Thimble, eager to remove Beau from their lordships’ presence, marched off without waiting for him to respond to the provocative orders. He had no doubt the eorman would follow as he had seemed to find the idea of the Garrison of the North more alluring than the loveliest courtesan or cheapest shrew so quickly had he jumped to the task.
Nor did Thimble pause to see who else might be coming along with them on the short river voyage to Teur, but ‘let whomsoever would, scramble as they might’ to catch up with him. Some might be surprised at how swiftly the wizard’s valet went on his old, bowed legs, but only if they forgot he was of the Phooka bloodline and that appearances could be deceiving.
He did, without pausing, toss a quick rise of the eyebrow and touch of the nose to a few Brownies loitering about with not much to do. Such gestures were a language shared by those of certain walks in life, and the grins that broke across the little folks’ faces and the speed with which they vanished in several directions hinted that the message they got from Thimble was a welcome one.
On the valet marched, out of the temple and into the rain which had scrubbed their necks without rest since Sesus. Not for the first time did Thimble silently curse the impulsiveness of that young Sesan lord, the lookout Farseer, playing at being a flying pirate of all things instead of seeing to his rightful duties, and stealing a god’s idol as if it were common booty and all. Still, for all that this was a curse-storm, Thimble should have been more used to it. “Selkie weather” they called it, and for good reason, for no thing did the Wind Singers love better than a wind, and no better wind was to be found than in the teeth and jaws and throat of a storm. Lord Nightwise loved his comforts, to be sure, and spent a fair bit of his time cozy in his study with his books and experiments like any wizard. But he was a Selkie, after all. Many a time, Mr. Thimble had been made to pack a bag and board the Cairn Hawk and endure the rolling waves and blowing winds for no more reason than that his employer had spied promising tall clouds building over the horizon.
Thimble spared a thought for his employer and wished to the gods to keep him and his brothers safe. Selkies were children of Lyr of the Deeps and beloved of Manawydden of the Winds, but as politicians in the court of the Sovereign Dukedom, they had their moments with Pwyll, the Tosser of Coins, too. Admittedly, they were usually on the opposite side of the law god’s coin than Thimble’s ilk, but round and round the toss goes and two sides of the same and all that song-and-rhyme, and so Mr. Thimble prayed to Pwyll to decide the matter in the favor of his friends.
All that marching and thinking carried him across the bandits’ camp, now in a tizzy of activity, to the bend in the river, where a bit of hunting about and walking downstream soon brought him to the boat Lord Ruili had hidden among the riverbank bushes.
“All right then,” he said aloud, finding the rope by which the boat was tied, “Who’s with me, eh?”
— — —
Meanwhile, the three Lords of Ereon, Jeneyeru Nightwise, Peino Starhand, and Ruili Windwolf, had made their way back to La Danse Calinda. Like Thimble, they sought to move things along to prevent further complications. They wished to be in the air, by a relative value of “wish,” as soon as possible.
Peino was gratified to see the bandits moving out in accordance with the plan. He didn’t really care how or with what force these untrusted allies would arrive at Isolla. He only hoped they would do so in good time and with a fuss.
Ruili, meanwhile, focused sharply on the task at hand to overcome his worry for Y’lanna Sparti. He was glad she had agreed so readily to stay behind. The lady had a sound head on her shoulders, that much was certain. But this only meant that she would not face the immediate danger of Blood Arcana in the hands of powerful wizards. It did not mean she would be safe, for what would become of her should he, himself, fall in the coming battle?
It was not in his nature to second-guess his chosen course. Indeed it would be out of character for his brothers as well and for almost any Selkie mariner. So he did not waste time thinking that he should probably have left her home in the Grand Navigators to begin her Aeldrethian education with his noble parents. Instead, he merely smiled and thanked Y’lanna and told her to stay within the Temple and let Lady Moonrain know she would be waiting for his return. Then he ran after his brothers, and as the cold rain pelted his face and the wind invigorated his limbs, he set his mind towards the task of not being killed.
And as his view of that goal cleared, the ever-present ache in his left arm seemed to fade, and his right hand yearned for the weight of his sword within it.
Half assuming and half waiting for Captain Lafitte’s permission, as they had hurried ahead of him in their going, they called down a basket and boarded the airship and clustered together on the rain-swept deck to share significant looks and the whereabouts of the small boxes that contained the cards of the Blood Arcana upon their persons.
Then Jeneyeru called to Lafitte.
“Oh, my dear Captain. When we are under way, may we beg a moment to discuss our course and strategy? I have much to tell you of the Guild’s stronghold and its defenses.”
— — —
For his part, Haug Handslayer judged himself as familiar as he needed to be with the defenses of the Wizard Guild’s stronghold. Born and raised in these mountains and in the profession of banditry, he knew all about it. Traps, monsters, confusion and lies lay ahead, but countermeasures lay in hand as well.
As for those accursed cards for which Ashcat had lost his life so stupidly, Haug’s experience with the Sesan gang leader had given him at least the edge of foreknowledge there as well.
“Remember, friends,” he called out to his new cohorts, to whom he would have to prove himself with handsome treasure, “there’s no profit in death. We know what a wizard will throw at us, so if you see something you don’t know, fear it not. Just run and keep what’s yours.”
Hearty guffaws greeted this advice from their new leader, who had promised them a fine adventure and payment for the months of discomfort they had endured under Baugl’s failed, inverted siege.
The lunatic airship, which had spelled their defeat, now incited their eagerness for pillage, as its strength was to be turned against the wizards. Aye, the general consensus went, let the wizards knock that thing from the sky with balls of fire and lightning, while we brothers and sisters slip in the back and empty the coffers. Even the driving storm seemed to have switched from foe to friend with the lovely glow of promised gold. If such flexible allegiance was a sign of shallow thinking on the bandits’ part, they were too shallow in their thinking to worry about it.
All through the camp and up the river a way, the bandits mustered. They organized their weapons and armors. They pulled out of hiding the disassembled ballista wagons Baugl had never managed to use. They sent runners ahead to other camps and villages to put out the call for a grand raid. Slowly, leaving behind their dead, their wounded, and their former enemies, the faeries of Flidais’ Temple, their army moved out. In irregular lines they snaked up the mountain sides to vanish into the dark forests — moving away from Isolla.
If any eyes from the mountaintop stronghold of the Guild of Wizards and Magi were watching all of this movement, they might or might not understand its meaning. As it happened, eyes were watching, at least two sets and not together, and regardless of how it would all play out, they each had but half a day to prepare before the sails and balloon of La Danse Calinda and the storm of the weather god would appear, bearing towards the high towers.