“It’s called a ‘fosse,’ Athlan,” Keselo told Longbow’s friend. “They’re fairly standard in the empire.”
Athlan looked just a bit crestfallen. “I thought I’d come up with a notion that nobody had ever tried before,” he said.
“Don’t give up on it just yet,” Keselo advised. “We’ve always used just plain water to fill the fosse to the front of any fort or breastworks. I don’t think anyone’s ever considered mud before. Water would slow the enemies down, but I think mud would slow them even more.”
“It might take your people a while to divert the nearby streams,” Padan said, “but we have a lot of friends here. Some of them will be helping us build the breastworks, but then there are others who’ll be able to help you and your people build mud-pits.”
“I think we might run out of water if we try to put these mud-pits in front of every breastworks we build,” Rabbit said. “Wouldn’t it work better if we just left plain, open ground in front of the second breastworks? That would give the horse-soldiers good solid ground to ride on, then they kill off all the bug-men who try to attack that second wall.”
“And maybe we might want to use catapults and fire-missiles to stop the ones who try to attack the third breastworks,” Keselo added. “The creatures of the Wasteland have a lot of trouble with changes of any kind, so if we use a different form of defense for each breastwork, we’ll have some very unhappy enemies out there.”
“And maybe put those poisoned stakes in front of the fourth one?” Ox added. “Then we could go back to mud-pits in front of the fifth one. After a while, they won’t know what we’re going to do next.”
“We’ve got some very evil people working with us, Narasan,” Sorgan said with a wicked grin.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way, friend Sorgan,” Narasan replied.
The sun had gone down, and a distinct chill settled over the mountains that lined the southern part of the Domain of Dahlaine of the North. Keselo had never spent any significant amount of time in the mountains, so he wasn’t really prepared for the sudden drop in the temperature after the sun went to bed—and this was still only autumn. The thick-furred cloaks of the Matans had seemed perhaps a bit ostentatious when Keselo had seen them for the first time, but if the winters here were as brutally cold as the autumn chill suggested, the Matan cloaks might even be a little bit on the light side.
“Nippy, wouldn’t you say?” Rabbit said as he joined Keselo near the mouth of Crystal Gorge.
“I might even go just a bit farther than ‘nippy,’ my little friend,” Keselo replied with a shudder.
“Try this,” Rabbit said, holding out a Matan fur cloak.
“Gladly,” Keselo said, taking the cloak and draping it over his shoulders. “You didn’t steal it, did you?”
“I don’t steal clothes very often,” Rabbit replied. “Most of the clothes on any Maag ship have never been introduced to the thing called soap, so they tend to be just a bit gamey. Actually, your cloak—and mine—are gifts from Chief Two-Hands. Since we’re here to fight his war for him, he seems to want us to stay on the healthy side. How long would you say it’s going to take to build those breastworks?”
“A week at the most. There are plenty of rocks lying around up here in the mountains, so things should go fairly fast.”
Then there was a sudden flash of intensely bright light and a double crash of thunder.
“Guess who,” Rabbit said sardonically. “Zelana’s brothers are nice people, I suppose, but they sure are noisy.”
“You noticed. How very perceptive of you.”
Dahlaine and his younger brother joined them. “Where’s Narasan?” Veltan asked.
“Most probably somewhere up that slope that slants up from the mouth of the gorge,” Rabbit replied. “He and Gunda and Padan have been picking out the locations of the breastworks their men will start building tomorrow morning. Have the bug-people started coming up the gorge yet?”
“We haven’t seen any of them so far,” Dahlaine replied. Then he pointed at the rubble that was blocking off the mouth of the gorge. “Who came up with that notion?” he asked.
“Commander Narasan thought that it might divert that smoke,” Keselo replied, “and, of course, it should make things difficult for the creatures of the Wasteland.”
“How were you people able to gather that much quartz so fast?”
Keselo shrugged. “We just chipped it off the sides of the gorge,” he said. “It wasn’t really very hard, Lord Dahlaine. The quartz up at this end of the gorge has been fractured many times over the past several centuries.”
“It might be even more useful if it were just a bit higher.”
“It was starting to get dark, Lord Dahlaine. We can go back up there in the morning and pile it higher, if you want.”
“Why don’t we take care of that, brother mine,” Veltan said with a broad smile. “I don’t know how your pet feels about things like that, but my pet enjoys smashing things enormously. She had hours of fun when we opened the channel through Aracia’s ice zone to give Narasan’s army access to the Land of Dhrall.”
“And it didn’t really bother you all that much either, did it, little brother?” Dahlaine suggested with a grin.
“It was my responsibility, Dahlaine,” Veltan replied in a pious tone of voice. “I always take pleasure in doing the things I’m supposed to do, don’t you?”
Dahlaine laughed. “Do you ever plan to grow up, Veltan?” he asked.
“Not if I can avoid it, no.”
“All right, then, let’s go smash quartz for a while.”
The sound was deafening, and the flashes of light were so intense that they made Keselo’s eyes hurt, but the barrier across the mouth of Crystal Gorge grew higher with each clap of thunder.
“Isn’t it nice to have gods around to do the hard work?” Gunda said in a pious tone of voice.
“Let’s get started on the first breastwork, shall we?” Narasan suggested.
“You just had to go and say that, didn’t you?”
It was still spitting a chill sprinkle of rain the following morning, but the scanty remains of the dense smoke-cloud were streaming off to the east as the prevailing wind skimmed them off the top of the quartz dike that now blocked the mouth of the gorge.