Author's Note: This story was originally published in A Small Circle of Friends #13, from Neon RainBow Press. Small Circle was a recycling 'zine. Writers took the story from one TV show, then retold it with the characters from another TV show. This is set in the Wizards and Warriors universe, but based on an episode of Next Gen. Sorry, I don't remember the name of the Next Gen episode that I used as the basis for this piece. It's an amateur work of fiction, completely non-profit, most of the characters don't belong to me, and they'll be returned to their original owners, relatively undamaged.

a Wizards and Warriors story based on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation

The Other Graystone Brother

by Susan M. M.

Dirk Blackpool's army attacked the small village of Rennford. Prince Justin Graystone hid in a barn, and did nothing to stop them. If his brother, Prince Erik Graystone had been there, he would have been astride his white steed, waving a sword as he tried to defend Rennford single-handedly.

Justin was less handsome and heroic than his younger brother, but a good deal more practical. He knew the farmers of Rennford couldn't hold Dirk's army off with scythes and hoes. He knew one sword wouldn't make a difference against so many of Blackpool's soldiers. So he hid in the hayloft, where he had seduced a farmer's daughter the night before, and listened to the sounds of slaughter outside. And he stayed alive to make his report.

Three days later, Justin knelt before King Edwin Baaldorf. "Bad news, sire."

Baaldorf gestured to Justin to rise. "What is it, my boy?"

"Blackpool has taken Rennford." The prince was a tall, dark-haired knight, his rakish charm set aside for the nonce as he made his report.

"Rennford?" The gray-haired monarch didn't recognize the name.

"It's a small farming village on the banks of the river Renn. More a stream than a river, really," the Wizard Traquill explained. "It's a tributary of the Wolf River, which of course flows into–"

"More importantly, it's on the border of Blackpool's territory," Justin interrupted. "And he just moved the border a smidgen south. He didn't just raid Rennford for supplies, or so his soldiers could practice their marksmanship against unarmed peasants. He's taken over the village, and he means to keep it."

"Huh? What d'you mean?" Baaldorf demanded.

"After the villagers surrendered, Blackpool's troops killed all the young men. All the women between sixteen and thirty were taken to serve as 'comfort women' in his barracks-brothels, and about five or six teenage boys – for the ones who don't like girls," Justin added as an afterthought. "Then he called up some blacksmiths."

"Blacksmiths?" repeated Baaldorf.

Justin nodded. "They put slave collars on the rest of the survivors. Then Blackpool called up a group of veterans – one-eyed men, men with peg-legs or empty sleeves pinned up, a few with all their parts, but more scars showing than skin – all soldiers who'd been invalided out of his service. He reassigned all the farms to his veterans, then let them choose amongst the slaves for farmhands and concubines."

Prince Erik Graystone spoke up for the first time. With his slender, wiry build, he looked smaller than his brother, although he was actually an inch or two taller. His hair was blond instead of dark. "How sure are you of your source?"

"Very sure."

"Spies lie sometimes," Erik pointed out. "What if he's a double agent for Blackpool?"

Justin signaled a servant. A young man dressed in royal livery stepped forward. Before the servant could bow to the king and offer his liege lord the first drink, Justin helped himself to a goblet of wine. He drank half of it at one gulp before replying, "Nope, he's not."

The servant stared wide-eyed at the breach of royal etiquette. Traquill merely raised one white eyebrow; he'd known Justin since he was in diapers. Erik frowned. The king shook his head.

"I don't trust it," Erik announced, "too many details. Your spy probably just made it up for the kolnas."

Justin took another swig of wine and shook his head.

"The only way your spy could've gotten that many details was if he was there," Erik protested, "and if he were there, he should've fought Blackpool."

"One man against a whole company of northern soldiers? Right." Justin walked over to the servant, who was offering wine (somewhat belatedly) to Baaldorf and Traquill, and grabbed the goblet that should've gone to his brother.

"If your spy is the sort of coward who won't fight evil when he sees it, then he's not a man of honor. And if he's not a man of honor, how can we trust anything he says?" Erik demanded.

