Peino’s radical suggestion sobered all who heard it from the heady rush of victory.
Ruili and Jeneyeru, who knew their brother better than anyone, merely nodded, each of them beginning to envision their own likely part in such a strategy, Ruili in a military capacity and Jeneyeru managing the magic.
The seriousness of the three Selkies, impressed Priestess Moonrain, whose doe-like eyes darkened further.
“Milords,” she said, “we folk of Flidais have no fight with the Masters of Isolla. We are grateful for your help in liberating our temple, but why should we let you plot against Isolla in our house?”
“We do not plot against the Masters, Lady,” Jeneyeru volunteered. “We plot to liberate them as well. A grave evil has been released into the realms, and it comes from Isolla where I myself sealed it by a ward only a Grand Master could break. This is why we were bound for Isolla in the first place, and this was the gist of the vision I received in the trance of the healing well. Isolla has been taken by treachery, and the enemy of the Masters is our enemy and the enemy of all the realms and of your own people in these mountains as well.”
“This grave evil,” the ethereal faerie said, “is it the strange and distasteful aura I have sensed about you, all of you who have come here?”
“It is. We have captured parts of it and carry it sealed for the protection of all around us. Our goal is to contain it again under seal in the stronghold. That is the will and decree of Caillech herself.”
“So,” Moonrain said, “the Ghost Mistress. I said nothing because of our urgent need, but now I may observe that whatever it is, and faint though it is through whatever wards you have cast over it, it fills me with loathing and anger. Something about that aura’s vibration creates in me the sense that I may have to trample someone into the mud and pierce someone’s heart with my arrows. It offends the spirit of the Mother of all natural beasts, for this is a place of life, not death.”
“It was not our intention to bring it here, Lady,” said Jeneyeru.
“Very well.” Moonrain turned to the faeries around her. “Brownies, Phookas, Fauns, and all of you, gather your folk who yet have nerve in them. Tell your commanders to come to the Great Hall for a meeting.”
“You will aid us again, Lady?” Peino asked.
Lady Moonrain gathered up her medical kit. “I will let you make your case to the people. It will be up to them whether to aid you or not.”
As the faeries ran off, he detained a few and instructed them to find and fetch also the eorman Jean Lafitte III and the new leader, he hoped, of the bandit army, Haug Handslayer, both of whom he described. The message he gave for them was simple:
“Captain Starhand’s compliments, and will the gentlemen kindly attend a parlay in the Great Hall of the Temple immediately on a matter of mutual concern, interest, and urgency, thank you.”
Subsiding now into the trough between waves of crisis, he felt for the first time the hammering pain in his head and the residual throb in his shoulder and sides, and the growling emptiness of his stomach, and the parched dryness of his throat, for it had been a long time since he had eaten or drunk anything. He sat down on the cushions next to Jeneyeru, who did his best to relax. Ruili brought them all cups of the healing water to drink, and Peino pulled from his bag his Atlas of Raurugia, the one he’d bought in the wizards’ market in Sesus, which had guided him safely away from the dragons and to this Temple.
“Now then,” he said, flipping to the map of the Usaneri Mountains, “where is the Garrison of the North relative to here?”
He drew his fingertip across the page to the area where the Garrison was normally stationed, hoping to be told by the enchanted map how far away the Garrison was, what obstacles lay in the way, and how long it would take to fetch a force to Isolla.
Instead, the page seemed to buck under his touch, and the dry little voice of the enchanted ink and paper spoke aloud as two red lines diverged from the Temple of Flidais.
“The Garrison of the North, Royal Lyrion Marines,” it said, “is currently split between Fort Gendel and the southern region of the Ogil Valley. One company guards the fort while two companies guard the Raurugian Rail Lines near the village of Teur.”
“Teur?” said Ruili, peering over Peino’s arm to see the red line terminating in a star. “I was just there a day ago or less. That’s where our train was derailed and Lady Sparti was captured and brought here by the Brownies. I may have high-handed one of the Garrison officers on my way to rescue her.”
“Indeed? Good,” said Peino, “A lucky turn. The letter of marque I carry from the High King will present the King’s orders to any officer of the Garrison to whom it is given. Who can we trust to carry it to them on my behalf?”