The knights took seats around the table, and Bat and I set about serving them. The wine we’d received from the Concord quartermasters was a dark, almost-black red, sweet and bitter in equal measure even after we’d mixed it with hot water from the kettle.
Sir Bliss and another pair of knights arrived just as I’d started handing out the clay cups of wine, and Sir Hagan called for the food as they settled themselves. The pages I’d done my best to organize were pushed into a pile in the middle of the table, replaced by wood trenchers of pottage, and the knights ate and drank in relative silence, exchanging only occasional pleasantries.
The quiet seemed ominous to me, compared to the typical boisterousness of the meals I shared with my tent-mates. Even with Oskar never speaking to me directly, at any given moment one of the four of us was usually telling some story or wondering aloud about what we might face the next day, and the only quiet meals we’d shared had been on the march from Shalecliff to Kintinvale, when none of us knew what to say about anything. I wondered if the knights were always this terse around each other, or if there was something unspoken that was worrying them all.
As Bat and I cleared the trenchers and refilled cups at the end of the meal, Sir Hagan pushed his chair back and stood, clearing his throat. “All right,” he said, “I haven’t just brought you here for a hot meal and over-sweetened wine. We have a battle plan to go over.” He reached forward, pushing the papers that had been piled up at the middle of the table off of the map that lay below them, and then he rolled out another large parchment beside it.
“This,” he said, “is the keep at Mendoscori Pass. It lies just a few hundred paces from the top of the next ridge, less than an hour’s march away.”
I looked at the parchment. It was a building plan, outlining the shape of the footings and walls of the keep, the kind of drawing I’d watched Master Vardon make a dozen times or more. It was so similar to one of Vardon’s drawings, in fact, that I almost expected to see his mark on one of the corners, but I didn’t recognize the name that was written on this one, nor the symbols below it.
The structure of the building, though, was much different than anything I’d ever helped Vardon to plan and build. The keep seemed to have a single, thick wall that ran along one side, with lines at the edge of the plan indicating that it extended out further than the edges of the page. The rest of the keep consisted of a roughly-square courtyard enclosed by narrower walls, with a box tower pressed against the main wall in one corner. There were two sets of main gates that I could see as well; one set next to the tower, leading through the thicker wall, and a second set in the opposite corner of the keep, leading out of the fort in the opposite direction.
“It was built a few hundred years ago,” Sir Hagan continued, “during the last war between Euphentis and Escana, back before this territory was returned to the Escanans to secure the alliance between the two. The main gate has multiple layers of defense, two sets of gates a foot thick, and anyone assaulting them is vulnerable to attack both from the wall and the main tower here.” He pointed to the box tower. “From here, the defenders have a clear view of both the main gate and the courtyard below, and I’m told that before the end of the war the keep’s former occupants installed a pair of scorpions on the roof.”
“Thankfully, though, the worst of those problems don’t concern us, because the fortress was built to keep the Escanans out of Euphentis, not the other way around.” He moved his finger to the gate in the thinner wall. “The gate on the eastern side of the fortress has only a single set of doors, and the tower is blind to the entire far side of the eastern wall. They don’t even have a clear view of the top of the ridge, as the Escanans haven’t had a reason to keep the trees and brush cleared for nearly a hundred years.”
He pulled back his hand and stood up straight. “Reaching the gates should be straightforward, but unfortunately just reaching them won’t be enough.”
The knight with the boar sigil raised a hand. “I meant to bring that up,” he said, his voice deep and gravelly. “There’s a rumor that’s been floating around my men that the Fae are impossible to lay siege to, that they can… magic themselves in and out, somehow.”
The knight sounded dubious, like he still didn’t entirely believe that magic was real. Which made no sense to me, but then I remembered that he was one of Lord Keays’ men. He hadn’t fought the Fae at Kintinvale, hadn’t seen them unleash their power when their glamour failed to kill us. To him, ‘Fae magic’ was a band of mercenaries acting mercenary, not white-hot fire from the sky or shards of ice thrown like knives.
“Not exactly,” Sir Hagan said. “The Concord’s expert says the Fae have a way to send objects and animals instantly over long distances, but that it doesn’t work to send the Fae themselves. So, while they likely have all the tools, foodstuffs, and supplies they need, they are still limited to their current number.”
Sir Bliss leaned in, resting an arm on the table. “I thought their… expert said that they wouldn’t have any magic available to them, not if we attacked in winter.”
Sir Hagan frowned. “The situation is slightly more complicated than that.” He pulled a smaller piece of parchment out of the stack closest to him, scanning it as he spoke. “All of the Fae have at least a small amount of magical ability, which manifests as the mind-effecting aura they project, their glamour. For some elves and almost all of the sidhe, this is as far as their magical ability extends.”
A couple of the knights shifted uncomfortably at Sir Hagan’s mention of the sidhe. I saw Sir Hagan glance at them, but he continued speaking as though he hadn’t noticed their disquiet. “Most of the elves develop more magical power as they grow older, both naturally and through training, but for those who can’t or who aren’t inclined to learn and for those magics they use frequently, the Fae have a way of imbuing a physical object with a particular magical effect, such that they can be used even by those with very little power, or even possibly those without any power of their own, to… to cast a spell that the individual in question would otherwise be incapable of.”
He set the page down. “The specific example she described to me was something she called a ‘summoning plate’, an inscribed gold disk roughly half a pace across that they can use to bring in whatever they need. The Fae send one anywhere they intend to set up for long-term operations, so there is almost certainly one within the keep, and they may have other imbued objects there as well.”
“Including weapons?” Sir Tolan asked.
“…possibly. But that is why we brought the anti-magic apparatus with us. And that is why…” Sir Hagan leaned in again, planting his fists on the tabletop. “The task the Concord asked of us was simply to take the keep back from the Fae and secure the Mendoscori Pass. But I believe that securing whatever objects of power the Fae in the keep possess might be as valuable to our side as the capturing of the keep itself, which is why we’re not just going to capture the keep.” A slow smile crept onto Sir Hagan’s face. “We’re going to take their toys, as well.”