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Chapter 28 - Armoury of Words, Part III

Taril continued, "Now the prince of Lut Tairo stepped forward and said to the sultan and the saint, 'Your eminences, I agree with your verdict upon the first three princes, for they had their guards and dispatched them not; however the same certainly cannot be said of me, even though I had arrived at this city with as grand an entourage as all the others. Hear now my recounting of the events that have prevented me from engaging in the search as the prince of Lut Varon had done.'

"'The first day that I met with the princess, I told my walee that, as I would be staying with her in the palace, that the guards would not need to stay by my side, as there would be nothing for them to do until such a time as I should call for them; hence I told my walee, 'turn half our men out into the city, that they may divert themselves this day; after all, I shall be diverting myself with the presence of the princess; and I would therefore be remiss if I refused to extend the same opportunity to my men.' And saying this, I spent the afternoon with the princess.

"'In the evening, our conversations led to the princess' great desire to wander the streets of the city, and I, intending to satisfy her, went out into the city with the other half of my guards, the half that remained in the palace with my walee. Perchance our contingent ran into the guards that I had allowed earlier to roam the streets as they wished; except that we found them gambling with cards and dice out in the streets, the doing of which be greatly frowned upon by the Anointed One as leading to temptation, and which they should have known would earn them the sharpest rebuke. I therefore in my fury at them, dismissed them from my service; and though they pleaded for me to overlook this once, I would not tolerate such wrongdoings, and hardened my heart against them; and they were forced to disband and leave.

"'On the following day I was approached by my walee who was in a state of great distress, who informed me that he had received message from a courier stating that his elderly father had taken to sudden ill and died; and asked that he be permitted to go to Lut Lameen, that being where his father had resided in the time before his demise, that he my walee may go and bury his father and attend to all the practices which are demanded of him as part of his tribe.

"'And I told him, 'Of a certainty shall I permit you to go, and not only that; since you have served me well for ten-odd years, I would be a most miserly prince if I dispatched you to go alone; therefore take a dozen of my guards and a dozen of my memlooks and another dozen of my female slaves to accompany you, that those who are their neighbors in Lut Lameen shall know of your exalted station, and that you can return to your your relatives in honor and dignity, and be able to say upon your father's grave that he may rest in peace, for here is the proof that you have brought up your son to be a great man.'

"'To which my walee said, 'Surely I have no need to part from your company with so much; this being a full half of all that remains of your guards now that you have dismissed half of the original number'. -- To which I said, 'Your service to me warrants twice as much as what I am charging you to take; had I more men by my side, I wold have insisted you take twice as many'. And so I bid my walee take his leave with half of my men.

'"On the following day I met with the princess again, and in the course of our conversation she admitted her great love for dates; and hence I was going to dispatch my walee to take some of my men to go to the markets and procure some, but as my walee had departed already and would not return for quite some time, I resolved to do the deed myself, and took the remainder of my men: my guards, my memlooks, and my female slaves; and with such an entourage I arrived at the market.

"'However fate had conspired against me, as just as I had arrived at the market we became surrounded by a group of a dozen bandits, and as I had only a dozen guards by my side, this made our numbers equal; so I commanded my men to fight. But the leader of the bandits was a man learned in the ways of the Arid Mesa school; he crashed through my men with the might of an avalanche when he struck, and stood his ground with the hardiness of a stone outcrop against our counterattacks. And he single-handedly slew my guards, without losing a single one of his own men. And when I fought him, I too took a grievous wound upon my right arm, such that I no longer had the strength in my arm to fight; and it was only because my faithful memlooks sacrificed their lives in attempting to obstruct this one assailant, and because my female slaves absorbed the attentions of his minions, that I managed to escape back to the palace.

"'Thus it was that, by the time I heard the news that the wezeer's daughter had disappeared, I had no guards, nor memlooks, nor female slaves, left to dispatch to search for her; and I could not personally go out to search, for the reasons of my injury and my fear that I would happen across those bandits again and so perish at their hands. Hence, I had no choice to leave the matter of the search to the other princes. Now you know of my reasons for staying put; let us therefore hear your pronouncement.'

