When Gwen imagined the confrontation with the Exeters in the arena, she had envisioned the Hollands to emerge with a mysterious Mage in a cowl, ready to trounce her with Abjuring Mind Magic laced with Faith.
What instead appeared not only gave her pause but made Charlene and her companions likewise open their mouths.
“A Centurion Golem Suit?” Jean-Paul looked toward her, astonished by the spectacle of a metallic, bipedal machine almost four of his Captain stacked stiletto to shoulder. "They're fielding a War Golem against us? Is that legal?"
"If the All England has allowed it." Charlene was quicker on the uptake. "Then it must be. Gwen, I think we're going to have a problem, and the Centurion is only going to be a part of it."
Gwen concurred, for her Divination had already illuminated both her eyes with a pale, shimmering nimbus. It wasn't what she could see that was the problem—but what wasn't there. "Christ Almighty. Their number three, he's an NoM, isn't he?"
Charlene nodded. "As Non-Magical as they come, and I am fairly certain that's 'Magus' John C. Williams. He's an NoM Golem Maker from the Massachusetts Institute of Thaumaturgy."
Besides the pair, Sir Rothwell's hand took on a tighter grip around the pommel of his Holy Sword. His weapon's superior enchantments were disabled for the bout, though the Faith circuitry that enabled his magic remained active.
Gwen both sensed the Knight's apprehension and felt his displeasure. In the prideful Faith Mage's eyes, going toe-to-toe with an NoM was a grave insult not only to himself but to his Ordo and his mistress.
Or was it perhaps, Gwen noted the Knights' grip, the sword on Aiden's belt?
Among the challengers, Rothwell's signature Spellsword most logically resembled the NoM's war engine—though such a conjecture would be disingenuous. When a Knight of the Garter graduates from his service as a Squire, he is given a Mithril Spellblade forged by the Dwarves, as per the grand narratives governing the Ordo's mythoi. Flame quenched in the blood of drakes, this Relic of the Garter is then tempered by the Knight's Faith and being, becoming a part of the Knight's blood and flesh. The blade was a tool—but it was also a part of the Knight's animus and tied irrevocably to his Astral Soul.
Yet, even so, the rules forbade Aiden Rothwell from utilising the Holy Sword's full potential, and therefore his full potential, despite the stakes in the credibility of his Ordo.
Comparatively, the "tool" crafted by the Magi-tech scholar and NoM pilot was a tool in the simplest sense of a hammer or a wench. "John" could swap out ten suits and not break a sweat. Yet, because the rules had made allowances for artificers, he was nonetheless a legitimate contender.
Across the field, the Golem roared into life in the manner of a living beast.
Gwen had to remind herself to be alert but not alarmed. From the looks of the thing, it was a Centurion model, which wasn't uncommon. However, other than the frame, any similarities between this and the machines she saw while fighting the Triffidus ended at the chassis.
The main difference was the removal of the artillery Spellsword on the bipedal walker's shoulders, vastly improving its agility and overall balance. In its place, both pauldrons sported what looked like anti-personnel Spellswords mounted on articulating pivot joints. Its armour was also thinner to account for the lack of recoil from the original Spellsword, having been transformed from the geometric cubism of the MKII design toward aesthetic curves with an organic semblance. The pilot's cockpit, an upscaled version of the Dwarven Strider's central capsule, was now vertical, allowing the pilot to be housed standing upright, simultaneously serving as a protective womb for its NoM passenger.
Its main armaments, Gwen noted, were two variants of Spellswords she had never before seen on either Imperial or Dwarven Golems, placed just under the wrists of the machine, below three-clawed talon-fingers that looked to be equally dangerous in their cruel way. Finally, where the Centurions of the Royal Scots forsook a "head" for a Divination array, this particular model possessed a vicious, masked helmeted head that resembled an armoured, retro-styled CCTV camera. Judging from the Conjuration and Evocation motes leaking from the cyclopean ocular implant that formed its "eye", she also suspected that it was capable of ray-magic of sorts.
The "tool" aside, she had to agree that the Exeters had pulled out the rug from under them.
First, considering the optics they had arranged for the duel, neither she nor Charlene had any desire to fight an NoM, much less maim or slay the man outright in his cockpit. Likewise, she had no idea if indeed the Exeters had a better network than Charlene's borrowed crows, but even if they won, there was only shame in besting an NoM. In that regard, they were already at a disadvantage.