Justin took a hefty swig of wine before answering his brother. "Just for the sake of argument, consider the possibility that my spy is a truthful louse. Or call him a 'military scout' instead of a spy – maybe the word won't leave a dirty taste in your mouth like 'spy' does." He guzzled more wine. "The point is, Blackpool has established a foothold in southern territory. My guess is he'll fortify Rennford, and then use it as a forward base to launch new attacks. A place he can withdraw to regroup, or tend to his wounded. You might want to worry about that."

"Yes, we might," the king agreed.

Justin drained his goblet and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He gave a little half bow. "If you'll excuse me, dealing with the dirty and dishonorable wears me out." Without waiting to be dismissed, he turned and started out of the throne room. Halfway to the door, he stopped and turned around. "Hey, Marko! Is Delores Drinkwater still working in the kitchen?"

Erik's vassal was a chubby, dark-haired man. "Delores is a nice girl, Your Highness," Marko protested.

"Yes, she is," Justin agreed with a grin. "Very nice." Whistling jauntily, he turned and continued out of the room.

"You'd think he was born in a barn instead of a castle," Erik muttered under his breath.

"Hey! Some of my best friends were born in barns," Marko reminded his master indignantly.

"Where's Prince Justin?" Queen Lattinia asked. "I thought he was joining us for dinner."

"I thought so, too," her husband muttered under his breath. At the end of the long dining table, the king called out to her, "I regret he's been delayed by military duties."

"War, war, war. That's all you men ever think about?" Queen Lattinia tsked.

King Edwin Baaldorf turned to Prince Erik and asked quietly, "Where is your brother?"

"In the stables, dicing with the grooms," Erik replied.

"Ben says he's never seen anyone that good with dice who didn't cheat," Marko added.

"Ben says Justin cheated?" Erik asked in dismay.

"No, no. Ben says he doesn't cheat. He doesn't need to," Marko clarified. "And Ben's seen a lot of dicing in his time."

Baaldorf shook his head ruefully. Servant's gossip was bad enough, but when the gossip from the stable came from Marko's horse, that was too much. Sometimes he wished the Wizard Traquill had never given his nephew the power to speak with animals.

Before the king could say anything out loud, the dining hall door burst open. An out-of-breath guard rushed in. "Your Majesty, Duke Oliver of Olchester is at the east gate. He says if you don't surrender Prince Justin into his custody, he'll attack the castle."

Traquill looked up from his soup. "Who's he kidding? Ollie Olchester doesn't have enough men-at-arms to attack a school picnic."

Princess Ariel, King Edwin and Queen Lattinia's beautiful daughter, stopped sneaking bits of grilled tadmon to her dog Woje. "Why would the Duke of Olchester want to attack a school picnic? That wouldn't be very nice."

"The duke wouldn't actually attack a picnic," Erik told his betrothed.

"But Traquill said–"

Another guard rushed into the hall, interrupting the princess. "Sire! Duke Kethrick of Kentraine is at the west gate. He demands you turn Prince Justin over to him, or face his wrath."

Traquill snorted. "Kethrick's wrath wouldn't frighten a nanny-goat."

"Invite them both in," Baaldorf ordered. He turned to Marko. "Find Justin and bring him here."

Five minutes later, a trumpeter blew a loud, long note. A herald shouted out, "Oliver, Duke of Olchester, and the Lady Ophelia Olchester!"

The armor-clad duke marched into the dining hall, followed by his daughter and four men-at-arms.

"Welcome, Your Grace. We were just eating dinner. Would you care to join us?" King Edwin Baaldorf invited.

"I came not for food, but for justice," Duke Oliver declared melodramatically. "Justin Graystone has impugned my honor. I demand satisfaction."

"No one demands anything in my castle but me." Baaldorf's voice was deceptively mild.

"Ophelia, my dear, you must be burning up in that heavy cloak," Queen Lattinia interjected. She gestured imperiously, and a servant hurried to Lady Ophelia's side to take her cloak. "You look like one of the Chadori women."

