Kadon the Mage raised his hand up to the approaching army. Out of respect and fear for Kadon’s enormous reputation, the army, the entire army, apart from a few slow people at the very back, stopped. There was a clatter as the slow people crashed into the ranks preceding them.
Kadon put his hand down, and looked at it, richly gloved and tasselled. Look at him now, dressed in his finest mage robes, purple and yellow, with the ermine trim at the top, and what would turn out, sometime later to be cat trim, at the bottom. The King rode up behind him, looking a bit more royal and a bit less like a strutting peacock. He looked down at the powerful mage examining closely the palm of his hand.
“I haven’t bloody done anything yet.” The King’s horse was a bit restless, and the large man brought the great stallion under control with a sharp tug on the reins.
“Goddamn, George, don’t pull so hard. I’m sorry that I fidgeted, I got bit by a damn fly.”
“Alright, sorry Ced. I felt like you were going to throw me.” The horse rolled his eyes and flattened his ears.
“I will bloody throw you if you jerk around like that.” George sighed and put his fingers on the bridge of his nose.
“Do you mind if I get off?”
“No, please help yourself, get on, get off, whatever. You’re the King, I’m at your disposal,” said the horse, sarcastically. “Do get some steps before you try and mount up, won’t you?” The King looked back towards a short but substantial wooden ladder was being manoeuvred towards him for that eventuality by two bored looked but husky soldiers working their way through the heavily armed crowd. He got down from the animal with some difficulty. “Have a doughnut while you’re down there, go on,” continued the horse.
“Come on, Ced, allow me some dignity in front of the men,” George pleaded, quietly. “How am I supposed to inspire them to victory if you’re berating me?”
“Alright, King.” He snorted. “Why don’t you talk to Kadon while I get a rub down?”
The King pointedly looked at what was, in theory, shortly to be the field of battle, the assembled armies with their, swords, spears, shields and pennants. He had with him perhaps ten thousand men, the entire standing army, and he estimated, they faced about that many across two hundred yards of cleared field.
“Why don’t you do that?” And nodding, he saw the beginnings of men servicing the horse by removing all the gubbins of King transport and setting about the animal with lambswool gloves.
In a moment the King stood beside Kadon, the greatest mage of his and any other kingdom. The man was still examining his palm closely. He shoved his hand behind his back hastily as the King confronted him.
“Er, I’m not noticing a great deal of zapping, kerspatting and general decimation of the enemy. You were supposed to make a large hole and give us the advantage.”
“Yes, King, I was supposed to do that.” The hand remained steadfastly concealed behind the brightly coloured mage.
“Yes.” The King paused a moment, waiting for Kadon to fill in the gap, but he seemed disinclined to do so. “So, as I understand it, you’re supposed to raise up your right hand and decimate the enemy, and raise up your left hand and heal up any who get injured, if they’re not killed outright. That’s how it works isn’t it?”
“Oh yes, my King. That’s how it works, generally speaking.” The King looked at his man, the greatest of mages. The greatest of mages kept his hand behind his back.
“And we’re having this war now because your opposite number is pregnant, and can’t use her powers to counteract yours, because she’s on what did you call it, ‘maternity leave.’”
“That’s right, King.” The King looked the greatest of mages, with no equal while his opposite number was on maternity leave, and in any event styled herself a witch, and decided to take a different tack.
“How are the wife and kids?”
“Oh fine, fine. Yes, doing well. Clarice is with child again.”
“Pregnant, you can say the word, she’s not going to explode.”
“Yes, pregnant again. Hurrah.”
“And the six…”
“…seven children, how are they?”
“Oh yes, fine, fine. Yes, doing well, the littlest is in school now too.” The King was very proud of school, educating the populace.
It was about this time that a rider arrived from across the field, and got down off his horse. He strode confidently up to the King and Mage, but the King held a finger out to halt the man.
“And another thing this chap’s just reminded me, next time you feel like getting me any sort of talking animal for a gift, please consult with me first, right?”
“Yes, O my King.” Said Kadon. “The Mrs King thought it would be alright.”
“Yes, well Queen Jasmine doesn’t ride, and despite her vast wisdom in so many other areas, she doesn’t have to put up with Ced’s tongue.”
