"The thing is, Gareth, that after this, Cynthia utterly outranks you as far as the gnolls are concerned. We can probably arrange things so that you can still give orders to Snark in public, but you have to seem to be speaking for Cynthia when you do it, or things will come apart." Snipe paused to look over his audience; Snark nodded, Cynthia looked puzzled, and Gareth was trying hard not to glare in disgust. Snipe sighed, and started over.
"Back when, Gareth was building a company of orc hoplites, with the odd gnoll and goblin thrown in, and then Snark came along, and she immediately become the senior gnoll, right? And suddenly discipline among the gnolls got better, and every gnoll you met wanted to join. That's because gnolls are raised to follow female leaders, and female gnolls are REALLY rare outside of the villages. So even though Snark is a damkiller, as low ranking as an adult female can be, she still outranks all of the males."
"Damkiller?" Gareth asked; Cynthia turned to look quizically at Snark.
"My mother died birthing me," Snark explained. She pointed at the coin sized circular holes in her ears. "They punched my ears the day I was born, to mark me."
Snipe nodded. "About one in every dozen of us is a damkiller; the mothers punch their ears to make sure that they aren't allowed to breed."
"Or to remind us that breeding will probably kill us," Snark added.
Gareth and Cynthia weren't getting it; Snipe sighed again. "Two out of three gnoll females die at first childbirth. The third usually goes on to have seven or eight children; it works out. Three times out of four the child dies with the mother, but if the child lives, it is marked as a damkiller. Female damkillers are chased out with the males on their fourteenth Beltane, and damkillers are NEVER allowed back into any gnoll village. Most males are allowed to enter OTHER villages if they manage to survive long enough, or become rich enough."
Cynthia got it. "So the only females you normally encounter outside the villages..."
"Are damkillers," Snipe finished. "Right. And the female damkillers who are clever enough to avoid getting pregnant, and dead, tend to gather a small community of males around them. In Snark's case, that took place inside of Gareth's company, and a lot of the problems that usually crop up were avoided."
"You gave us something to do, and a way to make a living," Snark said. "Most female led gnoll bands turn to banditry, and are hunted down and killed."
Snipe nodded. "And now it gets a little... odd. You refer to me as a "lieutenant", and to Snark as a "captain", and we call you "Colonel". But in Gnollsch... I am 'Father Snipe', and Snark is 'Mother Snark,' and Gareth..." he paused and clenched his teeth, "Is 'Grandmother Slice'."
Gareth snorted and said, "GRANDMOTHER?"; Cynthia fought to avoid giggling.
Snipe shrugged. "You're pretty much an honorary female gnoll. And it worked. But then *I* had to get clever..."
Gareth blinked. "It gets worse?"
Snipe gritted his teeth again. "I wanted to get Cynthia some status with the gnolls, so I set up that duel with a young troublemaker, and managed to get the boys thinking that since Cynthia was known to be your consort, they could consider her an honorary MALE gnoll..."
"...Who is, or at least WAS, known to the boys as 'Brother Sin'."
Cynthia was smiling. "But now I am a FEMALE gnoll..."
"Now you are the most charismatic female gnoll I have ever seen..."
Gareth blinked at that. "What?"
"Aura is charisma, Gareth," Cynthia explained. "I have something like five times the aura I did, at least twice what anything human CAN have."
"So now Cynthia is GRANDMOTHER Sin. But the link with Gareth is still there, so now HE is HER consort, and the best we can hope for is to establish him as Grandfather Slice." Snipe paused; Cynthia was failing to stifle a grin.
Gareth scowled. "And 'grandfather'..."
"...Ranks below 'Mother' but above 'Father'." Snipe said. "It's the best we can do, Gareth. But there are advantages. The gnolls, all of us, BELONG to Cynthia, now. We just DO. That isn't an invitation to short our wages, but it does mean that morale is going to be GREAT for a long time, forever if you're halfway careful."
"Interesting." Gareth looked from Snipe to Snark to 'Sin' and back. "So I get to be male, again, but I have to recognize it as a demotion. I suppose I can live with that." He thought for a moment, and then asked, "Why are you so sure the gnolls are behind Cynthia?"
Snark answered, "The Gnollsch word 'grandmother', as a title, means a village leader, the senior female of a group. Snipe and I have each heard the boys referring to Sin as 'great-grandmother'."
Cynthia and Gareth exchanged bewildered glances. "And that means?" Cynthia asked.
Snark and Snipe answered in unison. "Queen."