Chapter Two: The Tower



by

Josie Beaudoin







“I wish you’d stop circling that tower,” Tara said to her brother.

“Aren’t you curious about what might be left inside it?”

“Mostly I’m just disappointed it’s still standing. I can’t believe my ballistas couldn’t even dent it. It’s eerie, and unnatural.”

“Well I hate to say it, but ‘eerie and unnatural’ are pretty much my job now,” Cearul said. “This was Killara’s tower, and I need to know what’s inside. There isn’t a door anywhere! He must have created a portal to enter it, but of course I have no idea where the other end is, or even if it’s still functioning.”

“Well why don’t you create your own portal, then? You can do that, can’t you?”

“I can, but you cannot create a portal to an unknown place. I mean, you can, but it’s not safe. His magic is so much stronger than mine, I wouldn’t dare create a blind portal into his abandoned lair.”

“Then maybe you should leave it alone,” Tara said. “If it’s that dangerous, maybe you shouldn’t even try to enter. But on one point I disagree - his magic is not stronger than yours. You beat him in battle.”

“What if he’s left something in there that could hurt us?” Cearul sked, ignoring the comparison. “It’s got to be entered and cleared out, or it hangs like a threat over all our heads. Just because the battle’s over doesn’t mean the war is. I don’t want an unknown disaster sitting there waiting for the right moment to kill us all.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, and that’s what worries me.”

“Come on, leave it for now at least. You need to eat if you’re going to solve this puzzle.”

“Yes, alright, I’m coming.”

The main bulk of the army had already dispersed back to their homes. Those who remained were still camped on the north bank of the river. Breean had ordered his command centre be set up on the island with the tower, and a ferry with a rope was used to move back and forth to the north shore. Tara and Cearul walked side by side back to the small tent village where the scent of food wafted out to greet them.

“I’d like to explore south tomorrow,” Breean said as they entered the camp. He was already eating his dinner. “So far, nobody seems to know what’s there. If we’re going to be guarding this pass, I want to know the land all around.”

“You’re so full of plans,” Tara said. “Why, you never take time to finish one before you’re jaunting off after another. Surely if we’re going to build a city here, there’s a lot that needs to be done before you go playing in the forest. You do want to build a city here, don’t you? Or have you changed your mind yet again?”

“No, this is an ideal defensible spot,” her brother said. He pushed a platter containing a roast towards his siblings as they sat to join him at the table. “I can’t think of a better place to build, honestly. I just want to know what’s south of us, just in case.”

Cearul ate eagerly. He was more tired from his explorations than he had realized. High above, a crow called out to its neighbour, and Cearul envied it. If only I had wings, he thought, I could fly up and look in those tower windows. Then maybe I could venture to build a portal. Brazen, the crow flew to the ground and hopped about, looking for scraps from their meal for its own. It looked Cearul right in the eye, and cawed again. He threw it a fatty strip of meat from his plate. The crow bobbed its head in gratitude and ate. Tara and Breean laughed, but Cearul motioned them to silence. He held out his arm, beckoning, and the crow flew up and perched on his fist. Man and bird locked eyes, and in that silence, Cearul understood.

Hello, magician, the bird said. You have good food. May I have some more?

Without a word, Cearul held out his knife with a bit of roast on the end. The crow took the meat daintily and swallowed it whole.

Gratitude, he said. What is it you were longing for so loudly? You wish to fly?

I do, Cearul answered. I wish to see inside the tower.

Why?

To learn what is there, the magician said. It is my job to learn everything I can.

You are ambitious, the crow laughed. There is much you do not know.

Can you tell me what is in the tower?

Man things, the bird answered. Things that men value, though I do not know why. There is no food in the thing you call ‘tower,’ nor is it a good place to roost. We only go inside in winter.

You can get inside? Cearul nearly stood up.

The crow squawked and flapped its wings. He danced up Cearul’s arm. Don’t do that! he said. Yes, there is a hole in it. Up high. You could never reach it.

Is there something small inside that you could carry out in your beak, perhaps?

Yes, but why would I? The crow cocked its head at the roast, then looked back to Cearul. The meaning was clear. Cearul picked his knife back up and carved a few more tidbits from the roast.

“Why are you feeding that scavenger?” Breean asked. The crow ignored him and gulped down the meat quickly. It bobbed its head in appreciation, then fluffed its feathers and flew off. Cearul stood up and followed after him, back towards the tower. The bird disappeared before the magician got very far, but he knew the way even in the gloaming. Before he reached the tower, the bird returned. It dropped a small pebble at his feet.

