Saturday, May 21, 2016

Omnium Opinionem

     “Can I help you?” Colonel Dagon asked in confusion. “How?”
     Leaning close to the colonel, Cassie whispered, “we’ve never done this before.”
     Perplexed, the colonel’s eyes darted back and forth from the young griffin king to the adolescent messenger. After thirty seconds, he sighed, “I see!” Nodding, he contemplated the best way to break the news to them, he finally said, “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. My liege, how old are you?”
     “Uh. I,” Kaiser Archel shrugged his furry golden shoulders and ruffled the eagle’s feathers of his neck, “thirteen. I think.” His irritated python tail twitched. “Why?”
     “Law, my liege,” Dagon answered.
     “Law?” Cassie asked.
     Turning to Archel, Dagon said, “you’ve got two years to learn.”
     “Learn what?” Archel asked.
     “How to rule your kingdom,” Dagon responded with a bow.
     “M-my kingdom?” Archel whispered more to himself than the others. “I. I can’t.”
     “Not right now. But, in time,” Dagon said. “There are formalities, of course.” Raising a hand to his chin, Dagon rubbed his jaw, gritted his teeth, then said, “Santos, bring Celatrix Verna here. Do not explain, just bring her.”
     “Yes, sir,” Santos said.
     “Wait,” Patrick Field said. “Commander Felis wanted me to bring her to Sentinel.”
     “Well, fortunately, your house is on the way there,” Dagon replied. “Mr. Field, I have another assignment for you, if you’ll take it?” To Santos, Dagon looked at the door while raising his eyebrows. Santos took the hint and exited with haste.
     “What is it?” Patrick asked, unable to conceal his concern.
     “Take a message to Commander Felis,” Dagon said.
     “Another one of those silly codes?”
     “No. No code.”
     “Good. The message?”
     “Tell him I’ve arrived, he’s still in charge, and that I’ve met with Santos.”
     “That it?”
     “Actually,” Dagon squinted at Fields, “when you’re done with Felis, go back to where you found me. If Balin’s still there tell him I want my bag from the truck. Then, bring it here.”
     “So, tell the commander you’re here and fetch your bag?”
     “Got it.” Field muttered, “I’ve gone from gardener to errand boy.”
     “We call errand boys ‘runners,’” Colonel Dagon offered.
     “Euphemism for go-fer,” Field chuckled as he grabbed the door knob. He took one look over his shoulder, saw the young griffin king staring at the floor, and said to himself, “I’ll be a go-fer. If I ever get fired, I’ll have an employment option. And, at least two references.”
     As the door closed behind Field, the colonel stretched his hands, popped his wrists, and said, “well, that’ll keep them busy for a little while. Uh, Arc—Kaiser Archel, don’t you think it’s time you change back?”
     The eagle’s head tilted, Archel blinked rapidly, then screeched, “what do you think I’ve been trying to do since this happened?”
     “You mean you can’t?”
     “I don’t know how it happened. So, how am I supposed to change back?” the boy’s voice cracked as he held back tears.
     “Um,” Cassie mumbled, “we could use some help with that, too.”  
     “But. I mean. I don’t,” Colonel Dagon sat down on the couch. “I only saw Kaiser Imler do it that one time. You remember, Arc—uh—Kaiser Archel?”   
     “He has no right to hold us here!” Justice Frederick Mayfield exclaimed.
     “He’s under orders,” Justice Jo Caste hissed.
     “We never saw his orders,” Mayfield retorted.
     “And, he never saw ours,” Justice Cal Davies said. “Point of fact,” he raised his right hand with his thick index finger extended, “we haven’t seen them either.”
     Pinching the bridge of his huge nose, Mayfield glared at Davies. “The Chief Justice broke the seal in front of us.”
     “True. But, did anyone else actually read it?” Caste asked.
     A palpable silence overcame the nearly deserted tavern as the three justices held their tongues. Regardless of the orders, they were stuck in Avalona until the Kaiser showed up. Davies stretched his back, groaned, and then stood up. Alcohol was the only reason he’d decided to remain in Goldie’s while the other six justices were escorted to the Regular’s Tent City. He walked up to the bar and read over the bottles. Once he saw the black label he wanted, he leaned over the bar and stretched one long arm across the gap. From that awkward position, he involuntarily glanced down. With bottle in hand, he slid back, and turned to Mayfield and Caste. He indicated to the bar with his head and thumb, mouthing, “a lady on the floor.” 
     “Who is it?” Caste whispered.
     “How should I know,” Davies said as he wriggled the plug out of the whiskey bottle.
     Captain Prescott was tasked with making the unhappy announcement that the justices required the use of the Officer’s Barracks. As with all military operations, shit travels downhill. The temporary relocation of the officers meant that the enlisted would experience a similar move. The affected soldiers were told to take shifts on the available cots. With the tension between the justices and the general at an all time high, Prescott had hoped to drop them off and return to Goldie whom he’d left unconscious on the floor behind her bar. However, his desire was made secondary when Chief Justice Adonis saw the Officer’s Barracks.
     “Untenable!” Adonis barked. “Undignified!”
     “Sir?” Captain Prescott asked.
     “We can’t stay here.”
     “It’s only temporary,” Prescott said.
     “This is no way for the Justices of the Antigone Courts to be treated.”
     “Haven’t you ever camped before?” Justice Bayleaf interrupted.
     “Camp?” Adonis spit the word out and stared at Bayleaf with disgust. “I do not camp.” 
     “You do tonight,” Bayleaf said as he clamped a hand on the captain’s shoulder. “Thank you. These quarters will be fine. Please express our apologies to the troops we’ve displaced.”
     Captain Prescott did not need to be told twice, he spun about, immediately vacating the Officer’s Barracks. Pompous, arrogant, unappreciative jerk! He glanced over his shoulder and heard the Chief Justice’s raised voice.
     “This is ridiculous!”
     Bayleaf shot back, “your behavior is ridiculous. I’d expect this out of Travis or Mayfield. They’ve been going at it for years. But, you? Fraunx, you’re the Chief Justice. Act like it.”
     Rather than sticking around, Prescott verified that the Officer’s Barracks was well-guarded, before he headed for the Command Tent. After this night, the soldiers on watch would have a whole different view of the Antigone Courts. Not my problem. First, find out if there’s anything else the general needs. Then, back to the bar, check on Goldie. Poor woman, I can’t believe she just passed out like that, he sighed.

