Ch. 380. Opening Gambits.

Sailing towards Teur

Thimble grinned as Beau and his men and the exotic young lady climbed aboard. It made for a snug fit, the seven bodies aboard the narrow, shallow-keeled boat. Thimble usurped Beau’s authority by ordering his crossbowmen to raise the sail. Taking the tiller, he steered out into the middle stream where the current carried the boat away from the bank and the Temple and, soon enough, away from Manawydden’s storm.

The boat slid down the valley between looming mountainsides cloaked in dense forest. Deep among the trees, a thousand rustlings followed them along — wind and rabbits, birds and deer, and the laughing Brownies, too, of course. Thimble’s grin grew warm and broad, and he began to sing. Not a Selkie song of wind and waves and mermaids and other watery business but one that came to his happy mind as appropriate to the occasion.

“As I was out a-walkin’ o’er the Usaneri mountains,
I met with captain Farewell and his money he was counting.
I first produced my crossbow and I then produced my rapier,
Saying “Stand and deliver” for you are a bold deceiver.

Mush-a ring dum-a do dum-a da,
Wack fall the daddy-o, wack fall the daddy-o,
There’s a ‘lixir in the jar.

I counted out his money and it made a pretty goldie.
I put it in my pocket and I took it to Milady.
She sighed and she swore that she never would deceive me,
But Caillie keep all women for they never can be easy.

Aye, what say you, young fellow-be-mine?” he interrupted himself, looking down from his perch in the stern to where Beau and Y’lanna sat. “Is it a fair path or hard one for a lad as fine as yourself? Oh, no, but wait – ‘tis not you I should be asking, but this lady right here. Why waste time with hearsay, when the source is present to hand?” Giggling, he picked up the tune again, skipping a bit through its story.

“Now some take delight in the carriages a’rolling.
Others take delight in the hurling and the bowling.
But I take delight in the juice of the barley
And courting pretty fair maids in the morning bright and early.

Mush-a ring dum-a do dum-a da,
Wack fall the daddy-o, wack fall the daddy-o,
There’s a ‘lixir in the jar.

If anyone can aid me ’tis my brother in the army
If I can find his station in Teur or in Ormorney.
And if he’ll go with me, we’ll rove o’er all the Usaneris,
And I’m sure he’ll treat me better than those fair and sportin’ ladies.

Mush-a ring dum-a do dum-a da,
Wack fall the daddy-o, wack fall the daddy-o,
There’s a ‘lixir in the jar.

Sing along, you bonny lads, for we’ve half a day on the water and another third on our feet before we see Teur town.”

He addressed all the men, but his smile was all for Beau Bergeron.

— — —

Flying towards Isolla

“There are no maps of the interior of the stronghold, my good Captain,” said Jeneyeru Nightwise, easing himself into one of Lafitte’s hard chairs with a sigh. The healing treatments of Lady Moonrain of Flidais’ Temple was already reducing the pain of his injury. Now he had only to keep his side from stiffening, and he would be good enough for the job ahead. “That is to say,” he added, “there are, but they are of little use, for the stronghold is such as will not be mapped unless there is any who can map the whims of wizards before they’ve dreamt them. Once inside, we shall find other guides.  First, though, there are indeed good maps of the outside of the citadel.  Pei, my brother, have you your atlas?”

“I do,” said Peino Starhand.

He stepped up to the table and laid down the pocket atlas of Raurugia, opened to the map of Mount Isolla, which, unfolded, spread out from the main body of the book.

Peino tapped the map three times and said, “Show me the Citadel of the Guild of Wizards and Magi.”

The drawing on the paper seemed to shimmer and in a subtle way, the image of the castle with its many towers and turrets on the summit of the mountain came into sharper and brighter focus. Though over-simplified, the drawing indicated a labyrinthine complex of high walls and deep inner courtyards that snaked like a giant octopus over the rugged crags of the mountaintop.

A small, crackly voice began to speak as the picture resolved itself.

