Book: Fortress of Dragons

Previous: CHAPTER 11
Next: INTERLUDE

Captain Anwyll was back in Hen-as'amef, on his way to Guelessar, and a company of Ivanim and Lanfarnesse rangers were at the camp on riverside, reporting through Anwyll that they had met no intruders on their way, nor had report of them from Modeyneth. The snow was melting, but not yet to mire, no great impediment to travel, and the men came off the road not into town, where, Uwen said, they might disgrace themselves in the taverns, but out in the tents the Ivanim had left, half the Ivanim camp, where they found a comfort far surpassing that on the border, all the same: ale kegs set out, and steaming kettles the taverns provided. It was holiday for them, and a merry one.
The Guelens, too, were packing up, to yield their permanent barracks to the Amefin who had been housed in the hastily made second barracks, in less comfort; and there was both cheer and regret there: certain of the men had liaisons, even children, in town, and there were tears and the possibility of desertions.
So Uwen reported.
"Tell them," Tristen said, "I'll speak to Cefwyn for any that choose to come back, after the summer, and I think he'll grant it; but they owe their company their service now."
"That's more 'n fair," Uwen said, and went to tell the men.
And for the officers, Anwyll who had spent hard weeks in camp and for the Guelen captain who had gotten his rank because all higher had deserted, it seemed right to Tristen to have them into hall for a good supper and the honor they were due… a sword or a good mail shirt, Uwen said, was a soldier's gift, and Cossun the armorer had brought the best of both, a ducal gift.
So they met in hall… the usual fine fare, for Cook never disappointed them, and the lords were glad to come to the gatherings: and Anwyll and the Guelen captain both sat high at the tables, and stood for all to honor.
"Thank you," Tristen said, presenting Anwyll his gift, a fine sword with a red leather sheath and a goldwork cap, and the silvered mail.
"Your Grace," Anwyll said, and gave him a soldier's salute, blushing as he did.
So with the Guelen captain, a plain man, who had never looked for a captaincy, and while Anwyll was a man of some connections, this man was not, and took his sword and fine armor with stammering gratitude.
"An' for the men," the captain said, "a word to Your Grace, that they've stood guard here and seen duke and duchess and viceroy, and say that Your Grace has done… that Your Grace 'as done the best of
'em all."
That brought a little cheer from the Amefin, and there followed a presentation then from Uwen, which was a box for each, and in those boxes, tenscore and more holy medallions the Teranthine father had blessed, "For the men," Uwen said, "luck and the gods' blessin', which the reverend father himself will give out, an' bless every man as served here."
The assembly applauded, from every table, and the captains and their aides took their formal leave in great and heartfelt cheerfulness, Tristen was glad to see… he well knew now how great a harm unhappy men could work. He had finally made good his promise to Cefwyn to march the Guelenmen home. He had had to do it all at once, with the uncertainty on that border, but the tents and all merely changed hands, and the gear the Guelens owned was all their armor and their horses. The Dragons had packed up in a day and ridden out on the next, and made as good speed toward Henas'amef as men might who had the comforts of town to lure them.
So too, in their departure, Tristen chose his moment to make other changes.
"Lusin Bowyn's-son will be lieutenant under Uwen," he said to the assembled leaders and nobles and soldiery, "and I set him in charge of the house guard; Syllan Syllan's-son has charge over the fortress and its walls, Aran Gryysaryn over the town defenses, and Tawwys Cyll's-son over the supplies to the camps. My chief of household, Tassand Dabrynan, will be my chancellor, with all the offices of the Zeide under him." None of these offices had existed since Orien's few days as duchess, and he could think of no one more apt.
"My night guard will serve as bodyguard, and men from the Amefin guard will take their place."
Emuin had a sense about ceremonies, and had deftly arranged things so that everyone had his honor and necessary duties found names to describe them. It was not a mistake, Tristen thought, that he had come out from Guelessar with fewer men than he might: he found others here, among the Amefin, overall found less of confusion in his court now, as he sent the Guelenfolk home, than had existed under the garrison before he came.
