Book: Fortress of Dragons

Previous: INTERLUDE
Next: CHAPTER 2

From the height of Danvy's back Cefwyn cast a long look on the Lenúalim, a view that included Lord Maudyn's long-defended bridge and water running higher than he had ever seen it, dark, laden with mud and debris from the unseasonable thaw.
But thank the all-patient gods and whatever friendly wizardry intermittently supported his own plans, the rains had stopped, the debris had not damaged the pylons and the high water had not delayed the installation of the bridge decking. His fast-moving couriers had bidden Lord Maudyn start that process early, well before his arrival.
The last section was in place as of yesterday. Lord Maudyn had immediately enlarged his camp on the far side of the river—a camp he had had in place for months, placed and supplied by small boats and rafts, to be sure of that far bridgehead.
And as late as this morning when the main army had arrived, the far bank had still produced no hostile action against that camp, which now was due to enlarge.
To Cefwyn that far shore remained a mystery of ancient maps and his wife's best recollections, a land veiled in brush and scattered woods—Ninévrisë had assured him the land was much the same as the land this side, rolling hills, a north shore rugged with cliffs which were the same as the high banks on the south.
That was the troublesome spot, those cliffs to the west of this bridge.
There the Lenúalim ran deep and turbulent, and bent sharply around in its course through the stony hills as it turned toward Amefel. What tantrum of the all-wise gods had split that great ridge of rock and sent a river through it he was not certain, but on the hither side of that ridge two moderate-sized rivers flowed into the Lenúalim's current…
one from the Elwynim side of the river, and the other here, their own tame Assurn. The northern river entered as clear water. The Lenúalim was usually murky green and the southern Assurn a pale brown stream. The colors habitually stayed distinct for a time until they merged into the Lenúalim's flood… so Lord Maudyn informed him, Lord Maudyn sharing a scholar's curiosity about such things.
And on any other venture, even his skirmishes in the south, he would have been curious to see whether the melt and flood had left any vestige of that three-colored joining… but he had grown grimly single-minded since he had kissed his wife good-bye.
That he now fought a war against his own side as well as the enemy had not so much divided his attention as sharpened his wits and made him scour up the good advice he had had from counselors now absent… advice which, ironically, he might have been less zealous to follow if they were with him. He became responsible for himself, alone in a host that took his orders and offered him protection. But Ryssand's influence went into unexpected places.
Mindful of that fact, wary of Ryssand's spies, he kept his ordinary guards close to him… men in the scarlet of the Dragon Guard, men sworn to protect his back from any assault. If he was horsed and watching the river, so they were. If he dismounted to go among the troops, they dismounted and went close to him, in case some man of another lord's guard had some unguessed connection to Rys-sand and his allies.
But they had come this far without incident or assault, and with remarkably few delays. This morning he watched the collapse of the last tents, and the movement of carts within the lines of last night's camp gathering up the bundled canvas in neat order.
Even yet there was no motion from the enemy, but he kept a wary eye toward the far bank. The last information Lord Maudyn relayed to him had Tasmôrden still enjoying his victory at hapless Ilefínian, and taking no action toward the steady enlargement of Lord Maudyn's forces… but Tasmôrden could not be ignorant of all that was happening here: Ryssand would not permit Tasmôrden to remain ignorant, by what he suspected.
So was this Elwynim earl an utter fool, lazing in Ilefínian, or was he a man trying to make his enemy commit himself too far, too fast?
He sat Danvy's restless back, with his guards around him. He watched, wishing above all else that Ninévrisë were here to see this morning, the fulfillment of the hotly argued marriage treaty and most especially of his personal and far more tender oath to her. He wondered, since wizardry accounted for so much that mere Men called coincidence, whether by some remote stretch of the imagination she might know where he was at this moment.
And if she did know, he hoped she knew he thought of her.
Finally, he said to her in his imagination. Finally, and in spite of all their objections, your banner is here. Your people will see it.
A sudden redirection of his guards' attention alerted him to a rider coming from the road beyond the camp, a courier, as it appeared: the red coat was faintly visible even in the dawn, even at this range.
But as the rider came closer it was the red of the Dragon Guard, and the horse well mudded, as if it had been hours under way, this early in the dawn.
"From the capital, perhaps." It might be a courier from Efanor. Gods save them from disasters… or some move of Ryssand there.
As he came closer still, the rider's fair hair blew from under the edges of his silver helm in a very familiar way.
"Anwyll!" he exclaimed to his guards, who were moving their horses into his path to prevent this precipitate approach. "No, let him come.
