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by on June 16, 2015

Lady Amaryllis stood on the grand balcony of Shirleyhold and waved as the griffins thundered overhead. She had never before seen so many. She wondered where Philip had found them all. The last griffin she had seen before today had been an elderly creature named Max, who puttered about the zoo in the capital. Now, suddenly, Philip had assembled whole flights of griffins, young and strong, and clearly eager for battle.

She looked down, at the clear blue pools that ringed the inner courtyard, and beyond, at the broad parade ground that swept towards the outer wall of the castle. The parade ground filled with mustering soldiers, on unicorn and horseback, or drawn up in companies of infantry. The combined banners of House Marian and House Shirley snapped in the wind. Amaryllis felt the balcony quiver beneath her, just for an instant, and she gasped. A column of behemoths had just marched into the parade ground, their massive heads high, soldiers rapidly giving way before them like waves swirling around a rock. Except the rocks were moving in this case, rumbling forwards, like glaciers going to war. Amaryllis, impressed as she was, felt a shiver of fear.

Philip came up beside her. “And so there is our army,” he said, or rather shouted, over the thunder of the griffin flights and the ponderous tread of the behemoths. “What do you think of it?”

“It’s lovely,” Amaryllis said, not quite enthusiastically.

Philip noticed her hesitation. “You’re not getting nerves now, are you? Not when we’re so close?”

It was true. They were nearly where they wanted to be. Lady Eulalie had been flamed by a dragon. Prince Evinrude had gone off to avenge her, but no one had heard from him for weeks. This was not unusual; lone knights weren’t nearly as successful against fire-breathing dragons as the stories made out. The old prime minister had died. Philip had pulled strings, and Amaryllis had whispered the right words in certain ears at various social gatherings. Now Philip was the prime minister, and aiming at the throne itself. They only needed one more move to secure it. That was where the army came in.

“No,” Amaryllis said. “I’m not balking. You’re going to invade Lydwin, you’ll be a hero in the war, and you’ll use that to secure your claim. Provided of course you win.”

“I will win,” Philip assured her, his grey eyes cold with absolute confidence. “Look at the army. And we’ve got wizards, too. The Lydwinish have more men, maybe, but do they have wizards? No. Not even an apprentice. I can summon dragons; they can’t even enchant a broom to sweep a floor.”

“Yes, but…” Amaryllis sighed. “I can’t help feeling we’ve gone awfully far. It’s one thing to get rid of Eulalie. That was fun. But a war is serious business. And how will you start it? Lydwin hasn’t actually attacked us yet. You can’t just storm over the border and expect the other houses to support you. They’ll say House Shirley has gone rogue, and they’ll support someone more sensible.”

“You’re absolutely right, darling,” Philip said. He stepped backward then, away from the balcony, leaving Amaryllis alone by the rail. “Did I mention that the Lydwinish also have very skilled archers?”

“Archers? What-”

Amaryllis didn’t hear the distant twang, not over the thunder of the army. She felt the arrow though, as it slammed into her with such force that she fell back, over the rail, and plummeted down towards the sparkling blue pool. Philip shouted for help. “The Lady Amaryllis has been cruelly murdered!”

When they fished her body out of the water, the guards found a Lydwinish arrow plain as day. House Marian and House Shirley demanded vengeance. Lydwin denied everything. Philip launched the army, grateful that his kingdom had so ready a supply of expendable princesses.

  1. I don’t like this Philip. Not one bit.

    • I can promise you; I wasn’t thinking of your Philip when I named him. I was thinking more of an evil version of the Disney Prince Philip. I am sure your Philip is not a Alexandre Dumas-type villain plotting to take over the world via expendable princesses. 🙂

  2. BETRAYAL! Your imagination is on full display in this one, Michael. I love that even the rocks are ready for battle.

    • I may have let my metaphor run away with me there; I hoped it’s clear that Philip hasn’t got real rocks (though he does have wizards, so, maybe…), but that the behemoths are rocklike. I derived my idea of behemoths from Harry Turtledove’s Darkness series, where they’re basically the fantasy version of World War Two tanks.

      • No, it’s there, Michael. My confusion was just a result of commenting before reading twice.

      • Ah, okay. I may seriously see about getting Philip to add enchanted rocks to his arsenal, though. It’s a fun idea. 🙂

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