Cearul stooped and picked it up. It was a small, red crystal, a garnet no larger than the last joint of Cearul’s smallest finger.

Meat now? The bird asked, settling on Cearul’s shoulder.

Yes, of course, Cearul said. And thank you so much. He turned and headed back toward the tents, the bird still riding on his left shoulder.

#

“Why is that bird still here?” Breean asked his brother. “Why don’t you chase the damned thing away?”

“First of all,” Cearul said, “it’s being helpful. Secondly, it’s not harming anyone. And thirdly, I like its company. Why does it irritate you so?”

“It’s a carrion bird, it feeds off the dead,” Breean shuddered at the thought. “We just fought a major battle, we’re still finding bodies, and that thing and its kin are feasting on our kin.”

“He’s actually helping me find them for you,” Cearul replied. “Also, he and his people are scouting the surrounding area for us as a favour. He told us about that huge tree.”

“We would have found it without any help, it’s enormous. And it’s just a tree. It’s not going to help us with the task at hand.”

Your brother is angry, the crow said.

No, he’s upset that crows are feeding on the dead, Cearul answered.

We go where the food is, the crow agreed. If he wished to feed us other meat, he could, but he does not. So we eat what is here – men and horses.

Don’t worry, I’m not angry. And I won’t let him hurt you. Cearul stroked the crow’s breast feathers.

The crow laughed. Why would I care what that human thinks of me? he asked. I can always just fly away.

Cearul smiled down at his feathered friend. I have work to do now, he said to it. Will you excuse me, please?

Of course. Go do your man things.

Cearul stood and picked up his bag. Slinging it over one shoulder, he took off in the direction of Killara’s tower. The crow launched itself from where it had stooped on the table and ascended into the treetops.

The tower stood a massive eighty feet high if it was an inch. Cearul would not have been surprised if it was even higher. It was easily the tallest building he had ever seen, its head and shoulders clear of the treetops. He craned his neck back to look at it as best he could. He walked around it, thirty-two paces in circumference, looking to see if he could find the “hole” the crow had spoken of, but he was unable to make out the details.

Turning to the task at hand, Cearul began pulling spell components out of his satchel, including the garnet the crow had given him. When he had everything arranged just so at the base of a nearby tree, he stepped back and ignited the spell. The area shimmered like a heat mirage, then settled back to its normal appearance. Cautiously, Cearul reached out a hand and watched as it disappeared into the tree trunk. He had his portal. He quickly grabbed a handful of soil from in front of the tree and stepped through.

Instantly, Cearul found himself in a round room about twenty feet in diameter. It was dimly lit, as tree branches blocked most of the window, which was slightly ajar on its hinges, and it was here that the crow had found egress. No wonder Cearul had been unable to see it. It was much cooler inside, and the omnipresent roar of the river faded to a dull whisper.

As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he looked around him. Tables and shelves filled the room and every available surface, it seemed, was covered with spell components. Cearul set his handful of dirt in a clean, empty bowl. To the west was a staircase leading down, hugging the outer wall of the tower, and to the east, another one going up. Cearul lit the candelabra with a gesture, and picked one up, heading for the upwards staircase. The risers were a bit short, but he soon adjusted to them. He climbed up and up, through several rooms, before reaching the top of the tower.

When he ran out of stairs to climb, Cearul found himself in a bright room with comfortable furnishings and large windows. Killara’s living quarters, he guessed. He went over to look outside, and experienced vertigo for the first time in his life. The tops of the trees swayed below him. He took a dizzy step back from the sight and sat down hard on an expansive chair. A cloud of dust puffed up, setting him to coughing.

When his lungs were once again his own, Cearul returned to the lower levels, and down. He counted nine rooms, one above the other, down to the windowless ground floor, all with varying purposes from storage to living and workspace. From the ground floor, further steps led down into souterrain realms he chose not to explore. He returned to the floor he had first appeared on, and began mixing components from his satchel with the handful of dirt he had taken from outside. When everything was prepared, he marked a spot on the tower wall, set the components on the floor nearby, and ignited the spell. The wall shimmered briefly, then settled. With a nod of satisfaction, Cearul stepped through the portal and found himself once again outside the tower.

#

“Come on, brother, it’s been five years. The tower is perfectly safe.”