"And the saint said, 'That you had no men left to continue the search can hardly be proferred as an excuse; most of the people of the world have no minions that they can command, and yet they still every day commit to action, doing deeds on their own accord. Your men risked and sacrificed their lives that you may live, and yet even though they have done this for you, you could not be moved to merely risk your life to save the life of another; by this do you disgrace yourself. If I do not take your life for this, will not others in a similar situation choose their own safety over that of another, like you have done?' Thus saying, he smote the fourth prince with lightning from the heavens," finished Taril.

Art was moved to tears. This fourth prince had undergone the hardship he had gone through, of a sort, after all; the memories of his loss of his right hand in the battle of the monastery that night which now felt like so long ago. He clutched at his wrist-stump, grimacing, his cheeks burning. This was a hand he'd never get back, no matter what; and what hardship he'd suffered as a result of its loss was only an inkling of how much pain he'd yet to incur for it. Even though he had as good a reason as any to withdraw from the fighting -- a much better excuse than the wound that the prince of the story had provided -- he still hadn't shirked away from the challenge. And yet, it had been so painful, so fraught with danger, and the way ahead still seemed so impossible… Had he at least done right by his actions? Upon his day of judgment, would the Successive One or one of his Appointed attest on his behalf before Tyrael?

"Do you want to talk about it?" asked Roland.

Art explained then of the events surrounding the loss of his hand, his recounting at times broken by his sobbing. When he finished, he swept the back of his hand across his blearied eyes, to see his audience gazing at him with a mix of concern and pity. "I… Thank you for having listened to me. Sorry. I don't usually allow myself to wallow in self-pity like this."

"If it means anything," said Natalie with eyes that bespoke a degree of awe at his recounting. "I appreciate what you have done. Few people, even those who had trained all their lives for war, would have had the guts to stay and stand their ground all alone against a tide of enemies. Fewer still would have thought to search out a some person they barely knew after suffering such a terrible loss." She set a hand softly upon Art's right wrist; the jolt of pain her touch caused, prompted Art's sharp intake of breath. "Even if you were to back out now, and abandon the sisterhood, we would all understand, and would find you blameless."

"I thank you," Art replied. "But I didn't do all this so that I might pass an adjudication by you. I left Selena in the care of the Bedfords, who still reside in Thistledown, the village closest to the monastery and thus in the greatest danger of attack should the sisterhood's defense crumbles; and I mean to see that they all stay safe."

"Don't worry, we will keep them safe," said Natalie.

Art nodded to her, breaking into a smile. He half hoped that one of the others would say the same, but neither Roland nor Jezebel did. In the ensuing awkward silence, he looked at each of them in turn. Roland still hadn't decided to join the sisterhood; once the meeting with the bishop was over, regardless of how it turned out, he'd continue on west along with the rest of Warriv's caravan. Jezebel was only here because she, as Art's indentured servant, had no choice in the matter; if anything, him telling those gathered here just how much he cared for the sisters' well-being might cause her to turn against them out of spite.

"The best way to keep them safe would be to win the bishop's support," said Roland, also looking a bit more gloomy than before. "After the disaster with the count… let's just say, if we fail here, the sisterhood is doomed." He turned to Taril. "I imagine that continuing with the story would also serve to draw Art away from such dreary thoughts."

Taril continued, "Now the prince of Lut Lameen stepped forward and said to the sultan and the saint, 'Your eminences, hear my explanation: Upon receiving the news of the wezeer's disappearance, I had returned to my quarters to discuss the matter with my walees. Know that I am a man who greatly values the input of my advisors, for only in so doing may I arrive at the best course of action on any task; and hence I have no less than three walees, whereas other greatees have but their one.

