The Younger Gods / Page 40

Page 40

"Have you seen any of them yet?" Narasan asked.

"Oh, yes," Gunda replied. "They're still about five miles away, but there are thousands of them out there. Prince Ekial and his horse-soldiers are slowing them down quite a bit, but they will reach this fort before too much longer."

"The main army's not far behind, Gunda," Narasan assured his friend. "They're climbing over Andar's fort right now, but I'd say that your fort will be fully manned by about noon tomorrow."

"They do have those poisoned stakes with them, don't they?"

"Oh, yes. Your impregnable fort's going to be even more impregnable after we've planted those stakes to the front. Andar told me that there were quite a few bug-people up on the rims of the pass."

"They're still there, Narasan," Gunda replied, "but they're dead now. Kathlak's archers went on up there and showered them with poisonous arrows. There are a lot of trees up on those rims, and once the main army gets here, I'd suggest that we send a good number of them up there with axes. Catapults are always nice to have on hand when your enemies are charging. If we do this right, this will be about as far as our enemies will get."

"Why have you got people building more forts then?" Queen Trenicia asked.

"Just a precaution, ma'am," Gunda replied. "Things sometimes go wrong no matter what we do, and those extra forts will give us someplace to fall back to if it turns out to be necessary. As our mighty commander here says quite often, 'Always expect the worst, and be ready for it.' If it doesn't turn out that way, it's a pleasant surprise, but we don't take any chances."

"You're a gloomy sort of fellow, aren't you, friend Narasan?" Trenicia said.

"Maybe," Narasan conceded, "but I am still alive."

"That's all that really matters, dear one," Trenicia said with a fond smile.

Chapter Two

"Where's Prince Ekial?" Narasan asked the Malavi Ariga the following morning when they were all gathering for the customary conference.

"Ekial is giving instruction to that young Keselo on riding a horse. The two of them get along well with each other," Ariga replied.

Narasan nodded, then looking around at everyone, he said, "First, of course, the question is how far away from here is the enemy—and how many of them are there?"

"I drifted out over the Wasteland yesterday," Lady Zelana said, "and it looked to me like the Vlagh was throwing everything she's got at us this time."

"And how many would that be, ma'am?" Gunda asked.

"A half million at least," Zelana replied. "Probably closer to a whole million."

"She's definitely pushing her luck, then," Lord Dahlaine declared. "In the past she's always kept a great number of her children in reserve."

"Children?" Trenicia asked in a startled voice.

"I know that it sounds very unnatural, Queen Trenicia," Dahlaine replied, "but the Vlagh gives birth to all of her servants. Of course she doesn't have children in the same way that human mothers do. She lays eggs instead. Evidently, she realizes that this will be her last chance to gain dominion of some part of the Land of Dhrall that's out beyond the Wasteland, so with the exception of the ones that take care of her in her nest, she's probably emptied the place out. If things turn out the way we want them to, she'll have very few servants left if this attack falls apart the way that the previous ones have."

"And that would mean that she'll be out of business, wouldn't it?" Andar said.

"I'm not completely positive about that," Lady Zelana disagreed. "It'll take her a long, long time to build the number of her children back up, but as long as she's there, she'll still be a danger for us."

"We'll have to kill her then," Trenicia said bluntly.

Zelana winced. "We're not allowed to do that," she replied.

"That's why you hired us, isn't it?" Trenicia suggested. "If the best that we can do is block her off, she'll go back to her nest and lay more eggs, and next spring she'll attack again."

"Not quite that soon, Queen Trenicia," Dahlaine disagreed. "It might take as long as another century for her to produce enough children to pose any significant threat, but—" He left it hanging there.

"Cut off her food," Two-Hands of Matan said bluntly. "Doesn't no food mean no new calves? You can play with the weather, Dahlaine. You've demonstrated that several times already this year. A drought might be the best answer."

"Or possibly a flood," the farmer Omago from Veltan's Domain suggested. "That worked extremely well last summer."

"I'd say that we can decide which way we should go after we've stopped the army that's coming to visit us here," Longbow said then.

"How long would you say it's likely to take the bug-people to get into position to attack Gunda's fort, Longbow?" Narasan asked.

"A week or ten days," Longbow replied. "Right now I'd suggest working on catapults. They worked rather well last autumn in the north country."

"I'll put the men to work on those," Gunda agreed.

It was about noon on the following day when Ekial and Keselo came up to the back side of Gunda's fort. Narasan was a bit surprised by how well Keselo was riding the horse Ekial had provided. "You two made good time," Narasan said as they dismounted.

"That's because young Keselo here is a natural-born horseman," Ekial declared. "It didn't take him more than a couple hours to get old Bent-Nose there so attached to him that the silly horse wants to sleep with him now."

"Bent-Nose?" Narasan asked. "Isn't that an odd sort of name for a horse?"

"When he was quite a bit younger, we were fighting horsemen from a different part of our country, and one of the enemies slashed the horse across the nose with his saber. When the cut healed, the scar changed the shape of the horse's nose. 'Bent' might not be too accurate, but it sounds better than 'swelled-up,' wouldn't you say?"

"I see what you mean." Then Narasan looked inquiringly at Keselo. "How did you manage to get on the good side of the horse so fast?" he asked curiously.

Keselo smiled. "I just happened to have some candy in my pack-sack, sir," Keselo replied, "and Bent-Nose seems to have a sweet tooth. After two small pieces of candy, he was following me around like a puppy dog."

"Bribery, Keselo? I'm shocked."

"I wouldn't really call it 'bribery,' Commander," Keselo protested. "I'd say that 'a treat for a friend' would come closer."

Prev Next