“That place? No. It’s all yours, but I want my children to have nothing to do with it, and that includes Arden.” King Breean sat on his throne, dandling his son Fionn on his knee. Though a throne had also been made for his co-ruler the Shield, Cearul was uncomfortable with the idea of being treated as royalty, and seldom sat in it. He much preferred to spend his time studying and practising the art of magic than ruling anyone.

Little Fionn twisted in his father’s grasp and jumped down to toddle about the room. At two, he was one of the many children born since the fall of Killara and the founding of this new thing, this ‘nation’ of Lyridon. His brother Tierney – named for the slain patriarch – had been born a year before the great battle, and was slated to take the throne after his father. Breean’s eldest boy spent his time studying magic with his uncle, the Shield. Nineteen now, and much more confident than he had been, Arden had blossomed as a magician under his uncle’s tutelage. Still his father refused to permit him to enter Killara’s Tower.

“It’s been thoroughly explored, thoroughly cleaned, and it’s entirely safe, brother,” Cearul said for what felt like the hundredth time. “It’s just a building, there are no active spells there but the ones I cast myself.”

“I don’t care if you pull the tower down and rebuild it with your own hands, I don’t want my son going in there, and that’s all.”

“Very well, brother. Come along, Arden, let’s get back to your studies. Your father has important work do to, and so do we.”

Waiting for their turn with the new king, the builders listened in silence to the mysterious Shield. No one really wanted to talk to him, though they respected his power. What they wanted to do was get this new capital built. It still had no name, and mostly only workmen and soldiers lived there, often doing both jobs. The bridge to the north shore was solid, no more need for ferries, but there was still debate about whether there should be a bridge to the south or not. The mott-and-bailey castle was currently built of wood, though plans existed to replace it with a stone one. That could wait until the temples were built. There were three of them planned, one for each of the gods.

The conversation in front of them concluded, and the workers shuffled forward for their turn with the king’s ear. Cearul and Arden left the great hall and were soon forgotten in the business of building a capital city. The two magicians made their way to the south side of the island, and through a portal to the south bank. They re-emerged in a large clearing in the woods, in the centre of which stood an enormous tree. At a casual glance most folks would assume it was an oak, but it was not, for every fall, it bore apples.

Breean had wanted to chop it up for lumber, but Cearul forbid it. The Tree was clearly of magical origins, and must be protected at any cost. And the apples were excellent, everyone agreed to that. So the tree stayed, and continued to grow and feed the city. It was also where Cearul and Arden worked on Arden’s lessons, at least in the summer months.

“Killara may return at any time,” Cearul told his student. “We have to be ready for that. You have to be ready to continue this work after me, and pass it on to your apprentice.”

Arden nodded, concentrating on his spell. “My brother’s daughter,” he whispered.

“You see it?”

“I can’t see her name, though.”

“That’s alright, it’s not really important. The important thing is that you can see that far ahead. That’s a rare gift, and not one to be taken lightly.” Cearul was inordinately pleased with his nephew’s abilities. He would make a strong Shield in his turn.

As for Cearul himself, he was more bewildered and overwhelmed by the position than anything else. Not long after the formation of Lyridon, he had been approached by an assortment of magicians from all over the North offering him pieces of their magic. It was imperfectly understood how to measure amounts of magćrum, the formless, invisible power used to cast spells, but these magicians were willing to give up a portion of their own strength to increase his. It was humbling and awe-inspiring to witness their selfless faith in his abilities. Those abilities were expanded significantly with their contributions, and Cearul was able to do much more than he had previously thought possible. The many scrolls and ingredients Killara had left in the tower were much more helpful the stronger Cearul became.

#

“Healer! Magician! Wake up! Healer!”

The words roused Cearul in an instant. He was being shaken by one of his sister-in-law’s handmaidens, and her fear was palpable even to his sleep-fogged mind.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“It’s Fionn, he’s not breathing!”

Cearul leapt from his bed and followed after the messenger without pausing to pull on breeks. His nightshirt would suffice for an emergency. They raced to the nursery and he took in the scene in a glance.

Queen Boewn was cradling the two-year-old prince in her arms, tears streaming down her face. The boy was not moving. Prince Tierney was sitting on the edge of his bed, crying silently.

“What happened?” Cearul asked.

Boewn sobbed out, “I came in to check on him, and he wasn’t in his bed. When I picked him up to move him, he felt cold, and I noticed he wasn’t breathing. Please, Cearul, help my baby!”

