• 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 15 - Succession Fight

Diplomacy by Other Means
Succession Fight

“Ambition is so powerful a passion in the griffon breast, that however high they reach, they are never satisfied.”
— N. Marechiavelli, The Princess

“Wingmaster! I challenge you!” Gilda uncoiled like a spring from her crouch, flashing across the circle ahead of the other oncoming griffons with such speed as to even make her father look slow. Even though he was expecting the massed attack, Pumpernickel barely managed to turn with one foreleg to parry the descending naked talons, feeling the bite of her attack deflect off the enchanted steel vambrace and across his armored face in a spray of sparks. There was no posturing or roaring on Gilda’s part, so very much unlike her father. Front and rear claws slashed out in lightning strikes, much lighter than the broadsword-like blows of Talon, but met in a flurry of blocks and parries as Pumpernickel tumbled across the sand with his opponent and the rest of the griffons dove for cover.

At one time in his youth, Pumpernickel had been drafted into bathing his sister’s pampered cat, a ‘rehabilitated’ alley cat who had an extra toe on each forepaw, smelled of trash cans and alleyways, and who had a tendency to view Pumpernickel’s property as a litterbox. At first it had seemed easy, with the soapy tub of water and all of the little cat scrubby brushes and shampoos laid out in even rows.

Then he had added the cat to the water.

Fat, lazy Muffins had transformed upon entering the soapy water, emerging as a vicious beast with carnivorous jaws and twenty-two razor-edged weapons to use against the creature who had dared to lay a hoof on her. It had been a narrow decision in the bathroom with all of his big sisters giggling outside the door, but after having been clawed a dozen or more times, he found holding the cat under the water for a limited amount of time to be an acceptable strategy. The secret then, as it was now, was to keep the proper distance away from the claws. Too close and Muffins would clamp on with all four paws to bite; too far away and she was able to select her attacking spot for maximum bloodshed.

Talons and hooves flew and clashed as they tumbled, each seeking their own advantage. She was fast, even faster than Talon, but her blows lacked the bone-crushing impact or the bladed steel gauntlets that his favorites wore. There was an extravagance to her rapid attacks that plucked a chord at his heart, a flamboyance of attacks and slashes that was more like a dance than combat. The feeling incited a second wind that filled his leaden limbs with energy, a song of conflict which flowed around his bloody hide and tattered wings with the knowledge that there was no need to hold anything back. This would be his final battle, the end of his life in service to the Princess of the Moon, and it would be glorious.

Sparks flew from every piece of his armor he still wore as she struck and he countered, the slash of claws across his helmet, the leonine rear paws that ripped towards his bare belly, and the bludgeoning of wings across his face. It was obvious that she had a lot of experience fighting other griffons, but there was something else that he could see, a pattern in her attacks while they were wrapped up in the ball of rolling combat that crossed back and forth across the circle without ever approaching the fallen Royal Guard chariot…

...without approaching the chariot where the three remaining members of the diplomatic mission were hiding.

In a flash, he realized just what Gilda was doing. The surrounding angry griffons had retreated from their advance and were mesmerized by the ongoing fight between their former princess and the pony who had killed her father. Every lightning blow and counter was occupying their full attention, and there was little doubt to which combatant they were expecting to die. When Gilda killed him, she would become Wingmaster, and as such, should be able to order the other griffons away from murdering the rest of the diplomatic mission. And his wife.

He would be dead, but Laminia would survive. And so would his son.

Hollow laughter echoed through the circle despite the pain as he swung under a talon, trapping it between two bloody hooves and twisting it behind Gilda’s back. The joint lock was a cast-iron bear to maintain as she writhed around in response, but it gave him a split second to pin her solidly to the sand and whisper by one ear, “Thanks.”

“D’mention it,” she snapped in response, driving a sharp elbow back into his ribs and turning the joint lock into a throw that neatly tossed him all the way across the circle. The griffon was only a heartbeat behind his impact, landing with a deadly swipe at his neck that would have ended the fight if he had not caught it on one vambrace and twisted into a counterblow that scattered feathers and bits of splintered claws in all directions. They spun in place, nearly in the bottom section of perches when a young griffon from the crowd lunged forward, grabbing Pumpernickel by the head and heaving backwards, leaving the guard off-balance and vulnerable.