Then there was Jean-Paul, who had no qualm against fighting or killing NoMs, but whose spells were arguably diminished if he was incapable of triggering Astral feedback through his Usurp and Consume abilities.
"The bastards…" Her partner bit her lip in frustration. "Not that I am doubting your abilities, Gwen, but—"
"Yeah," Gwen concurred. "This isn't looking very good for us, nor is it going to look good, win or lose."
"There's that," Charlene sighed. "And then there's something else. I fear my information security wasn't up to snuff compared to the Militants. I mean, I had anticipated the fact, but for them to field an actual NoM in a Centurion engine?"
"I'll not falter," Sir Rothwell spoke up beside the women. "Even without harming the man, I shall endeavour to defeat them. Besides, I with the blessing of our Lord and Saviour, I may not face the man."
"The Knights of the Garter have all sworn a Cardinal Oath weaved into their Faith Magic," Charlene explained to Gwen. "They're hunters of monsters or Mages who are monsters. Against the innocent and in particular, powerless NoMs, they're sworn to do no injury."
"That's admirable." Gwen nodded. "But yes, that's going to be awkward."
"Especially as there isn't 'malicious harm' as per the competition, and I don't think competitive intent to injure accounts for the Oath."
Sir Rothwell sighed at Charlene's words.
"And knowing your Lord and Saviour." Charlene twisted her lip. "This is likely your trial, Sir Rothwell."
The Knight, perhaps acknowledging Murphy's Law, inclined his chin in silence.
"I have no qualms facing the man," Jean-Paul said helpfully. "Perhaps if I fought him first?"
"We're drawing straws," Charlene reminded the Void Mage. "But yes, I would prefer it if you fought the Golem, badly matched as you are."
The foursome continued to watch as the crowd made gushing noises at the mechatronic wonder. From an upper dais where the commentator would soon be seated, the All England's officious Adjudicator emerged with a black box armed with anti-magic, within which were slips of enchanted paper likewise enchanted with anti-Divination Glyphs.
"But you know what? Our hope isn't lost." Charlene willed a crow to descend on her shoulder while doing her best to ignore the pair of eyes staring down from somewhere in the VIP platform. Standing beside her, Gwen felt envy for Charlene, a daughter with a father who cared, even if that care was judgement.
"Mori," Charlene informed the bird. "Find me information on this, John C. Williams. I want to know why he's working for the Militants and what an American NoM hopes to achieve in England."
"Give Mori ten minutes, and we'll know what makes the NoM tick." Charlene turned to her with confidence, then gestured to the dais, where the Captain of the twin's team, Thomas, awaited their representative. "Till then, shall we?"
Bathed in the watchful gaze of some four thousand spectators and likely millions more on the BBC's lumen-casts, The Devourer of Shenyang stepped up beside Benedict Thomas Holland to shake the man's hand.
"Ladies first, as always." Thomas bowed after the fact, inspiring smiles and laughter from the grandstands.
Gwen bowed her head in turn, as per decorum, then reached out with an armoured glove into the box. As her hand passed the exterior, she felt the magic of her armour grow dull—though not annulled— then quickly withdrew a mysterious Glyph of no particular meaning.
Holding the lottery ticket aloft as though she was the heroine of a story about ripening corn, she showed her ticket to the cheering crowd.
Thomas followed, withdrawing a different coloured Glyph.
More slips soon followed, alternating between the two.
The Adjudicator, a man with the face of a hawk and a nose worthy of a Royal Griffin's beak, then held their slips aloft.
"THE FIRST BOUT—" The man's voice effortlessly reached every inch of the stadium. "Sir Aiden Rothwell of the Order of the Garter will challenge our guest from the New World, the Artificer John Charles Williams!"
Gwen felt her heart sink.
Charlene was right in that God worked in mysterious ways, and that indeed, this would be a duel to test the Knight's conviction in the most taxing ways.
Across from her, Thomas Holland gave her a handsome smile that was neither mocking nor hostile. "Good luck," the man said. "Milady, I hope to meet you in the arena. There, we will communicate with our bodies and our lives on the line. Win or lose, I promise you that the best is yet to come."
"Likewise." Gwen withdrew with a heavier step despite the innate Flight built into her new suit. She had hope for Sir Rothwell, but his Trial of Steel wasn't a matter of skill, but a battle of the Knight's existential Credo, that of honouring the promise he had made to Charlene and the very oaths powering his Credo. That—and the fact that the Knight would be soloing a literal machine.