Cearul took the child from his mother’s arms and laid him out on the floor. There was no pulse, and the boy was, indeed, cold to the touch. Cearul’s heart sank. He felt in the boy’s mouth, and there was something blocking his airway. He couldn’t grasp the blockage; it was smooth and slick with saliva. He picked the boy up and put his arms around the little waist and gave a sharp jerk. Out of Fionn’s throat came the object, and flew across the room. A whisper of air came out of the lungs, but he drew in no breath. Cearul opened his senses wide, searching for the boy’s soul, but it was not to be felt.

“He choked,” Cearul said, “and he’s been gone for a while now. There’s nothing I can do, I’m sorry.”

“No, you have to save him!” Boewn cried. “You have to!”

“There’s nothing anyone can do,” Cearul answered. “He died hours ago. He’s gone.”

Boewn gathered the small body into her arms, rocking and weeping. Other people, wakened by the commotion, began filtering into the nursery. Cearul picked up a lamp and followed the direction the projectile had flown. He found it, picked it up, and examined it. It was a doughy lump of bread, too large for the boy to have swallowed, and compacted from chewing. Cearul threw it in the fire, not wanting the parents to see their child’s killer. He went over to the grieving queen.

“It’s not your fault,” he told her. “It’s not anyone’s fault. It was an accident that could have happened to anyone.” He murmured the empty words to comfort her, but had trouble believing them himself. Why had he not felt the child’s fear and panic when it happened, he wondered. Why had he not noticed the soul departing? What was he doing to protect the land, if he could not even protect a single child? Sick at heart, he never even noticed the tears running down his own face as he left the room, left the castle, to walk in the starlight.

#

“Mother’s pregnant again,” Arden said.

“I was wondering when you’d sense it,” his uncle replied. The two magicians were hiking through the southern forest together, enjoying the crisp fall air.

“She doesn’t know yet, does she?”

“I don’t think so, no. Though it’s always dangerous to speculate on the mind of a woman.”

“Should we tell her?”

“Gods, no! It’s only been three years since Fionn died, and I’m not sure she’s even ready to deal with another child yet. Not to mention your father. No, one of the things you need to do as a magician is learn to keep things to yourself sometimes. It’s good practice for when you need to keep state secrets, anyway. If it makes you feel any better, you could go to the temple of Vatha and pray for mother and child. Other than that, I’d keep my nose out of it.”

The two walked in silence for a while, each lost in their own thoughts. They came to the clearing of The Tree and began gathering apples. At last, Arden broke the silence.

“So what do we do when she tells people?”

“Smile and act surprised, just like everyone else. This is her secret to tell, not ours. And get ready to pamper your baby sister, of course.”

“Only every day of her life!” Arden said with a grin. “She’ll be the most beloved little girl in the world!”

Cearul smiled.

“I think you’re right,” he said. “I think your parents will be fine, and she’ll be fine, and it will all work out in the end. Now – pluck me some apples from the top branches. Bring them down unharmed.”

#

“Congratulations, Breean, she’s a beautiful child!” Cearul clapped his brother on the shoulder. The room was full of cheering and drinking, the whole city was celebrating the birth of the littlest princess.

“Just like her mother,” Breean said.

“Have you two decided on a name for her yet?”

“Fionnualla,” the king said. “Her name is Fionnualla. We wanted to honour Fionn. You don’t think that’s tempting fate, do you?”

“Not in the least. It’s a grand name, and a shame to let it go unused.”

“And now I think I’m ready to become a grandfather,” the king said. He filled his drinking horn from a barrel and took a deep draught.

“You’ll have to wait for a bit. Tierney’s a little young yet, don’t you think?” Cearul asked.

“I meant Arden!” Breean said. “He’s more than old enough to breed. I’ve been thinking about where we might make the strongest marriage, and I believe Geite would be a good place to start. Valdar has a daughter about the right age for him, and we could use good trade relations for their mineral wealth.”

“Brother, you do know that your eldest son doesn’t actually prefer girls, don’t you?”

“Yes, I’ve had my suspicions. So what does that matter? This is family we’re talking about, making babies, not falling in love. And diplomacy as well. It would be a good match.”

“For you, politically, yes. Not for your son. Arden is already in love, and I very much doubt he’ll set that aside to provide you with grandchildren.”