     Standing in the doorway to the Caliber mausoleum, Ensign Osborne, whistled. “Looks like it’s your lucky day,” he said.
     “What are you talking about?” General Michaels asked from the tombstone bench, where Osborne had placed him.
     “Sir, we found her,” he answered. Osborne stepped into the mausoleum, disappearing from the general’s sight.
     “Is she alive?”
     Osborne ignored the question, “ma’am?” On the ground, next to an altar with plastic flowers and a brand new candle, lay Colonel Thompson. Pooled blood made a halo around her head. Kneeling down, he put two fingers to her throat, then yelled, “ow! Damn it! Stop. I’m here to help. Stop it.” He yanked his hand back, holding tightly to his injured wrist while a line of crimson rolled down his arm.
     Her left eye was swollen, her right temple was a congealed mess of blood and hair, and in her left hand she was wielding a hairpin. She flashed a toothless grin at Osborne and said, “you should have killed me when you had the chance.”
     “But, Colonel Thompson,” Osborne began, “I’m here to help you.”
     “Come near me again, I’ll blind you,” she screamed.
     “Lara?” General Michaels called. “Lara, honey? Are you okay?”
     “Mars,” she whispered the general’s name.
     “That’s right,” Osborne said. “General Michaels is outside. He’s injured, too. Please let me help you.” Once again kneeling down, Osborne said, “please, Colonel. I’m just going to pick you up and carry you out to him. But, you can’t stab me again or I’ll drop you.”
     “Don’t come near me!” she bellowed.
     “Now, Lara! Listen to me,” General Michaels said, “let the boy help. I’ve broken my ankle and I can’t come to you.”
     “How do I know it’s you?” Colonel Thompson asked while holding Osborne back with her hairpin.
     “Stargazer’s Cove,” he replied.
     Chancing a pointless look out the mausoleum door, Ensign Osborne could do naught but wait and wonder what the favorite make out spot for young lovers had to do with these two old timers. Then he grinned. “Ma’am?”
     “Alright. I won’t stab you, unless this is a trick,” she warned.
     “No trick, Colonel,” Osborne said.

     “We’re gonna be late,” Jougs growled.
     “The party doesn’t start until we get there,” Vorant replied. “You know that.”
     “You and your damn sandwiches.”
     “You weren’t complaining when you were shoveling one in your mouth.”
     “We didn’t get breakfast,” Jougs chuckled.
     “What’s really eating at you?”
     Jougs stopped walking, leaned toward his compeer, and said, “a bird followed us. You don’t think that’s weird?”
     “Weird? Well, yeah, that’s one word for it.”
     Looking at the trees, Jougs shivered, “there could be one watching us, right now.”
     “Now, don’t get all paranoid on me. We lost it back there. Nothing showed at the safe house. We keep our eyes open, make for the rendezvous, and if anything’s off, we abort. Same procedure as always. You know the routine.”
     “Nothing’s been routine since we picked up this gig.”
     They started walking again. As they turned the corner, Vorant said, “you’re right about that. What do you suppose the old goat’ll do once we tell him about the bird?”
     “Fuck if I know.”
     “What would you do, if you were him?”
     “Proceed with caution.”
     Both laughed, nervously. The streets were quiet, as expected. The citizens of Ambrosia City were nothing if not punctual and prone to regular dining schedules, which made meal times perfect for getting around undetected. The duumviri walked quickly, keeping alert to any suspicious movements on the street and in the sky. At Beacon Street, they paused on the corner, pulled out a sheet of paper and acted like a couple of lost tourists. Finally convinced that they were in the clear, they headed up Beacon Street and toward the warehouse district.

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