“The Grand Citadel of the Guild of Wizards and Magi at Mount Isolla is the foremost academy of magic in all the realms as well as the seat of the Masters and Grand Council of the Guild,” the atlas said. “It houses the world’s foremost collection of magical implements and artifacts and the most comprehensive library of the magical arts. The ancient stronghold commands the summit of Mount Isolla, the second highest peak of the Raurugian Usaneri Range.”

The book would have had more to say, but Jeneyeru cut it off with a tap on the paper. “Show roads and hazards around the citadel,” he said.

Red lines began to snake across the sheet, indicating routes through the valleys and passes around the mountain, in and out of the town at the base of Isolla, and the long, snaking track up the mountain itself. Red crosses appeared at various points as well — rockfalls, avalanche zones, and the biggest, reddest cross of all on the next peak over and to the north.  Jeneyeru put his finger on that mark.

“Dragon,” he said with a smile.  “And no mere dragonling or wyrm as before, gentlemen.  That peak is the nest of an old she-dragon, rather a mascot of the Guild. They’ve both been here about as long. She is known as Frostclaw.  She seldom leaves her caves, and neither do the males who come to court her, though bits of them have been found from time to time. The juveniles we fought were certainly her offspring. No other dragons linger long in her domain.”

“Jeney,” said Peino, watching his wizard brother.

“Jeney,” said Ruili, also watching him closely. “You are not proposing–”

“Oh, no, no, of course not. Not to start with.” Jeneyeru flashed a charming smile at all who were gathered around that table. “But the citadel contains the means to summon Frostclaw from her lair, and in a right temper, too. This fiery lady may very well be the key to breaking any attack by the Daemon Arcana, and she may also cover our retreat.”

“By keeping all parties occupied?” said Peino. He nodded approval at the idea.

Ruili, for his part, whistled at his brother’s duplicity, and also nodded and grinned.

“Very well, then,” said Peino. “If the dragon is our exit, what will be our entrance? Ruili, Captain Lafitte, what think you?”  He pointed towards the drawing. “Three large courtyards, here, here and here, and these watchtowers — all places where fighters can be dropped. This central courtyard is large enough for the ship to descend if you think it wise, Captain. We have the option of a concentrated assault or a multi-pronged infiltration. Or a bit of both. Also, the approach will be difficult. In just a few hours, we will be within sight of the towers, and within sight will be followed quickly enough by within range.”

“Leave that to me,” said Jeneyeru before Lafitte could respond. “The point of using the good captain’s flying ship was to avoid detection of a magical aura.  The fight with the young dragons put paid to that scheme, I am afraid. Our enemy certainly knows we are coming. I have seen it. Our approach must be a matter of magic against magic. I will bring us to landing position so that dear Captain Lafitte may deploy his crew.”

“Very well, but once on the ground, we will be surrounded no matter how we get in,” said Ruili. He had been staring at the map with a pensive expression. “I have a thought about bringing that dragon onto the stage a little earlier. Consider — Our purpose is to distract the wizards from the army of our friend Handslayer. Then Handslayer’s job is to distract the wizards from us. But why should we take casualties while we wait for bandits who may or may not show up? I envision our party inside the walls and doors of the citadel, and that fire-breathing Frostclaw outside those same walls and doors.”

“How would we manage it?” said Peino.

Ruili shrugged. “Jeney, you said the wizards have a means for rousing the beast. Might we make that our first port of call?”

Jeneyeru thought about it. “Possibly. Of course, I don’t know exactly where the mechanism is.  I know where it was, but they do keep changing the place about.  Still, yes, I do think we could locate it with a fair amount of ease.”

The brothers then all seemed to realize they had been monopolizing the meeting.  All three turned their attention to Lafitte and his officers to hear what they had to say.

This entry was posted in Beau, Blood Arcana, Jeneyeru, Lafitte, Peino, Ruili, Thimble, Y'lanna. Bookmark the permalink.

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