"'Now explained to them that I would like to begin a search of the city with my forty-eight men which I had brought with me, and I asked them how best I could begin this search. My first walee suggested, 'First we need to know where our men are to search; for if we dispatch our men to various parts of the city, no matter how we divide them in their search, we run the risk of neglecting to search certain key areas of the city which the men within each of our groups think fell within the responsibilities of another group; thus let us obtain a map of the city,' However as it turns out, there could be found no map of the city, though I had my men spend an entire day in search of one; for the people who dwelt in the city knew all the streets that they had need to know, and those visitors from without the city needed only ask for directions to get where they needed to go, and since there was none who needed a map, none had been created. And as we had already concluded, we needed a map to thoroughly search the city, lest we miss the wezeer's daughter in our search.

"'When we had been thus confounded by this, my second walee suggested, 'Since we have need for a map and none can be found, we must create one of our own; hence let us dispatch our guards along each of its streets, and observe its roads and buildings, and mark down the locations of each; and in so doing will we have ourselves a map with the layout of the city'. And as I saw this was wise, I commanded my men to walk throughout the city and mark down the locations of each street and building on parchment. This they did, and on the evening of the second day they returned to my chambers; and then my walees and I spent the night putting together the map from the scraps each of my men and generated.

"'On the third day, with the map now being created, my third walee suggested, 'Let us now, by means of this map, divide up the city such that each of us three can lead a contingent of sixteen guards to search our third of the city.' -- And my first walee added, 'Aye, and since we had already tarried on this matter for two days, let us also divide up the city evenly, such that each contingent needs the same amount of time to search throughout the city and report back, and in thus doing, minimize the time needed for the tardiest of us three to finish.' -- And my second walee added, 'Aye, and the easiest way to do that would be to divide up the city equitably by area, so that each contingent has the same amount of space to search.'

"'And my third walee added, 'Nay, that would not be the quickest; the city is not homogeneous in composition, there are places with spacious buildings, which are quick to search, and others with small, winding layouts, which take longer; and there are buildings of different heights, some have but one story, while others may have two, or three, or more; and we must take these into account when apportioning out the city among us three.' -- And my second walee responded, 'Nay, while there would be some difference in the time taken to search between these various kinds of buildings, I do not believe it would amount to much.'

"'And my first walee responded, 'Should we not then undertake a test, to determine which method would be the fastest? Let us then time how long it takes our men to search some spacious buildings, and how long it takes to search the winding ones, and compare them; and also time how long it takes our men to search some single-story buildings, as compared to searching those which are two or three stories, and compare those also; that we may determine how much time searching these kinds of buildings would take; and this test we did in triplicate to ensure good results; and thus we spent the morning of the third day.

"'And then my first walee advised, 'We had mapped the city, and we now know how much time to count toward the search of each kind of building; but we had not noted down which of the buildings are of each kind, without which our earlier calculations are meaningless; let us therefore dispatch our men to survey the city's buildings, and note down the kind of each building, so that we may incorporate that into our maps.' And seeing wisdom in these words, this I made my men do; and they did this all afternoon, and returned with the information I required. And then we spent the night compiling this information into our maps.

"'And I and my three walees rose up on the morning of the fourth day to determine the allocations that I would charge each of my walees to search, taking into account the type of each building and their number and location and calculating how much time it would take to do this; and it is this we were engaged in when we were informed that the wezeer's daughter had perished in the fire. As you have heard from my account, I had dedicated each of the past few days in my preparations for beginning the search; therefore your eminences can hardly reproach me for not taking action on this matter.'

"And the saint responded, 'Indeed you have busied yourself in this task; yet you had nonetheless failed to direct your men to the search. With the death of the wezeer's daughter, the reason for the search has expired; thus have you not wasted all your time with all this unnecessary planning? In the end it is not what we have planned to do that matters, nor how much thought and planning that you have put into it, but what you had actually done. And what have you actually accomplished, with which you hope to conjure me to spare your life?' And with that the saint struck down the fifth prince also," finished Taril.

Roland spoke: "If the bishop attempts to delay providing the sisters with aid, saying that it will take him some time to gather his men and materiel for the cause, we will spring this on him. We'll see what excuse he'll respond with, to try to wriggle his way out of this one."

"Agreed," said Art, sounding a bit more hearty. "Once we mention that, he'll be forced to take another tack instead."

