“I come as bidden, Dread Lord,” the Captain said, his eyes on the floor.

“Rise, Captain,” Lord Hob said. “And tell me how fares the battle.” He knew quite well how the battle had gone. “I hear not the clash of sword nor the screams of the dying. Has the fighting stopped?”

“It has, Dread Lord.” The Captain rose, but his gaze remained on the floor.

“Why, Captain? Have we won?”

“No, Dread Lord. We are in retreat.”

“Yes, Captain Branch, I know that we are in retreat. That was a test. I thank you for telling me the truth. As a reward, you will continue breathing.”

“Thank you, Dread Lord,” Captain Branch said, sounding as if he had just taken his first breath since entering the tent.

“Think nothing of it, good Captain. Now I bid you to tell me why my army has retreated.”

“We were winning,” Branch said.

“Yes, we were. And quite gloriously.”

“But then something happened.”

“Something happened?” Lord Hob said. “Something?”

“Something unexpected.”

“Something,” Lord Hob repeated. “Unexpected.”

“Some one, actually.”

“Pray tell, Captain. Just who was this unexpected someone that caused my army, the grandest army in all of Gund, to flee before their terrible might?”

Captain Branch did not answer right away. Instead he kicked at rocks that did not exist, shrugged his shoulders a time or two, and even threw out the occasional “um” before stammering out his intelligible response.

“I’m sorry,” Lord Hob said. “You’re going to have to speak up, old boy. I didn’t quite catch that.”

The Captain cleared his throat. “It was the One, Dread Lord.”

Now it was Lord Hob’s turn to try his hand at speechlessness.

The silence hung in the air between them like a two ton mime. Lord Hob stared at Captain Branch as the Captain continued his intense scrutiny of the carpet fibers.

“The One?” Lord Hob said at last.

“Yes, Dread Lord.”

“That’s impossible.”

“He bore the Sword of Power, Dread Lord.”

“He?” Lord Hob said. “A human?”

“Yes, Dread Lord. He is said to have appeared suddenly in the midst of battle. He wore strange clothing but wielded the Sword. He called down lightening and our army ran.”

“Then Commander Jund’s mission to the Ancient World failed,” Lord Hob said.

“It appears so, Dread Lord.”

The Dread Lord Hob; Scourge of the West, Defiler of the East, Plague of the North, Overlord of the South, and King of the Nighttime World stepped down from his throne and resumed his pacing, his hands clasped behind his back.

“Well then,” Lord Hob said as the Captain tore his eyes from the floor to watch his master pace. “This news is unexpected.”

“Yes, Dread Lord.”

“If the One has been reborn, and if he brings with him the full might of the Sword of Power, we must approach this invasion from a different direction.”

“Of course, Dread Lord.”

Lord Hob returned to his throne where he sat, doing his best to look both brooding and introspective at the same time. He’d always felt he looked the most attractive when he was brooding.

“This will require some thought,” said Lord Hob.

“Yes, Dread Lord,” Branch said.

The Dread Lord Hob let a silence fall between himself and the Captain. While he did have a lot to think about, he enjoyed testing those that served under him. You could tell a lot about a man, or lizard, by how they held themselves in silence.

How long would Captain Branch stand there before speaking?

Would Branch fidget?

Would he hum or whistle in a feeble attempt to fill the silence?

Would he leave the tent, thinking that he was no longer needed?

Lord Hob smiled as the possible outcomes funneled through his brain.

The silence stretched on. Five minutes, then ten, twenty, thirty. Captain Branch remained stock still and quiet as the grave. Lord Hob found himself impressed by the lizard’s self-control.

“Summon the Travelers, Captain,” Lord Hob said at last. “You are to take the army and fall back to the Plains of Rialt. There you will watch Haven and await my instruction.”

“The Travelers will not be able to move the entire army, Dread Lord,” said Captain Branch, confusion showing on his lizard face.

“They are not for the army, they are for me.”

“Will you not be coming with the army, Dread Lord?”

“No, I will not,” Lord Hob said. “I will be going back to Grimwald Keep. I need a good bath and a shave.” Then Hob caught his reflection in the mirror. “Well,” he said, putting a hand to his chin and scratching at his stubble. “Maybe not a shave.”

Here end Chapter Five

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