The Last Tale of Yajikali

Chapter XXI - Fear and Confirmation

by Charles Matthias

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

Even as Sir Czestadt sat down at the small table with his most trusted knights, he could not help but remember the wild look in Bishop Jothay’s eyes. It had been less than an hour ago now that he had gone to see the bishop. The Eaven cleric had been ruminating on some special service he was to oversee on the Autumnal Equinox that was fast approaching. And a moment later he was bitterly complaining about Czestadt’s inability to find the myriad traitors that seemed to circle the priest like a flock of vultures above a man lost in the desert and fast running out of water.

And all the while, that golden blade that was no sword pulsed at the edge of his consciousness. It had been somewhere close to the Bishop’s quarters, and its presence was like the tolling of a solemn funerary bell in the midst of plague. Its presence was so repulsive that Czestadt took the earliest possible moment to excuse himself from the Bishop’s residence. When he returned to the barracks he spent half an hour sipping at a flask of wine to soften the blows to his mind.

Once the Knight Templar felt himself again, he’d summoned the three knights in his company that he knew were his most reliable. It was not that he did not have confidence in the others, it was just that they lacked the ability to craft plans; they were only good for following orders.

The table was barely large enough for a good dice game, but it was enough for the four of them to sit around. The man across from Czestadt was Sir Guthven. The bearded knight had been Czestadt’s closest confidant these many months they had journeyed across the Steppe. Yet now, the man could barely meet Czestadt’s gaze. The other two, Wodnicki and Poblocka, had been Sir Petriz’s knights and were no better. But they were all accomplished warriors and Czestadt knew that if he pushed them hard enough, their fears would disappear beneath the mantle of duty.

“I know,” the Knight Templar began, “that there has been no sign of Kashin or of the Magyars. I just spoke with his grace, and he is very upset that we have been unsuccessful in tracking them down. We know they have to be here in the city. By their own word they were coming here, and truly, where else was there for them to go? Abaef? Compared to Yesulam, Abaef is a village. There was nowhere for them to hide. And going further down the Yurdon would gain them nothing. They are here. We have been here three weeks now. I want to know why there has been no word of them.”

Guthven leaned forward a bit, running his fingers nervously through his beard. “Master Templar, sir, we are knights, not spies. These Magyars have long skulked in dark corners. They are tricksters. How could we hope to find them if they don’t want to be found? And do not forget that many here in Yesulam do not speak our tongue.”

Before Czestadt could reply, Poblocka began to nod his head and grouse. “I for one am growing restless of this constant searching. What can we do anyway but patrol the streets and hope that we see them? I didn’t mind scouring the Steppe all those months – at least we were in the saddle. Here we cannot do as we should. We’re knights, Master Templar. Knights!”

Czestadt grunted and waved him to silence. “We are knights, yes. But we are not fools either. One of the disciplines for knighthood as you may recall is a sound judgement. Not all knights place equal importance on this rule as do I, but right now, it is what we must exercise.”

“So what should we do?” Guthven asked. He lowered both hands to the table and flexed his fingers stiffly.

“We have to think like the Magyars. They have come to a foreign city. How are they going to survive here? They cannot walk in the open in their colourful tunics and practice their trade as they would on the Steppe. No, they must go in disguise and live in secret.” He rubbed his forehead a moment. The wine was making his thoughts swim, but right now he needed them focussed. “As I see it, there are two possibilities. Either some one in the city is protecting and providing for them, or they have been stealing to eat and drink. If the former, then somebody must be buying more food than normal, and if the latter, a rash of thefts would be known to the city guard.”

“I spoke with the city guard,” Guthven said in irritation. “There have been a number of disappearances amongst poor children, and there was the one Bishop – Morean – who has gone missing. But no outright thievery. No more than usual in a city this size.”

Wodnicki pursed his lips and tapped the table with one finger. “Perhaps this Bishop Morean was a target of Kashin?”

Poblocka nodded. “I think it likely. It was a Sondecki that killed the Patriarch. Yes, I know they say he was a rogue from his order, but what if he wasn’t? Perhaps Morean was behind the whole thing, and Kashin was avenging his master’s death.”

“No,” Czestadt declared, his voice firm. This he was certain of. “If Kashin thought he was avenging Akabaieth, he would make his actions public. He is disgraced. He abandoned his duty. He must die.” He took a moment to draw in his breath, waiting to see if any of the knights would challenge him. None spoke. He let out his breath and continued. “Have Morean’s men said anything?”

