‘What force is close enough to come to our aid, Polgara?’
‘My father, Andrion, and he doesn’t have to be close to get here in a hurry.’
‘Thou dost propose to defend the walls of Vo Wacune with sorcery?’
‘It isn’t really illegal, Andrion. I think that between us, father and I can hold off the Asturians until our armies arrive. Father can be very nasty when he sets his mind to it, and I can be even worse. By the time we’re done, the very mention of Vo Wacune will give every Asturian for the next thousand years screaming nightmares. You and Ontrose had better alert the city garrison and make some preparations. I’ll go home and summon my father, and then I’m going to bed. I haven’t slept for three days, and I’m positively exhausted.’
I reached my town house and went into my library, firmly closing the door behind me. The Killaneson family knew by now what that meant and they didn’t disturb me. Before I could go searching for father, however, mother came searching for me. ‘Polgara!’ she said sharply. ‘The Mimbrates are going to invade southern Wacune at first light tomorrow morning.’
‘What?’ I exclaimed.
‘The northern Mimbrate barons have allied themselves with Garteon, and they’ll come north to join the Asturian army in the siege of Vo Wacune.’
‘So that’s what it’s been all about,’ I said as it came crashing in on me. ‘The Asturians pulled us out of position so that they could attack Vo Wacune with Mimbrate allies to help them.’
‘Don’t repeat the obvious, Pol,’ mother said. ‘You’d better get word of this to your father. The way things stand, Vo Wacune hasn’t a chance of surviving. He’s the only one who can help you right now. He’s in his tower in the Vale. Hurry, Pol!’
‘Father!’ I sent my thought out to him, casting it out my library window at a sky which had been obscured by an incoming storm. ‘I need you!’
‘What’s the matter?’ his thought came back almost immediately. I took that to be a good sign. For once, he’d been home when I called. “The Asturians are right on the verge of breaking the peace here in Arendia. Duke Garteon of Asturia has formed an alliance with the barons of northern Mimbre. The barons are invading Wacune from the South.’
‘Where’s your army?’
‘Most of it’s in Central Sendaria in response to an Asturian ruse. We’ve been lured out of position, father, and Vo Wacune’s in grave danger. I need help here. We’re right on the verge of losing everything I’ve worked for.’
‘I’ll get there as quickly as I can, Pol,’ he promised.
That made me feel quite a bit better, and I closed my window as the storm broke over Vo Wacune.
There’s no question that our situation was grave. Our armies were on the march, but there was no way they could reach Vo Wacune in time to stave off the Asturian assault on the city, and by the time our forces did arrive, the Mimbrates would already be here to reinforce Garteon’s army. As is so often the case, everything hinged on time.
I spent the remainder of that blustery night in my library considering the situation. The Arendish mind was locked in stone on certain issues. The soul of any domain lies in its capital. Mimbre would not exist without that golden fortress on the River Arend; Asturia would be meaningless without Vo Astur; and the Wacite duchy derived almost entirely from the delicate, soaring towers of Vo Wacune. It was that peculiarity which had persuaded me not to establish a capital city in my own duchy. My domain had no center. The destruction of the city of Erat would have angered me, but it would not have devastated me. I realized clearly that if Vo Wacune were to fall, Wacune would no longer exist. Within a few generations, it would only be a fading memory. Saving the city was an absolute imperative.
The summer storm which had descended upon us, unlike most storms of that season, did not blow off with the dawn, but continued to blow and rain and make life generally miserable.
This was that fatal tenth day, however, so I pulled on my cloak and went to the palace to see how things were progressing. I found Andrion and Ontrose deep in discussion. ‘Father’s on his way, gentlemen,’ I advised them. ‘This weather’s probably going to slow him down, though.’
‘It will also, it seemeth to me, delay the march of our own forces from thy duchy,’ Andrion added.
Then, as matters now stand, must we defend our city with such force as is available to us here,’ Ontrose concluded. ‘The task, methinks, will be formidable, but not impossible.’ They were worried enough already, so I decided to keep the information about the Mimbrates to myself for the time being.
The wind and rain continued for the next two days, and that somewhat slowed Garteon’s advance on Vo Wacune. At least he wasn’t right outside our walls at daybreak when the bad weather finally passed on through and the sun came out again. Father reached the city about noon, and he found Ontrose and me arguing in my still-damp rose-garden. My beloved mail-shirted champion was doing his level best to persuade me to leave Vo Wacune before it was too late. ‘It must be, Polgara,’ he urged me. “Thou must go from Vo Wacune to a place of safety. The Asturians are almost at the city gates.’ In spite of everything I’d told him about my planned reception of Garteon’s forces, he was still worried about my safety.
‘Oh, Ontrose,’ I said to him, ‘stop that. You know perfectly well that I can take care of myself. I’m not in any personal danger.’
That was when father, who’d gone falcon, settled into my favorite cherry tree, changed back into his own form, and climbed on down. ‘He’s right, Pol,’ he told me bleakly. “There’s nothing you can do here.’
‘Where have you been?’ I demanded.
‘Fighting with the weather. You’d better get your things together. We’ve got to get you out of here immediately.’
I couldn’t believe my ears! ‘Have you lost your mind? I’m not going anyplace. Now that you’re here, we can drive off the Asturians.’
‘No, as a matter of fact, we can’t. This is one of the things that has to happen, and you and I aren’t permitted to interfere in any way. I’m sorry, Pol, but the Mrin’s very specific about that. If we tamper with this, it’ll change the whole course of the future.’
‘Ctuchik’s probably behind this,’ I said groping for some new argument to win him over. ‘You’re not going to let him win, are you?’