Dawn of Deliverance - Chapter Three
What did you do to deserve that? Julianne managed to convey the mental version of a stern look and a raised eyebrow with the thought.
What? Why would you even assume that? Danil’s response was more indignant than alarmed, so Julianne wasn’t too worried.
I’m coming, she sent, hiding her laughter.
She hurried over to the schoolroom, a little abandoned house that had been commandeered to teach the local Tahn villagers the basics of mental shielding. Classes had been lacking the last two weeks, as the villagers and the mystics teaching them had all become too busy to keep up.
Now, Danil was using it as his own place to sleep upstairs, while taking any official meetings with the people from Tahn and Muir downstairs.
He sent her a quick scatter of thoughts to show her what he was dealing with. Julianne was surprised to see Polly, a prostitute from Muir, arguing with him.
Polly had been in town a week, but Julianne hadn’t had the chance to speak to her—not that she had a reason to. Julianne had met the girl, but she’d wiped her mind after encounter, so she wouldn’t know Julianne from a bar of soap.
“It’s a perfectly acceptable occupation!” Polly was yelling as Julianne arrived.
“I never said it wasn’t! But right here, right now, is not the place to start your little enterprise.” Danil slammed the door open to let Julianne in, his face set into a scowl and flushed from the argument. “You explain it to her. She won’t listen to me.”
Julianne grabbed the collar of his robe as he slipped past, and dragged him back inside. “You’re not getting out of it that easily. Sit.” She pointed to a seat and he took it, glowering at the girl who now stood over him.
“You too,” Julianne said.
Polly turned up her nose. “I don’t have to do a damned thing you—eek!” She sat, looking about in alarm as her body seemed to move of its own will. As she caught Julianne’s eyes fading from white back to their normal colour, she snarled.
“You’re not a dog,” Julianne said pleasantly. “Use your words. Kindly, or I’ll make you.”
Grinding her teeth, Polly sat in silence. Danil spoke up instead. “Polly here thinks the middle of a war is the perfect time to set up a brothel in Tahn.”
“That’s sound reasoning,” Julianne commented.
Danil’s face fell. “You can’t be serious!”
“I didn’t say it would necessarily work,” she added. “Polly, have you thought it through?”
“What’s there to think about?” she quipped, shooting Danil a triumphant smirk. “I’ve got two or three girls from the Friendship with me. All we need is a soft bed and a place to hang a sign.”
“Friendship? Is that what you call it in Muir?” Danil snorted.
Julianne whacked the back of his head. “Behave, before I make you.”
He paled and slouched low in his chair. “Sorry, Master.”
“Where will you find a soft bed? Under the stars? We don’t have enough housing to accommodate the people in town now, how do you think you’ll find a clean place to work from?” Julianne asked Polly.
“I— uhh, I…” Polly stammered, looking around the room for inspiration. “I’ll buy a house! I have coins with me, I don’t imagine a place would cost much here.” She said the last word with derision, and Julianne read her poor opinion of the town in her mind.
“This is a town that works on a barter system. Most of the residents don’t have money—they don’t need it. How will you and your girls make a living?” Julianne asked.
Polly lost her righteous indignation, her confident smile slipping away. “No money?” she asked.
Julianne pressed on. “Do your friends even want to return to their old profession? We’re in desperate need of cooks, clothiers, gardeners. Even someone who didn’t want to work a profession could be happy here, simply by providing for themselves, and trading what they can for the rest.”
Polly looked away, scrambling for an answer.
“And if you do intend to employ these girls, you will have a responsibility to provide for them. We can’t be feeding people who are lying around waiting for work, when there’s so much to do.” Julianne rested her hands on her hips, waiting for Polly’s reply.
“So, the answer is no, then?” Polly snapped.
“The answer is that it’s not up to me. You’ll have to come up with a proposal of your own, address the foreseeable issues—only half of which I’ve covered, mind you—and present that to the town council for approval.”
Slumping in defeat, Polly blew her sheets out. “It’s impossible.”
Julianne touched her shoulder. “Anything is possible if you set your mind to it. You just have to make sure it’s what you really want, and what your girls want. Madam Nacht might have been your dream when you thought that’s all there was, but you’ve stepped into a place where possibility doesn’t end.”
Polly’s eyes popped open wide. “How did you know?” she whispered. Madam Nacht was the name she had told Julianne she would take if she had the chance to start her own brothel, in a new city to the north.
Of course, Polly had thought Julianne was a man—a rich, arrogant noble just out for a good time, and forgotten the moment he let the building.
“Just don’t rush into it,” Julianne told her. “Good things come to those who work hard, plan smart and make friends.” She looked from Polly to Danil, hoping the girl got the hint—alienating the people here wouldn’t do her any favours.
Polly nodded. “Fine. I guess you have a point.” She stood, brushed down her skirts and walked out.
