General Byrne was looking down at the table, studying a map that lay in front of him, but he raised his head shortly after Bat and I returned. “So, the situation is the same everywhere,” he said in Euphenti. “Despite everything, we fall back. Even where we hold the field, where we win the battle, our victory serves only to delay the enemy, not to push them back. We face the enemy with superior numbers and proven tactics in every battle, but still we fall back.”
The Fae woman, who Byrne had called Irandrya, spoke. “It is worth noting, I feel, that in resisting the advance this long, you have already proved yourselves the greatest opponents the High Courts have seen in a generation.” It was the first time I’d heard her voice without the effect of the glamour clouding my senses; even without it, her voice was intriguing, soft and light but as steady and clear as a bronze clocktower bell, ringing out across the room. “No rebellion, no…” She paused for a moment. “No declared enemy of the Courts has fought as you have, not in over a hundred years.”
The Escanan delegate cleared his throat. “And much of that is thanks to your assistance, Miss, but-”
“No,” Irandrya said, “even those enemies who needed no protection from glamour, enemies who knew the weapons and magics of the Courts intimately, have not fought back so well as your Concord. You should be proud of what you’ve accomplished.”
The pale man smiled at the Fae woman, a thin, polite smile that didn’t touch his eyes. “But, as I was saying, it seems that for all that, it still simply isn’t enough.” He turned his head to address the rest of the table. “For all of the cooperation and order we’ve managed to create here in the Concord, and for all that the commanders of the Fae seem fractured in their strategies and confused in their tactics…” He sighed. “We kill them up close, or we try to hold them at bay with bow and crossbow and every kind of stone-thrower and spear-launcher our philosophers can come up with, but when every elf on the battlefield can throw shards of ice as large as our stones right back at us, or rain fire and lightning on our men, or make their soldiers invisible or grow tall as a tree or make the ground open up to swallow our men whole, what can we do? When a quarter of your enemy are siege weapons in and of themselves, what tactic can avail us?”
The head of the Helvontovan delegation nodded. “There are reports from our northern border that even some of the sidhe soldiers possess offensive magics.”
I blinked. ‘Sidhe’ wasn’t a Euphenti word, it was a word from my native tongue, a word that brought memories of a secluded clearing to my mind and a lump of guilt to my stomach. ‘Sidhe’ was the Tillish word for the forest spirits.
The man continued, but Sir Hagan gestured for Lares, who approached and leaned in beside him. “I need a clarification.” Sir Hagan said quietly. “My lessons in Atlish weren’t as thorough as the ones in Euphenti. I believe elf means roughly the same thing in Atlish as sidhe does in Tillish, but I’m unsure what the delegates meant by either when they used them just now.”
“Ah, of course,” Lares said. “Those terms were decided on by the delegates at one of the earliest Concord meetings, almost a year ago. According to Miss Irandrya, there aren’t different words for her kind of Fae and the shorter ones in their language. General Byrne, Lord Byrne at that point, was already referring to the taller Fae as elves when he and Miss Irandrya arrived in Euphentis, and I believe it may have been Councilor Mannius there who suggested we use the similar term from your country’s mythology to refer to the shorter ones.” Lares pointed to an older-looking man dressed much as he was, in white robe and yellow sash, sitting a couple of seats down from General Byrne.
Sir Hagan rubbed his eyes with one hand. “That’s… unfortunate.”
Lares cocked his head. “In what way, if I might ask?”
“The sidhe are not…” Sir Hagan frowned. “If one had only visited Kintinvale or Westharbor, one might be forgiven in thinking of the sidhe as myths, as something the Tillish believed in a long time ago, but many of my men are from the northern parts of the country, where the old ways are still strong.” He glanced over at me, and at Sir Bliss, who was pointing at his plate of food and whispering something angry-sounding at Bat. “They’d tell you that the sidhe are very real, and that they are not to be trifled with.”
Lares opened his eyes wide with surprise, and I think I felt about as surprised as he looked, though for what was probably exactly the opposite reason. I knew that people from far-away places believed in other things than I did, because the Fates that Master Vardon prayed to were clearly something different than the spirits, but I hadn’t even considered that there might be Tillish people who didn’t believe. There had been cantors in the capitol, hadn’t there? Could they really believe in the spirits of the ancestors and not the spirits of the forests?
“Surely though,” Lares said, “your men will understand that a name is just a name, that the sidhe we fight are different from the ones they believe in.”
“Morale might suffer regardless,” Sir Hagan said. “If our people had called upon yours to help us fight Oura the End herself, how comforting would it be to you if someone then explained that we knew we weren’t actually fighting the Fate who rules over death, just a being that reminded us enough of her that we’d decided to use the name.”
Lares grimaced. “I… take your point. I can bring it up to General Byrne if you’d like, to discuss at the next meeting?”
“A bit late for that, a year after the fact.” Sir Hagan shook his head. “No, easier to change two hundred minds than twenty thousand. I’ll just… have to explain that we’re fighting the sidhe, not the sidhe.” The way he pronounced the word the second time was deeper and more accented, emphasizing the sounds that weren’t present in the Euphenti pronunciation, making it clear he was saying the word in Tillish. “Thank you, Lares.”
Lares nodded, and stepped back. I glanced across the table, at the Euphentine delegation, and my eyes met those of the Fae woman, who was looking straight at me. I quickly looked away, and when I glanced back a moment later her attention was back on the Escanan delegate, who was speaking again.
“Frankly,” he said, frustration clearly coloring his words, “if you can give us no counter to their other, more violent magics, I fear that all your help may have given us is the awareness to watch as the enemy slowly destroys us.”
“I wish that I had that for you,” Irandrya said, “but what you’re asking me for is something that all the mages in all the Convocation Academies have tried and failed to discover since the dawn of our civilization. Magical fire can be extinguished by magical water, but mundane water is as effective, and there is no element that stands in direct opposition to magic.”
“Except iron,” said one of the Floratovans.
She paused, and then nodded. “I suppose. But even an iron lodestone can only disrupt the magical impulse, not its effect. A spell can’t heat iron armor to glowing directly, but it could spray the wearer with fire from a pace away or scorch the ground beneath them to glass and cinder, achieving the same effect.” She lay her hands on the table, palms up. “I am genuinely sorry, but as far as Faekind has been able to determine, there is no such thing as counter-magic.”
Another member of the Euphentine delegation, a small man in an unadorned tan robe who’d been silent until now, leaned forward and turned his head to face Irandrya. “If…” he said, hesitantly, “if the lodestone was sufficiently strong, the impulse might be disrupted enough to keep the effect from reaching it, might it not?”
The fae woman’s brow furrowed. “I… I am unsure. My knowledge of lodestones extends almost no further than what we’ve already discussed, Piet.”
The small man, Piet, turned to General Byrne. “With your permission, General, I’d like to show the delegates something we’ve been working on.”
“A demonstration?” General Byrne asked.
Piet looked down at the table. “Well, no. Not exactly. More of an experiment, actually; we believe it works in principle, but we haven’t been able to test it without Miss Irandrya’s help. I was going to ask her after the meeting, but if our assumptions are correct and the device performs as we believe it will, it will be extremely germane to the conversation.”
“Hmm.” General Byrne turned back to face the table. “Is there any other business that cannot wait?”
There were a few murmurs from around the table, then the lead delegates of each nation all shook their heads.
“Well, then,” General Byrne said, “Let us pause this for now, and meet at the Philosophers’ Guild in an hour. Thank you.”