Nodding, Roland added, "We'll force him to agree to providing the sisterhood with aid immediately, and not give him any time to think up more reasons to refuse aid. Once he agrees to dispatch his templar, even if it's just the handful who might be ready for immediate dispatch, he'll be committed to the effort. After all, once the templar he does dispatch get embroiled in the fighting and start accruing casualties, he could hardly refuse to join the war on the side of the sisterhood in order to avenge their deaths, or he would lose face within the ecclesiarchy."

"My only concern is," mused Natalie, "what if the bishop sends aid to the sisterhood, but then, once the casualties inflicted upon his men start to mount, he winds up backing out instead of fully committing?"

"That's what the sixth prince's story covers," said Art. "Taril?"

Taril continued, "Now the prince of Lut Varon stepped forward and said to the sultan and the saint, 'Your eminences, I alone among all the six princes gathered before you have engaged on this search; therefore I implore that you do not hold it against me that I had not managed to find the wezeer's daughter in time.'

"'But had your men been out searching, when the news broke?' replied the sultan. 'I recall you had dwelt within these halls at the time, even though I had seen you head out to the search along with your men. Pray tell, by what contrivance have events conspired to turn you away from your search?'

"And the prince answered, 'I had bid my walee to search the city for the wezeer's daughter, and he divided up my men into two groups, each with two dozen men, and thus dispatched them to search the city. But at the end of the first day they had not found her; and when I and my walee checked in with them, they both said with smiles on their faces, 'behold, we have bought a great many gifts for you to gift to the princess, that you may earn her favor!' And when I asked how this came to be, how went the search and how much of the city they had searched, they each fell on their feet before me and begged my pardon. So I asked them why they felt the need to ask me of it.

"'The first of the two men said, 'We had been out searching, but as we went through the marketplaces we became accosted by the merchants, who attempted to peddle their wares; and as the walee had previously acquainted us both concerning what he knew the sultan's daughter preferred, and I saw such goods among those for sale, I bought some, hoping to earn you favor with the princess and thus to earn your favor also; and in so doing caused more merchants to approach me and invite me to their stalls, to sell me their wares; and the more I purchased these things to gift the sultan's daughter, the more I saw other things worthy of purchase, and the more I bought; until I had spent two thirds of the day touring the bazaars. I would not have spent so much time on the search, had I known that my counterpart had been by some other merchants ensnared, such that neither of us had made much progress.'

"Upon hearing this I rebuked the two of them, and on the morning of the next day I told my walee, 'I do not trust those other two men to engage in their search any better today than yesterday; therefore go without the palace with all my men and perform the seach yourself.' And so he did.

"'And the evening of the second day he returned empty handed and with fewer men than when he set out. I asked my walee what had transpired, and he responded, 'I had been out searching, but at noon our men ran into a group of bandits, one of whom had mastered some ways, and they greatly injured several of my men before we ran them off. Following which, we had to tend to their wounds and seek out poultices and salves for them, and thus we spent half the day searching for these at market and purchasing these, that we could treat the wounds of my fallen guards. But by the time we had finished the sun had half set on the horizon, so that we spent only a quarter of the day searching.'

"I rebuked not my walee, for this matter was unavoidable; but I had seen that enough time had been wasted on this matter. On the morning of the third day I resolved to undertake the search myself. Before long we came across a group of young tramps frolicking about along the streets. I was getting worried at this time, and welcomed the opportunity to enlist them in our search, that we may finish the matter faster, and thus Iendeavored to get them involved in the search as well; but they would only agree if my men could catch them at a game of hide and seek. Thinking this simple enough, I agreed, but they proved better at their art than I had expected; and thus we wasted almost the entire day trying to hunt them down before I realized we were wasting our time and had hardly gotten any searching done, and called off the game of hide-and-seek.

"'And on the morning of the fourth day I realized that, with three days having already passed, there stood little chance of our finding the wezeer's daughter; there would have been plenty enough time for any abductors to spirit her away out of the city and for all tracks and hints of the matter to be lost; and desiring not to spend the day undertaking such a fruitless search, I slept until the sun was high in the sky, and then your eminences summoned me to the divan.

