WARNING! The following post contains pictures of shirtless male Sims in the peak of athletic condition. Also, some (very) rude language. But if you were Tommy and you heard what he was told, you’d be swearing, too.
You have been warned!
It was a beautiful day. Sun shining, birds singing and all that rot. Little fluffy clouds chasing each other across the sky. Warm sun beating down but made bearable — more than bearable, pleasant by the brisk breezes that blew over the campus just when your forehead was starting to bead with moisture. It was the kind of day where you could walk around in full armor and be neither too warm nor too cold.
In other words, it was far too pleasant a day to be wasted in class.
So Tom and Milo were not in class. Instead, they’d bunked off to the training ground on the edge of campus. The monks, nuns and academics in minor orders of Camford did not like the idea that there was a training ground so near to campus, given the whole Wrightian perspective on war and all. But since at least half of their male students were going to be knights in fact or in name, there had to be a training ground. Hell, if they tried to get rid of it, they’d lose the entire Reman male population. One never knew when one had to fight one’s way out of a slave revolt or a coup d’etat (or into a coup, given that this was, in fact, Reme in question).
Besides, it wasn’t really bunking off, in the grand scheme of things. To ninety percent of the population, throwing enormous axes at a wooden target was not relaxing or bunking off. It was work, hard work. You generally woke up with a sore back and shoulders in the morning, cursing the fool who thought throwing axes was a good idea. At least, you did if, unlike a certain select ten percent of the population, you were not trained to throw axes ever since you could be trusted to hold that kind of implement without beheading yourself or someone close to you. In that case, you did not wake up sore in the morning; in any case, you woke up brighter-eyed and more bushy-tailed because the exercise had tired you out and therefore you slept better.
And there were reasons, aside from the weather, why Tom thought throwing axes at a target might be a better use of his time at the moment than listening to a screed by the professor on why historians would never understand the true genius of Emperor Maximus XIII. Sure, he decimated the Reman aristocracy. Sure, he had an unfortunate habit of wiping out entire villages when the lord who nominally controlled the village pissed him off. Sure, he systematically starved three-quarters of the Empire’s breadbasket province, Riverblossia, by confiscating their grain until the Riverblossians agreed to higher production quotas. But the point was that he kept power for fifty years and died in his bed of a ripe old age. And this was after a hundred-year period in which the average reign of an emperor was only five years!
No, Tom had better things to do than listen to Professor Machiavelli justify one sick bastard. There were current political situations that needed looking into — and Tom intended to look into them.
“So, Milo, my friend,” Tom asked as they set up their shots, “what’s the situation in Glasonland?”
Milo stumbled forward, his axe slowly arching through the air. It hit the target, dead center.
“What — what did you say? Sorry, wasn’t–wasn’t paying attention.”
Tom’s eyebrow slowly arched upward. Milo, not pay attention to him? Not to be egotistical, but Milo usually listened with rapt attention when Tom yawned. And it wasn’t because he was a prince, either — or at any rate, not just because Tom was a prince. At least part of it, Tom was sure, had to do with that fact that he was a better-than-average conversation partner, and if there was anything Milo loved more than throwing axes, it was talking.
“I was just asking how your break was, mate,” Tom replied.
“But — you said something about Glasonland?”
“I was assuming you went home. You said you were going to, after our exams were over.
“Oh. No, no, I ended up not going.”
“Why not? You said you were looking forward to seeing your parents and your little sibs.”
“Well, I was, but …” Milo grabbed another axe and threw it. “There were — um — reasons why I didn’t want to go home.”
Tom didn’t say anything, just threw his third axe.
“The, uh, the girl I was betrothed to — well, two days before I was due to set out, I got a letter breaking off my betrothal. And,well, if I went home I’d have to see her, and that would be just … awkward …”
Tom’s jaw fell. “She broke up with you by letter?” he said as Milo picked up and threw his third axe. “That’s cold! Though,” Tom remarked after the axe hit, “I must say, if heartbreak generally has such an improving effect on accuracy, I might have to ask Lynn if she’d be able to step on my heart at some point.”
“Oh, it’s not like you and Lady Gwendolyn,” Milo chuckled. “Lady Erica — my former betrothed — well, it’s not a love match. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a really sweet girl and I’m very fond of her, but … it wasn’t love. It might have been, someday, but it wasn’t now. Anyway, she didn’t even write to me, her father did.”
