The gloomy days were slowly settling into an even gloomier evening as Garion and his friends gathered once more in the large tent near the center of the encampment. Yarblek had brought a number of rolled-up rugs with him and several iron braziers, and these contributions to their headquarters added certain garish, even barbaric, touches to the interior of the tent.
"Where's Silk?" Garion asked, looking around as they all seated themselves around the glowing braziers.
"I think he's out snooping," Barak replied.
Garion made a face. "I wish that just once he'd be where he's supposed to be."
Javelin looked much more alert after his few hours' sleep.
His expression, however, was grave. "We're starting to run out of time," he told them. "We've got three armies converging on this place. Lord Hettar is coming up from the south, and General Brendig is coming in from the west. Unfortunately, the Drasnian pikemen are very likely to get here first."
"Unless Pol and Beldin can slow them down," Durnik added.
"I have every confidence in Lady Polgara and Master Beldin," Javelin said, "but I think we should decide what we're going to do in the event that they aren't successful. It's always best to prepare for the worst."
"Wisely spoken, my Lord," Mandorallen murmured.
"Now " the Chief of Drasnian Intelligence continued, "we don't truly want to fight the pikemen. First of all, they aren't really our enemies; secondly, a battle with them is going to weaken our forces to the point that a sortie in force from the city could conceivably defeat us."
"What are you leading up to, Javelin?" Porenn asked him.
"I think we're going to have to get into the city."
"We haven't got enough men," Barak said flatly.
"And it will take several more days to reduce the walls," Mandorallen added.
Javelin held up one hand. "If we concentrate the siege engines on one section of wall, we should be able to bring it down within one day." he declared.
"But that just announces which quarter we'll attack from," Lelldorin protested. "The forces in the city will be concentrated there to repel us."
"Not if the rest of the city's on fire," Javelin replied.
"Absolutely out of the question," Garion said flatly. "My son could be in that town, and I'm not going to risk his life setting the whole place on fire."
"I still say that we haven't got enough men to take the city." Barak maintained.
"We don't have to take the whole city, my Lord of Trellheim," Javelin said. "All we need to do is get our men inside. If we take one quarter of the town and fortify it, we can hold off the cult from the inside and Haldar from the outside. Then we simply sit tight and wait for Lord Hettar and General Brendig."
"It's got some possibilities," Yarblek said. "The way things stand right now, we're caught in a nutcracker. If those pikemen get here first, about all your friends are going to be able to do when they arrive is to pick up the pieces."
"No fire," Garion declared adamantly.
"I do fear me that however we proceed, we may not gain entry into the city 'ere the walls are breached," Mandorallen observed.
"The walls aren't really any problem," Durnik said quietly. "No wall is any better than its foundation."
"It is quite impossible, Goodman," Mandorallen told him. "A wall's foundation hath the entire weight resting upon it. No engine in the world can move such a mass."
"I wasn't talking about an engine," Durnik said.
"What have you got in mind, Durnik?" Garion asked him.
"It's not really going to be that hard, Garion," Durnik said. "I did a bit of looking around. The wall's aren't resting on rock. They're resting on packed dirt. All we have to do is soften that dirt a bit. There's plenty of underground water in this region. If we put our heads together, you and I ought to be able to bring it up under one section of wall without anybody inside the city knowing what we've done. Once the ground is soft enough, a few dozen of Yarblek's grappling hooks ought to be enough to topple it."
"Can it be done, Garion?" Lelldorin asked doubtfully.
Garion thought it through. "It's possible," he conceded. "It's very possible."
" And if we did it at night, we could be in position to rush into the city just as soon as the wall falls," Barak said. "We could get inside without losing a single man."
"It's a novel solution," Silk observed from the doorway of the tent. "A little unethical, perhaps, but novel all the same."
"Where have you been, you little sneak?" Yarblek demanded.
"In Rheon, actually," Silk replied.
"You were inside the city?" Barak asked in surprise.
Silk shrugged. "Of course. I though it might be appropriate to get a friend of ours out of there before we took the place apart." He stepped aside with a mocking little bow to admit the honey-blonde Margravine Liselle.
"Now that is a splendid-looking young woman," Yarblek breathed in admiration.
Liselle smiled at him, the dimples dancing in her cheeks.
"How did you get inside?" Garion asked the rat-faced little man.
"You really wouldn't want to know, Garion," Silk told him. "There's always a way in or out of a city, if you're really serious about it."
"You two don't smell too good," Yarblek noted.
"It has to do with the route we took," Liselle replied, wrinkling her nose.
"You're looking well," Javelin said conversationally to his niece, "all things considered."
"Thank you, uncle," she replied. Then she turned to Garion. "Are the rumors going about the city true, your Majesty?" she asked. "Has your son been abducted?"
Garion nodded grimly. "It happened just after we took Jarviksholm. That's why we're here."
"But Prince Geran doesn't seem to be in Rheon," she told him.
"Are you sure?" Ce'Nedra demanded.
"I think so, your Majesty. The cultists inside the city are baffled. They seem to have no idea who took your son."
Ulfgar may be keeping it secret," Javelin said. "Only a small group may know."
"Perhaps, but it doesn't look that way. I wasn't able to get close enough to him to make sure, but he has the look of a man whose plans have gone all awry. I don't think he expected this attack on Rheon. His fortifications are not nearly as complete as they might appear from the outside. The north wall in particular is rather flimsy. His reinforcement of the walls seems a desperation move. He was not expecting a siege. If he'd been behind the abduction, he would have been prepared for the attack -unless he thought you could never trace it to him."