Guthven snorted. “Nothing. They won’t address us at all. Perhaps they will speak to a priest. They might see us as a threat.”

Slowly, Czestadt began to nod. “Yes, I think you are right. Have Father Givny pay them a call. Bishop Morean’s disappearance may not be related to Kashin and the Magyars, but it might. We will at least look into it. Now, as to Kashin. If there have been no reports of any unusual thefts, then I think we can safely say the Magyars are either the most competent thieves that ever lived, or they are depending on somebody legitimately living in Yesulam. For now let us assume the latter. The Commerce Guilds will either know or will have heard if anyone in the city is buying more supplies than they used to. Speak with them, and find out what they know.”

Poblocka narrowed his eyes. “How? Why should they tell us anything?”

Czestadt leaned forward. “They are greedy merchants. Tell them of opportunities in Stuthgansk and they will tell you what you want to know.” He felt the wine swimming in his mind. He put one hand out to keep himself from tumbling forward and with the other he wearily dismissed the knights. “Go now, and may Eli watch over you.”

“And you, Master Templar,” Guthven intoned softly. Czestadt’s mind was slipping so quickly into an alcohol induced haze that he barely heard the others echo the same thing

It had all become routine. A few hours watching Jothay’s residence either from within the expansive eaves or behind one of the walls, and then over to the chapel in case the Questioners should need to speak with them. The next day it would be guard duty in the sewers followed by a day of staying cooped up inside the Inn cellar that they had made their temporary home. That was how it had been for Amile ever since the tortured priest had stumbled into their midst.

Guard duty was dull, but she had spent most of her life watching the Steppe roll by, so she had never found it difficult to occupy her mind in those lonely hours. Sitting in the chapel was worse because all she could do was sit there. Even when she rode the wagons there was always some torn cloth to mend or some trick to practise. In the chapel, there was nothing for her to do.

But what was worst was watching Bishop Jothay. She was always glad when he wasn’t in his chambers. Just seeing his fat twisted face made her toes curl. When he was in his rooms he spent a good bit of his time working at his desk, writing things and giggling to himself. If she had to see him, she’d rather see him do that. Other times he cut himself with a small knife and sucked on the wound. He’d lean his head back with blood trailing out the corners of his mouth and his euphoric eyes rolled back.

And then there was the sword.

Just thinking about it made Amile want to vomit. The second time she’d had to watch this sick priest, he had drawn out a golden blade from near one wall. She couldn’t see where it was, there was something masking her view of that side of the room. But when she saw the golden blade with its heavy nine-sided pommel, she knew what it was. This was the evil artifact that Akaleth had spoken of. This was the weapon that had sucked the blood from a child like a dying man drinking from a half-empty cup.

And when Jothay had it out that day, she could have sworn he was trying to make love to it.

Thankfully she had not seen him produce that foul sword while watching him that afternoon. But she had seen something they had all been hoping to see. It was still terrible, seeing a man she thought killed walking. That very afternoon Sir Czestadt of the Driheli had come into Jothay’s quarters and reported on the unsuccessful search for the Magyars.

Amile had stayed for the entire affair, barely giving herself a chance to even breath as she watched Jothay rave on and on about Czestadt’s incompetence and about some ceremony he needed to perform on the Equinox. When Czestadt left, Amile decided to make her exit as well. Jothay’s giddy eyes seemed to scan the walls, and for a heart-stopping moment as she tried to slip down the passage, she thought he was looking directly at her. But she was behind a wall of stone, and he certainly couldn’t see her there.

Nevertheless, once she was down the secret passage a good twenty paces she began to run. The passage snaked along the inside of St. Kephas’s Cathedral, allowing a peep at almost any of the Bishops they so chose. Eventually they turned into a staircase that wound downwards and out into the sewers. Amile didn’t stop running until she reached the sewers. And then she continued at a brisk walk; and only because in the sewers she might run into a civil engineer or something worse if she wasn’t quiet.

When she finally arrived back at their home in the storeroom beneath Ahadi’s Inn, her heart was still pounding from fear. She collapsed against Pelgan who was standing guard before the door to the sewers. His face was full of surprise but he held her up. “Amile! Thou’rt shaking!”