As important, he kept faith with Cefwyn, and entrusted Anwyll with a message that said simply, We will soon have a camp settled on Tasmôrden's side of the river, from that we will prevent any force moving to the south or west.
He had added: Anwyll has carried out his orders in very hard weather, and so have all his men. I have also sent the Guelens, who are not the men who have done the harm in Amefel. Certain men of the Guelens have wished to settle in Henas'amef and I ask out of our friendship for their release when they have done their duty this summer so they may return to families here.
Then, from the heart: In all these matters I hope I do well and hold out hope we may see each other this spring. The lords of the south wish you well and so do the lords of Amefel send all their good will.
So do Emuin and all the house.
It was a message of more sentiment than substance. Anwyll knew the details which he would tell Cefwyn, when they met, details worth days of questions. He sent the message Aeself had given him, too, with Anwyll, who was a harder, sharper-eyed young captain than had gone out to the river: it was a risk, he thought, but he trusted Anwyll would by no means hand over to Ryssand or Ryssand's men the things entrusted to him; his honor had suffered enough in his moment of doubt when Parsynan had set the Guelens on helpless prisoners, and never would he be as easily confused as he had been that night.
He could have no better messenger than Anwyll, for being able to come directly to the Lord Commander. A lowly sergeant like Gedd the enemy might hound: but a captain over a province… he doubted even Ryssand would dare.
And in a handful of days there would be no Guelen force within the south for the first time since the rising against the Sihhë. Cevulirn's men were there, under Cevulirn's able lieutenant, while Cevulirn himself continued in the camp at Henas'amef, the man of grays, the lord who could obtain the consent of the others so deftly they never seemed to consider refusal. Under Cevulirn, the town had suf-fered no disasters in his absence; under Cevulirn, the camp ran smoothly, and Cevulirn's presence touched his along with Emuin's and Crissand's, a quiet assurance of things well in order, from the hall, to the barracks, to the town streets and the camp outside the walls. From Crissand he had an awareness of the lords of the town, men Crissand knew well, and knew that they were content—Crissand was an uneasy point of unrealized distress, to have sent his lord on a long, cold ride; but that was Crissand's nature, to wish to be faultless.
Cevulirn was an easier presence, seeding less worry, less of everything. Where Crissand was the burning sun of bright day, casting light and examining everything, Cevulirn was the remote moon, changing and the same, content to leave a few shadows so long as the major things moved along as they ought.
Tristen did not think he would ever change either or them, or wish to.
He sipped lukewarm wine and his thoughts raced in a hun-dred directions as he considered the prospects of the changing weather, heard the well-wishes of the various ealdormen of the town directed toward the new officers of the court and the province, con-sidered the resources he knew were setting to work with the replace-ment of the Dragons at the riverside… the Ivanim were no great hands at building, but the rangers of Lanfarnesse were skilled at many crafts, and the Olmernmen vowed to bend their considerable skills with ropes and tackle to move the deckings into place—without oxen, so they claimed, which seemed to him half-magical.
Sovrag was exceedingly confident: Cevulirn's Ivanim were dubious.
But the Olmernmen would ready great frames out of ships' masts—
weather or no weather, Sovrag had declared—and have them in storage with the rope and the sections of decking over which the Ivanim stood guard. This was the word Anwyll had brought back with him to Sovrag, and in his cups, Sovrag revealed his plan to the company.
"One day," was Sovrag's boast. "One day to see that bridge bear traffic, much as ye like. She'll carry oxen; she don't need 'em to rise."
"Believe him," Umanon said.
Tristen hoped, willingly, for it meant a far quicker readiness on the riverside than they could manage with ox teams.
"I wait to see," he said, and lest that imply doubt, added: "I expect it."
And after that the evening rolled, wine-colored, to its cheerful conclusion, the lords of the south delighted in the prospect of bridges all the lords of the town delighted in the prospect of a town utterly under Amefin authority for the first time since the rise of the Marhanen—it was strictly understood there would be no cheering the Guelen departure, no disparagement of the Guelens, either, not before they went out and not after.
So Tristen had worried there would be, and Emuin and Uwen alike had passed the word to the officials of the town and the officers of the watch: he hoped it had gone where it needed to go.
