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.The town walls facing the Wesmen were of similar construction.Outside the north gates, cavalry were stationed to force any Wesmen advance around the castle back towards the beach.Inside the walls, the townsmen waited.On the walls, archers, swordsmen and mages.And in the keep itself, a simple circular building with battlements built out in a square around its top some fifty feet above the outer walls, the Barons, healers, bodyguards, cooks and many of Gresse’s mercenaries.The battlements, nicknamed ‘the Crown’ because of the way they sat slightly uncomfortably atop the keep, bristled with heavy crossbow positions, oil dumps and Blackthorne’s best mages.They had food for three months, and Blackthorne reckoned that if it wasn’t over by then, Darrick would have lost Understone, Balaia would be open to pillage and the war lost.All they could do now was wait.The Wesmen didn’t keep them long.Styliann, mind still clouded with rage and an unquenchable desire for revenge, clattered to a stop at the eastern end of Understone Pass at the head of a column of one hundred Protectors.It was early afternoon.The guards at the pass looked at him fearfully but knew what they had to do.They stood in his path.‘Please state your business,’ said one with deferential politeness.‘The slaughter of Wesmen,’ said Styliann, his voice matter-of-fact, his face brooking no argument.‘I have orders to hold unauthorised traffic here awaiting clearance from General Darrick.’ There was apology in his tone.‘Do you know who I am?’ demanded Styliann.‘Yes, my Lord.’‘Then you will also know that it was I who set the orders for your commander to follow.I give myself the clearance to travel the pass.Stand aside.’The guard looked at him, doubt and anxiety in his mind.Styliann raised an eyebrow.‘Where is Darrick?’ he asked.‘At the far end, my Lord, overseeing construction of the fortifications.’‘Then you have discharged your duties admirably,’ said Styliann.‘He can personally clear me to travel when I meet him.’The guard smiled, comfortable with Styliann’s logic.He stood aside.‘Good luck, my Lord.’Styliann stared down at him.‘Luck is something on which I never rely.’ He rode into the pass, his Protectors behind him, silent, masked and disturbing.Styliann’s passage through the pass was swift, his horses bred for stamina.He barely noticed the devastation Xetesk’s new spell had caused and certainly had no mind to admire its success.He rode on, reaching the end of the pass as dusk gathered, pulling up to a stop when he saw Darrick.The two men gazed at each other for a time, Darrick reading his face, Styliann burning with the desire to be at the throats of the men who had raped and murdered Selyn.Darrick said nothing, simply nodding, stepping from his path and waving him through.Styliann and the Protectors galloped into Wesmen lands.For them there would be no halt for a night’s rest.Styliann had places he needed to reach and something to prove to an arrogant barbarian.Hirad awoke glad of the leather-clad bivouac shelters Thraun had insisted they raise over themselves the night before.At the time, it had seemed a pointless exercise in irritation, but now, with the rain thrumming on the material above his head, Hirad smiled.He sat up, scratching his head.He could smell a fire and, looking out, saw Will crouched over his stove, leather over his shoulders and a wide-brimmed hat pulled forward over his face.Water steamed away on an open pot.Beside Hirad, Ilkar stirred and awoke, opening one eye on the weather.‘Wake me when it’s dry,’ he said, and turned over.‘I’d hate to be in Understone with this coming down,’ said Hirad.Ilkar grunted.The camp came slowly to life.Set in an area of lightly wooded land on the downhill side of a lively stream, the four shelters sat in a rough semicircle.Will’s wood-burner was at its centre.They were a long way from Understone Pass and the relative security of Darrick’s cavalry, and Hirad felt strangely ill at ease.Surrounded by his closest friends and people he trusted with his life, he couldn’t shake the fear of the new from his bones.He had rarely been in the lands west of Understone Pass before, and with only a small inkling of where they were headed, drawn from maps and stories, he was nervous.They all took breakfast hunched under their shelters, the rain showing no signs of easing as it shouldered its way through leaf and branch to patter and drum on earth and leather [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]