"Indeed, the Nazarene works in mysterious ways." Sir Aiden Rothwell had just finished a short prayer when Gwen returned with confirmation of the worst-case scenario. For their team, the order was Sir Rothwell, Jean-Paul, and then herself. For the Exeters, it was the NoM, Thomas, then Poins.
"I will endeavour to pass this trial, Magus Song, Milady Ravenport."
"There's no—" Gwen was about to act on her feelings of pity for the Knight when Charlene cut her off with a smile.
"—go forth, Sir Knight," the young Ravenport commanded her champion. "Perform what your heart and your Faith desires. Think nothing of win or loss, only what is right."
With the guise of a Knight headed for his last duel, the Faith Caster relaxed his armour, bowed toward them both, the crowd, then briskly made his way onto the dais, where a whole section of the opposite Force Wall had been disabled to allow the entry of the Centurion MK Custom.
The first battle would occur in a desert-scape, with half of the enormous duelling field transmuted into broken urban cover. Unfortunately, the Ordo of Garter had little interest in "cover", and neither did the towering Golem Suit.
"Anything from the Crows?" Gwen sidled a bit closer to Charlene. She didn't usually feel the butterflies, but now a whole host was nesting in her chest.
"Soon." Her partner hid her agitation far better than Gwen herself. "Soon…"
Mycroft Ravenport dismissed the specifications submitted by the twins to the All England and felt strangely conflicted by the practice of allowing NoMs to create such mechanisms of destruction.
In the past, the Mageocracy had, as the Americans did, dallied in the possibility of arming their NoMs with magical weaponry so that a Beast Tide could be beaten with the same tactics of numerical superiority.
If a Human city was to fall, the proponents of the Militant's industrial complexes had argued, and a million would perish, wouldn't a hundred thousand men and women armed with Wands sent to repeal the tide be a better option?
Logically and on a practical level, the arithmetic of the victor was undeniable—but the cost was still staggering to behold, and there were more significant complications as well.
As a student of not just history but the hidden history of the Mageocracy, Mycroft knew very well the consequences of giving such armaments to NoMs, even if the NoMs were incapable of recharging the mechanisms of their mana-limited weaponry. Yet, even so, rebellions and revolts in the colonies spoke very loudly of what happened when a shepherd realised too late that his sheep now possessed sharpened horns long enough to gore and pin him to a tree.
If nothing else, hadn't the Mageocracy lost the New World by virtue of the Americans arming their NoMs? Hadn't these same NoMs, together with the Mages who empowered them, then enslaved a continent and its native people?
Mycroft's thoughts were punctuated by the sound of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object somewhere in the arena, each blow buoyed by loud cries of appreciation from the jubilant crowd. When Mori had approached him earlier on Charlene's behalf, he had given consent out of sheer curiosity to see what his daughter and Henry's hellion would do with the information once the battle began.
Whatever the case, the Knight from the Order of the Garter was no stranger to fighting giant monsters, though this had to be the man's very first time fighting an active war machine. As a descendent of the Rothwells, the young man was an admirable specimen worthy of Charlene had he not been sworn to chastity—and now that talent was on full display.
Wreathed in a halo of Faith, the young Rothwell was an avenging Angel. His armaments of Faith, sword and shield, were each-endowed with the protective magic of his belief in the Nazarene, both shedding a retina-searing volume of Radiance.
With each incandescent cry, the Knight showed the crowd the same despair the enemies of the Ordo and the Magical Creatures he hunted would face—an unstoppable Sword of Holy Fire shedding enough mana per second to power a villa.
It was unfortunate then that the NoM's Magi-tech creation had been specced to withstand blows from Gwen's monstrous minions, not to mention her hyper-tier lightning, the one she called "Barbanginy" in the tongues of the Australian natives. He knew not whether the All England had taken the machine's fuel consumption into account. Still, from the looks of it, the bright-eyed young Williams had equipped the Centurion with enough HDMs to last an hour of hyperactive operation.
For its defence, the Centurion used what looked like a double-layer of shielding formed from overlapping Walls of Force, the same used by the arena, creating a geometric "skin" over the machine's exterior. Such a cover wasn't perfect, of course, and there would indeed be gaps—but his opponent was a warrior of might and, as such, inherently failed at the necessary perception checks.