"A health!" Crissand stood, lifting his cup, among the last toasts of the evening. "To the bridge!"
"To the bridge!" everyone cried, and drank.
"And a health to the Dragons!" Crissand, whose house had suffered most from the Guelens under their former captain, and an anxious silence fell, for Crissand had nothing to praise in Guelenmen. "These are honest men," Crissand said aloud, "and the scoundrels have gone home, after Parsynan. Here's to the honest men of the Guelen Guard!"
"To the Guelens," the others said, and Cevulirn, rising, lifted his cup, and added: "To an honest king."
They all drank. Anwyll blushed red with wine-flushed pleasure, and rose and proposed in his turn: "And a health to the honest, loyal southrons, one and all!"
None of it Tristen found fault with at all. But they had drunk very many rounds and the candles had burned far down, the hour close to midnight. He had learned from the lords of Amefel the formulas by which he dismissed the gathering, and made a proposal of his own:
"To Amefel and the Amefin, good rest."
"To the duke of Amefel, good rest and good fortune," the lords all said to him, drained and upended their cups, and then the company of the evening began its nightly retreat, now with lordly folk speaking respectfully to Tassand as an officer of the household.
"Good night, my lord," Crissand came close to say, and knew his approval of what he had done, cheering the Guelens: he had done it, defying his own bitter hurt, and done it because he thought it support of his lord, and to heal a breach; and now grieved for his father because he had said it—so many things boiled up in Crissand at any one moment he was rarely quiet.
But Tristen touched his arm and wished him well, wished him Peace, and caught Crissand's eye for an instant that became a moment. He had no idea himself of what it was to mourn a father, or what it was to hold such anger as Crissand had held: all this violence was beyond his knowledge, except that Crissand governed it, desperately envied the calm of a man like Cevulirn, and in that envy of a man his lord respected, governed himself with a hard hand.
It was for love Crissand did such things, an extravagant, devoted love, that when it was in the ascendant smothered all other things; it was only once he had acted that the anger and the grief came back to confuse his generous heart.
"It was well done," Tristen said in his turn, and was grateful. For a moment the love and the anger ran to and fro, confounded, and each passion doubted the other's honesty: in that much, Crissand bore a wound that had never healed. Wine had perhaps made it the more evident. And it was that healing which Tristen wished tonight, with a touch and a glance. "Well done. Go, sleep. Join me at breakfast."
"My lord." Cheer began to win over the confusion.
The matter of Crissand's adventure to Modeyneth was settled, the Dragons were back from the river, Cevulirn's men and Pelumer's and Sovrag's were all set in place and on watch against the enemy.
And in Crissand's lightening mood Tristen found his own heart lighter: he allowed himself a feeling of accomplishment in a world of intentions, a court at peace and things in better order than before he took the province. Crissand had taken no great harm of his adventure, and showed signs of recovery in a larger sense, as well—nothing, tonight, of the Aswydds, or his fears of the women who languished upstairs, rather he had determined to settle divisions and heal breaches tonight, and had urged the Amefin to generosity no one expected.
It was by no means the full assembly of Amefin nobility. A number of the other lords were out in their own lands tonight, particularly those bordering Bryn, and by now taking good advantage of the sudden turn in the weather, he hoped, and setting their households in order for the spring. The lords who remained in hall tonight were friendly and easy in the company of the southerners, dignified old Pelumer fallen fast asleep in his place, in fact. One of his men waked him and gathered him off to his bed.
For a moment then in leaving Tristen delayed, seeing Lusin and Syllan across the hall, in the foolish thought that he needed to wait for them—but they were about their own business. From now on he had not Lusin and Syllan to guard him, but Gweyl and the men of the night watch, who had come close to him on his left, to see him back to his apartments.
He had them, and he had the four Amefin he had taken to stand night guard in their place: it was another change, one that set men he relied on in better places, and gave them honor, but it made him sad to lose the ready recourse to their friendship, and when he had told them his intention, it had made them sad, too, amid more honor than they had ever looked to have in their lives.