This is a man I trust."
The guards all the same arrayed themselves a little to the fore, but Anwyll it indeed was, and the junior captain he had sent with Tristen reined his weary horse to a slow and respectful pace as he approached and moved in among the guards' horses.
"Your Majesty," Anwyll said, out of breath as he drew rein. Dust and weariness made him look shockingly twice his years, or perhaps service under Tristen had aged him in a single winter, but the eyes were still bright and undaunted. "I went to Guelemara first, Your Majesty, thinking you'd be there, but His Highness said you'd gone on. And he sent this message." Anwyll pulled a flattened, hard-used scroll from within his coat, and leaned in the saddle to offer it, but one of the guards intercepted it and passed it on instead, a document heavy with a prince's red wax seal… and a white Quinaltine ribbon.
That was odd. Was Efanor lacking red ones?
"Lord Tristen sent, too," Anwyll said. "But would commit nothing to writing. He bade me say…" Anwyll caught his breath: he was sweating under the spattering of mud. "He bade me march quickly from the river… with the carts… which I did, and they are coming, Your Majesty, but behind me. My company…" He pointed to the south, the road by which they also had come. "A day behind. To save the horses and the axles."
"What did my brother say? What did Tristen say?" Cefwyn asked sharply. Everything Anwyll had done he was sure was well done, but Anwyll had a way of telling a superior everything but what he wanted most to know, getting all the small details in order.
"His Highness wishes Your Majesty the gods' favor. His Grace of Amefel says that Tasmôrden has claimed the High Kingship, that he holds court in Ilefínian." For two things Anwyll found breath, then a third. "And says beware Ryssand.—Your Majesty, I saw his banners an hour back."
"Ryssand's? Where? The north road?" About an hour back was where the north road came in to join this one, at least an hour back as hard riding might set it; and that was indeed the road by which Ryssand and Murandys might both arrive, inland but more direct than the winding riverside track from the fishing villages.
"A road comes in…" Anwyll began to describe it with his hands.
"I know the road! The rest of Tristen's news, man. Spit it out, never mind the niceties. Is it his wishes for good weather—or is it possibly news I need?"
"His Grace did also wish you good health, and said he hoped for good weather—" Gods save him, he saw how Anwyll had always to remember things in order, a damnable fault in a messenger.
"Then? Say on, man! What else did he send you to say?"
"He sent Cevulirn to the river, to my camp, to my former camp, that is, and he himself, His Grace, that is, he of Amefel—will join Imor, Ivanor, Lanfarnesse, Olmern and forces out of Amefel, and cross to receive whatever force of the enemy Your Majesty drives toward him. Most, he begs Your Majesty be careful of Ryssand."
"A very good idea, that," Cefwyn said, desperately frustrated in his hopes for something more current and more than the damning echo of all his instruction to Tristen. If Tristen, obeying his orders, stayed out of the fight, and sent no better than this, it greatly concerned him—and if ever Tristen should violate his express orders or chase off after butterflies, he wished it would be now.
But clearly his message had not reached Tristen before Anwyll had left… let alone Ninévrisë: Anwyll was greatly delayed, having gone to Guelemara before setting out in this direction. It was a memorable ride—small wonder he had mislaid a detachment of Dragon Guard and a train of carts between here and the capital.
And Anwyll's spotting Ryssand near him redeemed all possible fault.
"Take a fresh horse," Cefwyn said, and drew off his glove, red leather with the Dragon of the Marhanen embroidered in gold on the back.
"Use this for authority, take what you need, and join me across the river."
"Thank you, Your Majesty, but my men…"
"Will follow Ryssand. We'll not wait. Go!" Cefwyn reined Danvy around and rode along the shore, taking his guard with him and leaving the exhausted captain to follow as he could.
His rapid course along the riverside drew attention. The tents were each folded down by now, precise parcels of canvas awaiting the wagons to gather them. The men were saddling their horses, and the officers looked sharply toward him. In particular he spied Captain Gwywyn of the Prince's Guard, where the regimental standards of the Dragons, the Prince's Guard, and the Guelens all stood with the few banners of the middle lands.
He rode up to Gwywyn in a spatter of loose earth, and with a sweep of his arm indicated the bridge. "The companies and the contingents to horse, now, and across the bridge. No delay."
There was no question of the readiness of the bridge to bear the carts.
The Dragon standard of the Marhanen was flying bravely across the river, from the other end of the bridge, along with the banner of Panys. Lord Maudyn waited for him, had established himself visibly on that other side and indulged himself in no luxury: it would be a camp to use as a base, to move on in another day: those were the orders.
