‘Very good, Omago,’ Veltan said. ‘As soon as Rabbit gets here, I think I’ll be able to persuade him to make regular spear-points for our farmers. They work better than just tying a knife to the end of a pole.’

‘Who’s Rabbit?’

‘He’s a little Maag who works with metal. Once your men have metal spear-points - and venom - I don’t think any of the enemies will be able to get past you.’

‘What’s venom?’

‘Poison. The creatures of the Wasteland are part snake, and their fangs are venomous. Up in my sister Zelana’s Domain, all her hired soldiers dipped the points of their weapons in that venom. It killed hundreds of the servants of the Vlagh. Anyway, Dahlaine’s Dreamer, Ashad, had one of “those” dreams, and the enemies are definitely coming this way. I don’t think we need to worry much, though. The outlanders will almost certainly be here in time to help us hold off our enemies.’

‘I hope so,’ Omago said. ‘The farmers and shepherds here are getting better, but I don’t think we’re quite ready to fight this war all by ourselves.’

‘We’ll see, Omago,’ Veltan said. ‘I’ll go see if I can hurry the Maags along.’

Now that the planting was done, more and more farmers were drifting in, drawn by the stories that had been going around. As Omago was fairly certain would be the case, the visiting farmers were all extremely curious about the iron knife Veltan had given him, and terribly disappointed when he couldn’t tell them where they could find what Veltan had called ‘metal’. Quite a few of them just turned around and went home at that point, but enough of them remained to expand Omago’s growing army. Training the newcomers was very tedious, but Omago was fairly sure that it’d be worth the trouble, so he stuck with it for the next several weeks.

Then, early one morning, the familiar crash of thunder announced that Veltan had come home again.

Omago dressed himself, and then he and Ara went up the hill to Veltan’s oversized house to ask him how the war in the West had turned out.

‘Everything turned out even better than we’d expected,’ Veltan told them. ‘We lost the village of Lattash, unfortunately, but I guess that was a small price to pay for our victory. The Maags and Trogites are coming here to help us now. If things turn out as well here in the South as they did in the West, we’ll win this war too, and that might persuade the creatures of the Wasteland to go back where they came from.’

‘Wishful thinking, dear Veltan,’ Ara said. ‘Bugs aren’t really that clever.’

‘When do you think the outlanders will get here?’ Omago asked. He wasn’t very comfortable with the notion of having alien helpers in the upcoming war.

‘Probably within the next day or so,’ Veltan replied. ‘Zelana’s been tampering a bit, so the winds are being very cooperative.’ He frowned slightly. ‘You might want to warn the womenfolk, Ara. Narasan has his soldiers pretty well under control, but Sorgan’s Maags are sort of rowdy, and they get ideas when they see young women.’

‘I’ll pass that along,’ Ara promised.

‘How long do you think it’s going to take for us to get our hands on more of these metal knives?’ Omago asked.

‘We’ll talk with Rabbit as soon as he arrives,’ Veltan replied. ‘Don’t lock the notion of “knife” in stone, though. I’ve noticed that Rabbit can be very creative. If you tell him what you want the weapon to do, he’ll come up with the best form to get the job done. The metal arrowheads he made for Longbow and the other archers were much more advanced than the flint ones they’d used in the past.’

‘I’ll keep that in mind,’ Omago said.


Did you want me to take my men on down to the beach before the outlanders arrive tomorrow, Veltan?’ Omago asked just a bit dubiously.

‘I gather that you’re not very enthusiastic about it,’ Veltan observed.

‘Well, not really,’ Omago conceded. ‘These strangers are professionals, and when you get right down to it, my men are still stumbling quite a bit. The outlanders might laugh when they see us pretending to be soldiers, and I’d probably lose half of my men right then and there. Wouldn’t it be better if you had a chance to talk this over with the strangers first?’

‘I see your point, Omago. All right, then. You and I’ll go down to the beach by ourselves.’

‘Ara wants to go, too. She hasn’t seen Yaltar for quite some time, and she misses him.’

‘Good idea. I want her to meet my sister anyway.’

‘When do you think we should leave?’

‘After you’ve had breakfast should be soon enough. Zelana advised me that the fleet won’t arrive until about mid-morning, and it’s only about two miles to the beach.’ Veltan squinted for a moment. ‘Now that I’ve had some time to think my way through this, I’m having some second thoughts about bringing those entire armies here. I’ll need to bring a few of the officers, but I think maybe we should leave the rest of the outlanders on board their ships until we decide to march them on up to the Falls of Vash. Let’s keep the possibility of unpleasant confrontation to a minimum if we can.’

‘Whatever you think best, Veltan,’ Omago agreed.

The first hint of the approaching fleet was the mass of sails along the horizon, and the sheer numbers indicated by those billowing sails stunned Omago. Ara, who stood at his side, however, didn’t appear to be overly impressed. Ara’s reactions to things were sometimes very peculiar.

As the fleet drew closer in the golden summer sunlight, Omago noticed certain differences. Some of the ships appeared to be very fat, while others were as skinny as saplings. ‘They don’t seem very much alike, do they?’ he said to Veltan.

‘They were built with different purposes in mind,’ Veltan explained. ‘The wide, slow ones were built to carry large numbers of people or cargo. The slender ones were built to go fast so that they can catch the slow ones and rob them.’

‘Wouldn’t that make them enemies, dear Veltan?’ Ara asked.

‘They didn’t get along too well right at first,’ Veltan conceded, ‘but the threat of the creatures of the Wasteland sort of united them.’

There was a much smaller boat that was moving rapidly toward the beach, and Veltan looked at it with a certain affection. ‘That’s my sloop,’ he told Omago and Ara. ‘She moves right along, doesn’t she?’