“I’m not asking him to love her! He can love whoever he wants, and much joy to him. I just want him to make babies is all. You don’t have to love a woman to do that!”

“I think you’re missing the point, Breean.”

“You know, come to think of it, why aren’t you married, brother?”

“Now that’s just cold. You know why.”

“Still not over her? Cearul, it’s been nearly twenty years. I understand grief, the gods know I do, but surely there are other women in the world, women who would be all too happy to marry the Shield. Fill the nursery with your babies.”

“Breean, you’re drunk, so I forgive you. But let this drop, can’t you? You’re not going to change me or my apprentice. We are who we are. Tierney is nine. If I know you, you’ll have your first grandchild by the time he’s sixteen. You can wait a few more years.”

“I’m sorry, brother. You know I only want to protect this fragile new thing we’re building, this Lyridon. I want to see more babies. Look at my beautiful little girl! We need a next generation. You and I aren’t going to live forever, you know.”

“Between you and Tara I think this family has enough babies for now. Be patient, Breean. And for Quphic’s sake, get some sleep.”

#

“Fionnualla, come back here, you’ve got to have your bath!”

The little girl giggled as she ran through the forest, her exasperated nurse trailing after her. Eight years old and stubbornly independent, Princess Fionnualla was heading for The Tree, where she intended to climb out of reach of nurse. Not that there might not be nine hells to pay when she at last came down, but Fionnualla was determined to have her fun before that. Ear-scrubbing was probably going to be involved, and a lot of scolding as well, but that was forever away, on the far side of a long, beautiful afternoon of running, jumping, and climbing. Behind her the nurse’s plaintive cries grew ever more distant, as did thoughts of “later.”

Later came, of course, with all the dire consequences Fionnualla had known it would. Not only did she have to take a full bath, she also had to wear her nicest dress and mind her manners. That was the day her brother Tierney got married. There were strangers from a far-off place called Geite, among them her brother’s new bride, a young girl named Vonya. Fionnualla had taken an instant liking to the teen. She seemed lost and unsure of herself, and not at all arrogant or standoffish. Fionnualla decided to befriend her at once.

The celebration involved a lot of people drinking and cheering, and lots of talking. Fionnualla was bored with the whole thing before it even began. Luckily, she was not expected to stay up late, and the nurse hustled her off to bed after an hour or two.

#

“It’s twins, my queen, it’s going to take a bit longer than a single one,” the midwife Flora said matter-of-factly.

“What if that old magician is wrong?” Queen Vonya panted between contractions.

“I’ve never known him to be wrong on matters of babies. Here now, with the next contraction I want you to push as hard as you can. Do you want the stick? All right, there it is. He can see into men’s souls, he should have no trouble seeing into a woman’s belly. And you’re big enough for twins, Quphic knows!”

“Then let Quphic give birth!” Vonya muttered through the stick between her teeth.

“Push, my lady, push!”

Vonya screamed as she bore down with all her might.

#

Through the closed door Tierney heard his wife screaming with labor pains. He winced and someone handed him another mug.

“Tell me she’s going to be alright,” he asked his uncle.

Cearul smiled, his face tight and grim. Childbirth was never easy to witness, but he knew it was even harder to endure. Men always thought they were going to die, but women often did.

“Why don’t you go hunting,” he suggested. “Fresh air will do you good, and it’s going to be a while yet before they’re ready for you. You can bring something back for the feast tonight.”

“Yes?” Tierney said. Then, more confidently, “Yes. That sounds like a good idea.” As a king, Tierney was still unsure of himself, having stepped into his father’s shoes but two years before. Twenty-six now, he had a son named for himself, and a wife he doted on. Although he relied heavily on advice from his uncle the Shield and older brother the Shield Apprentice, Tierney was not a weak ruler. He had turned back Killara’s men in battle at his father’s side, and was prepared to do it again. His army was strong, and the other clans had kept their word about providing aid to keep it that way. Still, childbirth made him uneasy. He was glad for an excuse to depart.

#

“Your son was born first, my king, and your daughter followed him very soon after. Your lady wife is quite worn out, and I’ve ordered she not be disturbed. The babies are sleeping also, the sweet little kittens.” The midwife was giving her report on the birth to an anxious room full of spectators. “Nothing went wrong, everyone is alive and healthy, but more than a little bit tired, you understand.”

“I have a little girl?” Tierney was surprised, but pleased. “Cearul, when you said ‘twins,’ I assumed it would be two of the same. I have a daughter? That’s wonderful!”