“Mate, you sound like you’re trying to tell yourself that it wasn’t a big deal, and not doing a very good job.”
“Oh, it’s a big deal,” Milo replied. “But it’s not like she broke my heart or anything. It’s not her fault.”
“You sure about that?”
“Very. There were — political reasons why her father called off the match.” Milo shuddered.
Milo glanced over his shoulder. “I’d rather not … talk about it in someplace so … open,” he murmured.
“Mate, I know I’m no expert on international law — that’s Will’s job — but even I know that Camford is a neutral territory. You can say whatever you want and the folks in Glasonland can’t do a damn thing about it.”
“Under the law, aye,” Milo agreed, “but the people who I’d … rather not have this get back to do not always follow the law.”
Tom’s eyebrows nearly hit his hairline. “Well,” he murmured. Then he stretched and cleared his throat and said in a much louder tone, “Well, mate, I’ve about had enough of this. What about a turn in the sauna, sweat the kinks out, eh?”
Milo’s eyes widened, but he nodded and the two young men walked into the building. They found an empty sauna booth, stripped but for loincloths and entered. Milo pressed his ear to the side and knocked on the wood … at least until Tom gave him a what-the-hell-are-you-doing look. “Sorry,” he murmured with a sheepish smile. “Just — trying to figure out how thick the walls are.”
“Mate, I have it on excellent authority that you could have a bloody orgy in here and nobody would hear. So, spill. Political reasons?”
Milo sighed. “It’s complicated …”
“Begin at the beginning, my friend.”
“Well, the beginning is that King Vortigern is — dying.” Wright, Tom thought, they sure have the Glasonlanders running scared, poor Milo had to force the word out and nobody can even prosecute him for treason here! “The rumors are that he won’t last out the year.”
“Yikes. But there’s an heir, isn’t there?”
“Aye. Prince Vortimer.”
“He’s of age and all that?”
“Then what’s the problem?”
Milo bit his lip. “There are … quite a few problems. The first is that, well, he’s … he’s not very bright.”
“Ah, a spoiled royal idiot? Gee, Milo, aren’t you glad you don’t know any of those personally?”
“Heh.” Milo didn’t even have an insult ready for him; this was serious. “Tom — Tom, I don’t think his idiocy is of the spoiled-royal-who-never-had-to-think variety. I … that is, I’ve heard rumors that he’s — he’s just not all there, mentally. He — it isn’t that he’s just a fool, I think, that is, I’ve heard rumors that something is genuinely wrong.”
Tom felt his stomach plunge. A fool of a ruler was one thing, that was almost a Wright-send to kings and princes of nearby countries. A fool of a ruler, hellish as he was on his own country, could be easily outwitted and manipulated by other countries. But a ruler who wasn’t all there — who was not just stupid, but mentally deficient in some way? That was trickier. With that kind of a situation, the ruler himself was worthless; you had to look for the power behind the throne. And that could change in an instant.
Tom took a deep breath. But maybe — maybe this was just exaggerated rumor talking. Prince Vortimer was about ten years older than he and Milo. Surely, if he was mentally deficient, it would have shown up before Arthur and the rest left Glasonland. Arthur would know about the situation, then, even if he hadn’t seen fit to inform Tom yet.
And if that’s the case, I sincerely hope Dad is planning on sharing this sort of information once I graduate. You know, being as I’m his heir and all.
“You know, Milo — not that I’m knocking your sources, but perhaps you don’t have the whole story. I mean, my father’s a smart man, and he would have noticed something like that in Prince Vortimer — before we left for Albion, I mean.”
Milo shook his head. “He wasn’t born that way. There was a hunting accident when he was eighteen — he hit his head. He hasn’t been the same since.” Milo sighed. “They have him trained very well — I mean, I’ve seen him at state occasions and such, you’d barely guess anything was wrong unless you were close by — but he’s just not all there.”
“Wright,” Tom murmured.
“But it isn’t Prince Vortimer you need to worry about. I mean, I hate to say it of him, or anyone, really, but he can’t even put his own boots on. And that’s not because he’s a spoiled idiot who’s never had to do it. It’s because he can’t.”
