On the Way to Teur
Thimble stared past the point of the crossbow bolt to look into the eyes of the man aiming it at his face. Beyond, he saw the second man standing irresolute while the strange lass who had come with Lord Ruili scolded him for being silly.
Thimble smiled. He liked that girl. He had no idea who or what she was, but she seemed smart, and he liked smart people. There were those who misunderstood his attachment to Lord Jeneyeru, seeing only how the obsequious valet doted on his master’s hair just so and his lace just thus. But if the Lord Magus had not been endowed with the highest intelligence, Thimble’s loyalties would have settled elsewhere. Little tormented him more than the company of dullards.
Like these two before him.
“She’s right, you know,” he said, sitting comfortably on the rail with his arm over the tiller. “You can do nothing with the letter as you should have figured by now. And if you expect your master can, then you’ll do him a poor job to let him drown. Help the lady, why don’t you?”
So it was laid before the crossbowmen. They could fight for the letter and gain nothing, or they could turn their hands to useful work and see what it would bring them. While they had been talking, the river had carried them swiftly though calmly along. The spot where the boat had tipped lay far behind, and the landing for Teur was coming up fast ahead.
And where was Beau? After a few mad splashes, his black-haired head had slipped from sight along with the two who had fallen in with him. He might have drowned. He might have been tossed back onto the bank. Or he might have been caught up in another of the river’s currents, faster or slower than the boat. Thimble cared not a jot however it might have gone. He did not care if that foul-minded traitor ended his days in the muddy weeds, in a jail, or in the nets the Brownies might cast upon the waters.
Feeling the boat and the river under him and the tiller firm in his hand, he grinned up at the crossbowman. He resumed whistling his jaunty tune as he waited for the two men to resolve their dilemma.
On La Danse Calinda
Everyone in the cabin looked to the brothers, and of the brothers, Ruili and Jeneyeru looked to Peino. They had decided amongst themselves that he would be the leader on this side of the stronghold walls.
Peino contemplated the map and the options presented. He personally favored Lotye’s suggestion of dropping several units of fighters into the stronghold at different points. It echoed his own thinking. Farseer’s idea of using the Calinda as a diversion would work in support of it. Lafitte’s preference for a frontal assault on the citadel was certainly daring but too risky for Peino’s taste. He imagined the airship being wiped out by Isolla’s defenses like a glass vessel thrown at a stone wall. Of course, Lafitte knew his ship’s capabilities better than anyone, but still… Peino considered the strange eorman and all that he’d seen of him so far in the way of physical bravery, command skill, and judgment as his decision took form.
“Jeney,” he said, abruptly breaking the short silence, “when you say you can get us close enough to enter the main courtyard, what is your plan precisely?”
Jeneyeru smiled graciously. “I will summon shadow forms to multiply the number of seeming airships descending from the sky. I will use the light and darkness of Mr. Farseer’s storm,” as he had taken to thinking of the curse of the weather god that followed the idol Ionas had stolen from the pirate ship Reputation, “for the purpose. It is something of a signature spell, but as the enemy already know I am coming, they may take it as a gauntlet thrown.”
Peino nodded. “We must assume they have already set wards and guards on the battlements. They may very well take the first shots as we approach. If they are the formidable foes we expect, they will set traps within the stronghold as well. They will be equipped with an unknown arsenal as well as the magical powers of the Masters. Finally, we must assume they hold the other suits of the Daemon Arcana.
“Our resources consist of a full crew’s compliment of bolts, bows, blades and other hand weapons together with the weaponry of the ship. We have the magic of a tenth level Shadow Master and a wind witch.” He glanced toward Lafitte’s wizard, Tayliana, standing quietly by. “Ancillary resources within our control include the storm itself and, potentially, the dragon Frostclaw. Not immediately within our control are expected reinforcements from the bandit army of Mr. Handslayer and the Garrison of the North at Teur. Additionally, we have several Turn-to-Stone wards and the Eye of the Dreamer rings. And like our foes, we have some of the Daemon Arcana cards.”
Having summed up the situation, he switched to the commanding voice of a captain. He pointed sharply at various parts of the map as he spoke.
“We will cover our approach with the storm and Jeney’s shadows, disorienting the enemy with a combination of false targets, lightning and wind. Captain Lafitte, you will lead the primary assault in the ship. Your wizard should concentrate the violence of the storm to suppress counter-attack from the walls, if she can do so without endangering the Calinda. I will leave it to your judgment to strike that balance. The objective is to deal as much damage as possible to these tall towers here, here and here. I want them out of commission without delay. The Calinda will also barrage at will anything else that looks strategic or weak on the complex.
“During the initial attack, the Calinda will circle the stronghold and drop landing parties here, here and here.” He pointed at the main gate, the roof of the great hall, and a back courtyard that looked like it attached to the kitchen and laundry.
“Teams of Calinda crew will engage the enemy at the gate and break open the great hall from the roof. Under cover of the barrages, they will open locks and cause as much mischief as they can. The third landing party at this servants yard will consist of myself, Jeney, Ruili, Mistress O’Tulvar, and four or six additional fighters. At this point, command of the assault will pass to Jeney, but my supposition is that, after orienting ourselves, we will split into teams to hunt down the enemy and the cards. Jeney will be our guide and leader. Mistress O’Tulvar, wearing the second Eye ring, will accompany the second team and act as communication liaison with Jeney. If we locate the dragon-summoning device, we will secure control of it for our own use.
“Victory will be declared when the enemy is killed, captured or fled and when the Daemon Arcana are secure. We will be at the stronghold soon. Captain Lafitte, I suggest battle preparations should begin and the crew should be informed of the plan. Our wizards shall begin their spells, and we shall arm ourselves. Jeney, we need to talk about what to do with those cards we carry.”
Peino paused to draw in the attention of the group but especially Lafitte and his officers.
“We must remember that the Guild of Wizards and Magi represents healers, teachers, students and a host of non-offensive arts, as well as servants and staff. We cannot assume all of these people have turned traitor for the Daemon Arcana. Rather we must assume that some, if not most of the people we will find within those walls are hostages. Let us do our best to avoid unnecessary loss of life.”
His closing words might have seemed to lack passion to those potential hostages, but inwardly Peino hoped for a quick conclusion to what would likely be a bloody business. He knew too well from past experience how captive civilians typically fared in battles like this, and he thanked Lyr and Manawydden, and Macha and Arrwn beside, for putting Lafitte’s First Officer, Beau Bergeron, on the road to Teur instead of here.