The Veressan branch plan their campaign.
Chapter Thirty Three:
Robert stood atop a broken tower which sat upon a hill. It overlooked a lake that shimmered in the moonlight. A village sat on the far end of the water, windows lit and men walking the streets. Both villagers and soldiers walked the night. They stood in the single street, bargaining. Robert watched them from a large hole in the stone. The sling holding his left arm itched at his neck. Otherwise he could spread his arms and touch both ends of the hole.
“Why here, do you think?” Evroor asked.
Robert turned to the man, who sat at a dusty table with rotted legs. A lantern sat on the table, illuminating a small room with a hatch at the far end and a thick shelf on the side wall. The Breach Warden from Morlassie stood against a wall. He had given his name as Saddlo. A servant stood in the corner, silent and still.
Robert settled in the chair across from Evroor, cautious of the rickety legs. “I’m not sure.”
Before departing Fangog, a Dragon Guard approached General Evroor, requesting to meet here.
“I will come alone,” the man said. “I know what you’re doing, and I want to join.”
So now the combined forces of the Veressans and Dasorens waited by this village. The army outside was near two-thousand strong. Not a huge blow to Fangog, but enough to set out and damage the enemy. Robert was sure….
“We’re not far from the fortress,” Evroor said.
“I don’t think the Taks will come after us.” Robert looked at Evroor’s maps spread across the table. Orange light flickered across the parchments, showing roads and streams. Here and there a fortress dotted the map.
“Who knows?” Evroor’s jaw clenched. “I don’t rightly trust that Dragon Guard. He might be a spy.” Evroor stood slowly, stepping to the edge of the floor. He clasped hands behind his back, peering through the hole in the wall. “He might be a Tak spy. He might kill us right here.”
Saddlo stepped forward, small hands running down a weary face. With soft features and a round head, he looked like a child, though he was older than Robert. “Why would he? Surely their leader should know we are on the same side.”
“Yes,” Evroor said. “But he does not trust us, that is clear. He might consider us a rogue force.”
“We are rogue,” Robert said. “We’re a foreign force in his land. We are camping at a village that is not in our land. If a villager feels threatened, and gets word out, we may be facing war.”
Evroor turned to Robert. “I’m unsure of your position, Lord Robert.”
Robert smoothed his face, showing no emotion. “I’m on Veressess’ side, General. I just want to make sure you know all the dangers.”
Evroor nodded, running a thumb along his square jaw. “Are there any other dangers you believe I do not know?”
“You should be careful of the Dasorens.” Robert stood, placing hand on hip. “We united with them because we felt divided by kingdom at a foreign fortress and land. Now they’ve put their trust in you, to lead them. Even now, no Dasorens are here, in this room. Show them they are equal to us, and they will not feel as you feel toward the Tak leader.”
Evroor crossed his wide arms, nodding. “How do you suggest I do this?”
Robert stepped forward, thinking on his father’s teachings. “You’ve made me your second-in-command; I think you should retract that. Make me your adviser, and appoint a Dasoren commander as your second-in-command. They will feel more powerful, and I will be in a position the people see me most worthy.”
Evroor nodded. “I see. You’re right, mi’lord. That’s what I’ll do.” He looked to the thin servant who stood staring ahead. “Go fetch General Cadroy.”
“Yes, General.” The man bowed and strode from the room, soft slippers silent on the dusty stone. He disappeared down the hatch.
A chill wind blew through the broken tower, drawing Robert’s gaze outside. Soldiers cast fishing lines, and villagers brought out bags of supplies.
We’re only hours from Fangog, Robert thought. How much more supplies do these people have to spare?
“Lord Robert,” Evroor said, “as my new adviser, what would you suggest?”
“Trust the Dragon Guard,” Robert said. “He wants to ally with us, it seems. He’s a powerful force, and we could use him. I’ve heard a dragon is worth a hundred men, and if he can give us dragons, we can put less men in danger.”
“I can’t trust him, yet,” Evroor said, turning to the hole in the wall. At this vantage, Robert saw past the village. Hills and forests made up much of the land, and maps said the entirety of Takinthad was covered in hills, save for the Kaltirr Plains, not far to the west. That unsettled Robert. Back in Veresses, the land was flat. Up here, it would be easy to miss a large force of enemies because of a ridge or hill. A scout could climb a hill for vantage, but the trees below might obscure the ground.
Evroor continued. “He is one of them, and I have to assume he works for them, until he proves otherwise.”
“Why? As I said, a Dragon Guard is powerful. Why would the Tak leader send an important agent as a spy. It might be better to send a Tak commander pretending to join us. He can bring soldiers, to further his ruse.”
Evroor’s scowl deepened. “Fair point.”
Saddlo cursed suddenly. “A wraith has reached Fangog.”
Robert rounded on the Warden, and Evroor spoke. “Explain.”
Saddlo’s eyes grew distant as he spoke. “A Warden in Fangog is contacting me. A wraith is attacking from the south. He begs we return and help them.” Saddlo looked to Robert. “He says your blade is special. It can kill wraiths while others can’t.”