"'Obviously I had failed in my search, and regret both the relegation of the matter first to the two men under my walee and then to my walee; as well as my having gotten myself distracted on the third day and then having tarried on the fourth. Therefore I have no further excuses to offer you, aside from my recounting of the story that I have told; and we all know how thirsty the saint is for my blood, and I would say let us get on with it, but I wish to know, if the six of us princes' excuses have not sufficed, by what excuse will the Appointed One provide, by which he ought seek to spare himself his own life? And by what excuse will the sultan and the wezeer seek to preserve their own lives, as they had been the ones who had arranged this entire affair and thus risked the wezeer's life?'

-- Jezebel burst into chuckles. "He's a dead man, isn't he? I like how the sixth prince turns it back on the saint and the sultan. Poetic justice."

"To which the saint replied, 'now, daughter of the wezeer, step forth from your hiding place'; and to the stunned amazement of all the daughter of the wezeer emerged from an adjacent room, without a single scratch on her."

"What, really?" asked Jezebel. "Sounds like an easy way out of telling a story that ought to have a sadder ending." -- "Let's be a good audience, shall we?" said Natalie. -- "Sure, sure. But there better be a good reason how that happened."

"And the sultan summoned the wezeer, that he may rejoice at her still being alive; and when the wezeer entered the ruined divan and saw his daughter standing before him, he was overcome with joy and relief, and embraced her in tears and asked of her, -- 'how is it you yet live and breathe?'

"'To which the saint replied, 'I arrived yesterday evening, and thereupon saw the prince of Lut Varon engaged in some kind of search all throughout the city, and the prince of Lut Lameen engaged in noting down some details of all the buildings throughout the city, and asked one of the men whom or what they sought, to which I received the answer of the wezeer's daughter, as well as heard of the arrival of the six suitors for the sultan's daughter, who yet remained without any particular favor for any of the six; and thus concluded this must be a test arranged by the sultan, and that given its importance, he would only entrust the secret to his closest confidant, namely his walee; and from there I asked to visit each of the walee's properties, and he answered that as an Appointed One I could visit each of his properties, save for his khan; by which I knew her to be secreted there.

"'Thus this morning I stole into the khan and met with the wezeer's daughter, and having seen that the wezeer's daughter has been inconvenienced by this affair and that nothing stood to be gained by any further wait, I brought there the corpse of one of the killed female slaves formerly owned by the prince of Lut Tairo and put the body in the khan, spirited away the wezeer's daughter, and brought down heaven's fulmination upon the khan, which started the fire which disfigured the corpse beyond all recognition, that you became convinced that the female slave was the wezeer's daughter; and brought her to hide in the palace, which she could do with ease given the fluster within the palace once the fire started. And that is how she stands now, alive and well, before you. And as such, neither the sultan, nor the wezeer, nor I, have done anything remiss.'

"Then the last prince protested, 'If she is well then why have you punished the princes before me? For either she is dead, and those remiss ought be punished; or she is well, and none is at fault for anything.' -- To which the saint replied, 'The sultan, the wezeer, and I knew her to be safe and not lost to us or in any risk of personal harm, hence we are blameless for not having gone to save her; but the same could not be said of you six princes, who were unaware of the plot yet had the wherewithal to search, hence you are found wanting; and if I tarried any further for the removal of such worthless specimens such as you from this world, that you and your like visit misfortune upon anyone else by your excuses and incompetences, then I would be much remiss.' And saying that, the saint smote the sixth prince with lightning.

"The sultan was most amazed at the saint's explanation, which the wezeer's daughter verified; and said, 'Truly your eminence is a greater boon than any of the six princes, and by your actions you have shown it; for though you had no cause to take interest in the well being of the wezeer's daughter, you had searched for her with more alacity than any of them; and the method by which you deduced the situation, and thereby accomplished in one day what the six princes and all their men could not or would not do in three, you showed that you had empathized with my position in addition to showing great intelligence and capability; and in taking the wezeer's daughter out of the khan and bringing her back here, you demonstrated your great empathy for her also. This whole endeavor had arisen because we sought a means to finding the one most meet for my daughter, and that one is you; and so I would hereby give my daughter the princess to you for marriage.'

