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Hard Priorities

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“They killed my mother! My father! They tried to kill me!”, the boy shouted angrily, “Everyone here knows how that feels! Ezran, they killed your father! Aanya, they killed both your parents, too! Why am I the only one doing something about it?”


Ezran overlooked the fact that the King of Evenere had forgotten about his mother with some effort. He calmly gestured with his flat palms and a pained expression, “Jorge, please, it doesn’t help to shout. We feel your pain. Really. Losing someone, no matter how close you are, is so, so hard. We’re not just a bunch of kids, though, our choices make real differences in the world. Don’t you worry about your soldiers? A lot of them must’ve died at the Bastion you attacked.”


Evenere’s emaciated looking, teenage king shook his head, his crown sliding, still slightly too large on his red-blonde head. “So what! They’re mine to command!”


Aanya had a hard time controlling her anger. This boy was not tempered by advisers and not yet educated enough to understand his responsibility. Further, it seemed to her as though even with the right education, he would remain an incessant brat. “To command, yes! To slaughter, no!”


Corvus still stood next to Ezran’s throne, his face expressionless. He had listened to the three rulers negotiate, bicker and fight over the past five hours, for the second day in a row. Jorge de Peverell was a little shit, that much was clear. The first thing he had done was to kick out his regent when he had refused to attack Xadia. It was his right as king, naturally, but showed a lack of understanding of his situation. At nineteen, he was older than both Ez and Aanya, which made this even worse since these two showed so much maturity and restraint.


“Would you not agree”, Aanya continued, frustration apparent in her mien, “that sending people to a pointless death is not the mark of a good leader?”


“I sent them to deliver a message! You mess with Evenere, you get killed. Simple.”


“A message best expressed through complete loss on your side and few casualties on the other? I think not.”, Aanya scoffed, “You sent your soldiers into a meat grinder and expected them to do the impossible! Taking a border bastion! With foot soldiers alone! If your generals came up with this boneheaded plan, you should have them exiled!”


“It was my plan!”, Jorge spat, “It was a good plan! The best plan!”


“Aanya! Jorge!”, Ezran began but the other two rulers were now engrossed in a bickering match. He sighed and leaned back to face Corvus, “What do I do here?”


The tracker shrugged with a grin, replying quietly, “Throw a handful of knives in the room and watch what happens?”


Ezran frowned. “You’re surprisingly evil.”


“Pragmatic, more like it. De Peverel would not have the shred of a chance. He’s a menace and not about to admit it. If Aanya isn’t strangling him by the end of this, his people will, eventually. I’d just like to spare us his presence.”


“Fine, fine! If you cowards just want to sit and wait for them to kill every single one of us, so be it. Have them come for you!”, Jorge got up, “I am done with you losers! Sit on your butts and watch! I’ll beat Xadia on my own if I have to!”


He marched out.


“Well”, Aanya said with a long exhale and a sideways glance at Jorge’s exit, “That was merely pointless and exceedingly frustrating.”


“Aanya - you didn’t really think that making him angry would help us, did you?”


“Of course not! As soon as we entered the second hour of talks today, I was convinced he was not going to budge to any sane argument I could make. Frankly, I just needed to vent my frustration at the three hours that needlessly followed! I should have done this yesterday.”, she smirked toothily, “Felt good. Now, on to more pressing matters. We need to keep this idiot from cocking up our relationship with Xadia further. Ideas?”


Ezran gave her a somewhat embarrassed, reprimanding look for the phrase he had entirely misunderstood, then said, “I’ll send a message to my generals, see what they think.”


“What does it matter what they think? Do you not have any ideas yourself? Right now?”


“I like to make choices once I know what’s going on, Aanya.”


The queen was now frustrated with him, too. “You don’t have to choose anything right now! Just, ideas! We need to talk about possible courses of action!”


“Alright, alright. Sorry.”, he said, then considered the map on the floor in front of them. “I could order the Standing Battalion to lock Evenere in their own borders.”, he suggested, “But Jorge would probably not take that too well.”


“I agree, he’d attack you. That’s worse than him going after Xadia. Though, actually...”, she frowned, kneading her lower lip. “What if…”, she took another break, “What if you send the Battalion in on the elven side?”


“What?”, Ezran said, “Isn’t that the same thing?”


“The message is a bit different. Think of it this way. If you block them in, it’ll be human against human. The elves will laugh their butts off, pointing. But, if we offer the elves our help against Evenere…”


“Even if we’re not thinking about what that would mean for the Pentarchy, they’d never take it.”, Ezran argued, “We’d have to step on their land to join up and they’ve made it clear that any human who enters Xadia will be killed. Plus, they’ll think it’s a trick to get behind their lines.”


Aanya shrug-nodded, “That’s fair. This strategy would indeed require a semblance of trust on their part and we absolutely do not have that. However, what we can do… is tell them about it.”


“You mean we should tell the elves that Jorge will attack them and where?”


“Yes. Throwing Evenere to the wolves is our only real option right now, I’m afraid. He’s forcing our hand.”


“That’s still short-sighted. Us ratting them out would still destroy the Pentarchy.”


Aanya sat back, lounging in her seat. “You know what, I’m hungry and still furious at this imbecile. I don’t think I’m at my best. Would it be alright if we met again later?”


“Sure. A break sounds good.”


“Excellent. I’ll try and come up with another plan. Good thinking so far, I think. Just a bit too extreme.”


She got up, dusted herself off and strode outside.


“Majesty?”, Corvus said, expectantly. Ezran did not move, still analyzing the map.


After sitting and staring for quite a while, he mumbled, “How do we stop a ruler from doing a stupid thing if we can’t talk him into not doing it - and we can’t force him into it using our army?”


From the tone, Corvus couldn’t tell if the question had been rhetorical, so he breathed in to answer, but Ezran continued, turning to him with a broad grin.


“Corvus, you’re a genius!”


His mouth closed with a confused frown. What had he said, now?


“We make his people tell him it’s a terrible idea and they’re not going to do it! Just like you said!”


He got up and stretched, much like the Lady of the Bloom had done. Sitting for this long had stiffened his limbs.


“I’m going to go to talk to Aanya.”


He took a step, then suddenly, the image of a blinding light flashed in his conscience. The image contained spraying water, lightning, his brother’s legs, Rayla collapsing in on herself, a massive woman with a gigantic sword winding up to strike the elf and a burst of “scared”, “excited”, “angry”...


Ezran felt as though the air was kicked out of him and he fell on his rear end. He hadn’t seen a vision that dramatic since that night with the gigantic, evil looking anvil cloud. That one had worried him sick because neither Rayla nor Callum had appeared in it.


It was good to know they were still alive, but from the looks of it, that could change as he sat here. Dizzy, he got up, Corvus rushing to help him.


“Are you alright, Majesty?”


“So-so.”, he frowned, “Let’s just say I’m getting a little bit too used to seeing my brother and Rayla in deep trouble.”