“Be careful what you assume,” Cearul chuckled. “I never said ‘two boys.’ And now that they’re no longer as entwined as they were in the womb, I can tell you that your daughter is the magician who will carry on after Arden. She will be the third Shield.”

“Marvellous! That’s perfectly marvellous! I heartily approve!” Tierney said. “She won’t get hurt, fighting against Killara, will she?”

“When she comes of age, she will have all of my strength, added to all of Arden’s strength, added to all of her own. In this way, the magic of the Shield will increase with every generation. Killara expands his power through theft and murder. We shall keep pace with him through love and compassion. Who knows? One day, we may even become stronger than he.”

“If he would just stay in Leland, there would be no problem to overcome,” Tierney said. “We could live peacefully alongside him. Why does he feel this need to control everyone?”

“He’ll never stay in Leland, nephew,” Cearul said. “His thirst is too great. He must needs have it all, one way or another. And your beautiful children born on this day will have a hand in keeping him out of the North.”

“Praise the three gods,” Tierney said.

#

“He’s made a treaty with whom?” Vonya asked.

“With Erlaya, my regent. The lands beyond the mountains.” Cearul looked grim as he delivered the news to his co-regent. With Tierney dead in battle only a few months past, and little Quinn only four years old, the monarchy was held in trust for him by his mother and great-uncle. The old magician was in his sixties, but still rode into battle as the Shield against Killara, and still came home alive. His apprentice Arden was in his forties, and rode by his uncle’s side. He stood beside his uncle now as Vonya was informed of the situation.

“I thought the mountains were impassable,” Vonya said. Her youngest boy, Colm, tugged at her dress for attention. She picked him up absentmindedly and he began playing with her long hair. The queen mother continued walking back towards the castle beside the two men. They had caught up with her right outside the temple of Vatha as she was returning home. The twins, Quinn and Ciara trailed behind them. “The mountains are supposed to protect us.”

“Nothing is impassable,” Arden said. “Not really. It just depends on how many lives you’re willing to lose in the attempt. It would seem that Killara has found a pass from Leland to Erlaya, and is using it to supply himself with men and weapons.”

“How big is Erlaya?”

“We don’t really know,” Cearul admitted, “but I suspect it is quite large indeed. He’s lived there before, so they know him already. All he had to do was establish contact and he is guaranteed reinforcements any time he needs them.”

“Which means war is coming back,” the queen mother disliked the taste of the words in her mouth. “War is coming, and we have no king to lead troops into battle.”

“You could send Fionnualla,” Arden suggested.

“A woman, lead the army?” Vonya asked, surprised. Such a thing was not done in Geite.

“We have women soldiers in the army, why not one to lead it? And Fi is more than capable, as well as being a member of the royal family.”

Vonya could not dispute that. Her sister-in-law was a marvellous swordswoman. She could also ride and shoot as well as any man she had met. Her skill with a bow was almost legendary.

“Very well, I will speak with her,” the regent decided. “If she feels equal to the task, it is hers. If not, we shall find someone else.”

Princess Fionnualla was more than willing to lead her regent’s army. She had ridden beside her brothers in previous battles and proven herself time and again. At twenty-two, she had the enthusiasm to win the hearts of the younger troops, but experience enough to earn the respect of the elder warriors as well. She was also wise enough to ask for their advice. She called a war council.

“What we need to do is get him out of Leland permanently,” Fionnualla said. “If we could force him to flee up that mountain pass, we could close it behind him. Let him keep Erlaya, we don’t need or want it. Just get him out of the North altogether.”

“Won’t he just find another pass?” General Tethion asked. He was one of Fionnualla’s strongest supporters, and his good opinion counted for a lot among the troops.

“Eventually, of course,” Arden said. “But we have to worry about now, and those reinforcements coming through every day, strengthening him and making him bolder. If we don’t stop him soon, he’ll be too strong for us.”

“We have to get that pass closed one way or another,” Tethion agreed. “I’d like permission to send scouts into the mountains looking for other passes.”

“Once we’ve pushed Killara out of the North, we’ll put the whole army on that job,” Fionnualla said. “But we can’t afford to divide our forces right now.”

“No, I don’t suppose we can. So how do we get him to retreat?”

“We’ll have to surround him,” Cearul said. “He’ll never retreat if he has superior numbers. It’s going to be brutal.”














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