"And the saint refused; saying, I am but a man of the teachings of the Anointed One, know you not that I am sworn to celibacy?' -- And the sultan replied, 'Is this another excuse, O eminent one?' -- To which the saint replied, 'An excuse, yes, but one which is meet before the eyes of the angels in heaven; for by so doing I honor the memory of the happenings of the saint and the prostitute.' -- 'What is the story of the saint and the prostitute?' asked the sultan; -- which the saint replied, 'It is thus:--"

"Oh for the love of god," exclaimed Jezebel in sheer disbelief, "is there no end to this story? How much deeper does this rabbit hole go?" -- Taril replied, "well the story of the saint and the prostitute invokes the story of the prostitute's first sister, the prostitute's second sister and the prostitute's third sister, and that one invokes--"

Art interrupted, "Okay, in the interest of not Shahrazading ourselves, can we agree to stop the story here?" He turned to look askance at Taril. "And I clearly seem to recall that the Appointed weren't celibate, as a matter of fact I'm pretty sure each of them had at least three wives. Out with it; how much of that did you make up?" -- Taril put out his palms in protest. "Only the very last part, I assure you." -- "Damn it Taril…" -- "Three wives? So much for caring for what the women want," said Natalie, hands clenched into a fist. "I mean what the hell is that? They claim to care about their women, and that happens?" -- "If the story's true, it happened at least a thousand years ago," said Art. -- "Actually, I'm pretty sure hareems are still a thing in Aranoch," said Taril. "Most of the eastern grandees have them." -- "Taril, that is not helping."

"Guys, gals, can we get on track please?" said Roland, looking at Natalie who had stood up at some point. "Sit, please." -- Natalie slumped back onto her seat. -- "So how do we use this last story?" -- "Uh…That not every story can be believed?" asked Art. -- Roland rolled his eyes. "Taril's antics aside."

"The sixth prince's story covers several points," said Taril. "First is to always beware events that might happen beyond your control that might delay your activities; you should always plan around that fact, give yourself some buffer to work with. Second--" -- "Arguments we can use against the bishop Arevain, please," Roland reminded.

Art replied, "I think this is one of those things which we'll have to pull on him once we've convinced him -- that is, argued him into a corner -- into helping the sisters. He may be quite unhappy with us pushing him into doing this, so he may drag his feet, with an eye to saying that he'd tried when anyone accosts him about it a month later asking why he hadn't done anything; so we preempt that by reminding him of the sixth prince's story and how, if he takes his jolly time, he will earn the ire of the heavens in the same way that the sixth prince has earned the ire of the saint."

"By the way, what Jezebel said about the sixth prince turning it back on the saint and the sultan," said Art. "That could cause us trouble. The bishop could say, if everyone who is aware of the situation is responsible, then it's not just the count and the bishop, but everyone who can fight, also ought to help the sisterhood; and then he can ask us why we haven't gotten anyone else to join in the fight. Then he can say that instead of 'wasting' our time trying to convince him, our time would be better spent trying to convince others."

"Which is altogether an unfair argument," said Natalie. "Just because we haven't convinced others to join the cause doesn't mean we can't start with the templar. We have to start somewhere, after all."

"I think to that we can reply by asking if the bishop asked that with the intention of dumping his responsibility onto another?" said Jezebel. "To which we can reply, 'do you think to offer the same excuse as that of the third prince? For you already know how the angels above would judge anyone who does so'."

Roland smiled and clapped his hands. "Now you're getting the hang of it! With that, I can go to sleep tonight assured that you three will be able to field whatever arguments the bishop throws your way." He yawned. "It's getting late. I think I'll be headed to bed now."

Jezebel nodded. "Let us meet again here tomorrow morning at eight."

"Aye," said Roland. "I would say, dwell on what we've gone over tonight, because you'll need to know it for tomorrow; but I'd rather you slept well, for tomorrow, we battle."

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