He wished them well, last thought of all before he collected his new guard and Uwen, and left the hall, to the whisk of Owl's wings.
It was change again, and sadness preoccupied him as he left, the knowledge that there were new men with him, and that for the good of Amefel and Lusin and the rest his life had gone past another milestone, another good-bye. He found nothing easy to say to the new men, though he knew it would have pleased them. He tried not to think on Lusin's objections, but he heard them in memory as he walked in silence up the stairs. There was not the irreverent banter between Uwen and these men. Their presence in the gray space was that of servants, remote from him, too respectful for close confidences.
Of other presences—he heard, remarkably, nothing tonight, so much so he extended curiosity to the other wing of the Zeide, and heard sullen silence, a surly temper.
There were two who had not rejoiced in the general festivity. He had not invited the Aswydds to the hall, and he was sure they knew something was proceeding below… knew, and were jealous, but Emuin had taken pains to ward that hallway, and kept a close watch over the guards, picked men all, who watched there.
Paisi's Gran Sedlyn the midwife had taken the guard's anteroom in that apartment, besides, and attended most of their wants, except that frequent requests to Cook brought up delicacies for Tarien, who was vexingly fickle in her whims and her appetite—but Cook said she had been so long before she was with child.
Otherwise the ladies had troubled the household very little at all, even during Cevulirn's two-day governance here. There was no news, either good or bad, out of that apartment, and he decided that tomorrow he should concern himself and pay at least a brief visit.
So he thought, setting foot on the topmost step of the stairs, when suddenly the gray place rang to a presence and a threat, and the tone of it was not Tarien.
It was Crissand, and Crissand was in danger.
"M'lord?" a guard asked. He knew Uwen was beside him. He knew Lusin and the accustomed guards were still down in the hall, with Tassand; but Crissand—
Crissand was in the lower hall, where the old mews made a rift in the wards. And suddenly the wards were threatened.
Tristen spun about on the precarious marble steps and ran down them, two steps at a time, startling servants who were changing the candles at the landing, while Uwen and Gweyl and the new guards hastened behind, a clatter of men and metal. He reached the lower hall, passed the broad double doors of the great hall, and there was Crissand, running headlong toward them—toward him, Tristen knew of a certainty, and the thoughts in Crissand now were fear: fear of what might be behind him, fear of what he might have brought into the Zeide, fear that he had breached his promise to come to Tristen before doing something rash.
Lusin and his old guards all arrived at once from out of the great hall, rallying to the commotion in the hall, if not to a danger none of them had perceived.
"Voices," Crissand said, and his was low, for Tristen's ears and Uwen's, alone, as a late straggle of guests and servants gathered to overhear. "Voices came from the storeroom, noble voices, learned voices, and I heard the king's name and Her Grace's, and something about moving before the walls were finished. I feared treason, my lord. And—and when I looked into it, sensibly, so I thought, cautiously—suddenly there were men—there were men…"
"In the storeroom, Your Grace?" Uwen was attempting to make sense of the matter. Crissand, the man who had led the defense of the Zeide courtyard and faced death with never a tremor, was shaking as he spoke, and Tristen could sense his efforts to keep his wits and set aside the fear.
"It… it was no one I knew, my lord. And there was a room, a table…
it wasn't here, my lord. But the place where Owl came from. Where you disappeared."
Tristen set his hand on Crissand's shoulder to calm him, and though he knew the answer said, "Show me where."
And they went to the spot of candlelight beside the great hall, the sconce that hung on the wall where the old mews had been, that stretch of stone wall, at the base of which the pavings were the aged cobbles and fill of the old courtyard instead of the even work of the new.
Crissand laid his hand on the stonework beneath the sconce. "Here,"
he said.
Tristen had no doubt at all. A storeroom was near, one that served the great hall, but the voices had nothing to do with that.
"They named Modeyneth, my lord. And the wall—and the child."
"Tarien's child?"
"I think they meant hers. They argued times and seasons, and the birth of a child. One said—one said best strike while the child was yet to come, than to wait until after the birth and risk a stillborn.
Another said the child only complicated the issue and they should do as they would do and let the child take his omens from them.