"Sound the trumpets!" Gwywyn shouted out to the heralds. "Advance the standards! All the army to follow!"
"The carts to follow Osanan!" Cefwyn shouted, riding past the quartermaster. "And wait for no one else! On to the bridge! One cart at a time, sir! If that bridge fails us, best you be on it!"
The trumpeters gathered themselves into a ragged, then unified call to standards. The banner-bearers set themselves immediately to horse, to ride past and claim their regimental and provincial colors. Officers were up, and ordered their men.
His guard was around him. The banner-bearers thundered past him at a good clip, a moving bright curtain of the Marhanen Dragon and the Tower and Checker of the Regent of Elwynor preceding the colors of Llymaryn, Panys, Carys, Sumas, and Osanan, banners which flowed back to their regiments. The Dragon and the Tower went where he rode, and ahead of him, with the sergeants behind him bawling out orders and cursing the laggards.
Officers shouted, horses protested, and the oxen that moved the baggage train lowed in their yokes. Disorder overtook the laggards, companies mounting up with only half their tents set into the carts, which thus would wait for the quartermaster's men themselves to gather up the bundles, and those carts thus would fall behind the column as the whole army unwound into a line of march as quickly as companies thus surprised could fall in behind their standard.
Carters cursed and soldiers hastened their horses as if devils were after them all the way to the bridgehead, onto heavy, safe timbers whereon five riders could go abreast; and by now the expectation in every heart must be of Elwynim descending on the camp from ambush— could anything else bring such precipitate orders?
They had not their full load of baggage: a good deal of it he had sent out to Lord Maudyn ahead of time, and all winter long, in the lack of carts, Maudyn had moved it by repeated trips, tempting the enemy to reach for it… but no such thing had happened.
So, indeed, now he committed them to the other side, and tempted fate and the gods twice by leaving his quartermaster to manage the crossing: trust the drivers not to hurl themselves and their teams into the river by too much haste, and his quartermaster not to crowd up on the bridge—he knew his quartermaster, a steady officer of the Dragons: that man was no fool, to bring more than one heavy wagon onto the bridge at a time, and would not, not if pikes had to prevent it. To cross in haste to defend Maudyn was a contingency they had foreseen: that the Elwynim enemy was not the reason of their crossing was beside the point—the man would not fail him.
And as he came off the bridge and onto the soil of Elwynor, he had clear view of the banners of Ylesuin and Panys set among the rocks and the height that bordered the road.
"Ride on!" he ordered Gwywyn, just behind him, and he drew himself and his bodyguard aside from the road, keeping view of the bridge, reassured in the orderly progress of disciplined troops, the Dragons setting the example and the quartermaster's guards marshaling those who came behind into a calm, rapid order.
It was the lords' contingents that worried him: there were the men who might grow anxious and press forward. An armored man that fell into those deep, cold waters was a dead man, no question about it; and he had worried for the provincial musters if they came to any trial at arms about this crossing. His cleverness in setting the army across and leaving Ryssand behind his cart train could bring disaster on them if some unit panicked.
But for the foremost hazard of their crossing, he was just as glad to move at speed: if ever Tasmôrden had a real chance at a hard, early strike at them, the best chance for him was during their crossing. He had needed to be very sure of Lord Maudyn's scouts to have camped as they had, with the army in sight, but Lord Maudyn's men in reach.
He had expected an attack to come on Lord Maudyn in the winter, or again when the decking went on. He had most dreaded an attack at their arrival, but last night, when they had camped with Lord Maudyn on one side of the water and himself on Ylesuin's side, there had been no threat and they had seen no reason to press a crossing and encampment into the dark.
The forces of Ylesuin would have had the leisure to straggle onto Elwynim soil at a stroll had they wished. That in itself prompted a leader in opposition to question his own perceptions and Tasmôrden's qualities as a leader of men.
Dared they trust, as Maudyn reported, that Tasmôrden indeed still lingered among the plundered luxuries of Ilefínian, his troops ranging the wine shops, so dissipated they could not field a squad of cavalry?
Or dared he think that Tasmôrden's lack of response was because Tasmôrden chose to let Ryssandish and Guelens fight a war of their own… that he delayed in hope of Ryssand's arriving forces.
"Your Majesty."
Anwyll had found a horse and crossed among the Dragons, a man at loose ends, lacking a command and lacking orders.
"Stay close." Trusted men were rare, and by conscious decision he trusted Anwyll at the same level as he trusted his own guard: if there were perfidy in this man, he counted on Tristen to have smelled it out and never to have trusted him with messages. That was his first thought.