Robert moved to grip his sword, flinching as the wound in his arm flared pain. “General?”
“No,” Evroor said. “You will stay here.”
“But I can help them. It’s a wraith!”
Evroor turned his glare on the young lord. “You will stay. Fangog can handle it. Don’t Warden’s swords kill wraiths?” He looked to Saddlo, and the sword hanging at his waist.
“In theory.” Saddlo gripped his hilt. “We haven’t seen wraiths in hundreds of years, so we replicate what worked back then. None of us has had a chance to use them against the creatures.”
“Why not?” Robert asked. “Aren’t the Wardens fighting?”
“Yes,” Saddlo said. “But the wraiths aren’t coming near armies, and that’s where the Wardens have headed.”
“There’s a giant army at Fangog, why is a wraith there?” Robert asked. His stomach churned. He imagined men dying before a dark blade, while the wraith moved through their ranks unfettered. I left too soon. He turned away from the men, blinking tears from his eyes. “Are we really going to let them die?”
It was a long minute before Evroor spoke. “Lord Robert, there are many wraiths. One is at Fangog, but others are out in the world. We need you here with us, in case they show up. The men at Fangog need to deal with the creature themselves, because if a battle occurs, and there are many wraiths, you can’t save everybody. You can’t kill all the wraiths at once.”
Robert spun to face the General. “But I can save those men. I can–”
“The wraith is dead,” Saddlo said suddenly.
Robert looked to the Warden, who stared at the ground. He wore the distant gaze of a man who’s thoughts were elsewhere. Finally he spoke.
“How do you know?” Evroor asked, turning to the man.
“I felt its presence wink out.”
Evroor crossed his arms. “Maybe it moved to the Second World.”
“No, this is a different sense.” Saddlo looked at the General. “Imagine there is a fire in another room. You see the light through the cracks of the door, maybe you feel the heat. That would be the wraith in the Second World. This is more like the fire is in the room with you, and suddenly disappeared.”
Robert nodded. “I get it. So, you’re sure it’s dead? How?”
“The Warden at Fangog has confirmed my sense. He no longer feels the wraith.”
“But how did it die?” Evroor pressed.
“I’m not sure,” Saddlo said. “And neither is the other Warden.”
Boots pounded up the steps, and a man rose from the hatch. He was short, with blotchy skin and receded brown hair. Wide eyes shone in the moonlight as he halted on the other end of the room. The Yellow Bull of Dasoren emblazoned his white surcoat, and he stood stiff with hand on sword. His posture was formal, not as if he were expecting danger. The wiry servant emerged from the hatch and silently took his place in a corner.
“I am General Cadroy.” The man dipped his round head. “How may I be of service...Lord General Evroor?”
A smile crept on Robert. Another wraith is dead.
“Lord General?” Evroor said. “Is that what people are calling me?”
“It’s what the Dasorens are calling you, yes. Your people, however, simply call you ‘General’.”
Evroor scratched at his chin. “Lord General is a title among your people?”
“And what is the Lord General’s second-in-command called?”
Cadroy hesitated before speaking. “Captain-General.”
Evroor strode past Robert, stopping before Cadroy and holding out a gloved hand. “Congratulations, Captain-General Cadroy.”
Cadroy looked at the hand, thick brown eyebrows drawing down. “I am not of your land, Lord General.”
“And neither of us are in our own land. Circumstance brought us here. Don’t think of us as men from different land. That was the Takinthite’s problem, remember. We are a united force, and from what I understand, you are a fine commander. I wish you to be present during meetings of war, and to be my man to lead if we need split our force.”
Cadroy glanced at Robert. “What of your lord?”
“He has his place, and it is not leading men,” Evroor replied.
“He led men outside Morlassie,” Cadroy said.
“Things have changed since then,” Evroor said. “Will you accept the position, or shall I find another man?”
Cadroy met Evroor’s gaze with a stone face. He shook the Veressan general’s hand. “Thank you, Lord General. I will serve as best I can.”
“Good.” Evroor turned away, settling into a chair. “We have a meeting with a man from Fangog. He wishes to join us.”
“Really?” Cadroy stepped forward, a rigid way to his stride. He gripped his sword as he walked. He halted before the chair opposite Evroor. “Why are we meeting this man?”
“He is a Dragon Guard.”
Cadroy nodded. “That would be a great advantage.”
“Yes it would,” Evroor said.
Robert shivered as another chill gust cut through the tower. This far north, the land was cold at nights, but cool in the day.
A man emerged from the hatch. He was a Veressan. “General, the Dragon Guard has arrived, but he refuses to enter the tower.”
Evroor stood. “What do you mean?”
“He fears for his life,” the grizzled man said. “He knows you to be rebels, but is unsure how disloyal you are.”
Robert frowned, but did not speak; it was not his place.
Evroor stood. “He thinks we want to kill him?” He chuckled, leaning forward on the table. “He asked to meet, he suggested this location, and he is the suspicious one?”
“That seems to be the case, General,” the soldier said without a hint of amusement.
