Sorgan let the others go on ahead and motioned to Skell. ‘I think maybe you’d better stay here, cousin,’ he said. ‘I don’t think it’d be a good idea for our people to start wandering around on the beach or running around in any nearby villages. We don’t want the same sort of foolishness happening around here that you came up against when you first reached Lattash, do we?’

‘Not even a little bit,’ Skell agreed. ‘I’ll pass the word to the other Maag ship-captains that you want everybody to stay on board their ships for right now. We don’t really know just exactly where we’ll be fighting this war anyway, so there’s a fair chance that we’ll have to sail off to some other part of this region, and it’d take quite a while to drag the sailors back to their ships if we were to just turn them loose.’

‘That’s for certain sure,’ Sorgan agreed.

Skell rowed his skiff back on out to the Shark, and then he sent Grock and Baldar out to advise the other Maag ship-captains that Sorgan had decided that the sailors should all remain on board their ships. Then he went on over to the Lark to advise his brother that they’d probably be moving before too long.

‘Cousin Sorgan seems to be getting just a bit more clever,’ Torl noted as the two of them stood at the stern of the Lark admiring the gentle sky of evening. ‘We might not have to flog half the ship-captains in the fleet this time.’

‘I didn’t make too many friends that day,’ Skell conceded, ‘but if I hadn’t flogged those idiots, the bowmen in that village would have killed everybody in the fleet.’

‘Who’s that coming back to the beach?’ Torl asked, pointing at a black-leather-clad Trog who seemed to be dragging another Trog down the trail that led to the shore.

Skell peered through the fading light. ‘I think that’s Padan,’ he said.

‘Why’s he dragging that other one behind him?’

‘How should I know? Maybe one of the Trogs broke some of the rules.’

‘You could be right about that, Skell. The Trogs have rules for just about everything - how many times your heart’s supposed to beat, how often you’re allowed to blink, when you’re supposed to breathe - all those terribly important things that whoever’s in charge decides for every soldier in the whole silly army’

‘They are just a bit picky about things, aren’t they?’ Skell agreed. ‘It’s probably nothing very important, but maybe we should row on over there and ask Padan what happened.’

Padan was just coming up out of the hold when Skell pulled his skiff up alongside of the wide-beamed Trogship. ‘Ho, Padan,’ Skell called. ‘Is there something afoot that we ought to know about?’

‘We just had a stroke of good luck is about all, Skell,’ Padan replied with a broad grin.

‘We struck gold, maybe?’ Torl asked.

‘Well, sort of. Did you two get to know that arrogant ex-priest Jalkan at all during that war up in the ravine to the east of Lattash?’

‘Well enough not to want to have anything more to do with him,’ Torl replied.

‘You know, I think just about everybody who’s ever met that scrawny rascal feels exactly the same way about him. Anyway, Veltan’s best friend in the wheat fields near his castle is that farmer called Omago, and he’s married to a beautiful woman who’s probably the best cook in the whole wide world. We were all studying Veltan’s map when Omago’s wife came into the map-room to tell us that supper was ready. Jalkan ogled her a bit, and then he made some off-color remarks that almost made Commander Narasan faint dead away. Omago the farmer flattened Jalkan with a good solid punch right straight in the mouth that scattered teeth all over the place.’

‘I’m sorry we weren’t there to see that,’ Torl said.

‘It gets better,’ Padan said with a broad grin. ‘Jalkan started screaming about punishing the farmer for his lack of respect for somebody who ranks just a step or two below God Himself, but then Commander Narasan jerked his divinity out from under him by revoking his commission right there on the spot. The commander ordered me to chain the little rascal and then kick him in the backside every step of the way back here to the beach.’

‘If your foot gets tired, I’d be happy to take over for you, Padan,’ Torl offered. ‘Between the three of us, we could probably spend the next week or so kicking Jalkan back and forth between the castle and the beach.’

Skell pursed his lips. ‘We could even make bets on something like that,’ he suggested.

‘I never pass up an opportunity to make a good bet,’ Padan said. ‘We’d probably have to set up a few rules, though - so much for the longest kick, and a side bet for the highest one.’

‘It’d give us something to do beside standing around watching the tides rise and fall,’ Torl added. ‘When you get right down to it, though, it’ll probably start to get tiresome after a while. When it stops being fun, we might want to consider just giving him a decent burial and let it go at that.’

‘But he’s not dead yet, Torl,’ Padan objected.


Sorgan called Skell into the round room where the map was to tell him that a shepherd called Nanton would show the way to get around the Falls of Vash. ‘Narasan and I’ve decided that you’d probably be the best one to lead the scouting party, Skell,’ he said.

‘What else is new and different, cousin?’ Skell grumbled.

‘Don’t be such a grouch, Skell. Just look the country up there over and see if you can spot the most likely invasion route. Then pick the best places for us to build forts to hold the enemies off.’

‘And were you going to show me how to pull on my shirt as well, cousin?’

‘Oh, quit!’ Sorgan growled.

‘Does this happen very often?’ Narasan asked with an amused expression.

‘All the time,’ Sorgan replied, rolling his eyes upward. ‘Skell thinks that he’s funny, but I quit laughing a long time ago.’

‘How long do you think it’ll take Gunda to get here with the rest of your army?’

‘It’s a little hard to say for sure, Sorgan. I left a very reliable man in charge of the bulk of the army - Sub-Commander Andar. He’ll know what needs to be done as soon as Gunda tells him that it’s time to move out. I think his big problem will be finding enough ships to bring eighty thousand men up here. That sort of leaves things up in the air for right now. I’m sure that Gunda will find some way to get the information up here to us once he knows how much longer it’s going to take.’

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