Heads turned to face us. General Byrne raised an eyebrow. “Sir Hagan?”
“My men and I will reopen the Mendoscori Pass.” Sir Hagan gestured to us. “It was one of a few options I’d been considering suggesting after the meeting, one of a few ways we could best contribute. Now, it seems the obvious best option.”
Counselor Mannius took a step toward us. “With all due respect, Sir, we have protocols of conversation for a reason. You cannot just go questioning-”
“Mannius, please.” Byrne put a hand on the Counselor’s shoulder. “We’ve weathered one bold Tillish interruption today, we can surely survive another. Especially if his plan is sound.” He nodded to Sir Hagan. “Please, Sir, explain your reasoning.”
Sir Hagan nodded, and cleared his throat. “From what I heard during the meeting earlier, the Pass is defended by a small border fort, yes?”
“Correct,” General Byrne said. “Built for a single-century garrison.”
“So the Fae would be unlikely to outnumber my men, unless they’ve stuffed it full. And you’ve said the Fae are impossible to lay siege to?”
It was Irandrya who answered. “There are magics that be used to summon supplies from a distance, bring in food, water, even equipment and beasts of burden if it’s necessary.”
“So,” Sir Hagan said, “it won’t matter that there are too few of us to bottle them up, and the narrow gates and entrances of a small fort will limit the number we could send in at once anyway.” He gestured to General Byrne, then to the philosophers’ cart. “You say you can’t spare any men from the front; my men are not yet on the front. You say we can only defend two hundred from magic; my men number a hundred and ninety-four. I can train some of my men in the use of the apparatus while we resupply and drill through the rest of autumn and the winter, and we can be ready to attack by the first thaw.”
I blinked. It was autumn? Had so much time passed already?
Irandrya shook her head. “No, you shouldn’t wait for spring.”
Byrne turned to her. “No?”
She paused, and then shook her head. “If you decide to go forward with this attack, you should attack during the winter. A little after the first snows, if possible.”
“We Tillish aren’t unaccustomed to the cold,” Sir Hagan said, “but marching through the mountains in winter would be arduous, perhaps even dangerous for my men.”
“I realize that, but…” The Fae woman brought her hand to her chest. “My people are accustomed to much warmer lands than these, and are acutely sensitive to the cold. If there are any of my kind guarding the pass now, they will almost certainly leave before the first snow and return at the end of winter. If you attack during that time, the pass should be guarded only by those Fae your people call sidhe, who should be less dangerous to your men both physically and magically.”
“Hm.” Sir Hagan frowned, but nodded. “I see.”
“Can you be ready to march in time for that?” General Byrne asked.
Sir Hagan thought, and then nodded again. “If your philosophers can either train my men to use the apparatus in time or send men to operate it themselves, we can be ready to march in a week.”
General Byrne looked over at Piet, who nodded to him, and then back at Sir Hagan. “Very well, then.” He looked over at the head of the Floratovan delegation. “Thilo, prepare messages and messengers to send with them. We want the shipments moving as soon as the pass is taken. Piet, you have a week to get your invention battle-ready.”
He stepped forward, reaching out to clasp Sir Hagan’s hand in his own. “I hereby give you the command and obligation to take the border fortress at Mendoscori Pass, and thereafter to hold the pass against any enemy attack until you can be relieved. Die well, or live in glory.” He stepped back. “Until our next meeting, everyone.”
The other delegates all turned and began to leave. Bat elbowed me in the ribs. “I didn’t get much of that, lad, but I’ve got a feeling we’ve been ‘volunteered’.”
I nodded. “That’s… yeah. Pretty much.” I looked over at him. “How do you feel about snow?”
“Spirits…” Bat muttered.