But his second asked whether Tristen was infallible. Had Tristen not sent him that precious lot of Guelens, and the head of the Amefin Quinalt, who had wreaked such havoc?
Then he recalled Efanor's letter, unregarded in his possession since Anwyll had brought it to him. He had tucked it into his belt, another abuse of the scroll, and when he drew it out he found its parchment and its seal alike cracked but not yet separated, a small roll almost overwhelmed by the honors of its seal and binding… no question of its origin as he pulled the ribbon free, for he knew the seal as he knew his own, Efanor's authentic seal, with a deliberate imperfection in it, a flaw at the edge, as his own gillyflower seal bore a small mark in one petal.
But why a white satin ribbon, the like of which the Holy Father used, and why was it not the red of the Marhanen?
He broke the seal and unrolled the little scroll in the stiff wind that came down the river.
I take the captain for a reliable man, Efanor had written, and send him on with the carts which I fear now are too late to serve. Tristen has been here in Guelemara and has banished some sort of darksome unpleasantness from the very altar of the Quinaltine.
Tristen in Guelemara, Cefwyn thought, dumbfounded and dismayed at once. Had Tristen marched for the capital? And darksome unpleasantness?
… Neither I nor the Holy Father fully understand the means of his visitation, but he pursued some irruption of evil influence daring the vicinity of the altar, and established a line of defense which he drew on the stones. He said that I must guard this place and walk this line and pray continually…
There were several wonders in this cramped, tightly written letter…
not least of which others was the word pray within Tristen's instructions. Pray, was it, now?
And Tristen had not marched in at the head of an army, either, if that failure to understand the means meant something magical.
Flitting hither and thither like the irreverent pigeons?
To Guelemara, was it now?
Then why not here, friend of my heart? Come to me here! Oh, gods, could I wish you by me!
And where have I sent Nevris? To what care?
But he had no magic, no wizardry: Emuin's most careful questions in his boyhood had found not a trace, not a breath, not a whisper of wizard-gift in him. The Quinalt and Teranthine gods were the only recourse of a magic-blind man, and he had no faith Tristen would hear him or the gods.
Yet Tristen had flitted his way into the Quinaltine, had he? And surely Ninévrisë was safe with Emuin in Henas'amef, if Emuin had not taken to flying about the land in his company.
And praying? If it were not his brother who had written that word, he would not have believed the letter, but it was, and freely so, Efanor's cursive hand.
This I do, Efanor had written, continually, with the Holy Father and a number of the priests on whom we rely. I fear to say in this letter all that I understand and even more so do I fear to say all that I suspect.
Against what enemy we contend we remain largely uncertain. I fear this lonely watch exceedingly and at times feel there is indeed some looming threat behind that Line, although my eyes can plainly see the holy altar beyond it.
I ask myself whether the hallow hereif hallow it bemight have to do with the untimely death of the late Patriarch, so bloody and recent in these precincts.
Well enough, Cefwyn thought to himself: Efanor dared not lay in writing that they had knowingly hanged a corpse for another man's sin; and for that reason might the old Patriarch be looking for his killer? Shadows, Tristen had called them.
But at other times, Efanor wrote, I have worse fears and recall all that I have heard regarding the events at Lewen field, as if this presages some attempt at sorcerous entry into Guelemara, at this holiest of sites, and some threat against the capital and the Holy Quinaltine itself. I have hesitated to write to you, knowing the immense concerns which face you in your undertaking, and indeed, you left me to attend such matters, as within my competency. I pray you know I shall continue to stand my watch.
Yet to advise you of these things should I fall, which gods forbid, I have my one opportune messenger at hand and dare not keep him. I have learned to trust my doubts and to make friends of them, and of all courses before me, I am most uneasy with the thought of remaining silent regarding Lord Tristen's instruction and his actions here, whether by magic or wizardry or whatever agency. If wizardry comes against us here, we believe our task is to prevent it.
Meanwhile I have heard nothing from Ryssand nor of Ryssand.
The good gods bless you and Her Grace. The gods attend your steps and guide you day and night. The gracious gods bring you success and honor.
I send you my devotion and my love.
The last was crabbed into a bend around the edge of the parchment…
Efanor had made the message scroll itself as small as he could, so that Anwyll might tuck it away unseen… remarkable, Cefwyn reflected… remarkable and shameful, that they were brought to this pass of secrecy, all for Ryssand and Ryssand's daughter.