“Get him, Princess!” shouted the griffon, raking one hind paw down Pumpernickel’s ragged wing as he struggled to restrain the weakened Night Guard.

With a ripping screech, Gilda leapt on the other griffon, driving one bunched claw into his throat before vaulting over Pumpernickel’s back and twisting one of the griffon’s wings up in a horribly painful-looking position. It left the sensitive portion of the griffon’s underwing exposed in an action that just could not be accidental, and Pumpernickel grinned in anticipation. One armored hoof was driven solidly into the exact spot on the rebellious griffon’s ribs, making him suddenly lose interest in interfering with the fight, content to simply curl up on the sand and whimper.

Gilda whirled upright, with tattered wings spread wide just out of swiping range and with a furious glare that could have peeled paint. “Wingmaster, control your flock!”

“I’m busy!” he snarled back. “Isn’t that the job of the Heir?” A sudden realization swept over both of the combatants, and they each avoided looking up into the stands at the little griffon princess, only a small fraction of the size of the rest of her flock. It was the job of the Heirs to protect the Challenge in the event the Wingmaster was involved, but Sunny would survive about as long as one solid swipe from her larger flockmates. The two of them glared at each other instead, each dripping with blood and broken feathers, although Pumpernickel was much the worse for wear. The surrounding griffons shrieked in agitation, beginning to descend from the perches they had so briefly occupied and starting to crowd back into the circle.

“You killed the one adult Heir, even though he was a worthless piece of filth,” she responded with a snarl, spitting a stream of blood to one side. “Good riddance. Now, control your flock, Wingmaster!”

“Yeah. Gimmie just a minute.” Turning slightly away from Gilda and swaying slightly on his hooves, he looked up into the eyes of the surrounding griffons and spat blood and pieces of feathers onto the sand. The slow approach of the griffons came to an abrupt stop as the blood-soaked guard looked from one edge of the crowd to the other with a fierce glare, as if he were looking for a snack during his break from combat.

“<Listen up. Everygriffon who wants to challenge me after this slime—” he paused to kick the groaning griffon “—needs to form a…>” Pumpernickel stopped with a contemplative look before turning back to Gilda. “Is there a word in Griffon for ‘an orderly line?’”

“Naa,” scoffed Gilda after a snort of pained laughter and one chipped claw braced against her ribs. “Closest you’re going to get is <group organized by pecking> unless you want to use profanity. Think I’ll just sit here while you beat some sense into their thick heads.”

A thin titter of suppressed laughter went around the surrounding griffons, growing slightly louder as both Gilda and Pumpernickel joined in, both with substantial restraint from their injuries. “So we can take a break during a Challenge?”

“Sure,” said Gilda with a dismissive wave. “You’re the Wingmaster. You get to make the rules.”

“Good. I hereby declare a break in this Challenge until we’re ready to continue? Sound good?” Pumpernickel wiped away a bloody feather that had gotten stuck in one eyebrow and waited while Gilda appeared to consider the offer.

“Deal. How long?”

Pumpernickel turned to look at the body of the old Wingmaster, seeming so much smaller in the stillness of death. “How long do you think it will take me to settle my flock after I pick an Heir capable of knocking beaks together?”

“This bunch of hard-headed morons?” Gilda scoffed and ran her chipped claws through her crest, shaking out the loose and broken feathers it collected. “I don’t envy anygriffon the job. What idiot are you going to pick?”

A year of living with Laminia was like a lifetime of experience compressed into every minute. It only took a small nod of Pumpernickel’s head for his wife to toss the silver bracelet that signified the position of Heir over in their direction. Gilda snatched it out of midair and turned a skeptical look at her current Wingmaster. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No.” Pumpernickel staggered a little, extending his bloody wings for stability before nodding at Talon’s body. “Send your father to rest with his ancestors. It is not right that he is trampled underhoof like carrion.”

There was a crunch of sandy hoofsteps behind him, and a faint green glow of healing magic surrounded the bloody guard. Pumpernickel almost crumpled to his knees in agony as tiny bits of sand all over his body dug into exposed nerves, pressed together by the temporary spell that held arteries and veins closed until more serious measures could be taken. The dripping of crimson from his wounds stopped, although the red haze of agonizing pain still remained unabated as Laminia moved to one side and Ambassador Primrose to the other. They remained silent, but he could feel the trembling from his wife as she barely touched the tip of one wing to his flank.