“Yes, my King.” The King turned the chap who had ridden across the field, and found that on closer inspection, it was a young woman clad plainly in brown leather and some chainmail. She didn’t look pleased.
“Are we warring or what?” She said with considerable asperity. The King put his fingers to the bridge of his nose again, and tried to massage the rapidly assembling headache away.
“Diplomacy having failed, Madam,” he began, but he was immediately interrupted.
“Don’t you Madam me you, old buffer! Do I look old enough to be Madamed? If you’re going to be all formal and talk like something out of a bloody romance you might as well get it right. It’s ‘Princess’” she made the quote marks, “Fiona.” All the army nearest took a step back, making a great clop on the ground as they moved in unison, not intentionally.
“Ah, I do apologise Mad… Miss… Your Imperial highness. May I offer you the hospitality of my tent?”
“I have no intention of being taken prisoner,” replied the Princess, laying her hand obviously on her sword. The assembled men who could see took another step back. “What the hell is wrong with your army?”
“My army is made up of the finest of men and women I assure you, and taking you prisoner is last thing on my mind I assure you. Even were we to battle, you and I we would not subject you to the indignities of a cell, you would be returned to your father.” And to emphasise his point he laid his hand on the pommel of his large sword.
Or rather he would have laid it on the pommel of his large sword if, he realised at just that moment, he had not left it mounted on Ced the horse and now it lay amongst the detritus of his mounted equipment while Ced was being rubbed down after a strenuous three hundred yards walking.
“I rather fear you have the advantage of me, Your Imperial Highness.
“Just Princess Fiona will do. How do you even run a kingdom?”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“You’re completely incompetent!” The king looked shocked.
“That’s a very rude thing to say to a king you know.”
“Gosh is it? You’re a blithering idiot. I’m not fighting you.”
“Well I say! I’m rather well defended here you know.” And he looked around pointedly at the army surrounding him. This would have had a rather better effect on the young woman if every face had not managed to be turned away and studiously occupied with, straps, clouds, armour polishing, shoelace tying or pretty much anything else that several hundred people could find to occupy themselves with while not meeting each other’s eyes.
“I’ve got a powerful Mage?” The king ventured. Kadon looked up, hastily putting his hand behind his back again now that he’d become the subject of the king’s attention. The king looked at him and rolled his eyes meaningfully.
“Bit of a problem right there, King. Got your healing up right here, no problem. Friends, enemies, whatever you like, no problem.” He waved the heavily tattooed implement of healing, to wit his left hand up in the air for the King and princess to see.
“Yes, I see that. And the smiting?” The great Kadon managed to look sheepish.
“Ah well yes. So, the thing is, O King, you know I’m a bit of a heavy sleeper, right?” he paused. The king rolled his hand around indicating that the great man should continue. “And you know that my littlest started school, learning to read and write and that?” he stopped again.
“Yes, do get on with it Kadon. What’s the problem?” Kadon showed him, and consequently the Princess as well.
On his intricately patterned palm, a child’s writing in heavy black, indelible ink said “I love you, daddy.” The king resumed once more the slight grip of his fingers upon the bridge of his nose and massaged this for a moment.
“Sorry King. Just found out.”
“Right.” The sound of a sword being drawn was very much in evidence.
“I’m pretty sure such valuable information can’t be allowed to get back to the enemy, so you’ll have to kill me and I’m going to take as many of you with me as I can.” The Princess said, waving the sword in a low circle. “What, what did you say before Kadon?”
“My daughter wrote on my smiting hand.”
“No, before that.”
“My other hand is alright. I can heal everyone up.” The sword stopped moving.
“What was that about enemies?”
“The King said I had to heal anyone up. Being as your mage…”
“…witch is on maternity leave. Said it wasn’t on, having her off duty and leaving people with chopped off limbs and that.”
“But we’re at war man!”
“Well, yes, war’s been declared.” Said the King.
“…” The princess opened and closed her mouth a few times. She sheathed her sword. She looked about at the all the gathered army, looking about busily.
“I’ve just got to run an errand,” she said. “Then I think I’ll take that cup of tea, in your tent. Maybe with a piece of cake?”