Evroor straightened, adjusting his sword belt. “Fine, then.” His amusement vanished. “Then we will meet him outside. Is he alone?”
“Yes, General, it seems so.”
“Good. Lead the way.” Evroor turned to the others in the room. “Let’s go.” He turned to the reedy man in the corner. “Dismissed.”
The servant rushed past the soldier, hurrying down the steps. Robert followed the others, taking the rear of the procession led by Evroor.
The stone steps curled down the tower, which served only as a watch post. Or it did back when it was in use. Robert could not puzzle out why it was abandoned.
They reached the landing and headed through the gaping whole twice as wide as ten men. It stood in place of the door.
The tower stood on a hillside, the ground flat and covered in dead leaves. The rest of the hill rose to the left of the tower. In Veresses, the hill might be called a small mountain.
They took horses offered by a cluster of soldiers waiting outside, and rode the path that wound down the hill. Robert looked out over the lake toward the village, seeing trains of men and wagons moving out. Trees covered the hill, rasping in the wind. Foot soldiers followed them down the hill, flanking them with pole-lanterns.
The ground leveled out, taking them into the forest surrounding the lake and hill. Men called out to each other as they drew closer to the village. In front of Robert, Cadroy looked to the voices, while further ahead, at the front, Evroor kept his gaze ahead.
“Where is he, then?” Evroor asked.
Behind the general, the soldier spoke. “Not fifty yards ahead, general.”
Robert moved his shoulder, wincing. “This wound could be deadly,” Saddlo had said, after the battle. He had been examining the stab wound in Robert’s arm, given by the wraith. “We’ve had one documented wraith wound. The man died of a strange infection.” The Warden had refused to say more, but told Robert to watch for signs of black skin.
Trees rose on all sides, casting shadows in the lantern-light, and blocking the moon. The soldiers’ voices grew distant as the procession drew from the hill. They came to a large clearing of tall grass.
A dozen men already took the clearing. Half a dozen Veressan soldiers holding spears pointed toward a man atop a horse. A cluster of archers held bow to string, but did not draw.
The rider sat still, his dark horse swishing a tail and snorting. He wore a coat of leather; a thick fur cloak shifted softly in the wind. Robert and the company moved into a line spread out before the rider. As they halted, the footmen formed two thick ranks in front.
The rider watched the formations with a close eye. Once the men settled, he looked to Evroor.
“You lead these men, if I recall.” Orange light cast his grim face in flame.
Evroor nodded. “That is right. This is my second-in-command,” he gestured to Cadroy, to his left; then Robert to his right, “and my adviser. Why are you here?”
The man raised a hand, placing his palm in a ray of lantern-light. A black mark in the shape of a dragon spread across his skin. “I wish to help. You have abandoned Fangog, heading north. I take it that means you wish to battle those from the Second World. You have no Dragon Guard with you, and you should.”
“Why should we?” Evroor said. “We defeated a force of enemies, including a wraith, using only our men. I’m not doubting your use, but you have no dragon with you now. I doubt you could have smuggled one out of Fangog.”
“No, but I know where two dragons are,” the man said. “I was out hunting them when I was attacked. A force of enemies came by the river, and a they led a flying beast. It killed a dragon, and spit a substance at men that burned them to the bone.”
Robert shivered, wishing he could grip his sword. The sling would not allow it.
The Guard continued. “If I lead a dragon, it can torch a large force of enemies before your men need fight. Lives can be saved if I fight with you.”
Saddlo led his horse to Evroor’s side and whispered. “The wraith that died at Fangog tonight led a force of wolgs, so says the Warden there. The Dragon Guard there has his dragon torching the beasts. Many of the wolgs are dying long before they reach the men.” The Warden returned to his position, leaving Evroor nodding thoughtfully.
Evroor said to the Guard, “I think we will have you, Guard.”
“Thank you, General….”
“Evroor. And what is your name?”
The Guard nodded. “Yes, General Evroor. I am Aclaides.”
“Good,” Evroor nodded. “When can you expect to have a dragon?”
“Reports point to a dragon only a half day’s ride west. But that’s where the beast was spotted. Finding it is another matter.”
Evroor frowned. “I hope we won’t be waiting too long while you search for a dragon.”
“No, General,” Aclaides scowled. “Then we would be no better than those at Fangog. I ask for two days. Three at most.”
Clouds moved past the moon, and Robert studied Aclaides’ face. The man’s eyes were filled with grief, as well as hate.
“Then you will get those days,” Evroor said. “Tomorrow, I expect you to ride out and get the dragon.”
Aclaides dipped his head. “Then I will.”
“Good man,” Evroor took up his reins. “Then we had better get some sleep.”
Aclaides joined the company as they rode from the clearing, foot-soldiers following.
Robert watched the back of Aclaides’ head as they rode. The man was dangerous. He could feel it in his gut. But he was an ally.
Faldashir was an ally, Robert thought, and he killed the King of Takinthad.
Robert would keep a close eye on Aclaides.
END OF CHAPTER THIRTY THREE