Glad you could join us for the next covert episode of Elliot’s Adventures. If you’re new here, you can catch up by returning to the beginning, and reading really fast…
Holding up both arms, the Assassin moved into the open and stopped well away from the Prince. “As you can see, I also am un-armed. Or un-clawed, to be more precise, thanks to your dear friend Randall. You wouldn’t happen to know where he is, would you? He ran off before I could thank him properly.” Elliot said nothing. “No?” Anthony asked. “Ah well, if it’s meant to be… So, Elliot the Faithful. How good to see you again.”
Neither of them moved.
“What do you want, Anthony?”
“What, no chit chat?” Anthony’s shoulders sagged. “I do grieve the decline of civilized discourse. I mean, really, just because we’re at war doesn’t mean we can’t be sociable.” He waited a beat. “Still no?” Heaving a dramatic sigh, he threw his shoulders back. “Fine. As you will then. I understand you’re the negotiator for this so-called ‘Alliance’.”
“First Minister of the Alliance, yes.”
Anthony waggled his claw. “As you say. As General Hai’s messenger, I’m here to let you know the General would like to schedule a negotiation for the return of something the Queen of Fen has in her possession that belongs to The Arids.”
“If you’re referring to the Hive,” the Prince interrupted, “I can tell you that will never happen.”
“No, no, no. He’s not interested in negotiating for the Hive,” the messenger assured him. “That’s why he’s declared this war — he intends simply to take that back. He wishes to negotiate the return of Madam Duggla who has committed treason against The Arids and must answer for her crime.”
“She’s already been found guilty of crimes against Queen Lilian and is awaiting sentencing,” Elliot informed him. “Might the General find that satisfactory?”
The Stinger shook his head. “I should hardly think so. It’s important the citizens of The Arids see that traitors are judged by the victim of their treachery. If they believe it’s possible to escape punishment by running off to a different Kingdom — assuming they aren’t so stupid as to offend that Kingdom as well — then the General loses significant influence over his people. Surely you can see that.”
“I see that tyrants depend on a shaky foundation of fear and subjugation, not on the strength of their subjects’ respect and loyalty,” the Prince countered.
“And I see we could quibble about this all night.” Anthony waved the prospect off. “Just say there’s room for discussion so I can take a hopeful response back to my boss. What happens after that is still a mystery. Who knows? Maybe he’ll be able to persuade you of his rightful claim to the Crone. Maybe she’ll prove to be such a burden to Fen that the Queen will be eager to be rid of her. Maybe she’ll just die. What do you say, can we work together on this?” In a heartbeat, he stood inches from the Prince’s face. “Maybe in exchange for me not killing you right here, right now?”
Elliot didn’t flinch, but his heart pounded so hard, he feared the Assassin could hear it echoing in his shell. “Are you’re saying I can’t trust your word, Anthony?”
The Assassin stepped back and looked him up and down. He laughed and rolled his eyes. “That last was a joke. I was merely trying to communicate how greatly I value your cooperation in this matter. Maybe I should have said, ‘Please.’ Please let me tell the General you’re willing to talk about it.”
Being in the middle was never the easiest position to operate from. Intellectually, Elliot knew it might be a mistake to agree, but his gut offered no warnings against it.
“All right,” Elliot conceded, “you may tell the General that the Alliance is willing to discuss whether or not there should be a prisoner transfer.”
Anthony bowed. “Thank you. It’s been a rare pleasure.” And before Prince Elliot could answer, the Stinger had vanished into the undergrowth.
To be continued. . .