Trellach v. Damar
A Story by Aaron Canton
Elwyn Trellach, baroness of Roulena, allowed herself a faint grin as her subjects filed into the amphitheater set in the middle of the town square. Her advisors had told her building the amphitheater was impossible, that they could never afford the cost of bringing all the needed materials and craftsmen to Roulena’s isolated location in the middle of the Dragon’s Bane Mountains, but the baroness had known she could find a way. And she had; after a few donations to a small—but expertly chosen—group of officials in Viscosa, a road was built connecting Roulena to the large city of Caledos, slashing the price of imports and incentivizing merchants to make more frequent trips to Trellach’s domain. After that, it only took a few new tariffs on said merchants, and a tax or two on her citizens, to fund the rest of the project.
Trellach reached out and traced one hand over the large, ornate table set in the middle of the stage. What her council hadn’t understood, she thought, was that—even though she wasn’t the sort of baroness to parade around in golden regalia for no reason—her duties really did require a certain amount of grandeur. You couldn’t just announce a knighthood or a new public works project in any old square; the people wouldn’t respect a noble who treated her duties with such a casual air. But a structure with marble columns and statues and lines of gold etched into the surface of the stage? That was a suitable place to send off a diplomat, or promote an official, or honor a hero.
Or execute a criminal.
She turned on her heel and descended the stairs leading off the stage, then opened a door in the platform’s base and entered a small room. Four robed mages were inside, all standing around a bound, gagged man with sallow skin and a wrinkled face. Trellach glanced at the mages and asked, “How is he?”
“He’ll make it to his execution,” drawled Trellach’s most senior mage, an aged man named Tyrn. When bandits had plagued the Dragon’s Bane Mountains eight years prior, Tyrn had crushed them in a rockslide; when a peasant leader had gathered followers for a rebellion three years after that, Tyrn had conjured an illusion of a sturdy bridge over a great ravine and lured the peasant to his doom. It was thanks to his magic, almost as much as her wits, that Trellach had ruled Roulena in peace for so long. “You can even take his gag off if you want; we’ll all be ready to cast on him if he tries anything.”
Trellach looked at her other three mages, saw their confident grins and firm nods, and whipped the gag off of the bound man’s mouth. “Damar,” she said. “I hope you know why you’re here.”
Damar opened his mouth, but rather than say anything, he let out a long yawn. Trellach stared as Damar finished and gave her a calm, lazy smile. “I suppose,” he said in a casual voice, “my services weren’t to your liking?”
“Liking?” Trellach snorted. “You attacked my town!”
“But, baroness, I cast exactly the spell you requested. The zombie cats I summoned purged Roulena of all its rats, did they not?”
Trellach’s eyes flashed. Roulena had suffered an unusually large infestation of rats in the previous months; not enough to make life unbearable, but enough to annoy Trellach and—more importantly—undermine her authority with her subjects. No matter how many vermin Tyrn and his subordinate mages killed with their spells, there were always more ready to take their places. When he’d admitted defeat, she’d sent letters to Caledos, Atalatha, and Viscosa offering great rewards for a pest exterminator. Weeks later, the necromancer Damar had shown up on her doorstep with a promise to take care of her problem. Trellach had hired him… and regretted it immediately thereafter.
“They killed all the rats—and wrecked my town doing it! Those beasts you summoned broke through doors, windows, even stone walls when they chased the vermin. When the rats hid in the town granary, your damn cats practically dismantled the whole building digging them out!” She clenched a fist. “Do you have any idea of the damage your magic caused?”
“Less than the damage those rats caused, I imagine,” mused Damar. He leaned back, looking so calm that Trellach realized she was checking to make sure he was still bound and at her mercy. “But I did warn you to have your citizens open their doors and windows so the cats could get to the rats in their homes without having to break through anything to reach them. I really don’t see how any damage they inflicted is my fault.”
Trellach had issued the warning. She had also arranged for a few of her citizens to hear rumors Damar had planned on robbing everyone once they’d opened their houses for him. If a few ignored the warning and later found their houses damaged, everyone would see the folly of ignoring Trellach’s advice. The rumors, however, had spread far quicker than she’d thought, and almost nobody had opened their doors. Now half the houses in her town had holes in their walls, and a few had even collapsed.
