• Published 7th Oct 2013
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Diplomacy by Other Means - Georg

Princess Luna sends a diplomatic mission to the griffons in the hopes of preventing a deadly war. When disaster strikes, can their weakest member keep them alive?

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Ch 12 - Audacity

Diplomacy by Other Means

“Any pony who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a princess who wants to keep her authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires.”
— N. Marechiavelli, The Princess

Duke Plummets sat gracefully on the gravel bar of the trickling streambed, perched on his hind legs with Laminia dangling helplessly in his grip. Pumpernickel’s words seemed to strike the griffon as amusing, and he chuckled even as he lifted Laminia up in front of him and shook her gently, making a soft clattering as pieces of her armor bumped into each other.

“You challenge me? You’re a pony. What kind of fool do you take me for, pony?” He gave the struggling mare another shake just for emphasis, trying to get a rise out of Pumpernickel, who remained unmoving and impassive as he responded.

“Under the provisions of the Treaty of Rosebuds, I accuse you of the murder of an Equestrian citizen, Stargazer of the village of Toenail.” This time the laughter spread among the rest of the griffons, although a suddenly serious Plummets quit swinging Laminia quite so casually and focused on Pumpernickel with intent as he continued. “As a duly appointed representative of the Diarchy of Equestria, I hereby request permission from the Aerie of the Misty Mountains to take you into custody, to serve trial for your crimes.”

“No,” snarled Plummets, starting to move around to the right in an awkward hopping motion, matched by Pumpernickel step for step as they circled the fallen chariot. “That worthless whore returned to her village. If she’s not there, she must have gone to another one of the pony towns to lift her tail for her daily oats.”

“You killed her.” Pumpernickel’s cold voice was lacking in any emotion, and the scattered laughter among the griffons died out as they glanced back and forth among themselves. “You tore her throat out in your room and then cast her cold body into the forest to rot!”

“Lies!” snapped Plummets, his eyes darting to the wrapped bundle inside the carriage, and the green glow that had begun to surround the straps tying it down. “All lies.”

Stargazer’s body made a peculiar thudding noise as it rolled out of the carriage and out of the concealing sheet, or perhaps it was the sound of a dozen griffons all inhaling at the same time. When she stopped rolling, the razor-sharp wound that ended her life wound up facing the sky in some obscene parody of a mouth, gaping wide in a silent scream that drew all of the griffon’s attention in a mixed display of instinctual hunger and learned revulsion. The ripped hole in her chest seemed small by comparison, but as griffon eyes looked back and forth between the corpse and Plummets, unasked questions filled the night air.

“Murderer,” snapped Pumpernickel. “Vulture. Eater of the Dead. How low have the mighty race of Griffons sunk to eat from the corpse of another sentient being?”

“I-I didn’t…” Plummets’ voice seemed to catch momentarily, and the tint of green glowing from his enchanted goggles changed ever so slightly to match Primrose’s horn aura. “I didn’t mean to kill her. I was just so angry when she told me.”

Pumpernickel never took his eyes off the tall griffon. “Told you what?”

“She was pregnant. I was just going to hit her like I always did, but I opened my claws at the last second. Ripped her throat right out and bled all over my floor. Inconsiderate bitch. But the blood. Oh, her blood tasted so sweet.”

“Was that when you ate from her cold decaying corpse?”

“No!” Plummets scowled at the bloodless body lying pale in the moonlight. “The eldest have the right to the first bite of the kill. My father was so angry at me the next day. Said it was clumsy, and he had taught me better. He was the one who tore open her chest and removed her liver. It was cold, but it was delicious.” The tall griffon seemed to have forgotten he was holding Laminia in one claw, focusing his attention back onto Pumpernickel with unnatural intensity.

“What was to become of us when we were returned to the Council Circle?”

“Breakfast,” breathed Plummets. “Your blood is to give our tircels strength! We shall feed upon your entrails before descending upon our Crystal City, and then the true feasting will begin.”

With one armored hoof planted solidly in front of himself, Pumpernickel looked up at the griffon and spoke in a loud and very clear voice. “By your own confession you have admitted to the murder of an Equestrian citizen, conspiracy to commit murder of an Equestrian ambassador, and desecration of a corpse. Under the provisions of the Treaty of Rosebuds, I hereby formally place you under arrest pending trial. Will you come along peacefully?”

The duke threw back his head and laughed, a victorious bray that the dozen griffons followed along with various degrees of reluctance, and more than one retching sound from the surrounding bushes. “You arrogant worm! I regret the necessity of spreading your blood around the gravel here instead of taking your body back to the Council Circle. The power in your blood must be far greater than that little whimpering coward. I shall drink it from your cooling body before—”

Pumpernickel’s stentorian tenor cut through the night air with a note of command that stopped Plummets in mid-sentence. “Then by Section 5, subsection B of the Treaty of Rosebuds I hereby declare you a fugitive from Equestrian justice, and am empowered by the treaty to request and require any griffon citizen of your aerie to aid in your capture, or be charged as an accessory to your admitted crimes.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you? You actually believe any of these weak-willed sycophants would betray me in order to obey a pony?” Plummets slammed Laminia firmly against the chariot while still keeping his deadly grip around her neck. One convulsive rip from his armored talons would tear her throat out, but Pumpernickel never wavered in his gaze, keeping his eyes fixed solidly on Plummets’ face even as the griffon looked around at his hesitant followers.

