Branner chuckled. “You’re sure in a good mood…” And I broke the painspells on him, too. He shouted, “Yahoo! I am free!” Tresteans are not as used to concealing their feelings as Ghemelians.
From behind him, in the weapons and servants’ area, came a dozen hoven voices, wailing, wondering. “Xolgrohim gave us no orders for this circumstance!” shouted Menes Hu in Ghemelian. “As long as the prisoners make no attempt to escape, we don’t need to do anything!”
“It is hard not to think that it is some attempt to escape!” called another voice.
“I’m not escaping, I’m still right here in the Pit of Despair!” I roared.
“Anyone who wants to see that the dragon is just lying on the floor not doing anything at all, come look at a peephole!” shouted Tarcuna in Trestean. “Anyone who wants to kill everyone in here including yourself — why don’t you take a look too? I don’t want to die for not doing anything Xolgrohim said not to do.”
“Yes, yes! Come look through the peephole! The dragon and the person prisoner, they do nothing! See for yourself! Khudris, you are the other leader, you must look first!” proclaimed Menes Hu in Ghemelian. “Branner! You may save yourself if you can, but you must not risk the captives.”
A hoven man, stinking of infection, his fur barely visible under spikes and many dressings, looked in at the peephole. He had seven spells on him, so I whacked him with my vô, and then he didn’t have any. He looked up. “Menes Hu is correct as far as I can tell. You and you, come look. Menes Hu and I will hold the controls to the guns until you are satisfied.”
And so forth until all fifteen hovens were free, and everyone had the Ulthana’s Targe on them. I hoped that it would be good enough to keep off a few painspells.
Then the plans completely fell apart.
“Well, miss, I’m much obliged to you for freeing me,” said Captain Branner. “But I have to wonder. You did a number on my home country, I hear. Wrecked the Peace Everywhere Array, then beat up the army, then tortured the archconsul into surrendering the country to you.”
“I only did the first one of those, and that only because it killed my fiancé,” I explained. “The other dragons did the rest.”
“You’re here, and you’re standing on a big dragon-killing gun. You want something from me. I want something from you. And I aim to get it before you get to go free. If I don’t get what I want, you get the biggest twistor ray bouquet of your life,” he said.
“Captain Branner! Do not do this thing!” shouted Khudris. “The dragon, she will free the people, she will kill Xolgrohim!”
“Khudris, you gotta take care of your people, I gotta take care of mine,” said Branner. “I hate it worse’n you do, but Xolgrohim’s a Ghemelian problem, and the dragons are a Trestean problem. If I kill this one, that’s some justice for what she’s done to Trest.”
And I was, indeed, sitting on the muzzle of a gun made to kill dragons, with Branner at the trigger. “Well, what do you want?” I said, and made sure my defensive spells were in good shape. I didn’t think they’d be good enough, not that close to that many twistor cannons.
“I want your promise to set Trest free,” he said. Khudris tried to cast a sleep spell at him, but the Ulthana’s Targe protected him.
“It’s not mine to free,” I said. “I can try to talk Ythac and Llredh into letting it go.” I broke Branner’s the Ulthana’s Targe as I spoke.
Captain Branner scowled. “I want more than that. I want you to fight them for it, I want you to push for freedom for Trest night and day, I, … oh …” Khudris had cast his spell again, and sent Branner to sleep. One of the gunners jumped for the trigger, and caught it in time.
So we gently tossed the sleeping Branner into the Pit of Despair. The gunners tied the triggers — they’re dead-man triggers, set to go off if they’re released for too long. I shrank to a hovenish sort of size, and we all scrambled up the stairs to the street.
At about which point I realized that hovens really, really treasure their freedom, and even each others’ freedom, and are willing to spend nearly anything for it. I should probably pay attention to that in the future. It sounds very important if my friends and I are thinking of ruling Hove.