Over the next couple of hours, there were minor clashes but for the most part the cult seemed reluctant to put their cannons at risk by letting them get too close to the Armforge Guild’s soldiers. Meanwhile, if the guild’s fighters tried to make it back out over the bridge, they could be easily picked off by the defenders.
It was a standoff, and the two armies started digging in for the long haul on both sides of the bridge. The spectators slowly peeled away, disappointed that there wasn’t more of a spectacle.
Soon, even the queen herself, Elea Carlyle, got bored waiting for something to happen and departed the hill with all her servants and other hangers-on. At that point, the whole Royal Season decamped as well.
By the this time, the south side of the hill was muddy and treacherous and Wynefrede fell several times. She was covered with mud by the time she got back to the coach, as were Margarett and Benedicta.
The coach driver was horrified when he saw them stumble back but was too polite to say anything out loud. Still, Wynefrede noticed his expression and made a note to give him a big tip when she got home.
At the city gate, stuck for a minute in traffic, Margarett saw a newspaper vendor and leaned out the window and bought three copies of AviNews.
It was too soon for any fresh news about that day’s battle, but Wynefrede was first to find the Nightingale column in her copy of the paper.
“It says that there’s a rumor going around that Elea Carlyle and Rodge Bannister are back together,” said Wynefrede. “Should I know who that is?”
“Head of the Armforge Guild,” said Benedicta. “He was down on the battlefield today.”
“Did he survive?” asked Margarett.
“I didn’t see,” said Benedicta. “If he did, he’s probably trapped by the cult with the rest of his guild.”
“Or he was killed,” said Margarett.
“Which means he’s probably back in Krim City by now raising a second army to rescue his first army,” said Benedicta. “But Elea is probably going to break up with him again, anyway. From what I know about her, she doesn’t date losers.”
“No, she’s extremely image-conscious,” said Wynefrede. “In my real life, I sometimes have to deal with the Carlyle Group. Everyone in that family gives me the creeps.”
“Even Elea?” asked Benedicta.
“Especially Elea,” said Wynefrede. “She’s not too bad in small doses but if you ever had spend two days with her and a bunch lawyers you’d know exactly how vicious she could be.”
“Why do you think she’s here on Krim?” asked Benedicta.
“I don’t know,” said Wynefrede. “Small pond, big fish? Burnishing her public image? She’s a fan of fried skirrets?” She picked up the paper again and resumed trying to decipher the writing. “Not much other gossip today. Just that you, Benedicta, might also be a famous athlete.”
“I’m not going to bother denying it,” said Benedicta. “If people want to think I’m both a famous actress and a famous athlete, that’s fine with me.”
“Margarett, it says that your financial situation approved dramatically just before you came to Kirm.” Wynefrede looked up. “The Nightgale is getting desperate. First they say you had financial problems, and now the opposite.”
“That’s a little disappointing,” said Benedicta. “If the Nightingale is running out of ideas and just randomly throwing stuff out, then we don’t need to do anything at all. They’ll discredit themselves. And I had some good ideas to flush them out, too.”
“Like that Elea is secretly an alien.”
“She could be,” said Wynefrede. “They’ve discovered bacteria on exoplanets. From bacteria to Elea Carlyle isn’t that big a leap.”
“I know, right?” said Benedicta. “Have you noticed that she hardly ever blinks?”
“I’ve got one,” said Margarett. “We could start a rumor that one of the Royal Season gentlemen is actually Elvis.”
“Elvis, the singer,” said Margarett. “If you’re a famous actress and singer and astronomer, you should know that.”
“I never said I was any of those things,” said Benedicta. “But I like the idea of famous dead people.”
“Why don’t we go home, take nice long baths, change, and then go visit some of the other ladies and gentleman,” said Margarett. “Each one of us would tell one of the rumors, and swear everyone to secrecy. Once we see which one gets printed, we’ll have narrowed down who the spy is.”
“We need more rumors,” said Wynefrede.
“We could say that one of us is Parazzma Parazzmatazzma,” said Wynefrede. “Or that one of us caught leprosy at the hospital.”
“We could say that one of us can tell the future,” said Margarett.
“So?” asked Benedicta. “How is that a scandal? I’ve got a better one. How about, one of us had an affair sith Parazzma Parazzmatazzma and came to Krimbecause because it ended badly.”
“You’d think that she wouldn’t need to be set up on a date,” said Margarett.
“There is such a thing as being able too famous to date,” said Benedicta.
“All right, I’ll take your work for it,” said Margarett.
“How’s this for a rumor,” said Wynefrede. “Elea breaks up with Rodge against, and starts dating the creepy guy from the cult.”
“Skullash? I like it,” said Benedicta. “And she betraed Rodge to him. If he’d known about the cannons ahead of time, he could have planned a different strategy.”
“Also, she’s got a secret stash of coffee, chocolate, and cigarettes in the basement of her castle,” said Wynefrede.
“Or we could spread rumors that one of us is Marilyn Monroe,” said Margarett. “Or Hitler.”
“Hitler is good. I like all these ideas,” said Benedicta. “We get home, we clean up, we make a list, and then we’ll go off and conduct our disinformation campaign.”
“Should we get anyone else in on this with us?” Wynefrede asked.
“You want Raphe,” Margarett teased her. “Raphe and Wynefrede sitting in a tree…”
“We’re good for now,” said Benedicta. “And don’t forget, someone in the Royal Season could be the mole. Our policy should be ‘Trust no one.'”