Wizardry, Efanor said. Wizardry. Tristen in Guelemara, when other and reliable reports, even Ninévrisë's dream, he remembered now, though for a moment he had forgotten it, had said he was in Henas'amef.
What in hell was he to think?
"Did His Highness mention anything to you of Lord Tristen coming to Guelemara?" he asked Anwyll, and saw Anwyll's surprise.
"No, Your Majesty, no such thing! It was Lord Tristen's intent to go to the river."
"To the river, but on the other side of that cursed rock," Cefwyn said half to himself, for it was that impassable barrier which kept him from going aside to Tristen's camp and making one their plan of assault on Ilefínian. Weathered knolls of barren stone and deep pockets of earth bearing tangled brush in the crevices made it land unfit for goats, let alone any hope of joining their forces either side of the river, not until they were most of the way to Ilefínian, which sat at the point of that spear of a ridge.
And had Tristen indeed followed his silly pigeons over that and appeared to Efanor in the capital?
Efanor had surely dreamed. Had a vision and convinced his priestly supporters. Tristen was on the other side of that great range of hills; and Ninévrisë would confirm Tristen in his plan to go to the river and cross and bring him whatever support he might need… to Tasmôrden's extreme discomfiture. Pray for that, brother!
If there were that much force to this wizardous threat Efanor named, surely then Ninévrisë would have read it in her bespelled scrap of a letter and told him so: it was, then, nothing so extreme— only one of Efanor's dreams, that before now had set him to religious excesses.
The kingdom was in danger and his brother, with all his other excellent qualities, saw visions.
So whatever had happened in the capital, whatever unholy threat Efanor foresaw, whatever the truth of visions… he left that to priests as out of his reach and beyond his advice. What he had more to fear in his vicinity was the equally unholy union of enemies, Parsy-nan and Cuthan, Ryssand and Tasmôrden, all conniving together, and now Ryssand coming up behind him.
There was the thought to make him anxious. He very much doubted Ryssand would do anything so overt as to attack his own king's baggage train, and it was equally difficult to think that Ryssand could plan anything so reckless as an assault on his back… but it was not impossible to think.
Ryssand had buried a son, dead at Cevulirn's hand in this exchange of rancor and wedding proposals. Artisane still fluttered around Efanor and had still hoped, so appearances were, down to the day the army marched.
But considering how Ryssand came chasing after the army with his own muster… his own very large muster, which might have with it not only Murandys but Nelefreissan and Teymeryn and all the northern lands… did not fill him with confidence.
Could they all, all the north intend to strike at him? Did they conspire together, so blindly hateful of his rule that they would gamble on Tasmôrden's often-bartered promises—or was Ryssand, even Ryssand, innocent and coming to the defense of the realm?
He watched the last of the Guelen Guard come off the bridge, last of the standing regiments, and saw the first of the provincial forces, the contingent with young Rusyn, ride after… no great number of foot, except those Panys had brought.
The army he had fielded after all was, as Tristen had once advised him, nearly all horse. It was not near the number of men the lords could have raised in the peasant levies, if they had called in the infantry, as they had planned—he had foregone that, at the very last, had overset long-held plans as the carts delayed and their information from across the river painted him a mobile, smaller enemy than Aséyneddin had led against him. The army he had gathered still would not move as fast as the light horse Tristen and Cevulirn alike had recommended, but they would move and regroup faster than heavy infantry.
And if thanks to Ryssand they had now to abandon all but a few tents in favor of rapid movement into Elwynor, so be it and damn Ryssand: the weather was tolerable and they could manage. They could forage.
Without Ninévrisë, he no longer hoped overmuch for a great rising of folk loyal to her banner: their best information portrayed a land cowed and beaten by conflicting warlords, no man daring raise his head. But all the same he carried her banner aloft and hoped to receive some support from the locals, if only in their declining to face him for Tasmôrden.
And at the worst of Ryssand's treachery, they still could survive long enough to reach Ilefínian, against every principle of Guelen warfare that declared the baggage train had to set the rate of march and that they must not leave it vulnerable to attack. For what he did now, he cast back to older models, to Tashanen, to Barrakketh himself: they must not extend themselves so fast and so far from their lines they lost control of the roads on which they marched and the supplies which moved on those roads, but they had to risk the tents… there was no kingdom to go back to if he retreated now, and no hope of victory if he enmeshed himself in Ryssand's schemes. Defeat Tasmôrden, and he would have a far more tractable Lord Ryssand to deal with. Fail to defeat Tasmôrden… and he would die here. That was the truth.
