Fortunately, the young officer named Keselo came up from the barricades Narasan’s men had built to delay the creatures of the Wasteland when it was beginning to be more and more obvious that Narasan’s men would not reach the east ridge in time. His solution was so simple that I could hardly believe that it hadn’t come to Narasan or any of his senior officers. They did look a bit sheepish when the young man said, ‘Ladders, maybe? We do have quite a few of those rope ladders, and every man who climbs down to the ground on the south side of the wall is one less who’ll have to run along the top of it.’
‘Are we keeping score, Narasan?’ Padan asked his friend. ‘If we are, I think you’d better mark another point in the Keselo column. The ground on the south side of Gunda’s wall is flat and wide, and walking on dirt is easier on a man’s boots than walking on rocks.’
‘Don’t beat it into the ground, Padan,’ Narasan said. ‘As soon as the rest of Andar’s men get up here, roll up the ladders and take them across to the south side. Let’s move right along, gentlemen. There’s a strong smell of disaster in the wind, and we don’t want to be here when it arrives.’
‘The church armies are coming up from the south, Narasan,’ Gunda reported a couple hours later.
‘Have our men reached safety yet?’ Narasan demanded.
‘Most of them,’ Gunda replied. ‘There are a few dawdlers, of course, but I’m fairly sure they’ll move right along when Lord Dahlaine rips a big hole through my wall. She was a pretty good wall, I suppose, but it’s probably about time to say goodbye to her.’
Narasan glanced at me. ‘Should my men and I take some kind of cover?’ he asked. ‘If there’s going to be rocks flying all over—? I’m sure you get my point.’
I looked at the rough black wall and made a few rough computations. ‘I don’t think there’ll be any danger, Commander,’ I assured him. ‘I’ll bring my toy in from the south instead of right overhead. She’ll knock all the stones on down the north slope. Actually, that should work to our advantage. A sudden storm of flying rocks will force the creatures of the Wasteland to take cover, and the church soldiers will be right on top of them before they have time to reassemble.’
‘What a shame,’ Narasan replied with a wicked grin.
‘You’d better cover your ears, gentlemen,’ I warned them. ‘Loud sounds can damage your hearing, and things are going to be very loud in just a minute.’ Then I summoned my pet and unleashed her against the south side of Gunda’s wall.
As she almost always does, my pet overdid things a bit, and a goodly number of the rocks that had formed Gunda’s wall went spinning off to the north for miles, and when they came down out in the Wasteland below, they stirred up large clouds of the glittering yellow sand that the church soldiers found so attractive.
The noise was shattering, of course, but as it began to subside, another sound came rumbling up from deep within the earth, and the ground below shuddered once more.
Then a peculiar thought came to me. Was it in any way possible that Longbow’s unknown friend was feeling a bit competitive? I’d just unleashed a very loud sound, but hers was even louder.
‘Impressive,’ Narasan murmured. ‘For a moment there, I thought you might have decided to send Gunda’s wall all the way to the ravine in your sister’s Domain.’
‘That wouldn’t really be very polite, Commander,’ I said. ‘I always try my best not to offend my sisters. They complain for years if I happen to make a mistake.’
‘It looks to me like the ears of the church soldiers shut down at about the same time that their minds did,’ Gunda noted. ‘They didn’t even falter when those crash-booms hit them. They’re still running this way as hard as they can.’
‘They’re such nice boys,’ Padan added with a grin.
The tower where we stood watching was slightly higher than the remains of the wall were, so we had a clear view of what was happening below. The red-uniformed church soldiers came streaming through the gap my toy had provided. They did falter slightly when they saw that huge desert of glistening sand lying below them, however, and I could almost smell their overwhelming greed. Then their mindless charge continued as they ran down the slope and clambered over the first of Narasan’s barriers.
‘And here come the bug-people,’ Padan observed, peering down the slope. ‘In just a minute or two, we’re going to find out if Longbow’s friend knew what she was doing. If those churchies turn around and run away, things might start to get very interesting around here.’
‘There’s not much chance of that, Padan,’ Gunda said to his friend. ‘I’d say that by now, the bug-people are much more intelligent than the churchies. There’s a whole lot of stupid in the air around here.’
The oversized ‘bug-people’ the Vlagh had spawned for this particular war were quite obviously almost totally inept. They came blundering forward to meet the charge of the better-armed Trogite soldiers, and very few of them survived. An exultant cheer rose from the Trogite ranks.
‘Well, well,’ Padan said then, ‘I do believe I just saw a familiar face. If I’m not mistaken, scrawny Jalkan has just returned to the Land of Dhrall. It hasn’t been at all the same without him.’
Then Veltan’s friend, the farmer Omago, came forward from the other side of the tower with Keselo at his side. ‘Where?’ he asked Padan, his usually friendly voice gone bleak.
‘Over near the west side of the breast-works,’ Padan replied, pointing.
‘Where’s Longbow now that we need him?’ Narasan murmured.
‘I wouldn’t be too hasty, Commander,’ I suggested. ‘If you look a bit more closely, I think you’ll see some rather filmy threads just on the other side of that barrier. I think Jalkan and that fat man who’s with him are in for a very nasty surprise in a moment.’
‘As a matter of fact, I think I do see those threads,’ Narasan replied as he peered down at the slope. ‘That suggests one of the spider-turtles, wouldn’t you say?’
‘More than “suggests”, Commander,’ I said. ‘I’ve got a strong hunch that Jalkan’s approaching the end of his career - whatever his current career might be.’
‘What a shame,’ Padan added sardonically.
‘Does anybody happen to know what today’s date might be?’ Gunda asked.