I'm sure of the words, but they don't mean as much to me as they might to you or Emuin, I'm sure, my lord."
They might well make more sense to Emuin. Tristen only guessed it regarded wizard-work, and the Zeide.
But it could not be Ynefel, where the mews had led him.
"You didn't recognize the room."
"No, my lord."
"Did they see you?" he asked in all seriousness.
"See me? I don't think so.—Do you know where it was? Was it where you found Owl?"
Around them were only his guard, Uwen having waved all the curious servants away, and that Crissand could venture through that rift—or at least see what lay beyond—that he had not anticipated.
"I very much doubt it was Ynefel you saw. But this—" He set his hand to the stone next to Crissand's, deceptively solid stone for the moment, as the gray was deceptively quiet. "This place must lead there, and something drew another place close for a moment. It reaches different places. I don't know yet how many or to where.
Ynefel is one. Althalen is." He could not but recall the dream he had dreamed within the old Regent's wards. "The Quinaltine in Guelessar is another."
It was that which he most feared, the plots of priests near Cef-wyn, no friendlier to him than they had ever been. And in the flickering light from the sconce, Uwen frowned. Crissand's troubled face, however, took on a different, puzzled look.
"It wasn't ruins, and it wasn't holy men," Crissand said, and his eyes widened as if something only then came clear to him. "There was a banner, my lord." And took on a look of outrage. " Your banner, my lord, the Tower, with a Crown!" And having said it, Crissand's fist clenched as if he would rip that offending sight from his own memory. "The High King's banner."
"Tasmôrden," he said, in quiet conviction now where Crissand had been, and where the old mews led besides. "There's clearly another place it goes. Wherever in Ilefínian Tasmôrden sits tonight, this place leads."
He wished—almost—to open the rift again, to venture into the room and the council Crissand had seen… and seen, but not been. The fact that Crissand had the gift had let him see into the place, but Crissand had not gone further, perhaps had no power to go, alone, for which Tristen was very grateful. The thought of Crissand caught and trapped on that other side, in Tasmôrden's hands, turned his blood cold.
Yet on the thought, the stone beneath his fingers warmed, and he saw the room then, exactly as Crissand had described: The table, seven men, the banner Tasmôrden had usurped. And one man was on his feet facing him, shouting at the others: Don't tell me what I saw, damn you! He was there! Eyes widened. Oh, gods!
So at least one of them had seen Crissand in return, and one presence in the gray space leapt to awarenessone, who had sat with his back to him, leapt up and turned in astonishment.
Two, now had seen. And that crowned man who had leapt up was Tasmôrden.
A hound bayed, somewhere in the distance, echoing in unseen halls.
And, sword in hand, Tasmôrden approached the wall, willing to face him, intent on discovering the nature of the rift, and would have no hesitation in breaching it from his own side, to the peril of all the places it led.
Unless someone gave him pause, unless someone gave him reason to fear that which he might find on the far side.
"My lord!" Crissand's voice, and Uwen's: "If you can go wi' him lad, go! Protect his back for us all!"
And Crissand was beside him, in that rift between rooms, with a sword to thrust into his hand, and Owl was before him, so he knew he was meant to go.
"You should have seen their faces," Crissand's lively rendition of the scene far exceeded anything Tristen would have thought to say. "One fell to the floor, praying forgiveness of the gods, another fainted dead away, I swear to you. Another—it must have been Tasmôrden—"
Crissand glanced at Tristen and Tristen nodded, fascinated by the account as well as the rest. "Tasmôrden dared raise a hand to my lord, his guard all about him—until my lord raised the sword and wished him back!"
Crissand's account, together with the banner that lay folded and somber on the table before them—Crissand's gift to him on their return from that room in Ilefínian—lent substance to the tale—and Uwen and Emuin and all those gathered about him in the ducal apartments had it for evidence.
Emuin, however, was less pleased.
"Well done, on the whole," Emuin said. "To have called me was better." And to Paisi, who had been standing next to Emuin when he and Crissand returned and so was of necessity included in this meeting: "You see here the way not to satisfy curiosity, boy.