And the less visible truth was that the few carts they had and Lord Maudyn's extensive, well-set camp were neither one the most reliable source of supply. No, in fact: the most reliable road and the supply he knew beyond a doubt they could count on was not what he played hop-skip with in evading Ryssand and not what he had spent a winter laying out. It was (granted Tristen had not flitted off with his pigeons) the supply Tristen had established on the other side of what he had come to think of as that damned rock.
In Amefel. That was where Ninévrisë was, that was where Tristen was, that was where Emuin was.
It was where Cevulirn was, and Sovrag, and Pelumer, and gods, even that poker of a man, Umanon of Imor. They were the same company as had stood against the Shadow at Lewenbrook. There was supply at Anwyll's former camp, and that he did not doubt.
There was the solid support he could trust.
As for the wagons and the carts and the pack train he had… he sat his horse at Anwyll's side and watched that line of men and carts across the river, hastening about its business of gathering up the camp and following the army.
"You said Ryssand was at the north road," he remarked to Captain Anwyll. "Approaching this road, or already on it?"
"Approaching, Your Majesty. I saw his banner at a distance."
"His and no others?"
"That was all I saw, but there were very many men, Your Majesty."
That Ryssand had been still in the distance when Anwyll passed, that was good news.
He sat his horse watching and watching as group after group crossed the bridge, and in good time Lord Maudyn rode up to find him, from his camp where they might well have been expecting for some time to receive him and to pay him some courtesy of welcome.
Instead Lord Maudyn, good-hearted man, had ridden to him.
"Your Majesty," Maudyn said, and Cefwyn was glad to see him, and offered his hand across the gap between their horses.
"Well done," he said to Maudyn Lord of Panys. "Very well done. Did you hear that Ryssand is coming?"
Maudyn's countenance assumed a bleak quiet, and then Maudyn cast a curious look toward the bridge, where the first of the baggage carts waited to cross, behind Osanan.
"The baggage train will cross, one by one," Cefwyn said. "Which may be hours, to move all that. And Ryssand can wait. My baggage has to stay close with the army. If he's late, so be it. We'll be moving on to the next camp; there'll be no settling here."
He was satisfied now that the carts were beginning to roll. Ryssand would arrive too late to join the crossing of the provincial contingents. He would have to wait, he and those with him, until the last of the baggage train had rolled across the bridge, and that could be very slow, where it involved ox teams, and axles heavy-laden with canvas and iron.
It was time for the scouts to move out and be sure of their night's camp, that much closer to Ilefínian.
Ryssand could cross today and spend his next hours getting his baggage train across. Ryssand might overtake him today. He might not.
It was time to give the orders to the scouts, and to look to where they would stay this night, in weather fair enough to enable a camp without the tents. It was graven in stone that Guelenmen camped under canvas and made a solid camp at night, that Guelenmen moved at a deliberate pace dictated by the slowest oxcart in the baggage train: Ryssand would not expect this.
He might simply unhitch the teams and let the carts stand on the road, such as it was, completely filling it, so that the forces trying to pass them must struggle through the brush and limbs that fringed it.
Perhaps amid the trees and thorn vines, Ryssand might gather he was being slighted.
More to the point, so might the lords with Ryssand see where Ryssand's leading had gotten them, and then weigh how angry they were willing to make their king, in enemy territory, when Ryssand was being outmaneuvered by oxcarts.
Let them ask themselves then in a second moment of sober reflection how far they could trust Tasmôrden to do what he had promised and to refrain from attacking them: Tasmôrden's promises and representations might ring somewhat hollow in their ears once they found themselves chasing their king deeper and deeper into Tasmôrden's reach.
One outraged, angry man might be a fool far quicker and far longer than his contentious allies.
That was what Cefwyn hoped, at least, as he turned Danvy to ride between Maudyn and Anwyll.
"We'll go on," he said, "gain as much ground as we can."
"Prudence, Your Majesty," Maudyn said.
"Do you trust your scouts?"
"To report what they believe, without question. But—"
"Do they believe the way is clear?"
"Yet to push ahead, against a walled town, Your Majesty, so precipitately, and without the preparation—"
"You've made the preparation. We have a camp, do we not, on this side of the Lenúalim?"
"Absolutely so, Your Majesty."
"Dug in, canvassed, well set, and provided with a rampart."
"So we have, Your Majesty."
"Then the gods for Ylesuin and devil take all traitors! These are horses, are they not?"
"Indubitably, so, Your Majesty."
"And capable of setting us closer to the enemy faster than the oxen could."
