"My goodness," Narasan said mildly. "What are the priests supposed to eat now?"

"Their shoes, probably, sir."

"What moved Lady Aracia to try to do something that's absolutely forbidden?" Gunda demanded.

"Captain Sorgan told me that it was the same thing that caused those problems in the Tonthakan Nation in Lord Dahlaine's part of the Land of Dhrall, sir. There was a tiny little priestess called Alcevan who was able to control Lady Aracia with an odor—in much the same way that those two controlled the chief up in Tonthakan—up until the Maag called Ox brained the both of them with his axe."

"It would seem that the Vlagh is playing games again," Gunda growled.

"So it would seem, sir," Keselo agreed. "Oh, one other thing. Captain Hook-Beak asked me to advise you that his men are going to take all the gold they can get their hands on down there, and then they'll come on up here to lend us a hand—and to share the gold with us."

Narasan blinked in astonishment, and then he started to laugh.

Chapter Two

It took several more days for the lopsided blizzard to move off to the south, and when the pale winter sun returned, it more or less confirmed Longbow's assessment of the storm. The slope leading up from the Wasteland was covered with deep snow, but it appeared that very little snow had fallen into Long-Pass. Two-Hands now agreed that something very unusual had conjured up this particular blizzard.

As soon as the weather cleared, Gunda put most of his men to work clearing the snow off the top of the wall while the young Trogite called Keselo gathered the catapult crews near the back side of the fort, where they all carefully mixed several liquids together to produce the fire-missiles that had proved to be extremely useful during the war in Crystal Gorge.

That might have disturbed Two-Hands more than just a little. Arrows and spears were one thing, but balls of liquid fire were quite another. Had their enemies in this war and the previous one been people-people, Two-Hands would have protested quite extensively. But bug-people were quite a different matter. Setting fire to bugs didn't bother Two-Hands at all.

The Trogite soldiers were still busily clearing away the snow piled high on the top of the wall when Longbow's friend, Sleeps-With-Dogs, came up to join them. He peered down the slope for a few moments, and then pointed out a sizeable number of snow-piles down there. "Shouldn't the wind have blown those away?"

"That would sort of depend upon how tightly those snow-piles are packed," Two-Hands replied. Then he gave it some thought. "Now that you mention it, though, those piles shouldn't really be there. The wind should have carried them away quite some time ago."

"Doesn't that sort of suggest that those piles aren't natural?" Sleeps-With-Dogs suggested.

"Indeed it does," Two-Hands agreed. "I'd say that the bug-people sort of improvised shelters to protect themselves from the weather, and we weren't able to see what they were doing because the blizzard was hiding everything down there. It's a good thing that one of us still had his eyes open."

"If we're at all close to being right, before too much longer a bug will show up down there—unless they're going to try to burrow their way up here under the snow," Sleeps-With-Dogs said.

"If any of them try that, they won't live very long," Gunda declared. "There are a thousand or so poisoned stakes down under all that snow, and one little scratch from one of those stakes will kill anything that tries to come up here—either on top of the snow or down underneath. One-Who-Heals gave us that idea, and those stakes have probably killed more bug-people than all the rest of us put together have."

"One-Who-Heals was probably the wisest man in all the Land of Dhrall," Sleeps-With-Dogs said proudly.

"We heard that he'd died not too long ago," Gunda said. "What killed him, anyway?"

"Old age," Sleeps-With-Dogs replied. "No matter how many wars we win, old age will end up killing us all."

"That's a gloomy way of looking at things," Gunda said in a sour tone of voice.

"Always look on the dark side, friend Gunda," Sleeps-With-Dogs replied. "Then, if you get killed with an arrow or a spear, it brightens things up, wouldn't you say?"

Two-Hands covered his mouth so that Gunda couldn't see his grin.

It was not much later when the side of one of the snow-heaps down on the slope buckled outward and a somewhat larger than usual bug-man kicked its way out into the open.

"Am I seeing things right?" Gunda asked. "It looks to me like that overgrown bug is wearing one of the bison-hide cloaks that the Matans gave us to keep us from freezing to death."

"It's possible, I suppose," Longbow agreed. "I'd say that it's much more likely that the Vlagh saw how useful they are, and she modified a new hatch to add those cloaks."

"He's carrying a spear as well," Two-Hands noted. "Can the Vlagh take things that far?"

"The bugs have been stealing those spears for a long time now," Gunda said. "They pillage battlefields to steal weapons from dead men."

"I wouldn't worry too much about that, Gunda," Longbow said. "Spears will reach out quite some distance, but arrows reach farther, and we have a lot of archers here—and fire-missiles as well. I've noticed that the Vlagh usually depends on numbers when she goes to war, but numbers don't mean much when the bug-people come up against arrows and fire-missiles."

"You know," Kathlak, Longbow's Tonthakan friend, said, "I noticed the same thing during the Crystal Gorge war. What do you think, Longbow? Should we start picking them off as soon as they come out of those snow-piles, or should we wait until most of them are out in the open?"

"Let's hold off until they get closer," Longbow replied. "Let's not waste arrows trying to hit them at long range. Then too, the snow's quite shallow up here at the top of the slope, and Ekial has horse-soldiers more or less hidden near the upper end of Long-Pass. We should be able to drop thousands of bug-people with our arrows, and then the horse-soldiers will be able to kill many, many more."

Two-Hands saw that the bug-people weren't able to move very fast as they came by the thousands up the slope. It was quite obvious that they weren't at all familiar with snow and its drawbacks. After a few hundred of the bug-people had waded through the snow, they'd packed it down to the point that it was very nearly solid ice, and nobody—man or bug—can move very fast when walking on ice.

"What do you think, Longbow?" Kathlak asked.