“Father drove away anygriffon who would oppose him years ago, long before I was even aware he was my father. Only the weak remain. Why else do you think I need your blood to light the ancient fire in their bellies again?”

“Abandon this idiotic attack,” said Pumpernickel just as calmly as if there were only the two of them, without a slowly closing circle of griffons. “Surrender, and I won’t kill you.”

“Kill me?” Duke Plummets chuckled grimly. “Even if you could scratch me before my tircels tore you to shreds, the Royal Guard does not kill.”

“There is one exception,” said Ambassador Primrose, rising to her hooves beside a battered and bloody Redoubtable. The Royal Guard had lost considerable skin and feathers down one wing, but the crimson tide of blood had been magically stanched, and the deep puncture wounds across his back no longer threatened his life. The low green glow of a spell around her horn flickered out, although the spell she was casting had not been wrapped around her guard for some time. Instead, Duke Plummets gave a startled blink as the truth spell stopped.

“When commanded by a Princess, in her own voice, the Royal Guard can kill.” Primrose looked up at the stunned griffon, the blood of her coltfriend still splattered across his chest.

“Kill him, Optio Pumpernickel.”

Plummets lashed out to catch the incoming guard with a full swipe that would have taken his head off if it connected, but the dark thunderbolt of armored pony twisted in midair as he crashed into the big griffon, catching the descending claws in a spray of sparks and blood across his armored back. Laminia hit the damp streambed with a crunch and gasped for breath as her husband grappled with Plummets above her, the two combatants stumbling backwards across the loose gravel. The Nocturne had the griffon by the head, twisting his heavy neck around with his hind hooves braced on Plummet’s feathered chest for leverage while the griffon tried for a grip of his own, hampered by his injured arm. The two of them strained against each other, Pumpernickel with the better grip around the griffon’s neck, Plummets with the advantage of strength. Even the surrounding griffons paused as the two combatants struggled, the sound of straining muscles and tendons the only noise in the dark streambed.

Until there was an explosive crack of broken vertebrae, and one body thrashed out his life on the damp gravel.

* * *

* * *

By the time the griffons had finished gathering around, the body had quit its macabre dance of death and lay quietly, with wings outstretched and face-down in a trickle of muddy water. One griffon reached out a gauntleted claw, but stopped before touching the body, as if in fear he would stand back up again and resume the fight. “He’s dead.”

“Good!” Pumpernickel spat into the gravel and continued sucking in heaving gasps of air. “Who’s next?”

The murmur of low chirps and squawks between the griffons suddenly was broken by a stentorian voice, even deeper than Pumpernickel’s. “The Heir is dead. Long live the Heir!” A hefty griffon with blood-red plumes down the side of his face picked up the silver bracelet from where it had rolled and held it out to the stunned Royal Guard, who took it much the same way as if it were as a ticking bomb.

“You can’t be serious,” shouted a slender griffon, stepping forward out of the circle of griffons in the direction of Pumpernickel. “He’s a pony! This is out—”

A pair of other griffons, who Pumpernickel recognized as the somewhat ruffled pair who had attacked them in the ambassadorial corridor, stepped up to either side of the slim griffon. Sweeping backwards in a synchronized motion that yanked the footing out from underneath him, they brought armored talons up behind his head to grab his ruff and proceeded to ram his head, beak first, into the gravel streambed.

“Forgive the interruption, Heir Pumpernickel,” said the first one in a sharp tenor, yanking one struggling claw up behind the suffocating griffon and twisting it sharply. “Our cousin Glossy Pinions can be a bit verbal.”

“We promise it won’t happen again,” said the other in a pleasant alto voice, sitting down firmly on his head and ramming Glossy’s beak farther into the gravel.

“Particularly if you don’t leave him a little breathing space, dear,” said the first griffon.

“No great loss,” said the second with a firmer pressure to the back of the trapped griffon’s head. “He’s only a third cousin.”

“Let him up,” growled Pumpernickel, flexing his wings and walking over to the couple as Glossy Pinions pulled his beak out of the gravel and began to cough. “You want this?”

Glossy looked at the silver bracelet that Pumpernickel dangled in front of his nose with a natural avarice that fairly glowed through the enchanted eyepieces of his goggles, although that abruptly faded as Pumpernickel added in Griffon, “<Take it. If you can.>”

The space around the two grew slightly as all of the griffons took at least one step back. Glossy licked his beak, looking first at Pumpernickel, then the corpse laying in the muddy stream.

“Long live the Heir?”

“Better.” The newly-minted heir passed the bracelet back to back to his wife and glared at the rest of the griffons. “Anypony else?” A quiet chorus of generalized negativity filled the air and Pumpernickel turned to the ambassador, still sitting at the side of her badly-wounded coltfriend.