Ophelia shook her head when the servant approached. Muffled from head to toe in a hooded cloak, every inch of her skin hidden from view, she did indeed resemble one of the barbarian tribeswomen of the eastern deserts.

The door was flung open again. The trumpeter blew, and another herald announced, "Kethrick, Duke of Kentraine! Sir Kevril Kentraine!" Almost as an afterthought, he added, "And party."

Kethrick and Kevril wore green silk tunics over black leather pants. Swords in jeweled scabbards hung at their sides. They were accompanied by six guards in green and white livery, all armed to the teeth.

Baaldorf nodded. "Welcome to our court." He gestured at the table. "Would you care to join us?"

"I didn't come here to eat. I came here to string Justin Graystone up to the nearest tree."

"You can't do that!" Princess Ariel cried out.

"Thank you," Erik said quietly, pleased but surprised that she was standing up for his brother.

"You can't just hang a royal prince like a peasant caught poaching rabbits," Ariel continued. "First you have to have a trial, then you find him guilty, and then you chop off his head. With a sword, not an axe," she added. "But you can't just hang him."

Ariel's pretty head was devoid of any knowledge of philosophy or algebra, but her mother had done an excellent job in instilling her with the principles of royal etiquette.

Erik just gave her a look, and wondered, for the 437th time, why their parents had betrothed them at birth.

"Where is Justin Graystone?" the two dukes demanded in unison.

"That's what I'd like to know," Baaldorf mumbled under his breath.

"I'll handle this, Eddie." Traquill reached for his monocle. He held it a moment, concentrated, and whispered a cantrip.

Justin appeared a second later. His dark hair was mussed. He held a woman's bodice in his hand, which he hastily hid behind his back.

"Prince Justin, I think you know the Duke of Olchester and the Duke of Kentraine," Baaldorf announced dryly.

"We've met," Justin allowed. He tried to look innocent. "Is there something you wanted?"

"Your blood!" Kethrick demanded.

"You can't kill him until I'm through with him," Oliver protested.

Lady Ophelia looked from the Kentraines to Justin and back again, then she burst into tears. Oliver patted his daughter's shoulder.

Queen Lattinia, a kind-hearted woman, rose from her chair and went to comfort Ophelia. She hugged the distraught girl. As she removed her arms, she knocked Ophelia's cloak off.

Several people inhaled sharply. A few pointed, and at least one giggled, until silenced by the king's icy glare. Without the cloak enveloping her, a distinctive bulge in Ophelia's mid-section was clearly visible. Cassandra, Ariel's handmaiden, hurried from her mistress' side and replaced the cloak around Ophelia's shoulders.

"I think we had better continue this discussion in private," Baaldorf suggested.

"Shut up!" Baaldorf ordered. "We're not going to solve anything if you two keep shouting at each other."

"I want Justin Graystone!" Kethrick slammed his hand on the table.

"I have the prior claim," Oliver insisted.

"Justin Graystone is a common thief," Kethrick accused. "I want him to return what he stole, and then I want to see him dancing on air."

"He can't return what he stole from me," Oliver protested. "He despoiled my daughter. He will do the honorable thing by her."

"Marriage?" Baaldorf asked. He couldn't help wondering if Oliver, a fairly minor duke, merely wanted King Richard Graystone as his in-law and protector.

As the dukes argued, the Graystone brothers huddled in the corner of the room.

"I can't believe you." Erik indicated Ophelia with a jerk of his head. "She's barely sixteen."

"Seventeen, actually," Justin corrected him in a mild, matter-of-fact voice. "Seventeen and a half if you want to be technical about it."

Erik repeated scornfully, "Seventeen and a half. Like that makes it all better?"

Justin looked up at Oliver's outburst and Baaldorf's one word inquiry. "Marriage? The last time I considered getting married was right after I won the Tri-Kingdom Drinking Contest. Of course, I changed my mind after I sobered up."

"We'll see if you're still so impudent on the gallows," Kethrick roared.