Amile clutched her fingers into his drab tunic. Though he wasn’t wearing the colourful garments that she had always thought him rather fetching in, she still could not help but admire this strong, determined young man. She smiled weakly and tried to still the trembling in her bones.

“I am glad to see thee, Pelgan. I wast watching the priest, and didst see...”

Pelgan waited a moment and then gently ran one hand along her back. “What didst thee see?”

It wasn’t that it was Sir Czestadt the commander of the Driheli so much that upset her. In that one moment what truly had spooked her tumbled from her lips. “The dead come back to life!”

“So,” Nemgas said after Pelgan had managed to coax the story from the still shaking Amile. What she had seen had clearly disturbed her. “‘Tis as we feared. Czestadt be alive.” He turned and gestured to Gelel. “Speak with Ahadi. Ask him to bring Amile some hot broth to relieve her. Ja!”

Gelel jumped like a buck from the thicket, glad for something to do. As he ran up the stairs, Nemgas turned back to the others who were gathered. Berkon and Chamag were patrolling the sewers still, and Kaspel was at the chapel waiting for the Questioners should they appear. Before Amile and Pelgan had appeared, Akaleth had been sitting by himself in prayer, while Gamran had been showing Sir Petriz a few tricks with knives. Now Akaleth had at the least opened his eyes to watch, while the knight began to tremble.

“No. Allied with Jothay he cannot be!” Petriz cried, shaking his head.

“He wast there,” Pelgan declared .“If Amile saith she saw him, then he wast there.” Nemgas recognized the simmering anger in Pelgan’s eyes. Petriz had better not question Amile’s tale again.

Sir Petriz sucked in his breath and closed his eyes for several long seconds. “Then there he was. Accept it I can. It I hate, but I accept.” He turned to Nemgas and held out his hands imploringly. “Allow me to with him speak. If Czestadt knew that evil and a traitor to the Ecclesia Jothay were, him he would not obey.”

Nemgas shook his head. “I do not share thy optimistic appraisal of Czestadt’s character. He wast quite willing to slaughter innocents to obtain what he sought. If thou shouldst stand in his way, then he wilt slay thee too.”

Petriz shot up and spat. “Curr! Never again such things speak! Him you do not know! In his presence for more than ten years I have been! All of once him you have met. Him I know. An evil master he will not serve.”

“Yet evil deeds he wilt do,” Nemgas snapped. “Thou wilt not speak to him. If thou wert to go to him, he wilt force thee to reveal where we are hidden. Nae, I wilt not allow thee to endanger us. Thou wilt betray us unto death, Sir Petriz.”

Petriz kept his lips sealed though the look of hatred in his eyes was clear.

Akaleth opened his mouth and spoke in rough tones. “There is only one thing that matters: finding the altar and destroying it. All that we have done today is learn one more thing; that the Driheli have been acting at the behest of the man behind the plot to assassinate the Patriarch. You, Sir Petriz, before your capture, were following the orders of an evil man.”

Petriz’s anger became agony within the space of those few words. “I... know not I did!”

“I have no doubt of that, “Akaleth replied, his voice bearing no sympathy. “But it is irrelevant. You threatened men for a crime they did not commit. You threatened these men. Now you know the truth, and to them you owe an apology.”

Petriz’s face twisted in frustration. “But Czestadt. Save him I want!”

Akaleth shrugged. “You will save him if you help us destroy this altar and its master with it. And who knows. Perhaps he will see the evil in Jothay before it is too late. Perhaps he will be a better man than I was. Pray for that. It is all you can do now.”

Nemgas looked from one Follower to the other. The knight was a man used to doing what the clergy told him, that much was clear. Petriz struggled with these words, words that counselled him against all his instincts. After several moments struggle, Petriz slumped against the wall, all the fight draining from his body. “Very well. Pray I shall. And wait.” A flash of anger filled his eyes, eyes that met Nemgas. “Wrong you are. A good man he is.”

Nemgas sighed. “Let it be so, but I shalt not wait for it.”

Petriz turned his face away and said no more. Akaleth closed his eyes again, still bearing the same expression he had the entire time he spoke, one as empty as a barren well. Nemgas sighed and stretched his sore leg muscles. Wherever this altar was, he hoped that they found it soon. He could only keep Petriz from doing something incredibly stupid for so long. And as he watched Petriz’s fingers twitch, he feared that time was fast approaching.