But whatever she’d done or hadn’t done didn’t matter. She needed to keep the public’s trust in her, which meant she needed someone to blame, and Damar was as good a target as any. “Well, as it happens, I’m in charge here, so I get to decide who’s at fault.” She chuckled. “And I say it’s the necromancer who summoned the monsters that wrecked the town. Have you anything to say before I sentence you?”
Damar raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
“So be it.” She nodded at the mages. “I’ll go up to the stage and tell the townspeople we caught the wizard who destroyed their houses. Whose beasts almost harmed them, their loved ones, and their children. Then you’ll bring him up there, and I’ll…” She drew a finger across her neck. “Finish him off.”
She waited for him to shout, plead, or cry, but he just gave her a bemused look. “I’m a necromancer,” he said. “I’ll come back.”
“What?” Trellach shook her head. “No, you won’t! I—I mean, Tyrn will make sure your body is beyond any sort of magical—”
“Yes, yes, of course.” Damar settled back in his chair again. “Well, shall we get on with it? I must admit, I’ve never been executed before. Will you decapitate me, or hang me, or maybe have this Tyrn fellow use a magic spell?”
Trellach’s mouth moved soundlessly for a few seconds before she continued. “You didn’t let me finish,” she said, acting as if Damar had given her the terrified reaction she’d hoped for. “I’m not without mercy, and there’s still a way you can help me. If you do, I’ll…look the other way when you escape my dungeons.”
“Help?” Damar’s smile grew, and Trellach relaxed. He clearly had been scared, she thought, even if he hadn’t shown it. “How so?”
The baroness sat on another chair across from Damar. “A noble must have the respect of her subjects or else she will not remain the ruler of her province for long. They must think her to be wise enough to solve any problem that arises. Thanks to your little debacle, I’ve lost a fair amount of that respect. And I will get it back—”
“By letting me go to demonstrate you’re smart enough to know Raleigh’s rules and laws and wise enough to follow them?”
Trellach smirked. “I’m wise enough to know the rules do not apply to nobles, Damar. If you don’t believe me…” She swept an arm around the darkened room. “Why don’t you appeal to those rules? Perhaps they’ll manifest and save you.”
Damar looked amused. “I suppose that would be foolish, now that I think about it.”
“Anyways. I will get it back by proving I’m wiser than you, the famous wizard Damar.” Trellach paused before adding, “Are you familiar with the game Lords?”
“The strategy game? Yes, I play frequently. Why?”
“It is generally accepted only the wisest people are truly skilled at Lords. And, as it happens, I am a master at it. I’ve won tournaments, and the king of Raleigh even gave me a medal after a particularly brilliant game against his own personal tutor—”
“Ah!” Damar brightened. “Now I understand. Your barony’s falling apart because you spend all your time playing a game!”
Trellach flushed but controlled herself. “Even though the people here have heard I’m a Lords master, there’s never been any strong enough opponents out here for me to prove it. Fortunately, you’re a wizard, and everyone knows wizards are supposed to be brilliant. They’re probably some of the best Lords players around. There’s no point in me playing Tyrn or my other mages; they’re on my staff, so everyone would think they let me win. If I played you, however…”
Damar tilted his head. “So, you propose we go on stage, I throw the match and lose in a humiliating defeat, and with your honor restored, you let me go?”
“Of course not. If you threw the match, someone might notice. I want you to give it your all—so that when I beat you, they won’t have any excuse to doubt me.” Trellach leaned back. “We’ll play a game of Lords. If you win, you go free on the spot. If you lose, well, I think a bit of hard labor until you pay back all that damage your cats caused would be appropriate.”
“And if I refuse to play,” said Damar, “it’s the chopping block, I suppose?”
“Yes.” Trellach looked directly into Damar’s eyes. “So. What’s your choice?”
Silence stretched between them, and for a moment, Trellach worried she was wrong. That Damar wasn’t just faking a nonchalant attitude. That he really wasn’t scared. That he didn’t think Trellach could hurt him… and that he might somehow be right.
But Damar nodded. “You make a strong case,” he said. “Let’s play Lords, Baroness Trellach.”
The noble’s eyes gleamed as she gestured for her mages to take Damar and follow her to the stage. “Very well,” she said. “I look forward to it.”