“Honestly, lad,” Bat said softly, as he put slices of some kind of bird onto a pair of pewter plates in his hand, “I’m almost glad we had that whole terrible panic this morning. Means at least something exciting happened today. Maybe you can hold that Byrne fellow at knife point again before supper.”
I frowned, looking back at the table behind us. The meeting was still going on, but at midday a selection of food had been brought in and set up along one wall. Without prompting, the junior members of the Euphentine delegation had stood up and gone to get plates for their senior officers, and after a moment Bat and I and a few of the men from the other delegations had done the same.
I currently stood between Bat and one of the men from the delegation I thought I’d heard was from Helvontova. The country was one I’d only barely ever heard of; it lay to the far west, past the mountain kingdom of Escana and the mountains that split the continent, as far west from Etrenium as Atlin was north and farther away from Tilaird as just about anywhere else in the world. The man was dark-haired, pale-skinned, and as solidly-built as I was, and his companions at the table could all have been his cousins, they resembled each other so closely. Each wore hats or hoods lined with rabbit fur, heavy cloaks pushed back off of the shoulder, and more or less permanent scowls.
The man next to me kept looking back over his shoulder at the delegation from Floratova, the kingdom on Helvontova’s southern border; if the way they negotiated was any indication, the Helvontovans and Floratovans each trusted each other about as far as I’d have trusted a Happ-clan Grard, possibly excepting Iaggi Iaggison. General Byrne and the head delegate from Escana, a thin man with white, curly hair and a beard that was trimmed short at the chin but bushed out wide at the cheeks, had had to do a lot of subtle nudging to keep the meeting away from what seemed to be delicate topics for one nation or the other.
I looked back at Bat. “Some of it’s been important, but I admit most of it doesn’t mean a lot to me even when I understand the words.” I reached into a basket on the table, grabbing a few little loaves of dark, crusty bread for the plates Bat and I were carrying.
“Well, I might have have a little more of the geography than you do, lad.” Bat took a step down and picked up something from the food table, a plum-sized packet of what looked like a mixture of grain and root vegetable wrapped in cooked leaves of some sort. “You want to tell me the important bits, and maybe I can help with the other?” He sniffed the little packet, then shrugged and put it on a plate, grabbing a few more.
I looked up at the wall and tried to remember all the things I’d heard; it’d been at least a couple of hours since we’d sat down at the table, after the excitement of our arrival, and a lot of it seemed to run together in my mind. “General Byrne said we’d operate as our own army under Sir Hagan’s command, but that Sir Hagan would have to accept orders from Byrne. Sir Hagan agreed to that, said we were here to help however we could. General Byrne also said we’d need to get… I’m not sure exactly what he meant, so I’m not sure how to say it in Tillish. We’re all supposed to get ‘planted with lodestones’.”
“Planted?” Bat tilted his head. “Like a farmer plants seeds?”
I shrugged. “I guess? It’s how they’re protected from the glamour, the Fae influence thing.”
“Aye lad, I managed to pick up ‘Fae’ and ‘glamour’ when you put the collar on me.” Bat ran a finger along the cloth band. “I noticed, by the way, that you decided to test it on me before you put one on Sir Hagan. Smart thinking, probably, but I’m not sure whether to be flattered or insulted.”
I looked down at Bat. He narrowed his eyes at me, and then shook his head and chuckled. I smiled. “I barely know Sir Bliss or Sir Lloyd,” I said, “how was I supposed to know whether they’d gone back to their old selves?”
“Well, then,” Bat said, using a finger to tuck a small pile of meatballs in next to the sliced fowl, “another problem solved by my stubborn refusal to change.” He winked at me. “My wife would be furious.”
I laughed and shook my head, and went back to remembering. “There was a lot of talk about the enemy position, where the fighting was happening, who’d been pushed back where, that sort of thing. I didn’t recognize most of the places they named so I don’t really remember much, but I think they said there’d been word that Arcar is under siege, but that someone named Sanne was still refusing the Concord’s offer.”
“I’ve heard the name, I think. Elioya Sanne?” Bat asked me. I shrugged, and he went on, “He rules Mirennus, I think.”
Mirennus was another of those nations I knew only a little about, but there were a few things I’d heard, eavesdropping on travelers in the inn or waiting on Master Vardon’s occasional guests. “Doesn’t Mirennus have a Queen? Or a Crown Princess, maybe? A young girl?”
Bat nodded slowly. “No, you’re right, it’s a Princess Larmonde that technically rules the country, but she’s only a little girl and Lord Sanne is the one who actually runs things.” He stepped around the end of the food table, ladling some sort of sauce indiscriminately over the plates in his hand. “So it’s something to do with Mirennus. No idea where Arcar is, though.”
“Me neither.” I gave the sauce a taste, scraping a drop from the handle of the ladle with my finger and bringing it to my mouth. It tasted like meat and vinegar. “Oh, and there was one other name I recognized. General Byrne said the Fae had finally pushed south out of Tericordus.” There was a tingling heat in my mouth that seemed to have nothing to do with the temperature of the sauce. Not unpleasant, but I’d never tasted anything quite like it. I ladled a small amount to the side of the food on each of the plates in my hand. “He said the Fae had done to Harrdslund what the Multitude had failed to do for a hundred years. His tone sounded sort of like he was joking, and sort of like he wasn’t.”
Bat frowned, and sniffed. “Now this is something I do know about. The Harrds are one of the Grardish clans, like the Happs, and Tericordus is a fort that used to be on the border between Euphentis and Atlin. Used to be before the Harrds came from the sea and conquered it, more than a century ago. They took a fair-sized stretch of the coastline in both Euphentis and Atlin on either side, too, named the whole thing Harrdslund, set themselves up as lords beholden only to the High King of the Grards. The same thing the Happs did to Tilaird thirty years ago.”
Bat looked up at me. “If the Fae have wiped out Harrdslund, the Grardish have been hit as hard by this war as Tilaird has. No wonder they’re suddenly willing to help King Creag.” He looked back over at the table, and then gestured toward it. “Come on, lad, we’d better get back. General Goldengown there sounds like he’s starting in on a new topic, and we wouldn’t want to miss that, would we?” He smirked at me, and I tried not to roll my eyes at him as we made our way back to the table, gently sliding plates of food in before Sir Hagan and the other knights.