"Anybody ever tell His Grace over there that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar?" Justin inquired of no one in particular. He reached for a flagon of wine on the table, nonchalantly poured himself a goblet full, and took a sip. "Although why you'd want to catch flies is beyond me." He took another sip. "All this talk of hanging isn't likely to encourage me to tell where the Kentraine emeralds are – if I'd stolen them, which I didn't."

"Liar!" Duke Kethrick glared at the prince.

Justin looked first at one duke, then at the other. For a moment – just a moment – he locked eyes with Sir Kevril and Lady Ophelia before turning his attention back to King Edwin Baaldorf. "I'm not crazy about either alternative, but given a choice between hanging for a crime I didn't commit and marrying a pretty girl…" He shrugged. "…I choose to sacrifice myself on the altar of matrimony. Come here, Ophelia, and give your bridegroom a kiss."

Ophelia burst into tears again.

"No!" Kevril took a step forward. "He can't marry her."

"Why not?" Baaldorf asked mildly.

"Because I am the father of Ophelia's child. No one shall marry her but me."

"Oh, Kevvie!" Ophelia ran to Sir Kevril and threw herself in his arms.

"What?!" both dukes cried out.

"Kevvie?" Erik repeated under his breath.

"We've been in love a long time." Ophelia clutched Sir Kevril's arm, clinging to him for strength. "But we knew you'd never let us marry. Kentraine is officially neutral, but–"

"Officially neutral," Baaldorf repeated meaningfully. "It's an open secret that Duke Kethrick is in Dirk Blackpool's pocket."

"You impugn my honor, King Edwin, and insult the sovereignty of my duchy," Kethrick protested.

"Stick a sock in it, Keth," Traquill muttered.

Justin stepped away from the corner, into the center of the room. "For the past six months, I've been acting as a go-between for these lovebirds. And although you, little brother, were quick to believe I'd seduce a teenage girl, the truth is, I never laid a finger on her, except to hand her Kevril's love letters."

Erik had the grace to look embarrassed.

As for the emeralds, I didn't steal them," Justin reiterated. He reached into his doublet and pulled out a sparkling brooch. "But I do have them. I was supposed to deliver this…" He held up the emerald brooch. "…as a betrothal gift. Unfortunately, I was delayed dodging Blackpool's soldiers." He gave a significant glance to Baaldorf.

The king nodded. Very few knew that King Richard Graystone's elder son was one of the key players of military intelligence in Camarand, and he preferred to keep it that way.

"Betrothal gift?" Kethrick turned to his son.

"I took Mother's jewels and gave them to Justin," Kevril admitted. "And I let him take the blame when you discovered they were missing. I'm sorry."

Justin took another swig from his wine goblet.

"But now that the truth is out, Ophelia and I are going to be married. That is, if you'll still have me?" he asked her.

"Oh, Kevvie," she squealed.

"I'll take that for a yes," Justin remarked to the company at large. He waited until the happy couple disengaged their lips from each other before casually tossing the brooch to them.

Kevril caught it and silently, solemnly pinned it on Ophelia's bosom. He turned to face their fathers. "We shall be married at once, and then find another kingdom to live in."

"A kingdom as far as possible from the war between North and South," Ophelia added.

"Oh, no, you won't. You're coming back to Olchester. My grandchild will be raised in our own land," Oliver insisted.

"Kevril's son will be heir to Kentraine. They will live in my duchy, in my castle," Kethrick countered.

The two dukes started arguing again. Baaldorf attempted to mediate. Justin, goblet in hand, sauntered out of the room. Glancing once at the king, the wizard, the dukes, and the newly betrothed couple, Erik shook his head and followed his brother out.

"Why did you let me think you were a thief and a seducer?" Erik asked.

"I didn't make you think anything," Justin retorted. He pulled the bodice out of his trouser pocket. "If you'll excuse me, I need to get this back to Melissa."

"Melissa? I thought you were getting together with Delores."

"I am… but not until ten tonight." Justin grinned lasciviously.