"Can you hear me, Wizard-King of Teregor? Are you seeing this?"
Pallian blinked behind his visor. He was upright, but somehow frozen in place; his armor had become as much a cage as a protection. He should have been able to see everything around him, but his armor showed him nothing. He was limited to what he could see through his visor. And what he could see was a tall, broad-shouldered figure in a plain gray robe and cowl, whose face was an endless fire.
Illusion, most likely. His armor should have been able to see through it, but the enemy had somehow disabled his armor.
"Very good," said the figure, in a deep, masculine voice. That too might be illusion; Pallian couldn't tell. "I can feel you trying to restore your champion. You know I have him." There was a momentary pause. "Speak to me. Let us parley."
You failed me, boy. You let them capture you. You! The Champion of Teregor.
In that moment, Pallian was done. Later, he would think of a response. Later, in the privacy of his own mind, he would think: Bullshit. I didn't fail you, your armor failed me. Your power failed me. Later, he would be enraged at being blamed for this. Here, now, he thought back: Then let me end this. Or end it yourself.
With a word, either of them could make the armor obliterate everything around them -- including itself, and Pallian. It would consume its own enchantments and turn those energies into an expanding, self-perpetuating sphere of destruction that would consume this wizard, his army, and some significant portion of the landscape. It would leave the Witch-King weakened, but his enemies annihilated.
Perhaps not yet, said his father, but know that I am mightily displeased with you.
Pallian held himself still, waiting. "We hear you," he said. He could hear the words, muffled by the helm, as they came out in the deep, distorted voice of the Black Knight.
"I propose a trade," said the fire-faced enemy. "A champion for a champion. Have your son release the Shadow, untouched and unharmed, and I will leave your champion here for him to retrieve. A simple exchange, one for one."
Not unless they agree to depart my lands and never return, thought the Witch-King, and Pallian spoke the words aloud for him. Even with most of its power suppressed, the armor still disguised his voice...
"It will be done," said the face of flames.
Then it will be done, thought the Witch-King, and again Pallian spoke for him.
"Agreed and witnessed," said the face of flames, stepping back.
Then the archer was there, stepping in front of him, arrow nocked and drawn. "Let me encourage you to hurry," she said. "I don't want the prince to get any ideas."
The flame-faced figure said, "No!" but it was too late.
Pallian felt the arrow pierce his armor, and his chest, and his lung. He felt it strike against the armor on his back and stop. Looking down, he could see it sticking out of his chest. He managed not to scream, but nearly cracked his teeth with the effort of holding it back. Then he held himself still. Was he suffocating? He couldn't tell through the pain. The Final Word was on his tongue, but he didn't speak it yet: he didn't want to die, even if it would destroy everyone here. Was that cowardice?
The robed figure lifted a hand, then aborted the gesture. "I can't remove it. It might be tamponading something."
"You assume there's something human in there," said the archer, still staring at Pallian. "And regardless, I'm allowed the right of conquest."
"I withdraw my army," said the face of flames. "Release the Shadow, and come quickly for your champion."
Pallian spoke before his father could: "Go." His voice came out deep and distorted, inhuman as ever, untouched by the arrow in his lung even as the pain of trying to breathe seized him and crushed him down. It was his own gesture of defiance, but one that his father would appreciate.
And he needed his father to appreciate it, he realized. He needed his father to want to keep him alive, to have him serve as the Black Knight, until he could make his own plans and carry them out. It was no longer enough to seek safety, however ephemeral, within his father's court.
He had to get out.