Disquieted, Nemgas decided to check on the horses. He needed some different air.

An army is a living thing. It can trudge along in a slow half-moving mass like a slug, or break apart into pieces like a scattering flock of birds. An army breathed and fed; many small towns an army would pass would find themselves consumed of all their bread and livestock in the space of a few short days. An army bled and died; sometimes quickly in battle and other times slowly from disease. And an army could also sigh in relief.

And that is just what Titian Verdane’s army did when they saw the high walls of Kelewair standing untouched in the distance. The bright noon day sun pierced the clouds, and shafts of golden light fell upon the city as if it were a gift from Eli. Titian felt immense relief to find his home unmolested. They had received no news in a week, and he had begun to worry. Despite their war with each other, Titian was not yet convinced that either Lord Dupré or Lord Guilford was foolish enough to attack their liege’s city. But Duke Otakar of Salinon was completely different. If Otakar thought there was an opportunity to weaken the Southern Midlands, he would take it.

“It appears our gambit has worked for now,” Titian mused. His son and vassals rode on horseback alongside him at the head of the army. He turned his steed about and regarded each. His son Jaime was about the only one he could completely trust. The bearded Barruw Grenholt of Mitok was the only one amongst them to side with him immediately, while both Marion Thrane of Haethor and Rukas Stoffels of Ralathe had required the presence of Titian’s army to sway them.

The effete Thrane was a weakling who had hidden in his castle rather than answer Verdane’s call. And the grey-haired Stoffels claimed he did not receive Verdane’s message. He doubted he would ever trust them again.

“Your city is a lovely sight, your grace,” Thrane said, his face locked in a half grin. “Where would you like us to bivouac our troops while we wait for our next move?”

“I will leave the disposition of the men to my generals,” Verdane replied smoothly. “Each of you is invited to stay at my estate while we plan the next stage of our campaign. It will be far more comfortable than your tents.” And what he did not say was that he had no intention of letting men whose loyalty was in question stay outside his gates with an army to command.

“Thank you, your grace,” Grenholt lowered his head. “You are most generous.”

Thrane took a deep breath and glanced over his shoulders. “There are matters I must clarify with my commanders before I am able to enjoy your hospitality, your grace.”

“Have a message sent to them,” Titian replied. “There is much we still need to discuss and I would have you at my side, Marion.”

He smiled and nodded. “Of course, your grace. A message will work just as well.”

Rukas Stoffels chuckled mirthlessly and dark eyes met Verdane’s. “I too thank you for the offer of your hospitality. Your grace is most generous. It has been too long since I have enjoyed the beauty of Kelewair.”

Jaime rolled his eyes, but his father began to smile. Stoffels played the game better than Thrane, that much was certain. “Good, then let us waste no more time. The generals already have their orders to see to the men’s needs. I hunger and wish for something to drink from my larder.” With that he turned his steed and began to ride at a stately canter towards the proud walls of his home.

Titian kept his vassals engaged in light banter until they finally reached the city gates. The generals had kept the main portion of the army in the fields outside. If they followed his orders, than both the Haethor and Ralathe forces would be divided and mixed with his own. If either Thrane or Stoffels planned any treachery, they’d have no chance of carrying it out with their men scattered.

Like many cities, the poorer residents clustered in makeshift huts outside the gates. Many of them had already been abandoned at the sight of the approaching army. Most of them were poor woodcutters who made their trade in the northern forests, or beggars who had not yet managed to sneak into the city. That day they were completely invisible behind the wall of soldiers that lined either side of the road. Trumpeters sounded the golden notes of triumph for their returning liege.

Three men sat upon horseback in the midst of this formation. The balding, spectacled figure on the left was his Steward Apollinar, while on the right was the hulking form of his Castellan Sir Malcolm Royce. Between them was the clubfooted figure of his second son Tyrion dressed in his priestly vestments. All lowered their heads in respect to Duke Titian Verdane.

“It is good to see you again, father,” Tyrion said, his voice broad and unafraid. “All of Kelewair rejoices at your return.”

“I am relieved to find my city prospering. Apollinar, prepare rooms for our distinguished guests, Lord Grenholt of Mitok, Lord Thrane of Haethor, and Lord Stoffels of Ralathe. They will be staying in my house. We look forward to a sterling dinner this evening.”