After a moment to recover, Pumpernickel continued while trying not to grit his teeth. “There is more than one who needs laid to rest, Princess Gilda. What of your step-brother?”

Gilda turned, quickly at first, then slower as she rubbed her bruised neck. Regarding the small cluster of griffons who had witnessed the fight with Plummets and who had been staying out of the fight, she asked, “Is it true? Did my step-brother murder my niece's best friend?”

Glossy Pinions stepped forward, his head held low as he spoke. “Yes, Princess Gilda. He bragged of it in front of us all. He was proud of his deed.” The griffon spat to one side, as did every griffon in the group. “He was without honor. We left him to rot for the beasts after he was slain by the Pumpernickel.”

“Let him rot,” said Gilda with a significant pause afterwards.

“Let him rot,” intoned the surrounding griffons with various degrees of reluctance, following the obvious prompt by the Heir.

“I shall see to the burial of Stargazer—” started Gilda, only to be cut off by a small voice.

“No!” Sunny paused at the edge of her perch, obviously wanting to fly down into the circle, but after a moment she returned to her pose. Behind her, Pumpernickel could see Sunny’s father hesitate as if he were unwilling to fly forward and support his daughter, but after a sharp breath, he flapped forward and rested quietly behind her.

“No. She was my friend. As Second Heir, I demand to be responsible for her.” The little griffon swallowed before looking at the chariot where the cloth-wrapped bundle remained. “My father and I will take her to the village, and also bring the ones who dared to attack Ambassador Primrose. The ponies deserve to know what happened.”

“And what of my flock who dared to attack an ambassador?” asked Pumpernickel, still amazed at how natural the words ‘my flock’ felt in his mouth. Perhaps it was the feeling of his loose teeth which indicated the price that had been paid for those few words. And the cost.

Sunny glared at the group of griffons who had followed her uncle, watching with narrowed eyes as they all cringed in response. “I shall decide their full punishment. This shall only be the start, Wingmaster.”

Pumpernickel nodded slightly with a hidden wince. “So you have requested, so it shall be done.”

Gilda nodded back at Pumpernickel, only deeper. “With your permission, Wingmaster, I will organize my father’s funeral.”

“Go, Heir to the Misty Mountain Aerie. Take your father to the ancestors. I will remain behind.”

“Yeah, probably a good idea, Lumpy. I mean, Wingmaster Lumpy.”

“Take care of your dead. Then we will speak of what will follow. Guard well the flock, Heirs.”

“Fly strong, Wingmaster.” Gilda nodded, and Pumpernickel turned to walk away from the bloody circle with two self-appointed griffons leading the way back to the aerie.

Ambassador Primrose, her horn still glowing a faint green to hold together Pumpernickel’s tattered body, brushed up against him in order to whisper in one ear, “What next, ‘Wingmaster’?”

Taking a breath to compose himself after the painful sand-filled coat of the ambassador had quit rubbing against his bloody slashes, Pumpernickel responded, “We’re going to walk, not run, nice and slow back to the diplomatic suite, and close the door.”

Laminia added, “And I’m going to put about a dress and a half worth of stitches into my ongoing craft project. If you weren’t so beat up, Lumpy, I’d…” She swallowed and walked a few steps before continuing, “You lean on me and Primrose will help your plucked partner.”

Lack of blood was making the world spin in slow revolutions, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. He could always blame his injuries later, now that there was going to be a later. “What if I want to lean against this lovely young mare, and let you assist Red?”

It hurt to smile, even more when Laminia poked him in the side, but he could not help grinning through the pain when Redoubtable growled in a rather exaggerated fashion, “Rose, I think you can turn off his anesthesia spell now before it gives him any more brain damage. Don’t make me crawl over there and kick your flank, Lumpy.”

“That’s Wingmaster Lumpy to you, commoner. You may kiss my hoof when you’re feeling better.”

The amused snort from his friend was worth the pain, even better when Redoubtable responded, “And you can kiss my—”

Author's Note:

A male bird is very much unlike a pony in terms of reproductive equipment. Instead of hanging down below, they’re under the ribs on each side, well protected by the wings. That is, unless a certain griffon princess is to twist said wings above their head, allowing a certain Night Guard to get a good solid hoof-strike on the respective spot.