After another dozen "Clangs!" that reduced the terrain to rubble and sand to silica, Sir Rothwell encircled the machine on angelic wings of Radiance and fire, testing the Golem's weakness. So far, his attacks had kept the thing on the defensive, preventing the machine from acting. All around the stadium, the NoMs appeared delighted that one of their own was standing up against a Faith Caster—but Ravenport knew that the Knight was likely testing to see if he could disable the machine to avoid killing the pilot outright, an act that would go against Rothwell's Sanctified Vows, the violation of which would disempower years of accumulated Faith.
A few seconds after Sir Rothwell's tactical retreat, the Golem's Spellswords spontaneously burst into technicolour. If the Knight were fighting another Mage, their opponent would have recognised the act of compassion from the lowering of magical output and the non-lethal manner of the Knight's assault—but John C. William was both an NoM and an academic, and therefore terribly suited to understanding the Knight's true intentions.
Without so much as the courtesy of announcing one's spell, the weapons fired.
From underneath the gauntlets emerged a dazzling array of colours, each a different element tied to a mixture of Evocation, Transmutation, and Conjuration magic. A "Prismatic Spray" was the name of the original spell, a Magister-tier, complex sorcery that applied multiple magics at once to one's opponent, making it almost impossible to resist.
Simultaneously, from the cyclopean eye atop the Golem came a green beam of Disintegration at full tilt, not at all diminished in its lethality, pulsing at twice the girth and output of what would be expected of a seventh-tier Transmuter.
While the crowd burst into a riotous clamour, the two swivelling units on the machine's pauldrons revealed themselves to be Greater Sonic Suppressors, upscaled from hand-held units into industrial variants capable of knocking out Manticores.
In total, what Sir Rothwell's underestimation had netted him was a greeting in the form of twin Prismatic Sprays, two Sonic Stuns set to the maximum setting and a Ray of Disintegration.
Would the girl be able to withstand such a combination?
Had Gwen not demonstrated her perfect Affinity for Kilroy's Necromancy and bested a Balefire, Ravenport felt he would soon attend a wedding. Inherently, the very idea of pitting a singular Mage against a Golem Suit was an absurd idea only the Americans would consider fair. Though inflexible in its configuration and useless in certain terrains, even a regular Centurion could simultaneously release a cluster of three Firestorms at a range of a kilometre or more. At the same time, its close-range systems could simultaneously replicate the firepower of a dozen mid-tier or three upper-tier Mages.
"SHIELD OF FAITH!" Without a split-second of delay, the signature Faith-burning shielding of the Clerical Ordo covered the entirety of Sir Rothwell's body. Faith, unlike Spellcraft, was an ancient form of magic that differed significantly from the thieving of power from the Elemental Planes. With enough Faith, the very rules of reality itself could be suspended for a split-second, and that power was now what sustained Sir Rothwell from the combined onslaught of the Centurion's brutal assault.
Mycroft Ravenport shook his head.
The Knight was a textbook example of why Mages should avoid fighting Golems.
In his bravery, courage, and dauntless power, Sir Rothwell chose to "tank" the Golem while considering his next move.
For a Faith Caster, it was the correct thing to do, as mana exhausted far quicker than Faith, and most Mages using tier six and seven spells would soon be OoM, or their mind would grow too taxed to continue without long periods of rest.
What Sir Rothwell's Prismatic-blasted head had forgotten was that he was fighting a machine. Unlike a Mage, the Centurion MK Custom was a murder engine
fed on fuel that was good for another hour of total output and could be swapped out for spare tanks for as many hours as the metal remained intact.
Unless the Knight could use his Faith Relic's true power—but could not because he did not forge, design—nor enchant the Spellblade, he would not penetrate the overlapping, mana-draining Force Carapace of the Centurion.
Impressive as Aiden could be, the Exeter had checkmated Charlene's champion both psychologically and in their liberal interpretation of the rules.
His daughter's suite, therefore, was certainly not off to a great start.
Charlene thanked the crow as she retrieved what looked like a data crystal in its grip and slotted the thing into her Magitech iPad. The illusory projections that lit up her worried eyes were offset only by the splendiferous blasts of rainbow light from the arena, cut with bursts of orange Radiance broiling the thrumming Walls of Force.
Beside her, Gwen did her best to catch up with Charlene's speed reading.
"Gwen." Ravenport's daughter finished the twenty-page document in a matter of moments. "Is Master Yossari, or someone of her rank here in the arena? Or can be freed to attend?"
