“Do you know where Peino is?”
Ruili Windwolf dodged a pike thrust from a goblin bandit. “Lyr’s blood, man.” His gleaming sword sank into the bandit’s gut, and he yanked it out with a flourish of blood. “Didn’t I say I don’t know?”
The way was opening before him, the thicket of defenders growing thin as he and his faerie allies hacked and bashed them down. If he stopped to think, he probably could give this persistent eorman a good idea of where Peino might be, based on the plan they’d quickly knocked together before bursting out of the bushes to stage this diversion. But now was not the moment for review. He put an enemy down with a wrench that must have torn his arm from its shoulder, and saw his mission target ahead of him – the big-bellied Baugl of Caernith, dancing the donnybrook on the opposite side of the campfire.
“Come on, friends!” he called to his fighters. “The prize is in our grasp and a fat one it is.”
But with those words, the enticing view was cut off by a huge, black wall.
Ruili stopped short and found himself looking up and up and up some more, into the glowering face of Y’lanna’s suitor from Train No. 47. He nodded grimly and bounced what looked like a solstice log in his hand.
“So,” he said, “it’s you.”
Ruili flashed a brilliant smile and executed the best-schooled bow with his bloodied sword and blood-soaked clothes.
“Indeed, it is, sir, at your service.”
— — —
“Peino! Where to and who’s on our team?”
The question came out of the wind and thunder and with a bizarre accent Peino had come to recognize if not always understand. He turned to see which of the foreigners hailed him. It was the First Mate of the Calinda, he of the baleful stare and murderous arts. Ah, well, any port in a storm.
“Here!” he hailed the dark-haired eorman, and quickly drew him into his group. “Are the ballistas prepared? Our allies are driving the enemy in to this clearing, where I intend to break their resistance under threat of superior arms.” A screaming, wild-eyed dark elf was brought down by a faerie arrow through his eye as he rushed the prince and the assassin. “This way,” Peino continued without missing a beat, “we’re cutting through to support my brother against the enemy command. Our allies are the faeries — wait, belay that. There are faeries on the other side, too.” He glanced around the fighters clinching, running, and bleeding around them. “Right. If they attack you, they are the enemy. If they attack your attackers, they are allies. Got that? Good.”
Having brought the First Mate up to speed, Peino, rapier and dagger flying in his hands, laid into the disordered bandits, cutting a path through men who were losing their taste for this surprise battle with each passing minute. At one point a faerie scout flitted in on bee’s wings and whispered to him of bandits pouring in from the woods, half driven by hails of faerie-shot and half running to their brethren to regroup, and running blind in the storm-dark weather. A grin of satisfaction spread across Peino’s lips. This impromptu plan was working better than expected so far. The gods in their anger must be favoring those who quested after the Daemon Arcana.
The way opened before them. There was Baugl, the bloated outlaw, engaged in his own fight, axes locked together as he and his enemy roared at each other. They seemed like to kill each other, and Peino was prepared to deal with whichever of them was standing by the time he got there.
— — —
“What are you doing?” snarled Ashcat of Sesus as Baugl of Caernith gave the order to retreat into the woods.
It hardly mattered what he ordered, of course, as the chaos brought by La Danse Calinda deafened all but those closest to his bellows. Even those who heard him would be helpless to do anything about it at the moment.
Ashcat didn’t stop to consider such things. “Attack the airship!” he shouted. “Destroy it. Shoot bolts into that bag up top and bring the cursed thing down!”
“Pox your liver, you Sesan worm,” Baugl roared back at him. “I’ll not attack an elemental warship without wards against their spells.”
“Elemental ship – what are you talking about?”
“Can’t you see? The wizards of Isolla have sent this thing here to drown us with rain and fry us with lightning. Those scum will rue the day–”
“You idiot, that’s the ship we followed from Sesus!”
“Idiot, is it? How dare you!”
“Bah!” Ashcat pushed past the bulging hobgoblin and started barking orders at the bandit guards standing around in confusion.
Baugl responded by slamming a massive, round fist into Ashcat’s scarred jaw. When Ashcat picked himself up from the ground, he brought a discarded axe with him. So it was that neither the gang leader from the city of Sesus nor the warlord of the Usaneri Mountains saw the Selkie marching up to them with sword and dagger at the ready.
— — —
On board La Danse Calinda the decks were overrun with the orderly chaos of war action. Under the orders of Beau Bergeron and the rough and ready supervision of Larman Ogges, the ballistas and other weapons were made ready as Peino’s messenger, that random Brownie who had managed to scramble up the long rope from the ground, had said, repeating the Prince’s request. Now the little fellow dodged the running feet and rolling wheels to make his way to the captain’s cabin. In truth, he just went where he was pointed. He’d never been on any kind of ship bigger than a coracle of twigs and leaves, and certainly never one like this, so he wouldn’t know a captain’s cabin if one fell on him from the sky — which he suddenly realized could actually have happened to him all this time during his life to date. It seems the sky was full of captain’s cabins. Who would have guessed?
Finally, he came to some doors, and peaking under them as best he could, eventually found one that looked like what he tried to imagine might belong to a captain. He slipped in through a gap in the boards.
There he found an elf who looked exactly like the elf who had sent him here, except this one was in much worse shape. He lay on a table, ashen and pale, unmoving, seemingly asleep, if not yet dead. Two women tended him by cleaning and wrapping a wound in his side crusted over with scabrous clots of blood.
The Brownie climbed up onto a chair to get a better look.
“Oi, is that Lord Nightwise?” he called. “He doesn’t look too healthy. His brother sent me to give him news, but he might do better to go to the Temple first. There’s a good healing spring there. Hunters and husbandmen use it, or anyone cut, bit, or gored by any beast. Lady Moonrain stitches them up tight as a billet. I’m sure she’ll do no less for whatever that is. Stabbed, was he?”