Veltan made some show of tidying up his little sloop after Gunda had left, squaring away the sail, coiling ropes, and generally making her presentable. He stayed at it long enough to bore any curious onlookers, and then he went up to the bow and ducked down out of sight. He reached back over his shoulder and took a gold brick out of nowhere. He set it at the very bow. Then he took another brick and put it behind the first one. When there were ten of them, he stood up and covered them with a bit of canvas. If his calculations were correct, he had roughly the equivalent of five thousand Trogite gold crowns to get Narasan’s attention, and if Narasan wanted to see more, the channel through the ice was open now, so taking him to the Land of Dhrall should be fairly easy.

Narasan had discarded his beggar’s rags, and he looked quite imposing in his tight-fitting black leather uniform and heavy metal helmet and breastplate. He was also wearing a sheathed sword belted at his waist, and the heavy-looking handle suggested that the sword was for business, not for show. “Where in the world did you get that tub, Veltan?” he demanded from the pier, looking at Veltan’s sloop with a certain disdain.

Veltan shrugged. “I bought her from a fisherman. I needed a boat. She doesn’t look like much, but she sails well.”

“Is that a Dhrallish boat?”

Veltan shook his head. “It’s a Trogite fishing sloop. Dhralls don’t build sloops, and I didn’t feel up to paddling a Dhrall canoe all the way here. I have something I’d like to show you, and then we’ll need to talk.”

“All right,” Narasan agreed. “See if you can hold your sloop steady. I don’t swim very well—particularly not in full uniform.” He gingerly climbed down the ladder that was attached to the pier, while Veltan snugged his sloop up against the ladder with a long-handled hook. Narasan awkwardly dropped the last few feet into the sloop. “What was it you wanted me to see?” he asked Veltan.

“It’s up in the bow. Drag that canvas out of the way.”

Narasan went forward and turned the canvas back. “Well, well, well,” he said, staring at the gold bricks, “aren’t they pretty.”

“I thought you might like them.”

“That’s hardly two hundred, though.”

“I know. I didn’t really want to sink my sloop with all that weight. Let’s just call it a demonstration of good faith. The rest of the gold’s back in Dhrall. These should give you some idea of the size and weight of the standard block.”

Narasan hefted one of the bricks. “Heavy,” he noted. “How can you buy anything with something this bulky?”

“We don’t use them for money, Commander.” Veltan reminded him. “They’re mostly just for decoration—ceilings, bracelets, door handles, and the like. . . . Now, then, we’ll need to move at least part of your army to Dhrall immediately. We’ve discovered that the enemy forces will attack very soon. We have other soldiers that are already in place, but you’ll probably have to reinforce them. My sister’s been hiring an army off to the west, and she’s sent a part of that army to her Domain. She has more on the way, but they might not reach Dhrall in time.”

Narasan’s eyes narrowed. “The only people I’ve ever heard of that live beyond the western sea are the Maags.”

“So?”

“We don’t get along very well with the Maags.”

“I’ve heard about that. This war doesn’t really have anything to do with friendship. You don’t have to like the Maags, Commander Narasan; you just have to fight alongside them. The only thing you and the Maags need to concern yourselves about is the gold we’re paying you—and whether you’ll live long enough to spend it.”

“That’s blunt enough, but it gets your point across.”

“I don’t really have time for diplomacy, Commander. I must help my sister ward off an invasion. You’ll be meeting a Maag sea captain who goes by the name of Sorgan Hook-Beak before long. My sister believes that he’s competent, but I’ll let you make your own judgement about that when the fighting begins.”

Narasan grunted. “You’re the one who’s paying the bills,” he conceded. “Did you happen to remember that map you promised to draw for us?”

“Of course,” Veltan lied. “I’ll go get it for you.” He went off toward the stern of his sloop, conjuring up a picture of Dhrall in his mind as he went. It occurred to him, however, that the map didn’t need to be too accurate. There might very well be times in the not too distant future when he’d need to move soldiers from one place to another in the Land of Dhrall in a hurry, and if the real distances between here and there were represented accurately on the map, the Trogites might begin to realize that more was happening than he’d told them. Some people in this world have no difficulty with the notion of miracles, but Veltan was fairly certain that Trogite soldiers weren’t very likely to fit into that category. The map he created sort of resembled the Land of Dhrall, but it was a much smaller version.

He rolled the vellum map up and took it to the bow of the sloop, where Narasan was fondling the gold bricks. “This is about as close as I can come, Commander,” he apologized, handing the map to the soldier. “Some of the distances aren’t really very accurate.”

“That’s all right, Veltan,” Narasan said. “All I really need is a general layout of the territory.” He studied the map for a few moments. “Do your people have any kind of army that might be of any use at all?” he asked.

Veltan smiled faintly. “My people don’t even know what the word ‘army’ means, Commander,” he confessed. “Zelana’s people have occasional squabbles with each other, but they have a tribal society, and that means that all the men pick up their weapons and go out in a disorganized mass to meet the enemy tribe. After a dozen or so men are killed, they usually suspend hostilities and enter into extended negotiations. Most of their weapons are fairly crude and ineffective. The only exception to that is the archers. There’s a Dhrall in my sister Zelana’s Domain named Longbow who doesn’t seem to know how to miss, and he can have four arrows in the air all at the same time.”

“Now, that I’d like to see.”

“I’m sure you’ll meet him before too long. The people of the Northern Domain of my brother Dahlaine are pretty much the same as the people of the West. The Domains of my sister Aracia and mine are mostly farmland, and our people are primarily farmers. They don’t fight people; they fight the soil and the weather instead.” He paused. “How many men can you put to sea right now?”

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