"Yes, why?" Gwen had to re-organise her thoughts from the scrolling mass of words messing up her eyes. Whatever was happening to Sir Rothwell on stage wasn't at all helping her concentration; one entirely spent thinking about how she would overcome the Golem when it came to her turn. Unlike the Knight, there were means and methods available to her that were denied to Sir Rothwell that she hoped would beat the machine. Even so, the sheer volume of destructive spellfire filling the arena was at giving her goosebumps all over.
"My father had decided to give us a hand from his Ivory Tower," Charlene spoke while glancing at the VIP viewing platform. "The report says that John C. Williams is the grandchild of Jonathan Charles William, originally from North Carolina. They are descended from famous Wand Makers holding hundreds of weapon patents in the US. John recently graduated with Honours from the Massachusetts Institute of Thaumaturgy. He's in London because…"
Gwen noted the triumph creeping up on Charlene's otherwise expressionless face.
"… He's here to seek access to Dwarven knowledge to complete his Thesis on the integration of Dwarven Golem Interface for Human Use. To my knowledge, Dwarves are rare in North America, something about having lost an ancient grudge with the Greenskins. Maybe that's why he thought he would try his luck here?"
While the stadium rocked with the sound of explosions, Gwen's mind likewise made a complete revolution. "Okay, so why the hell is he fighting us? The Dwarves are our friends. They're working with ME, with the IoDNC specifically! Not the Militants!"
"Exactly," Charlene said. "I think the twins had the boy roped up by promising him access to you, and therefore the Dwarves."
"So…" Gwen's mind immediately swivelled toward the same conclusion as her partner. If the twins wanted to play silly buggers, then two could play that game.
"This fight…" Charlene remained stoic. "Is likely over, despite Sir Rothwell's best efforts. However, would you mind having a word with John? Perhaps ask Yossari to come along?"
"Of course." Gwen raised her Message Device to her ears, then left a polite but immediate summon for her friend and ally, Master Yossari Vildrenbrandt of Eth Rjoth Kjangtoth, Master of Alchemy and the diplomatic attaché to the Dwarves currently serving out their "debt" in London. "Ten minutes enough? I'll have Walken teleport them over."
"More than enough" Charlene nodded. "Sir Rothwell's sword might be neutered, but his Faith Armour has plenty of Radiance left before its OoM."
The first bout, much to the delight of the audience, lasted well over thirty minutes.
The pyrotechnical exchange that framed the contest between the Knight of the Garter and the NoM pilot in a suit of his forge and design was a genuine and satisfying opening for the escalating stakes to come.
Comparatively, for the Duke of Norfolk, once the flow of the battle established, his interest waned. As a rule, Knights were powerful individual units, but their rigid doctrine, a necessary component of Faith Sorcery, seldom left room for wonderment and surprises. Ergo, try as the Rothwell boy might, the limitations placed on his items, together with the torturous vow of non-violence against NoMs, ensured that the man was mechanically incapable of overcoming the Centurion MK Custom.
For those in the know, the spectacle was a gloomy one, for here was proof that the NoMs' true lack was merely equipment and that should they be given capital, resource and time, the reign of the Mages may indeed be shaken off its foundations.
Of course, the manufacturing process of Magi-tech items would ensure that no NoM could create such monstrous war engines in any volume. Even ten-thousand NoMs working together would have no means to best an Elemental Spirit old enough to produce a Core that could power the Aether Engine bringing life to the Golem, nor could NoMs harvest the thousands of rare ingredients and materials necessary to forge its Ferro-sinews, runic platings, mana-converters and actuators.
Yet, just as Mycroft's mind wandered toward the Mageocracy's policies, his daughter and the girl made their move.
Coupled with a trio of Dwarves Ravenport recognised as the Alchemist Yossari Vildrenbrandt, a Master Runesmith with the moniker of Danmurim the Glum, and a new Engineseer on exchange to the Shard, Gwen walked the distance between the two camps to approach the twins.
Was this what his daughter had planned for the data on the NoM? Ravenport felt a smile touch the corner of his mouth. And to have Henry's hellion carry out the dirty work? It was a very Charlene thing to do, an act within which he could find no fault.
Below, all eyes were once more on Gwen. "Crossing the field" via its perimeter was permissible by All England's rules, though such unorthodox disruptions were nonetheless perceived as unfavourable and impolite. If the combatants were influenced unduly by the interruption, the Adjudicator could force one side to forfeit the match.
