“Starhand! What the fuck is going on here!?”
The dead octopus connected with a satisfyingly wet thud, but Lord Ruili did not stop to check what he’d hit, as he slammed his elbow into the face of another enemy and leaped forward to take down yet another. Seafood in one hand, sword in the other, he had set his course straight for the conference group around the campfire, where the bandits were massed most thickly. He and the cohort of Brownies who followed him were making good way, hacking and splapping whatever popped up before them with lusty huzzahs. It took a few seconds for the words of that question to filter through Ruili’s momentum and enthusiasm. When it did, he backtracked to find a strangely dressed, post-octopussing eorman.
“I beg your pardon, did you say Starhand?” the Selkie lord asked. “Terribly sorry, wrong Ereonis. I’m Windwolf. How d’ye do?” Slash! Down went a raging goblin, blood spurting from his throat. “I’m afraid I have no idea where my brother is at present, though if it’s a fuck you’re after, you’ll have the wrong Ereonis there, too.”
A quizzical look flashed across Ruili’s features as the oddity of a pining elf-besotted eorman appearing just here, just now, tweaked his mind, but the thought was nipped by a pair of bandits running at them, axes raised.
“A fair wind to you, sir. Sorry about the octopus.”
With a wink to the eorman, he feinted past one bandit, ducked under the attack of the second and planted a shoulder in his solar plexus, flipping the man up and over through the air. Reorienting, he spotted his main targets again and took off. “Huzzah!”
— — —
Meanwhile, Peino Starhand was realizing that he had made the possibly fatal error of trusting someone else’s judgment.
In the initial rush, Ruili had headed for Baugl and the other leaders, while Peino led a troop of faeries towards the airship to clear the way for reinforcements. Now, in the shadow of the Calinda’s hull, with rain pelting down on him and the trees whipping about, he stared at the empty basket. No air-privateers were descending on ropes. No spears or bolts rained death from above. Just one lonely little basket that had, apparently, delivered one idiot who had, he presumed, wandered uselessly off.
“Lafitte!” he roared, “you barnacle-brained halfwit!” He fell to kicking and cursing the basket, in the absence of its master, until he had caught up with his frustration. “Right, then, where are we?”
He surveyed the clearing through the fog and rain. Ruili’s diversion seemed to be working. The greater part of the bandits in the clearing were congregating on the campfire side, leaving Peino’s forces battling relative isolated individuals. Faint pings and clanks of combat that slipped through the storm indicated that the faerie raiding parties were keeping Baugl’s forces busy in the woods. Good enough so far. Now to turn this mess into a strategy. Really, did he have to think of everything on this quest?
“You there.” He snagged a goat-footed phooka who had just bashed in a goblin’s skull with a club. “Back the way we came — my compliments to Lady Moonrain and ask her to coordinate her bowmen around the perimeter of the camp to drive the enemy in to this location.”
The faerie nodded and ran off. Peino turned next to some Brownies. “You, get up to that ship. Give my compliments to whomever you find and tell them Peino Starhand requests they prepare light to medium barrages aimed at this area below them, and then await a signal to let fly. Find my brother, Lord Nightwise, and apprise him of the situation. Don’t get killed when you board.”
He made the Brownies repeat the orders and when he was sure they had it right, he called his fighters to him and headed for the campfire side of the action to support Ruili. His dark glare, as furious as Manawydden’s storm, blighted all who fell before his blades, a curse against flying foreigners in little hats.