The guards AT Duke Robert's pavilion were another matter, of course; they had been specifically detailed to keep interlopers away from the duke, and barred Cynthia's way. She responded to their challenge by saying, "I am Lady Cynthia of Gareth's company, and I would see the Duke."
"He is not receiving visitors."
Cynthia sighed, then drove the staff of the standard into the ground with all of her considerable strength. The guards' eyes widened, but they did not move. Cynthia held out her hand palm down, closed her fist, turned the closed hand palm up, and opened her hand; fire shot upward from her hand. She closed her hand and the fire went out, then she dropped her hand to her side. "I am Lady Cynthia of Gareth's company," she repeated, "And I would see the Duke NOW."
One of the guards turned to bring word to the Duke; Cynthia brushed the other guard out of the way and followed. The guard who had inadvertently become Cynthia's escort made no effort to correct the situation, but merely announced Cynthia to the Duke and fled.
"You sacrificed him," Cynthia growled. "I know what support you promised him, and I know that it did not arrive. You left Gareth to twist in the wind on the left flank, and he died because of it."
The Duke had been a politician too long to let his bewilderment show; he simply asked, "And what is it that you want?"
"Justice. As heir to Gareth's contract with you, I tell you that what remains of his company is withdrawing from this war, and that I still expect you to pay all wages promised through Mabon; I claim the bodies and gear of all soldiers killed by Gareth's company as weregeld for our losses."
THAT broke the Duke's composure. "Three months wages for deserting? AND you expect me to turn human bodies over to GNOLLS?"
Cynthia snarled. "Yes, I do. And at that, you will still be in my debt."
"On what basis..."
"How many men have you killed today? Not how many have you caused to die; how many have you personally killed? My tally is in the neighborhood of 500..."
The Duke stared; Cynthia just waited. "That was YOU?" the Duke stammered. "The firestorm? But... You're a GNOLL..."
Cynthia sighed; shifting shape took little energy, but she had none to spare, and it would HURT. She closed her eyes and put on her elven form; she wished she had the strength to cast a glamour to deal with her now baggy clothing, but she did not. "*I* am a wizard of the seventh circle. My two best friends are dead, and the men who killed them are charred meat. But YOU... I am done with your war, but you should be able to use the threat of me to negotiate to your advantage." She waited for this to sink in, then continued. "I won your battle today; if you give me all I have asked for, you will still be in my debt. However... You can settle the score, and leave me in your debt, if you grant me a barony."
"I was born human; I am the granddaughter of a duke. If my life had been VERY different, I might now be the widow of one of the barons you have lost in this war. And if I were your vassal... I will not further your ambitions, but I WOULD aid you in defense, even against the king himself."
The Duke was no fool. "Yes," he said. "I will see what holdings are available..."
"Wolfsgate. The town where Gareth's company wintered. As of spring muster, you had not named a new baron. It will do nicely." She waited while the Duke relinquished his momentary hopes of using location to force her to be more active in his ambitions; Wolfsgate was remote and isolated. "I will return at sunset tomorrow to collect my payment and my warrants, and to give you my oath." Cynthia clenched her teeth and shifted again; this shift did not hurt quite as much, because the gnoll shape was so much more hardy.
The Duke was no fool. "It will be done," he said.
"Good," Cynthia growled. "Until then." She turned and left, collecting the standard as she passed. As she returned to her camp, she thought dreamily of a long, hot bath, and wondered how long it would take Wolfsgate to become known as Gnollsgate; she already had plans.