“I will have a banquet of sufficient caliber prepared, your grace,” Apollinar said with a wide smile, while noting the three lords out of the corner of his eye. “And your lordships will find their rooms well apportioned.”

“Thank you good Steward,” Grenholt replied with a broad grin on his lips. Neither Thrane nor Stoffels said anything.

“Sir Royce, what news is there?”

Tyrion interrupted. “Perhaps the news is best heard as we venture to your castle, father.”

Verdane nodded. “Lead the way.”

The city gates stood open, and the men standing on the ramparts and in the killing corridor all bent to one knee as Verdane passed. His smile was restrained, but it was genuine. These men were professional soldiers, and he knew that he could depend on them if his city ever came under siege. He hoped it would never come to that, but for the first time in many years, the notion preyed at the back of his mind.

He rode up beside his Castellan. Tyrion was on the other side, while Jaime rode up on his right. The three lords fell in behind them. “Tell me what we have heard.”

Sir Royce grunted and stared resolutely forward. “Weislyn has sent some troops across the Masyor lake to shore up Masyor’s defences. They are bringing the rest through the Angle. If they are able to come around, Lord Guilford will be able to block an approach from the east.”

“He’ll be able to block us,” Verdane said, licking his lips. “We’ll have to cut him off first. I’ll think on that. How long will it take before his men will be in place?”

Royce frowned. “Another month. The closest bridges across the Southbourne were washed out in the flooding.”

Verdane ran one hand over his chin thoughtfully. “If we have Saildon and Bozojo to aid us, they could tie up Weislyn’s forces in the Angle. Have we any word from either house?”

“Saildon has answered,” Royce replied, his thick callused hands gripping the reins tighter. “Lord Halath has few troops to spare, but they do await your command. Of Bozojo we have heard nothing. Rumour has it that Lord Calladar has been moving his knights southwards, but they have not entered the wood.”

Verdane grimaced. “I do not need Bozojo’s forces here. I need them defending the river and keeping Weislyn from aiding Masyor.”

“I can have another message sent to them,” Apollinar suggested.

“Later,” Verdane waved one hand. “What of the west? Any news?”

“Aye, your grace. Llarth should have reached the river by now. What word we do have is that he has fortified the main bridge and has been having his men head upstream and downstream to burn all the rest.”

“There are places the river can be forded,” Jaime pointed out. “Have they enough men to defend them?”

Royce shook his head. “Not if what we have heard is true. But Braasem will be hard pressed to find them. Llarth will have the river completely barricaded very soon.”

“Has Ellcaran sent any troops?” Jaime asked.

Royce let out a sigh of relief. “Praise Eli, they have not. But their armies are massing inside their walls. The last official message we received indicates that the border with Sathmore has become a field of blood. Many small villages have been sacked, both Follower and Lothanasi.”

“And what is worse,” Tyrion added, his face grave. It was clear that his younger son was disturbed by the reports he had read. “There have been several small villages throughout the west that have met a similar fate.”

“Could it be Mallow Horn or Llarth?” Titian asked.

Royce shook his head. “No. Mallow Horn troops have decimated several villages near Masyor, but none upon their own lands. This is the work of a third party.”

“Any word on who it might be?”

“None, your grace, but we are learning more every day.”

Verdane nodded, and then turned to face his vassals. “It seems we have more to do than put down a feud. After you have changed into more comfortable attire, come to my chambers and we shall make our plans.” He waited only long enough for their acquiescence before returning his attention upon his Castellan and the news he brought.

The meeting he held had mostly involved discussing troop movements and where their army was to be arranged. Possible approaches on Masyor and Mallow Horn were discussed and ruled out. Until they were certain no enemies could outflank them, attacking either castle was foolhardy.

Eventually, they retired to the banquet with very little decided. The meal was excellent, but Verdane only barely tasted it. He could stand the company of the snivelling Thrane and calculating Stoffels only so long. He needed time alone with family to discuss what was truly important.

As soon as was polite, he excused himself for the evening. Jaime and Tyrion were quick to follow him. The three gathered in Titian’s solar, dour faces upon each. The cool night air was a relief after the sweltering heat of midday and the political wrangling they’d each had to endure.

“I think your army will be able to crush both Mallow Horn and Masyor,” Tyrion opined after shutting the door. “If you can control Thrane and Stoffels. Grenholt appears to be firmly committed to your cause.”