Consider the consequences of the lord of Amefel in the midst of Tasmôr-den's guards, unarmed and alone."
It was true, at least as he had gone.
"Yet now we can overhear his councils," Crissand said.
"I doubt it. He'll set guards there and take counsel elsewhere."
The excitement faded from Crissand's face. "So if he hadn't seen me, we might have learned much more."
"Possibly," Emuin said, and added, on another thought: "Or they might have discovered it on the other side, and come through, to our peril. There is that."
"Something breached the mews," Tristen pointed out. "It was Tasmôrden in that room." He had seen Tasmôrden in his dreams and knew by that means, not the most solid of evidence to bring forward, and he hesitated to say so. "But he didn't know they were overheard, so someone did it by accident, on his side, on ours… someone made a mistake."
Emuin turned a glance toward Crissand, and Crissand shook his head.
"I've no such gift," Crissand said.
"On the other hand, perhaps you do," Emuin said, "and should have a care, young lord! On that evidence, have a care what you wish! Were you even thinking of Ilefínian?"
"I was wishing I might serve my lord," Crissand confessed. "But I was outside the great hall when I heard the whispers to my right."
"Not enough," Emuin judged. "I doubt it was enough. Someone is stronger. If he let fly that casual a wish, it was an unlatched gate, was all. A means by which."
"Tasmôrden himself isn't that strong," Tristen judged.
"I take your word," Emuin said with sobering directness, "and judge you do know, young lord."
"Meaning what, sir?" Crissand asked.
"Meaning wizards were involved," Emuin said sharply, "and a damned strong one, somewhere about, and thanks to you, the barn door was open, young sir, with people going in and out it.—Wish elsewhere, henceforth, but not in the lower hall, which is as haunted a place as one can find this side of Althalen!"
"I shall, sir," Crissand said meekly enough, and meant it with all his heart, Tristen was sure, as much as a young man untaught in wizardry could keep from wishing.
"Still, there's there substance of what we heard," Tristen said. "They know about Tarien."
"Cuthan clearly brought more than stolen parchments across the river," Emuin said.
"If Cuthan hasn't used the mews himself," Tristen said. "And if Lady Orien hasn't."
Emuin cast him a glance. "Past my wards, she didn't. Of that I'm certain."
"So would I be," Tristen said, for he had had no sense of Lady Orien's involvement: across in the other wing of the fortress, she knew something had disturbed the wards, yes. That fact had gone through the very air, like the reverberations of a beaten bronze, since they had come out of the mews, and it still disturbed the gray space. But the rift opening on Tasmôrden's schemes was not Lady Orien's doing, nor Tarien's.
"So, well," Emuin said, with finality. "Someone's attempt at our unlatched door—and I don't mean the portal—didn't go as well as he wished. It all came back on him, twofold."
"An' Tasmôrden ain't that pleased," Uwen said. "But, m'lord, ye shouldn't ha' gone. Two men wi' swords ain't much of a match to men in their own quarters."
"But you haven't heard all," Crissand said, and his voice was low now, and filled with passion. "I said my lord raised his sword, but it wasn't the sword that stopped them, but the light. He glowed, so blindingly bright, I'd have fallen in fear myself if I were in front of him.
Tasmôrden's guard fell back, Tasmôrden himself ran behind the table— and my lord's voice, his warning against any pursuit whatsoever—still echoes within those walls… gods, I hear it to this hour!"
What Crissand modestly failed to mention was his own part. The guards had fallen, and in the frozen confusion, Crissand had swept past Tasmôrden, contempt in every line, had taken the banner, ripped it from its fastenings.
And to Tasmôrden's face as he passed again, Crissand had waved the banner, saying, in a shout of his own that only his lord had the right to those arms. Woe to any pretender who dares fly this banner! It belongs to my lord!
Tristen wondered, in the way things about the gray space faded in the light of the world, whether Crissand even recalled saying so, or making that claim for him.
So it was in his dream.
And the banner itself being the substance of the matter, and being such a gift as it was, the substance of his dreams, from the man whom Auld Syes had hailed as the aetheling—could he—dared he— refuse it?
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Next: INTERLUDE