“If one knows how an enemy thinks, one can often know what an enemy will do. Or, more often, what that enemy will not do.”
-Caurus Etrenius, “A Treatise on the Nature of Conflict”
I looked up, leaning back from the parapet. For the better part of the day I’d been on watch duty, keeping an eye out for signs of an attack, In practice, that meant I’d been sitting in the top of one of the little turrets that flanked the main gate on a tall stool I’d dragged over from the keep tower, watching carts and wagons loaded down with various and sundry goods roll into and out of the gate. The day was mild, the skies clear for the moment at least, and with the coals burning in the brazier behind me it was warm enough under the turret’s square peaked roof that I’d set the fleece-lined cloak I’d been wearing to one side.
Behind me, Wade ev Wollen was standing on the steps that lead up into the turret from the top of the wall, looking up at me. “How goes?”
“No complaints.” I shifted around on the stool to face him. “You’ll want to step in or out, though; the snow’s been sloughing off the roof all afternoon but there’s definitely more up there.”
“Ah, aye, thanks.” Wade climbed up the rest of the way into the turret, kicking off his boots on the stone steps. He was a lanky, narrow-faced boy my age, with a mop of curly tan-brown hair I don’t think he’d bothered to cut since we’d left Tilaird. He’d also grown a beard in the time since we’d left Etrenium, a bushy strip of reddish hair that made his face seem even more narrow by comparison.
Wade and his tent-mates had started spending more time around Oskar and Aler and I during our stay in the keep, and I’d found that I generally enjoyed Wade’s company. He had a fair amount of shyness about him, particularly when Barder was around and spouting off as Barder tended to do, but when he got to telling a story or recounting something that’d happened back home, he got excitable and animated in a way that reminded me of my brother, Thon.
He pulled off his cloak with a shake as he stepped up next to the brazier, and little drops of snow and water hissed as they hit the fire-hot metal. “It’s not bad up here, actually,” he said. “I thought it’d be colder, with the breeze and all.”
“No, it’s not bad,” I agreed. “So, what brings you to the top of the wall? Just here to chat?”
“Nah, afraid not,” Wade said, “Bat asked me to come up and be your relief.”
I cocked my head. “Relief? It’s practically midday; Aler came up to bring me a lunch less than two hours ago.” I turned away from the coals, looking back down at the gate as a pair of horses pulled a cart full of round copper ingots inside. “I appreciate Bat’s concern, and I might not be up to a full day’s march just yet, but I’m certainly capable of a full day’s sitting on my backside.”
“Nah, Griff, it’s not about that,” Wade said. “He said I’m to send you to Sir Hagan.”
“Oh.” I put my feet down on the ground and stood up. “Did he say why?”
Wade glanced back over his shoulder at the stairs, and then leaned in toward me. “Bat didn’t say anything to me about it, no, but I overheard Sir Hagan asking him to send you, and he said…” He looked around him again, and when he continued his voice had lowered almost to a whisper. “He said the elf woman had some questions to ask you.”
A part of me wanted to laugh at Wade’s sudden graveness, but I understood where it was coming from. A little over three weeks ago, maybe two and a half weeks after the battle, we’d received a shipment from Etrenium of supplies, half a dozen wagons full of food and equipment. At the end of the train, though, had been an enclosed horse-drawn coach carrying four passengers. One was a messenger with the latest information and orders for Sir Hagan, and two had been Euphentine philosophers, come to examine what was left of our lodestone aura generator. The fourth, of course, was Irandrya Ayes.
Sir Hagan had, up to that point, only referred to her as ‘the Concord’s magic expert’, and had specifically said no more about her. Until she arrived, only Sir Hagan, Bat and myself knew any more about her than that. Bat told me that Sir Hagan had thought it might cause more unrest among the men than was desirable to know we were working with one of the Fae, especially so soon after hearing the shorter ones referred to as the sidhe.
To Sir Hagan’s credit, that judgment proved to be correct; while she wore a cloak with a heavy hood and was shuffled inside and up to the top floor of the tower almost immediately upon her arrival, a few of the men caught glances of her face, and one of Sir Tolan’s men swore he’d seen a pointed ear as she’d adjusted her hood. Rumors had swept through the keep about a Fae prisoner, or about Sir Hagan being under the spell of an elf witch who meant to give us all up to the very Fae we’d driven from the keep, even though they’d been hunted down or found frozen out in the snow. There were also rumors that Sir Hagan was keeping a woman in the tower for his own amusement, and it was difficult to tell whether this or the Fae rumors seemed to be gaining more traction, though I supposed that wasn’t terribly surprising considering Irandrya was the first woman any of us had seen since we’d left Etreneum.
In the end, Sir Hagan had had to call all of the men together and announce that the individual that some of the men had seen was the Concord magic expert he’d spoken of, and yes, she was an elf, a defector from the Fae who had joined the Concord to help fight them, and yes, she was staying in the tower, not because she was being kept there but because she was hard at work, and yes, she was a woman, but as far as any of us were concerned she was a fellow soldier and a leader of the Concord, and should be treated with the same respect and deference as Sir Hagan himself or as any of the other knights.
His statement quelled the rumors some, but rumors have always been hard to kill entirely, and when the Fae woman never left the top floor of the tower, never sent for food or water but requested what seemed like enormous quantities of firewood, an aura of mystery seemed to settle over the tower, filling some of the men with curiosity and others with unease.
I stepped closer to Wade, clapping a hand on his shoulder. “Well, I guess I’d better not keep them waiting, then.”
“You going to be all right?” Wade asked. “Need a hand getting back to the tower?”
“No, I’ve got it,” I answered. “You’ve got a watch to start. I’ll make sure somebody brings you dinner.”
Wade snorted. “Great, many thanks,” he said sarcastically. “Good luck, Griff.”
“Hoping I won’t need it.”
I wrapped my cloak back around me and stepped carefully down out of the turret and onto the top of the wall. The walkway here next to the keep was being shoveled clear twice a day, and with the clear day the stones were nearly bare. Still, there were patches of ice here and there, and while my leg was getting stronger I still worried that a bad fall might put me back off my feet, so I picked my way along the walkway with care.
A realization struck me, and I had to stop, putting one hand to my forehead. “Spirits,” I muttered to myself, “Bat’s finally done it. ‘Good luck, Griff.’ They’ve got me answering to it, now.” I shook my head, resigning myself to my fate. “Well, at least it isn’t ‘Griffonkiller’.”
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