Peino Starhand nodded to Lafitte’s indiscreet greeting but ended the nod with a sigh. He had hoped to avoid loose bandying of words like “prince” among these mountain bandits, but he supposed he should have expected that, of all the folk in Raurugia this day, the Flying Eorman would have been the one not to get the hint. He left it to Ruili to deal with Lafitte as he commandeered a table and and produced a charcoal pencil, his ordinary notebook, and the pocket atlas from his coat.
While Thimble pulled up a seat for Jeneyeru and their new tentative ally Haug Handslayer loomed over his shoulder, Peino quickly sketched a map of the Ogil Valley and its surrounding mountains across the tabletop, marking an X for the Temple and another for the Hall of the Wizards Guild on Mt. Isolla. If Handslayer had been hoping to take the measure of his nerve, or gauge the readiness of a prince, Peino’s focus on his work did not give him a chance nor did his curt call of the parlay to order.
“Milords, miladies, shall we get to business?”
For his part, Ruili Windwolf found the novelty of the present company still fresh. The wizard, barely more than a girl, had filled his ear with the gushes of infatuation, which told him nothing but that she might be a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands, if she had any ability in her skill. Now, the blustery hail-fellow manner of the odd eorman took him aback again.
“I believe we’ve met, sir,” he reminded Lafitte, “on the field of battle, if you recall.” He raised an eyebrow as Tayliana rushed by, to her apparent beloved, and Ruili took quick account of the man’s figure and demeanor.
“This must be your First Mate,” he said to Lafitte. “I have been lately regaled with tales of his exploits. A remarkable person, by all accounts. Ah, my lord brother is ready. By your leave, sir.”
As the parlay came to order, Ruili drew up a stool to the table, opposite Jeneyeru who seemed recovered enough to pick at the somewhat worse for wear sleeve of his red coat. The two nominally younger triplets flanked Peino who stood at the end of the table over the rough drawn map.
The Ereonis brothers were all captains and masters of their own ships and thus of equal rank at sea or in the field, as it were, by Selkie tradition. Further, this adventure of the Daemon Arcana was, in fact, the quest of Jeneyeru who, thus, held the right of command over it. But Peino was the senior strategist and navigator of the three, so at this point, they deferred to him.
Haug Handslayer stood towering at the far end of the table, and Lafitte, Beau, and the others took what spots they would in the circle, as Peino began.
“Allow me to begin with a brief introduction for those new to the situation,” he said. “I am Peino Starhand. These are my brothers, Lord Jeneyeru Nightwise and Lord Ruili Windwolf. We are in Raurugia as agents of the Floating Throne and of the Sovereign Duchy of the Grand Navigators, on a quest to resolve a mystery at Mt. Isolla.” He tapped the X of the mountain stronghold with his pencil. “Jeneyeru, would you care to elucidate?”
“By all means, brother,” said Jeneyeru. The Shadow Master drew himself up primly in his chair and smiled at the assembled group. “As some of you may be aware, certain contraband magical items have emerged in the unsanctioned markets of Sesus.”
“And Plesz,” Ruili added.
“Indeed, Ruili, and as far as Plesz for certain. Perhaps even farther, for all we know. These items should have been secured in the Stronghold of Isolla by the Masters of the Wizards Guild, but they have escaped due to treachery. I have ascertained that a renegade wizard, I do not know who it is, has deposed the masters and taken the Stronghold. This traitor is the source of the contraband items, and from the mountain, he watches our approach.”
“That much much makes sense,” Haug interjected. “The fighters who have agreed to follow me told me that Baugl’s fight with Isolla was over this very thing. They didn’t know the details so neither do I, but it seems Baugl thought he’d made a deal with someone to distribute the goods and that the payout was too slow in coming. They said every attack was intercepted as if their plan was known to the enemy. But they are owed gold and are hungry to get it.” The strong Sesan grinned and added, “so I suppose they’ll mourn Baugl and fear wizards some other day.”
“Did they know who it was?” asked Peino, and Haug shook his head.
“Seems our late friend talked only of ‘the Masters’ or ‘Master,’ though one said he thought he saw Baugl in close meetings away from their camps with a dark elf who was not of their company.”
“Is this meaningful?” Peino asked.