“He’ll be fine,” said Primrose as Laminia slipped up to her side, still holding her throat but breathing heavily. “Nothing broken that a few weeks tied to a hospital bed won’t fix. What about you?” added the ambassador in a much lower voice.

Pumpernickel glowered. “I don’t trust any of this bunch to fly you back to the Crystal Empire without somepony riding herd on them. And that really only leaves one option.”

“We serve the Princesses,” whispered Primrose with a glance behind her guard.

“Glossy Pinions,” said Pumpernickel in a loud voice that seemed to rebound from the forest around them. Behind him, the griffon in question froze, his wings half-extended as if he were nearly ready to dart into the sky. “If you even think about running, I’ll kill you. If you get away, I’ll track you down and break every bone in your body before killing you.” The big Nocturne guard turned around in a deliberate fashion, seeming somehow larger in the moonlight as he glared at the suddenly shaking griffon.

“We’re going back to the Council Circle. I’ll need two of you to volunteer to fly the chariot, you there, and you.” His hoof pointed straight at Glossy, who took a moment to check if perhaps there was another griffon just standing behind him who was more qualified.

There was not.

* * *

The chariot bumped unevenly as it was flown through the dangerous downdrafts around the mountain, with both griffons in the ill-fitting harnesses paying nearly all of their attention on the sky ahead. Behind them in the passenger compartment rode a mismatched set of ponies. The corpse of Stargazer had been wrapped up and strapped back down rather solemnly by the remaining griffons with whispered words that reminded Pumpernickel of the songs from their funeral rites. Beside the body was Redoubtable, wrapped up in conjured bandages to the point where it was difficult to tell his white coat from his wrappings. He was awake, although one wing was strapped down solidly and the other half-plucked wing held tightly against his flanks despite his instinctive drive to fly. He was as silent as his marefriend, but there was a faint green glow to Primrose’s horn that showed the diplomat was busier than she looked.

Pumpernickel did not have to look to tell his wife was flying a few lengths above and behind the chariot and its griffon drivers; the frequent uneasy glances of the griffons would have made her location obvious even if he could not feel the flame of her anger burning on the back of his neck like the sun. He was so lost in his thoughts that a quiet voice speaking in the back of his mind caught him by surprise.

Pumpernickel? Can you hear me?

Keeping his face set in an impassive glare at nogriffon in particular, he attempted to focus his mind the way he had been trained in the Academy. The communication spell was a tricky one, and that Ambassador Primrose was able to do it at all, let alone in this situation, spoke well about her willpower and ability to function under pressure.

Yes. I hear you, Ambassador.

Good. What do you have planned for when we get to the griffon Council Circle? You can’t be seriously thinking about attacking the Wingmaster, are you?

No. I need him to attack me first.

There was a very long pause, long enough for Pumpernickel to almost think the ambassador had dropped the spell, but when her voice resumed in the back of his head it was anything but calm.

Are you insane! He’ll rip you apart! You don’t think that stunt you tried with Plummets is going to work on him, do you?

Pumpernickel paused, just breathing in the chill mountain air as they approached the lights of the griffon Council Circle, set into a low bowl-like structure against the mountain. For one brief moment he wished the whole area could have been covered in a glass dome so the chariot could crash through it in a burst of splinters and noise. As it was, the entrance he had planned into the flock of griffons was going to be talked about for years after his death, an immortality of sorts among their kind that his ancient namesake had achieved.

I didn’t think it was going to work on Plummets, and it almost didn’t. I had to kill him dead, with no fallback position or hesitation, and in a way that would destroy his reputation among his flock. If I had fought him normally, I would have lost, and even if I had managed to take a solid chunk out of him, the Wingmaster would still take the rest of his flock and attack the Crystal Empire. I only had one chance, and I got lucky.

That’s not going to work against Wingmaster Talon. He’s a lot older and a lot more experienced, plus you killed his son. He’s going to kill you.

I know. Regardless of what we say or do, we’re all dead now. The only thing left is to stop the attack. The Wingmaster will not permit anygriffon else to lead, so if I can cripple him up enough, the invasion will be cancelled.

And when you die?

Despite his every intention, Pumpernickel glanced over his shoulder to take a last look at his grim-faced wife flying behind him. There was a solid set to her jaw that indicated she knew just exactly what was going to happen, and a determination that ‘Until death do us part’ was a mutual oath.

I’ll give you enough time for one shot. Make it count.

Their ears popped as the chariot began to descend. Their nervous drivers were aiming for a landing where he had ordered, while the griffons in the Council Circle were still looking around for Duke Plummets. It was a narrow moment of indecision that Pumpernickel had gambled would last long enough for them to do what needed to be done, and he tried not to think about how many things could go wrong with his sketchy plan. It seemed to take forever for the pickets above the gathering to circle away from their descent, but he took a long deep breath of the crisp mountain air as they parted in front of the chariot, expecting that the dozen griffons were bringing their prisoners back to the Wingmaster instead of bringing him the executioner of his son.

“L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace,” he whispered into the wind as the Council Circle grew near and the sounds of angry griffons surrounded him. “They soon will know just how much of their blood it takes to kill a Royal Guard.”