"Interesting," Mycroft heard himself murmur with satisfaction as the battle below slowed its hectic pace. As anticipated, with the Dwarves and Gwen in full view, the NoM's sequential firing of his weapon systems lost its tempo, giving the Rothwell boy unexpected breathing room.
The other guests elsewhere in the VIP, especially the posse surrounding the flamboyant Lady Astor, burst into speculation and clamour.
Below, the Adjudicator, likely favouring Sir Rothwell, signalled that the match should continue even as the NoM grew infinitely distracted. Unfortunately for Gwen's team, the Knight's code prevented Aiden from taking advantage of a one-sided challenge, meaning he chose to wait out the curious distraction offered by their crow-clad Captain.
"Mori." Mycroft motioned for one of his crows. "What are they saying?"
Mycroft couldn't help but broadly grin as the bird delivered the exchange verbatim.
Gwen, in her unique way, had asked the Dwarves to deliver an ultimatum to the Exeters and the NoM in the Golem Suit, who had to be listening through his Magi-tech instruments.
"We nay hold our debt ter the Mageocracy nor The Shard." the Dwarven Master was backing up Gwen's assurance that only her allies, and those close to her, would gain any form of access to patented Dwarven Magitech, or had any hope of studying in Eth Rjoth Kjangtoth. "Mistake nothing, lads. Our wee Lassie here' the holder of the Debt of Haj-Zül, she's a friend to Hilda Kül-Hildenbrandt, scion of Varekan-Kül, Bringer of the Lumen and our venerated Deepdowner. If yer thinks ter bargain with our favour, forget it—I declare it here and now that yer kin are Vadam!"
"If you've trouble with Dwarven," the girl added with a subtle toss of her hair. "I can clarify."
On the duelling field, the steaming Golem had all but grown silent, just as the twin had grown silent.
Once more, the Adjudicator signalled for the fight to continue.
"If you've nothing else to promise to Mister Williams, then I shall return to camp and meet you in the duelling arena with my Dwarves and our patented Magitech."
The girl turned, exposing her back and the backs of her Dwarven partners to the Exeters. Would the twins retaliate? Mycroft had no doubt they were burning with shame, but the very idea of attacking a lady with her back turned, in public, and flanked by the Mageocracy's Dwarven allies was unthinkable. If the twins did act, Mycroft felt, he would have burst into impolite laughter right here and now, spoiling his reputation.
When no riposte came, the Duke of Norfolk counted the seconds it would take for the match to take a dramatic turn. Would the NoM possess the necessary honour to continue the fight now that his investment in the twins turned out to be lies and deception? Or would he turn as the British weather did in autumn? After all, Williams was in Britain to pursue the advancement of his craft— honour? What was 'honour' to an academic in pursuit of knowledge? Would such a thing weigh more than air?
Within the span of a dozen breaths, the Golem grew inert, then with the hiss of escaping air, the cockpit opened, and Mycroft got his answer.
"I forfeit." The sandy-haired Artificer within held up both hands as he dismissed the dizzying array of Glyphs hovering all around him. "I need to speak with Magus Song, now. If you would direct me, Sir Knight, er— to the lady who handles worms—"
Opposite the inquisitive, red-faced NoM inventor, the Knight of the Garter appeared in physical agony.
The humanity! Ravenport chuckled. The Knight wasn't at all used to dealing with NoMs. If he had guessed, as Mycroft did, what the man was liable to do after Gwen dropped that Abjuring Circle of Clarity on the twins, then he would have forfeited first to preserve his honour. Now, the Knight would be given an undeserved victory, the dishonour of which would take months of penitence to absolve.
While the confused crowd slowly caught on that the fight was over, the Adjudicator announced the victory in Charlene's favour, then cleared the arena.
Watching the agitated NoM, the dejected Knight, the haughty Gwen and his smiling Charlene, Mycroft could only say that while he was pleased, the proceedings were a right mess of spontaneity, poor planning, and on-the-cuff spell casting.
What if the NoM could not heed or had not listened in to Gwen's Dwarves?
What if, God forbid, the NoM was honourable?
What if the Exeters had retorted that, once Gwen was married to one of them, access to the Dwarves was merely a matter of time?
What if Sir Rothwell denounced her here and then?
If the girls wanted to be Tower Masters, the Lord Duke of Norfolk shook his head— they still had a long way to go.