Chapter 36 - A Blunder of Words

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King Talon was finally giving her what she had wanted, whether he realized it or not, he was giving her an opportunity to be included. A flicker of a smile threatened to break free when she thought of it, but she dared not smile while he spoke of such important, heavy topics.

"The Gobelins have not made things easy for us," he admitted. "But I believe the worst of it has passed."

During his time in Lincastle, King Talon spent his days organizing troops for villages along the Eastern Barrier Range. Those who lived through the attacks were largely demoralized, weakened, low on food and other necessities, and entirely vulnerable. "I knew when I arrived that we needed troops posted in those villages—and quickly. I knew it was only a matter of time before more attacks would follow. Gobelins are wicked—they do not simply stop; they must be stopped. I saw it years ago. It almost seems like yesterday..." He shook his head, his eyes no longer in focus as he stared at his food. He spoke as if he were reliving the ordeal. "My biggest challenge was determining which villages required troops. When attacks happen at random, do you keep your troops concentrated? Do you do your best to anticipate where the next attacks will be? Or, do you risk spreading your troops thin for better coverage?"

"I think that it depends on the numbers you are up against. Even then, numbers aren't everything. Perhaps if you take a risk and fortify every village, you will take some of the guess work out of it. Your odds will be better if a village is defended with a small force, rather than no force at all. I suppose it is all statistics when you look at it that way."

He appeared thoughtful as he nodded. "Aye. What you say is true. Sometimes numbers mean little where bravery and might are concerned. We do not have an endless supply of soldiers and there are many villages."

She took a couple of bites of potatoes before saying, "What about the Drengr? Can't they do more to help?"

"Yes, and no." King Talon sighed as if this was a clear point of frustration for him. "Fort Lin is a two-day flight across the desert. For the villages farther north, it can take three days. That is the reason we organized permanent defense troops—swordsman, pikemen, and the like. Splitting up our Drengr teams allows us to assist more villages, however, it decreases our numbers in each village. It becomes a balancing act, just as it is with the soldiers."

"But the Drengr breathe fire! How many are needed to kill the Gobelins?"

"The number might surprise you. Gobelins are like rats." He grunted. "Actually, perhaps it is better to describe them as ants. We are vastly outnumbered, just as we were during the Gobelin Wars. How do the damned things breed so quickly?"

She opened her mouth, then closed it. He wasn't looking for an actual answer.

"Besides," he added, "that is hardly the worst of it."

"The worst of it?"

"The little beasts found a way to get Ice Metal."

"But, Ice Metal is mined by the Dwargs, is it not? The Dwargs are allies to Dragonwall. They live in Dragonwall and have sworn allegiance to you. Haven't they? How...?"

"Clearly they have traitors in their midst. Question is, how many?"

"Wait, what about Kane? We know he's hiding in the mountains. You don't think...is he working with the Dwargs too? Is he hiding out with them?"

King Talon's eyes were fierce as they regarded her. "You have a passion for Dragonwall that I had not expected. You need not fear. In regard to that, we are safe. I have enough spies in the north to know for certain."

She exhaled. "That's good. But still, it's another thing for you to worry about."

"Add it to my list." As he said it, he smiled.

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