Veltan led them to what he referred to as his ‘map-room’, and Narasan immediately saw that it was a combination of the ‘war-room’ in the army compound back in Kaldacin and Red-Beard’s sculptured map in Zelana’s cave in Lattash. The addition of the balcony surrounding the miniaturized replica of the probable battlefield gave them the ability to see the entirety of the region in much greater detail than Narasan had ever previously encountered. The terrain in the vicinity of the waterfall was intimidating, but Narasan immediately saw that if they could reach the area around the geyser that was the source of that waterfall, they’d be able to hold off their enemy almost indefinitely with only minimal help from the local farmers. The important thing, of course, would be to get there first.

Then the stunningly beautiful wife of the farmer Omago came through the door to advise them that their supper was ready, and Veltan, with a note of pride in his voice, told them that the beautiful lady was quite probably the best cook in the world.

Then the scrawny halfwit Jalkan made some obscene remarks that nearly sent Narasan into total collapse. Fortunately, the lady’s solidly-built husband took steps before Veltan could raise his hand and obliterate Narasan’s entire army. Narasan found himself wishing that Omago had gone just a bit further, however. Omago did have that spear in his other hand, and he’d just wasted a wonderful opportunity to rid Narasan’s army of a growing embarrassment.

Jalkan came up screaming, spitting blood, and jerking at the hilt of his sheathed dagger, but Keselo stopped the idiot dead in his tracks with a highly appropriate threat to kill him right there on the spot.

Narasan fervently hoped that Jalkan would make yet another blunder so that Keselo could go even further.

Unfortunately, Jalkan - as usual - failed.

As Narasan regained control of his temper, however, he realized that this embarrassing incident had been exactly what he’d been hoping for.

Jalkan was spluttering and screaming about his rank as an officer in Narasan’s army, but Narasan abruptly - and publicly - revoked that commission and ordered Padan to chain the fool and take him back to the beach. Then, in what he felt to be an extremely appropriate public gesture, he offered the lady’s husband the opportunity to deal with Jalkan personally - with spear, if he wished.

Omago seemed to be tempted, but he rather reluctantly declined.

Narasan was terribly disappointed, but in good time he’d come up with an appropriate punishment that would convince Veltan that he’d hired the right army.

Narasan and Sorgan spent much of their time in the map-room for the next few days. The river that ran down to the sea from the foot of the waterfall was quite some distance to the north of Veltan’s house, so it was fairly obvious that sailing up to the river mouth would be the best course of action, since, even as had been the case in the previous war, there was only one possible invasion route their enemies could follow.

‘We’ve got to get people up there in a hurry, Narasan,’ Sorgan said quite firmly. ‘Whoever gets there first is going to have an enormous advantage.’

‘I can see that, old friend,’ Narasan agreed.

‘Old?’ Sorgan protested.

‘Sorry. Just a figure of speech.’ Narasan frowned. ‘I think we’d better have a chat with Veltan’s friend - the fellow who specializes in knocking out the teeth of those who insult his wife.’

‘You should have killed that fool right there on the spot, Narasan.’

‘And get blood all over this map? Don’t be silly, Hook-Beak. I’ll deal with Jalkan all in good time. I’m busy right now. I’ve noticed that Rabbit and Keselo seem to be getting along quite well with the farmer who gave Jalkan a lesson in good manners.’

‘I think the three of them might just be the same breed of cat,’ Sorgan agreed. ‘They all keep coming up with new ideas. You did know that your man Keselo’s teaching Omago and the other farmers how to form up to make their spears more effective, didn’t you?’

Narasan nodded. ‘He told me that he’s been teaching them the rudiments of the phalanx formation. If Keselo has enough time to polish them, they’ll probably turn out to be quite useful during the upcoming war.’

‘I’ll take all the help I can get,’ Sorgan agreed.

‘Don’t feel alone. Right now, though, we’re going to need a guide to show our advance force how to get past that waterfall without getting washed back out to sea. They need to spend their time building forts, not practicing their swimming.’

The two strangers Veltan led into the map-room the following morning were a peculiar looking pair. Prince Ekial was fairly tall, and his face had obviously sustained some fairly serious wounds at some time in the past. The armed and obviously dangerous warrior queen called Trenicia was not the sort of person anyone with good sense would offend. The warrior queen was not quite as tall as Sorgan, but she came close. There were a few ancient myths in some of the more rural regions of the Empire about women warriors, and until now Narasan had never given them much credence, but Trenicia washed his doubts away just by her presence. Veltan advised Narasan and Sorgan that Prince Ekial and Queen Trenicia were here as ‘observers’, largely because at some day in the not-too-distant future they’d be fighting the creatures of the Wasteland in different regions in the Land of Dhrall.

At supper that evening when they were all feasting on the wonderful meal Omago’s wife had prepared, Sorgan raised the issue of bringing Longbow’s archers to join them in the ongoing war with the creatures of the Wasteland, but Longbow dismissed the notion of coming by ship almost before it even came up. He’d obviously been measuring distances in the map-room, and he rather casually advised Narasan and Sorgan that the archers could come across country in about half the time it’d take if they came by sea.

The next morning Narasan and Sorgan were in the map-room closely examining the region around the waterfall. ‘I don’t see any possible way for us to get up there, Narasan,’ Sorgan admitted. ‘That’s a straight rock wall with tons of water coming down from up above.’

‘I can see that, Sorgan,’ Narasan agreed, ‘and that cliff doesn’t seem to have any breaks anywhere near the falls. I suppose we could build a ramp, but that’d probably take us most of the summer.’

Veltan’s friend Omago came through the doorway and joined them.

‘You’re just the man we needed to talk to, Omago,’ Sorgan said. ‘Are you at all familiar with the region around this blasted waterfall?’

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