Chapter 6

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Second Month of Summer

Third Era, Year 333

It had begun with word of raids along the coast in the Second Month of Spring. Berk ships were sinking Phelinian trading vessels and attacking harbor towns. No one knew what the reasons were this time, but hostility from Berk was nothing new. The country was covered in snow for most of the year and starved for trade with the Alta Mountains cutting them off from both Phelin and Algoma. The seas were even less inviting than crossing the mountains at any time of the year, as well.

But they were braving the wild seas to attack the ports of Phelin.

The entire court of Ryal took it as a sign of coming war. Caol had wasted no time ordering improvements to their navy vessels and expanding the standing army. He commanded local armies to send what help they could to the threatened towns and cities.

They were still painfully unprepared for what came.

Ryal's strategic location was also its weakness. It was high atop a hill on a cliff overlooking the Amia River, and that river could bring enemy ships incredibly close to the city. There were plenty of landing places both up and down river from the city. Invaders could attack the country at its head, instead of leading a grueling campaign across the countryside and losing soldiers itself.

Only Ardan knew the invaders were coming, and even he didn't know soon enough to save them. They barely had time to wake the city and secure the gates before an army larger than what any of them could have expected swarmed them from the morning mist.

The defenders fought bravely to keep the invaders off the walls and to stop the gates from being broken, but it was useless. Not even Ardan's magic and that of the other mages in the city could stop the inevitable from happening.

When it became clear that the outer wall was going to fall that afternoon, Ardan and the general of the castle guard forced Caol back to the slightly safer castle. That was where the castle servant met them, almost hysterical.

"The queen is in labor and the midwife is worried she may not survive," the girl told them in a rush.

Despite how things had started, Caol had come to consider Aisa a friend again over the last few months, and so had Ardan. Hearing that she may die sent a cold pain through him, even though he knew that likely all of them would die before the day was over.

They rushed to the royal bedchamber, but were kept from entering by two senior healers. Not even Caol could make them open the door. So they were left to wait.

Wait for the death of their friend. Wait for what would surely be a stillborn baby. Wait for the city to fall. Wait for death for them all.

Ardan went to the window at the end of the hall. The outer wall had nearly fallen. Most of the soldiers had retreated to the second wall now. It wasn't likely to last long, either.

He was so focused on the outside world, he hardly noticed that Caol had been summoned into the bedchamber. The words that came to him a short time later chilled him again.

"She didn't survive."

Ardan nodded silently.

"The midwife said it was the stress," Caol added, standing beside him.

"The child?" Ardan asked, though he thought he knew.

"Healthy. A son."

Ardan suppressed his tiny glimmer of hope. "Not that it matters. The siege is nearly over. Before the day is out we will be conquered. We will fall to Berk."

Caol was silent for a long moment, then cleared his throat. "There is something I must ask you to do. You're the only one I trust to do it, and the only one who can do it."

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