"But without preparation, and wearing down their strength—"
"We'll rest in time. I've had a letter from my brother and one from Amefel, and I'll not wager our lives there's not wizardry in the stew—wizardry helping Tasmôrden deceive our scouts, make foul seem fair, right seem wrong… no disparagement of your scouts, none! Lewenbrook showed us all what wizardry can do on the field, and gods send we don't see the like of that again."
"Gods save us from that, Your Majesty."
"But it's a possibility. Something went on at Lewen field, something beyond Aséyneddin's wizardry, that Emuin never has told me…
Tristen, gods save us, tried to explain, but he doesn't seem to know either, and that worries me."
He had never been so frank in council, not with the good Quinalt lords pricking up their ears and ready to bolt. But to Maudyn and to Anwyll, who had served with Tristen, he delivered the truth that, before, only the inmost circle of his advisors had dealt with. And Lord Maudyn heard it in attentive silence.
"Mauryl died," Cefwyn said, "and sent Tristen in his place. Tristen was there at Lewenbrook, but neither he nor Emuin seems to know what was in the cloud that rolled down the field. Tristen said he went to Ynefel during that battle—I don't know the truth of that. Emuin was lying abed in Henas'amef, and has no idea. And all along, everyone's assumed because we came off that field alive that Aséyneddin was the center of it all: that he's in hell and that's the end of it. I wonder."
"Lightning struck the Quinaltine," Maudyn said.
"That it did."
"A Sihhë coin turned up in the offering," Maudyn said further.
'' That was a damnable piece of trickery! And it obscured the real fact."
"Which was, Your Majesty?"
"That lightning struck the roof of the Quinaltine!… and robbed me of Tristen, of Emuin, of Cevulirn, ultimately, all of Ryssand's connivance."
"The lightning surely wasn't Ryssand's doing," Maudyn said.
"That's the point, isn't it? The lightning was something Ryssand couldn't manage. But it happened, and damned inconvenient of it to hit there and not the Bryalt shrine, wasn't it?"
It was too far remote from the lives of ordinary men. Lord Maudyn regarded him as if willing to agree with his king, but unsure to which proposition he should agree.
"I suppose so," Maudyn said.
"It stole Tristen from me. Emuin would warn me that was no accident. Do you think Tasmôrden can move the lightning?"
"I have no knowledge of Tasmôrden himself, except as an earl of Elwynor, a traitor to his lord…"
"Exactly! Exactly so. No knowledge of the man except as an earl among other earls, a traitor among other traitors, no special gifts, no repute, no great allegiance among the Elwynim, would you say?"
"He pays his troops. He hires brigands."
"The Saendal. And pays them with the goods they loot from Elwynim they've attacked. Is this a man to inspire loyalty? Is this a king?"
"I would say not, Your Majesty."
"I would say not, as well. No king, no great man, no man loved by the people… would you not say a wizard, if he devoted himself to lead his own people to war, might not…" Cefwyn waggled the fingers of his off hand, Danvy's reins lying in the other. "… conjure better?"
"Master Emuin hardly fits the model."
"Ah. Master Emuin. Mauryl. Leave aside Tristen. He's his own creature. But wizards, now!"
"I don't follow Your Majesty."
"The Sihhë-lords ruled. Ruled, with an iron hand. But do you see ambition in Emuin? Did you see it in Mauryl Gestaurien?"
"Kingmaker, they called Mauryl. And Kingsbane."
"But did you see him rule?"
"I saw the man not at all, Your Majesty."
"You see?"
"I don't see, Your Majesty."
"He didn't rule. Nor would Emuin. Gods, you couldn't persuade him to be king if you tossed in a shelf of books and a wagonload of parchment… when would a wizard practice his craft, if he ruled?"
"The Sihhë ruled."
"But that's just the point. The Sihhë don't have to study. Tristen doesn't have to study." The conclusions poured in on him like a fall of stars from the heavens—or levin bolts on a priestly roof. "Wizards spend their whole lives at it. So if Tasmôrden's sotted in Ilefínian and has to hire his soldiers, because the peasantry's run to Amefel and the other lords are in hiding, such as survive—is this wizardry? If I were a wizard, I'd do better than hire my troops. I'd bespell them to adore me."
"Yet does Emuin, Your Majesty, improve Ryssand?"
"I don't think it occurs to him to improve Ryssand."
"I think he would do what he could."
"Yet what he can do is limited by what he will do, and what he will do is bounded in the stars, and books, and charts, and seas of ink.
He's the greatest wizard left alive, and I'd have him improve Ryssand, yes, if Emuin would, or could. On that score I know something, and the answer is that he can't, not really, not directly, not so a man couldn't rise up and march contrary to wizardry, else what chance would we have stood at Lewenbrook? Can you riddle me that?"