“Mate, if a ruler is that — that — deficient, then it’s never the ruler you have to worry about.”
“Aye, true enough. But the ones we have to worry about are his uncles. Lucinius, Septimus and Antonius, to be precise.”
“Aye, his mother — Queen Lucilla — was a daughter of a Reman emperor. Her father got deposed about five minutes after she got married, and the brothers who survived became permanent hangers-on at the royal court of Glasonland.”
“Indeed.” Milo almost smiled. “But anyway, they’re of the … Reman school of politics.”
“The school that teaches people to gain power by slaughtering all their enemies, and then keep slaughtering them until you are slaughtered in your turn?”
“That would be the one.”
“And I take it that somehow or other, you have ended up on their list of enemies? Or your family has, I should say.”
“You … could say that,” Milo replied. “Aye, you could say that. It’s — it’s very complicated.”
And you don’t trust me. But maybe Tom, in Milo’s position, wouldn’t have trusted himself, either. “All right. Go on.”
“The Reman uncles,” Milo continued, “are — well, they’ve got reason to be nervous. You’ve — you’ve heard of King Vortigern’s bastards, haven’t you?”
“I’ve heard that he could replace the Glasonlander military with his by-blows and still have a force to be reckoned with, aye.”
Milo gave a mirthless laugh. “Well, the situation isn’t that extreme, but — aye, there are a lot of them. And those are just the acknowledged ones.”
“I — I know. Anyway. With Prince Vortimer being — if anyone was thinking — unfit for the crown, and there being no younger Princes, and the whole Reman uncle situation, well, people are basically laying bets on how long it will be before one or more of the bastards raises an army and tries to take the throne.”
“Bloody hell? That could have been your father, twenty years ago, Tom.”
“Aye, it could have been. But it wasn’t, thank Wright. Because — well, not to make light of what your country is about to go through, but a civil war in Glasonland would not be good for Albion. We might get sucked into it.”
“If I were you, I’d pray for a civil war,” Milo answered. “Because you haven’t heard the rumors about what the Reman uncles are planning to do if they get power without incident. And that will involve Albion — not just a ‘might’ situation, it’s a definite will situation.”
“Oh, bloody hell. What?”
“There’s talk that they — well, that they might use the Glasonlander army to try to take back the laurel-crown their father lost.”
“You mean — you mean — fuck! War between Reme and Glasonland?”
“Fuck, fuck, fuck! They’d make Albion the fucking battlefield, wouldn’t they?”
“Son of a –” Tom relieved his feelings by disparaging all of the Reman uncles’ female relations, their friends, the size of their penii and even their dogs for good measure. “Bloody hell. I wish good luck to the bastards, wherever they are. No offence to Prince Vortimer, but I pray he gets deposed in record time and the Reman uncles promptly find their heads on pikes on the city walls.”
“You might not get your wish,” Milo murmured. “They — rumors are, the Reman uncles have already started killing off the bastards.”
Tom’s jaw fell.
“Three weeks ago, Brother James of the Order of St. Robert was found dead in his bed. The abbey doctors said it was food poisoning, but, the thing was, he’d eaten the same thing as all the other monks. Nobody else had a tummy ache. And he’s dead?”
“St. Robert and St. Brandi. But wait — who was he?”
“The most intelligent and capable of King Vortigern’s bastards.”
“But — but if he was in the Church — he couldn’t take the throne.”
“But he could help one of his brothers take it.”
“Oh, hell. Bloody hell.” Tom shuddered, and Milo joined him.
And then another thought occurred to Tom. The Reman uncles had been around twenty years ago, before they left for Albion. Twenty years ago, that could have been his father dead in his bed of “food poisoning.” That could have been him with a Reman knife sticking out from his cradle. That could have been his sister smothered in her sleep.
“Tom? What’s the matter?”
“Nothing. Just thinking.” He sighed. “There’s a reason why I avoid doing that. Come on, mate. Enough politics. I know what we need now.”
They left sauna, dressed, and Tom led Milo up the stairs. He plopped himself down on the nearest available chair.
“Barmaid,” he told the buxom young lady behind the counter, “give my friend and I the stiffest drink you’ve got. We’ve just come to the conclusion that both of our homelands are royally screwed — and I do mean royally screwed.”