss on his lips.”
Geoffrey looked up past Bartram’s head and noticed everyone staring at them, including, across the room, the Duke and Ohoudulus. Geoffrey broke free and wiped Bartram’s spit off his face.
Ohoudulus slowly glapped. “Well done! Well done!” He turned to the Duke. “That was as fine example of love for your fellow man as I’ve ever seen,” he said. “You should keep that man around.”
Bartram leaned back in and Geoffrey flinched away, but Bartram was aiming for his ear. “You owe me one,” he whispered.