"I daresay," Maudyn said in a quiet voice, and by now they were coming among the tents of Maudyn's settled camp. "I daresay Your Majesty understands more of that than I do."
"Take it for the truth! There was no going into that shadow if a man didn't believe he could, and did, and those that went under it, died; but those that faced it never could have faced it except that cold iron and shed blood do avail something, sir, I swear they do. And I know by all the signs I see in the sky there's more than cold iron at work against me. I'm not mad. I see the trouble among us, and I see the lords who served my father acting like fools, and believing a man who can't charm his own peasantry into taking the field for him."
"I don't understand," Maudyn said.
"Wizard-work doesn't rule. Mauryl was Kingmaker, not a king.
Emuin doesn't rule. Wizards don't. What they want is something more than earldoms."
"And what is that, Your Majesty?"
"That's the question, isn't it? What do they want? What does Emuin want?" What did Mauryl want when he sent me Tristen? That was the silent question, the one he failed to pose for Maudyn and Anwyll, the one he posed himself alone: Tristen himself was that puzzle, Tristen who could scarcely fend for himself, now at the head of the southern army.
Tristen armored in black, on a black horse, his gift, and attended by that damned bird and a flock of pigeons… what did he want?
That was one thing. What Mauryl might have wanted was another matter: Mauryl was an ally of convenience and a wizard's evident frustration with his Sihhë allies… or that thin blood to which the line had dwindled.
To prevent this Hasufin Heltain having any success: that was the evidence of Lewenbrook. He had no illusions it was any love of the Marhanen or fear for his continuance.
And what had happened, but this damned bolt of lightning that had sent Tristen from him, by his own order.
Cevulirn had gone.
Then Nevris… and Idrys. And now he was alone, between these two, Maudyn and Anwyll, good men, both; alone, with his guards. Alone, with the lords of the north… and Ryssand.
Mauryl had sent Tristen, Emuin had received him.
And what did this conspiracy of wizards want? What had it ever wanted? Something with which Tristen would agree?
If it was the calamity of the house of Marhanen, he much doubted Tristen would consent to it.
He was aware of silence around him, silence of his companions as well as his guards.
"You wonder what I do think?"
"If it please Your Majesty to say."
"Tasmôrden's no wizard, but I'll lay odds someone is, within his court, someone who doesn't care a fig for Tasmôrden, whether he lives or dies." Tristen's fortified the Quinaltine, he thought to himself, with a little chill. He expects something: bloody hell, half a year ago he said there was something wrong about the place.
Aloud he said, to Maudyn and Anwyll: "And if wizards are in it, we've wizardry on our side. Amefel and all the company of the south is at our left hand, if only we both ride past that wedge of rock that divides us one from the other."
"To join with Tristen, then," Lord Maudyn said.
"To join with the south if we can. If our enemy stands back that long." It came to him while he said it that the moment advantage shifted to one strategy or the other, wizardry would incline itself to use that advantage: if he tried to meet Tristen, then opposing wizardry would attempt to prevent him… and where it worked, men might bleed for it, in great numbers.
"And if not, Your Majesty?"
"If not…" Cefwyn looked at Anwyll, who as an undercaptain had offered not a word during all of this. "What do you think, Captain? You've dealt with the Lord of Amefel, latest. What do you expect of him?"
"That he will not desert Your Majesty," Anwyll said, and seemed to hold thoughts back, in diffidence or perhaps in knowledge of Tristen.
What he held back seemed likely to exceed what he said.
"And does he remain true to us?" he asked Anwyll.
Anwyll's gaze flashed to him, wary as a hunted creature's.
"Does he?" He did not doubt. He refused to doubt. "I think so. I think so." He set Danvy to a quicker pace. They passed beyond the camp, and he relayed orders to Maudyn. "Your men to hold this ground, come what may."
"Shall we let Ryssand pass?"
There was the question, the question whether one province of Ylesuin should fight another. And that was, indeed, one answer to the challenge: set Maudyn as his rear guard, against his own troops.
"Let him pass," Cefwyn said. "Let him have his way for now. There'll be the day, not so long from now."
They had passed the camp and led on, so that all the men and vehicles behind them would follow.
They were on the march and would proceed a day's march north and west, with the blind hills to their left and a traitor at their backs.
"Ryssand can stew and fret," he added, "but it won't get him past the ox teams in the woods."
Previous: INTERLUDE
Next: CHAPTER 2