“I can’t believe you’re encouraging her,” Danil snapped as soon as she’d left.
“I thought of everyone here, you’d be in favour of the idea,” Julianne said. “You’ve never been a prude before.”
“I have no problem with her setting up business once things settle down,” he said. “What pisses me off is someone who walks into a situation and immediately decides they can profit off it.”
“And was that her genuine intention?”Julianne asked softly.
Dani blushed. “I don’t know.”
Julianne didn’t say anything, just watched him roll the question around his head.
“Fine, I was too angry to look any deeper. I saw what she wanted to ask me, and I reacted. Are you happy?”
“Oh, Danil,” Julianne said with a laugh. “I’m not trying to berate you.”
“No,” he said. “But that fact that I’m right ninety-nine percent of the time must mean you get a little joy the one time I’m not.” He grinned and bowed when she shook her head in exasperation. “Hey, it’s not easy being perfect.”
“Bitch help me, what am I going to do with you?” Julianne asked.
“I’d say you could take me over your knee and spank me, but you’d best save that for lover boy.”
“Oh, you… you…” Unable to find words to express her feelings, she satisfied herself by slapping him upside the head, going for a second one when he ducked the first. “You’re incorrigible!” She finally gasped.
“Like I said, it’s not easy being perfect! Anyway, back to the topic at hand: We have a hall full of refugees—very flexible refugees, but refugees nonetheless—and we’re harbouring a kidnapped lord. Do we have a plan to deal with this yet?”
Collapsing into a chair, Julianne groaned. “No. I can’t get Madam Seher to agree to help. She hasn’t said no, but she keeps asking us to wait until Adeline makes it out.” Worry cast a shadow on Julianne’s face. “Danil, it’s been two weeks. What if she’s already dead?”
“Why don’t we just go get her?” he asked, as though he were suggesting a trip to the market for a loaf of bread.
“Right. We’ll just sneak into a fortress full of mystics who can shield the shit out of each other, steal the princess from the tower, and escape with our hides intact.”
“That’s a great plan!” Danil said without a hint of irony. He played an apple from a nearby bowl and sank his teeth into it with a loud crunch. “Who are we taking?”
“It’s too dangerous.” Julianne ran a hand through her hair, doing her best to keep her frustration behind a thick mental shield.
“Never stopped you before.” Danil threw a second apple at Julianne, who caught it one-handed.
“He’ll be expecting us. He knows what I can do, and he’ll be prepared.” She rolled the apple in her hands, thinking.
“He’s lost his general, and half an army. What did happen to young George, by the way?”
“I let him go,” Julianne said with a deep sigh. “His mind was so full of holes that when I took his body over, I broke a few things in the process. He’ll be wandering the countryside somewhere, hopefully with enough wits left to shelter from the animals and the cold.”
“You don’t think he’s a danger?” Danil asked, concern etched on his features.
Julianne’s doubt about letting him go resurfaced and she chewed at her lip before answering. “Perhaps. But I don’t know that he’s entirely at fault for what happened, and damage he’s suffered is enough punishment for what he did do.” She shrugged, knowing she’d make the and choice again if she had to. “I don’t think he’ll come back, though. He was pretty scared when I left him.”
Scared was an understatement. George Junior had been cowering in a ball, rocking back and forth while he whimpered to himself, shaking and trembling. He’d wet himself, too, though didn’t give any indication that he’d realised it.
“Fair enough.” Ever loyal, Danil took her word that George’s errant son wouldn’t be back to cause trouble.
“You’re right about the rest, though,” Julianne said, still mulling over his comment from earlier. Rogan had sustained a heavy blow by losing the lord’s son and his army. If they waited to long, that small advantage would be lost.
“I am?” Danil asked, confused.
“We need to move, and soon.” She looked around the small, cluttered room. “Can we set up a meeting here? For tonight?”
Danil nodded. “I can make some space.”
“You don’t have a class scheduled? I don’t want to interrupt if you do.”
“No,” Danil said. “Most of the villagers can either shield well enough to practice on their own, or they’ll never pick it up, so I’ve stopped the classes until things settle down.”
“That’s fine, but I intend to start them up again,” Julianne said. “I don’t want people getting lazy. It’s the only defence they have against the muckers.”
Danil looked surprised at her use of the word ‘mucker’, a shortened version of the phrase ‘mind fucker’. The villagers had only used the word in reference to those who’d abused the power.
They made plans for the evening meeting and Julianne left to go about her day. She needed to organise the food stores, giving the village a chance to stock up before winter. The hogs the soldiers caught would replenish their food for a little while, but they needed more than just meat to last them through the colder months.
After that, she’d need to track down the people she wanted at the meeting, check the guard rotations were going well, make sure the small army they were amassing had enough armour and weapons…
“I’m tired just thinking about it,” she said aloud. Still, the thought of finally making a plan to end this war sent frissons of electricity down her spine in a combination of nerves and excitement.