“Slightly. I know a few of the Dwellers Within who might have the power to do this, but I cannot say which would do it.” Jeneyeru paused and before raising his eyes to meet the gaze of each person around the table. “There is something I must add, something imperative now that the matter of the trade of these items and their value has been raised. These items are contraband by the will of Caillech.” He paused, hoping the name of the goddess of death would sink in. “They came here through a vortex and brought with them an alien magic. Caillech has declared them anathema in this world. As her paladin, I am bound to gather them back into safe containment, but I am sure we all know that the Keeper of the Gateways has more resources at her disposal than one Shadow Magus. I have been given the chance to resolve this trouble, but if I should fail –” he looked directly at Haug Handslayer and next at Beau Bergeron, meeting each man’s gaze steadily and calmly “– then will the troubles of those who hold any part of the Daemon Arcana truly begin.”
Peino coughed slightly. “Yes, a worthy warning to bear in mind, no doubt. Now as to our strategy. We cannot know the fate or condition of the Arcana, nor where they were sent nor how long ago, until we apprehend the one who released them from the Stronghold. To do that, we must take the Stronghold. As my brother pointed out, we have not the advantage of surprise, so I propose we claim the advantage of strength and tactics.”
“An attack on two fronts,” said Ruili and Haug simultaneously, with sharp and embarrassed glances at each other.
“By land up the valley,” Haug said, leaning forward to trace a path over Peino’s map.
“And by air over the mountains,” Ruili finished, tracing a second line at an angle to the first.
“But how will we time it?” said Haug. “If the enemy knows we are coming, then he will have his traps laid by now, or at least by the time we set off.”
“Leave the wizard’s traps to me,” said Jeneyeru.
“Nor we will wait to let him see what we are about,” said Peino. “The air advance will set out as soon as we make ready, and the land force before dawn tomorrow. Captain Lafitte must calculate the time and course, but I anticipate we will arrive at Isolla a good lead ahead of you, Mr. Handslayer, anticipating that it will take you ten hours of swift marching to get there.”
“Seven hours, or six,” Haug corrected. “We know these mountains as well as the goats do. But why don’t you want the two assaults to hit together?”
“Because our hand has been tipped and time is short,” said Peino. “The foe knows what we are bringing, but we may still make it hard for him to handle. We will penetrate the castle and create the diversion that clears the way for your force to march up the mountain.”
“Ah, I see. Then our attack on the walls will be the diversion that eases things for you on the inside.” Haug stared down at the map. “I suppose we should prepare for a siege, then.”
“I don’t suppose you could manage a barragement?” said Ruili.
Haug grinned. “I’ll see what can be done. But now for the most important question. Something was said about treasure. Just what do you have in mind?”
Peino glanced at Jeneyeru who was giving him as challenging a look as Haug. “That depends,” he said, “on what we find when we take the castle. If the Masters are to be liberated, then I am sure their rescuers will be well rewarded by one of the richest guilds in the world.”
“And if not?”
“If the Great Hall of the guild has been destroyed already, for all intents and purposes, then if we take it, I suppose we might as well take it.”
That answer pleased Haug and displeased Jeneyeru. Haug worked out details on the map of the route up the Ogil Valley and into the high slopes he and his new army would take, and when matters of time, personnel and materiel were settled and after all present had been given a chance to put forth their own suggestions or questions on the plan, he left to start the work.
Peino avoided Jeneyeru’s angry looks as he dealt with whomever or whatever had yet to be answered. To Ruili’s surprise their eldest brother had indeed just offered to lay open the Stronghold of the Wizards Guild to be looted by a bandit army. Both Ruili and Jeneyeru were familiar with Peino’s tendency towards strong and impetuous action at high risk, but still it often took an effort to maintain faith in him. Ruili laid a calming hand on Jeneyeru’s shoulder while Peino sat down suddenly to write a note on a page pulled from his notebook.
“Captain Lafitte, if you have a moment,” Peino said as soon as Haug and his men were out of the Temple. “How soon can La Danse Calinda be ready to sail, and how long should it take us to reach Isolla? I haven’t checked the wind lately, but I’m sure we can whistle up a heading for you. Also, on another matter, can you spare a few men to carry the King’s letter of marque and this note of instructions to the village of Teur? Ruili can give them bearings to get there. It seems a company of the Garrison of the North is at Teur now, and I would feel much better about this enterprise if we had additional reinforcements on the way to support us.” He paused to add with emphasis, “When I say ‘us,’ I mean not the bandits, so discretion will be of great value.”