“The true danger any opponent poses is not that they can do a hundred things you cannot, magical or otherwise, but that they might do one thing that you would never have considered possible. In that sense, humanity was as great a threat to the Fae as the Fae were to humanity.”
-Irandrya Ayes, Concord Adviser
Aler and I gave one last great heave on the arms of the aura cart, and the wheels finally climbed the last of the road’s log steps and settled onto level ground. Panting, we walked the cart forward another few steps to clear the way, and then set down the arms and stepped away for a moment’s rest.
Ceyx stepped around from behind the cart, where he’d been helping to push, and squatted down next to one of the wheels, breathing almost as hard as Aler and I were. After a few breaths, he ducked his head down below the bottom edge of the cart, checking the mechanisms attached to the axle.
Aler looked over at me as a few of the column’s stragglers crested the ridge and marched past us. He chuckled. “You’ve come aflame, it looks like, Mason.” He gestured to the sheepskin wrapped around my shoulders, which was steaming in the pre-dawn chill.
I wasn’t in a mood to joke around, but that was no fault of Aler’s and I tried to smile a little as I glanced back at the sky beyond the ridge, over the tops of the snow-dusted pines. The timing was going to be close, I thought, too close for comfort. The climb up the final slope had taken longer than Sir Bliss had planned for, and already the few stars that had been visible through the clouds had faded and the sky had begun to turn from black to gray. If we were going to be in a position to begin our assault with the sunrise, we were going to have to form up quickly.
Sir Hagan had outlined his plan at the meeting in his tent, back in the camp we’d left just an hour or so ago, the camp we hadn’t bothered to tear down or pack up. The main body of the army, lead by Sir Bliss and Sir Tolan, was to attack the eastern gate of the keep at dawn, one large body of longspearmen guarding a battering ram. They’d be backed by a dozen or so archers to harry the top of the wall and the lodestone aura cart at the rear center to guard against magical attack.
He’d stressed that the attack be loud, sudden, and threatening, and that attacking with the dawn would put the rising sun right at our backs, making us difficult to see and providing some additional protection from whatever non-magical ranged attacks the Fae might be able to bring to bear. He’d also stressed that, once begun, our attack didn’t have to break through the gate at any particular speed, so long as we kept up the appearance that we might do so at any time. After all, we weren’t meant to be the true threat; we were the decoys.
The true attack would come from the small force Sir Hagan lead now, twenty men hand-picked by Sir Hagan, the boar knight Sir Erian Piccett, and Sir Atelic Woon, a knight with a crowned harp for a sigil who’d been the least member of the King’s personal guard before he’d been assigned to Sir Hagan. They’d left in the middle of the night, while the rest of the army had been sleeping or still making preparations. Their goal was to climb the ridge using a steeper, narrower path that the Escanan delegates had described to Sir Hagan, make their way to the old border wall a distance away from the fortress, scale the wall, and then wait for our force to begin our attack.
With the attention of the enemy focused on us, they would advance toward the keep along the top of the wall and enter the tower through a door that would likely be either lightly-guarded or completely ignored. Once inside they would kill whoever remained within, probably including whatever leadership the sidhe had, secure the tower and the objects of power the sidhe leaders were almost certainly keeping within, and then use either those imbued objects or the roof-mounted ballistae to rain down death on the remaining sidhe in the courtyard, forcing them to either retreat through the main gate or die where they stood.
If we were going to provide the distraction they needed, though, we were going to have to attack soon. I looked over at Ceyx, who had finished checking the cart’s undercarriage and was now examining the lids of the current cells. “Boniti?” I asked. Is it good?
“Forsin…” He said. Possibly. He touched his tongue with the tips of two of the fingers on his left hand, and then reached down and touched a pair of the cells’ wire connection points. “Ah!” He jumped, jerking his hand back and cursing in Euphenti, and then looked back over at me. “Bonitum. Is good.”
“Beni.” Thanks. I turned back to Aler. “We need to catch up. Ready to move?”
Aler grimaced, but nodded. “Yeah, I’m ready. Sure wish Oskar were here to take a turn, though. Or even Ran, maybe.”
I didn’t respond to that, but I frowned as I moved to take up the cart handle again. Ran was up in the main column with most of the men, spear in hand. I’d told him to stick close to Bat if he could; Bat’s orders were to coordinate the men on the battering ram, so keeping close to him would mean keeping closer to the center of the formation, further away from whatever violence the sidhe managed to visit on us.
As for Oskar, that was part of Sir Hagan’s plan, too. At the end of the meeting, as the knights leaving to see to their men, he’d asked me to stay for a moment. “I’m going to need a sapper or two with me on the walls, in case the door is barred or we run into some obstacle that’s been added since the Escanans were last here. You have a man in your tent who’s a blacksmith, I think?”
I’d frowned. “Blacksmith’s apprentice. Or, I suppose he’s a journeyman now.” I’d shaken my head a little. “But yes. Oskar.”
Sir Hagan had looked at me oddly for a moment, and then looked back down at his notes on the table. “Fine, then. Can this Oskar handle a mallet and cold chisel?”
“I’m sure he can,” I’d said, “So can I, if it comes to that.”
“No. I appreciate your enthusiasm, Mason, but I need you with the lodestone aura, to relay orders to the philosopher.” He gestured me away without looking up from his notes. “Just send Smith to me when you get back to your tent. That’s all, thank you.”
I’d turned to leave then, but hesitated at the flap of the tent. Sir Hagan had looked up. “Something else, Mason?”
I had opened my mouth, and then closed it again. What was I going to say? “I’m not sure I can get him to come, Sir, he’s not speaking to me because for years I’ve been a bigger ass to him than Sir Tolan’s ever been to anyone and now I’ve been made your broken lance because the master I served was a foreigner and the master he served was my father”?
Instead, I’d just answered “No, Sir,” and gone back to my tent and told Oskar to see Sir Hagan, and so now, if everything was going to plan on their end, he was crouched atop the barrier wall, watching the sky lighten, depending on our attack to draw the attention of the enemy away from him and the other with him so they weren’t spotted and then immediately set on fire, hit by lightning, or frozen to death from the inside out. Or just bombarded from the top of the tower by arrows the size of short spears.
“Come on,” I said as I lifted my side of the cart. “Let’s move.”
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