Jaime snorted. “I overheard Stoffels telling Grenholt that he needed to fear for his own people should Salinon become greedy. If he can scare Grenholt into backing off, that would leave you to depend on him.”

“Or make you more vulnerable to him,” Tyrion pointed out.

Titian nodded thoughtfully. “Stoffels may wish to make himself more indispensable. He knows that I will win this fight now and hopes to be heavily rewarded for his loyalty. I won’t have any choice but to bestow something upon both Thrane and Stoffels should they continue to serve. Land, titles, money, I don’t know, but something.”

“The mere fact that they didn’t immediately side with you like Grenholt did means they don’t respect your authority the way they used to,” Jaime pointed out, crossing his arms unhappily. His bright red hair seemed to leaping with flames in the firm gust of wind coming in from outside. “They are both hounds who smell blood. And we don’t even know what Dupré promised them.”

“Do you think Dupré is fool enough to challenge me for the throne?”

“Why not?” Tyrion spread his hands wide. “He’s already married your daughter, our sister Anya. I have become a priest and cannot sit the throne. Jaime has no heirs. If both of you should fall in battle, he can claim the right to rule in Jory’s stead. If he promised both Thrane and Stoffels more land or greater authority, they may be willing to stab you in the heat of battle. It would not be the first time that a leader has been struck down by his own men.”

Titian slowly began to nod. “You speak true, Tyrion. But I will not give them any such opportunity. And besides, as long as they think I am going to win, they will want to make sure that I do.”

“What can we do about Anya?” Jaime asked. “She is our sister, and her husband is one of the principle architects of this calamity. There must be some way she can help.”

Titian sat down before the chess table and exhaled slowly. “I had hoped to be able to raise Jory in my household, showing him how to be a good man and a good leader. William Dupré has made that impossible. And Anya has been his chief supporter in my court. She is furious at my taking Jory. You know she will not forgive me easily.”

Tyrion rubbed his collar. “I could go to Mallow Horn. As a Follower priest, I am protected against harm by another Follower. Maybe there is some way I can make them see reason.”

Verdane shook his head firmly. “Not when villages are being sacked and even priests are impaled or crucified. Whatever third force is committing these atrocities may find you and make a further example of you.”

“But we have to do something,” Tyrion objected.

“And we will, once I think of what that something is.”

Jaime cleared his throat. “There is one thing we should do now, Father. We need Saildon and Bozojo to keep Weislyn on the northern side of the Southbourne. If they manage to cross, then there will be no way we can reach Masyor or Mallow Horn without an enemy at our backs.”

“Saildon claims they can only afford a small force. Bozojo has not responded. What do you suggest.”

Jaime stood a little taller, his eyes determined. “I will go to Bozojo and speak with Lord Calladar myself. I will take a small compliment of arms, not enough to threaten, but enough to ensure me safe passage, and that his lordship will take me seriously.”

“You, Jaime? I need you here,” Titian pointed out.

“But you also need Bozojo. Who are you going to send? Marion Thrane? No, you need somebody you trust implicitly to go. You went to Haethor and Ralathe to gain more men to your cause. You took that risk. I was there at your side taking it with you. Now let me take this risk for you, Father. You cannot go to Bozojo; not now with two armies on your doorstep who might turn on us. You are needed here, but your line is also needed in Bozojo to secure Lord Calladar’s support. I am the only one you can send. Please, allow me to do this.”

Titian Verdane did not like the idea at all. Jaime would not be able to bring a large enough force with him to escape should Calladar prove traitorous. Calladar was ten years Titian’s junior, Lothanasi, and had always been rather distant. Far more concerned with attending to his trade routes than to geopolitics. Perhaps the disruption of the trade along the Southbourne would be enough for him to commit troops.

What was upsetting to him was that Titian knew his son was right. This was the only option he had left. Slowly, he began to nod. “Very well, Jaime. Tomorrow you should prepare for your journey. I want Bozojo’s forces defending that river within three weeks. On your way through Saildon, give Lord Halath the message that he needs to put what troops he can spare into place. I will write a message giving him my plans.”

Jaime smiled bravely. “Thank you, Father. I will not disappoint you.”

“I know. Now, Tyrion, tell me what else I should know that was not said earlier.”

Titian Verdane was not surprised to learn that a great deal had not yet been said. He just hoped that he would not come to regret his unfortunate choice of allies.

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

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