‘Or thou art, Zedar,’ Torak replied in that dreadful, echoing voice of his. ‘Do that which is necessary to place me inside those golden walls by nightfall.’
‘Were it not for the restrictions which have been lain upon us, might I easily accomplish that task, Lord.’
“The restrictions have been lain upon me, Zedar. They need not be of concern to thee.’
Zedar’s eyes brightened. ‘Then I may proceed without fear of the chastisement of Necessity?’
“Thou art commanded to proceed, Zedar. Should that result in thy chastisement, it is no concern of mine. Take comfort in the fact that I shall always remember thee fondly when thou art gone, however. But this is war, Zedar, and wars do frequently carry off friends. It is regrettable, but the attainment of a goal doth always take precedence. Should it come to pass that thou must lay down thy life so that I may achieve mine ends, so be it.’
The casual indifference of the Dragon-God chilled Zedar’s blood, I’m sure, and it quite probably rearranged his thinking about just how important he was in Torak’s view of the world.
Mother and I returned to the city, and once again she told me to ‘go out and play’ while she continued her surveillance of our enemies. She wasn’t quite as cold-blooded about it as Torak had been, but still –
Then, even as I was going down the stairs to the throne-room, I realized that the battle had erased – or pushed into the background – Torak’s unwholesome lust for me. I was terribly disappointed in him. A genuine suitor would never have let anything as petty as the fate of the world distract him from what was supposed to occupy his every waking thought. I sadly concluded that he probably didn’t really love me as much as he’d claimed. Sometimes a girl just can’t depend on anybody to do what’s right.
Everyone was in the throne-room when I entered.
‘What are they up to, Pol?’ father asked. Father’s protests when I’d told him that I was ‘going out to have a look’ had been vehement, but his objections hadn’t been quite strong enough to prevent him from using every scrap of information I’d managed to pick up. I’ve noticed over the years that men frequently take strong positions that are mostly for show. Then, having established their towering nobility, they come back down to earth and take advantage of whatever turns up.
‘Zedar seems to have fallen out of favor,’ I answered my father’s question. ‘He was supposed to take Vo Mimbre yesterday, and Torak was seriously put out with him for his failure.’
‘Torak’s never been noted for his forgiving nature,’ Beltira said.
“The years haven’t mellowed him very much, uncle.’
‘Were you able to pick up any hints about what we should expect tomorrow, Pol?’ father pressed.
‘Nothing very specific, Father. Torak himself is going to abide by the restrictions the Necessities have placed on him, but he as much as ordered Zedar to ignore them. He did say that he’d be just broken-hearted if the Necessities should obliterate Zedar for breaking the rules, but if that’s the way it turns out – ah, well. Zedar seemed to be quite upset about Torak’s willingness to feed him to the wolves.’
‘I wonder if our brother’s starting to have some regrets about changing sides yet,’ Belkira said with an almost saintly smile.
‘I rather think that Zedar’s going to follow his Master’s lead in this,’ I told them. ‘Zedar just adores his own skin, so he’s not likely to risk it. More probably he’ll order some Grolim priest – or several Grolim priests – to stick their necks out instead. Grolims are fanatics anyway, and the notion of dying for their God fills them with ecstasy.’
‘We could speculate all night about that,’ father said. ‘Just to be on the safe side, though, we’d better assume that they’ll try it and that it’ll work. If it doesn’t, fine; if it does, we’d better be ready. We might as well try to get some sleep now. I think we’ll all need to be alert tomorrow.’
The conference broke up, but father caught me in the hall afterward. ‘I think we’d better start repositioning our forces,’ he said. ‘I’ll go tell Cho-Ram and Rhodar to start closing up the gap between them and Torak’s east flank. Then I’ll go talk with Brand and Ormik and have them ease down from the north. I want those armies to be in place and fresh when Beldin gets here the day after tomorrow. Keep an eye on things here, Pol. Zedar might decide to get an early start.’
‘I’ll see to it, father,’ I replied.
It was well before dawn when Zedar’s new engines began hurling rocks at Vo Mimbre. He’d constructed mangonels, over-sized catapults that could throw half-ton boulders at the walls. The thunderous crashing of those boulders shook every building in Vo Mimbre, and the sound was positively deafening. Worse yet, Zedar’s new engines had enough range to put them back out of the reach of Asturian arrows.
When father returned, he suggested that the twins could plagiarize from Zedar and build mangonels for us as well. As is always the case when there’s a parity of weaponry, the defenders of any fortified place have the advantage. Zedar was hurling rocks at our walls; we were throwing rocks – or fire – at people. Our walls stood; Torak’s Angaraks didn’t. Our showers of fist-sized rocks brained Angaraks by the score, and our rain-squalls of burning pitch created new comets right on the spot, since people who are on fire always seem to want to run somewhere.
Zedar became desperate at that point, and he uncharacteristically risked his own neck to summon a wind-storm to deflect the arrows of the Asturian archers when he mounted his next frontal assault. That was a mistake, of course. The twins knew Zedar very well, and they recognized the difference between his Will and that of some expendable Grolim’s. All they had to do at that point was follow his lead. If Zedar didn’t evaporate in a puff of smoke when he used the Will and the Word to do something, it was obviously safe to do something similar in the same way. Zedar had to take chances, but as long as we simply followed his lead, we weren’t in any danger. Blazing the trail in a dangerous situation probably didn’t make Zedar very happy, but Torak’s ultimatum didn’t give him much choice. The twins erected a barrier of pure force, and Zedar’s wind-storm was neatly divided to flow around the dead calm which had been suddenly clapped over Vo Mimbre.
Then, driven to desperation, Zedar enlisted the Grolim priests to help him dry out the sea of mud surrounding the besieged city. It took father and the twins a while to realize what was afoot, but by the time Zedar mixed the now-dry mud with his wind-storm to send clouds of billowing dust toward our walls, I’d already arrived at a solution. The twins and I broke off a piece of Zedar’s wind-storm, sent it swirling, tornado-like, several miles down the River Arend, and then brought it back in the form of a waterspout. Then we relaxed our grip on it. The resulting downpour laid the dust, and we saw a horde of Murgos who’d been tiptoeing through the obscuring dust-storm. The Asturian archers took it from there.