"Which way did the ship go?"
"There's one other thing, Belgarion," Joran added. "The shepherd was positive that the ship was Nyissan."
"He was absolutely certain. He even described the snake banner she was flying."
Garion got quickly to his feet. "Wait here," he told them. Then he went to the flap in the partition. "Grandfather, Aunt Pol, could you step in here for a moment?"
"What is it, dear?" Polgara asked as she and the old sorcerer came into Garion's makeshift office, with Silk trailing curiously behind.
"Tell them," Garion said to Kail.
Quickly, Brand's second son repeated what they had just told Garion.
"Salmissra?" Polgara suggested to her father.
"Not necessarily, Pol. Nyissa is full of intrigue, and the Queen isn't behind it all -particularly after what you did to her." He frowned. "Why would a Cherek abandon one of his own boats to ride aboard a Nyissan scow? That doesn't make sense."
"That's another question we'll have to ask Ulfgar, once we get our hands on him," Silk said.
At dawn the next morning, a large body of troops comprised of elements from all the forces gathered for the siege began to march across the valley to the south of the city toward the steep hill and Rheon. They carried scaling ladders and battering rams in plain sight to make the defenders believe that this was a major assault.
In the quarter of the city occupied by Garion's troops, however, Silk led a sizeable detachment of men through the dawn murk across the rooftops to clear away the cult archers and the smeared men with their boiling pitch pots occupying those houses on either side of the hastily built walls erected to bar entrance into the rest of the city.
Garion, flanked by Barak and Mandorallen, waited in a snowy street near the perimeter of the occupied quarter.
"This is the part I hate," he said tensely. "The waiting."
"I must confess to thee that I myself find this lull just before a battle unpleasant," Mandorallen replied.
"I thought Arends loved a battle." Barak grinned at his friend.
"It is our favorite pastime," the great knight admitted, checking one of the buckles under his armor. "This interim just 'ere we join with the enemy, however, is irksome. Sober, even melancholy, thoughts distract the mind from the main purpose at hand."
"Mandorallen," Barak laughed. "I've missed you."
The shadowy form of Yarblek came up the street to join them. He had put aside his felt overcoat and now wore a heavy steel breastplate and carried a wicked-looking axe.
"Everything's ready," he told them quietly. "We can start just as soon as the little thief gives us the signal."
"Are you sure your men can pull down those walls?" Barak asked him.
Yarblek nodded. "Those people didn't have time enough to set the stones in mortar," he said. "Our grappling hooks can jerk down the walls in a few minutes."
"You seem very fond of that particular tool," Barak observed.
Yarblek shrugged. "I've always found that the best way to get through a wall is to yank it down."
"In Arendia, our preference is the battering ram," Mandorallen said.
"Those are good, too," Yarblek agreed, "but the trouble with a ram is that you're right under the wall when it falls. I've never particularly enjoyed having building stones bouncing off the top of my head."
"Has anybody seen Lelldorin?" Garion asked.
"He went with Silk," Barak replied. "He seemed to think that he could find more targets from up on a roof."
"He was ever an enthusiast." Mandorallen smiled. "I confess, however, that I have never seen his equal with the longbow."
"There it is," Barak said, pointing at a flaming arrow arching high above the rooftops. "That's the signal."
Garion drew in a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "All right. Sound your horn, Mandorallen, and let's get started."
The brazen note of Mandorallen's horn shattered the stillness. From every street and alleyway, Garion's army poured out to begin the final assault on Rheon. Rivans, Algars, Nadraks, and the solid men of Sendaria crunched through the snow toward the perimeter with their weapons in their hands. Three score of Yarblek's leather-clad mercenaries ran on ahead, their grappling hooks swinging from their hands.
With Barak at his side, Garion clambered over the treacherous, sliding rubble of the houses that had been pulled down to form the perimeter and over the half-frozen bodies of arrow-stitched cultists who had fallen earlier. A few -though not many- cultists had escaped the hasty floor-by-floor search of Silk's men in the houses facing the perimeter and they desperately showered the advancing troops with arrows. At Brendig's sharp command, detachments of Sendars veered and broke into each house to neutralize those remaining defenders efficiently.
The scene beyond the perimeter was one of enormous confusion. Advancing behind a wall of shields, Garion's army swept the streets clear of the now-desperate cultists. The air was thick with arrows and curses, and several houses were already shooting flames out through their roofs.
True to Yarblek's prediction, the loosely stacked walls blocking the streets some way into the city fell easily to the dozens of grappling hooks that sailed up over their troops to bite into the other sides.
The grim advance continued, and the air rang with the steely clang of sword against sword. Somehow, in all the confusion, Garion became separated from Barak and found himself fighting shoulder to shoulder beside Durnik in a narrow alleyway. The smith carried no sword or axe, but fought instead with a large, heavy club. "I just don't like chopping into people," he apologized, felling a burly opponent with one solid blow. "If you hit somebody with a club, there's a fair chance that he won't die, and there isn't all that blood."
They pushed deeper into the city, driving the demoralized inhabitants before them. The sounds of heavy fighting at the southern end of town gave notice that Silk and his men had reached the south wall and opened the gates to admit the massed troops whose feigned attack had fatally divided the cult forces.
And then Garion and Durnik burst out of the narrow alleyway into the broad, snowy central square of Rheon. Fighting raged all over the square; but on the east side, a thick knot of cultists was tightly packed about a high-wheeled cart. Atop the cart stood a black-bearded man in a rust-colored brocade doublet.
A lean Nadrak with a slender spear in his hand arched back, took aim, and hurled his weapon directly at the man on the cart. The black-bearded man raised one hand in a peculiar gesture, and the Nadrak spear suddenly sheered off to the right to clatter harmlessly on the snow-slick cobblestones. Garion clearly heard and felt the rushing surge that could only mean one thing. "Durnik!" he shouted. "The man on the cart. That's Ulfgar!"