Rainhart and Tancred stood side by side, frowning up at the thick curtain wall surrounding the Traumwald Keep. It sat on the highest point of the crag, protected by the wall on three sides and a sheer drop on the fourth.
Tancred sighed. "Tell the barons to start evacuating the townsfolk," he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. "No violence; no looting. As was agreed before the single combat." He looked over at Rainhart. "Are we going to have to beseige the castle?"
Rainhart scanned back through the images he had pulled from Idella's mind. "I don't know of another way." He expanded his gift to seek their opponents on the other side of the stone and found only the deep silence of Darkwood-cloaked minds. A few servants weren't wearing Darkwood, but there was little of use to be learned from their thoughts. They were laying in supplies in the kitchen, stoking fires under cauldrons--no doubt full of unspeakable substances to be poured down on their attackers--and bundling arrows for the defenders.
"They are well supplied," Rainhart said.
"Damn, damn, damn." Tancred turned around and looked down the hill at the their camp. Tents and campfires clustered among the trees. The upended pavillion where they had negotiated a hope of peace. The circle where Rainhart had taken a defeated man's life. Rainhart was looking down at the dirt in front of him when Tancred said hoarsely, "How long would it be before war fever took hold in the castle, do you think?"
"If we got the catapults up here and sent some blankets and perhaps a few corpses over?" said Rainhart.
"You would need to ask Tauber that."
"I have no better ideas. It's my men or his, Rainhart. I have done everything I can to prevent this, but Valdon seems determined that the folk of Traumwald will bleed before he does."
"I..." Rainhart stopped, not knowing what he had thought he might say to that. He turned his attention back to Traumwald. In the still place, he saw a starless night.
And then, a single mind, winking into lightness. Following the light, Rainhart had an image of someone pulling her hand out of the pocket of her gown. Leaving the ring King Valdon had told her to wear on pain of death in the folds of her skirt. Baroness Griselde of Draga, one of the marcher baronies several days' ride south of Mullrose. Milos had always spoken well of Griselde.
Thoughts were running quickly through Griselde's head. Rainhart only caught some of them. Time this was over... Tancred seems wiser than his uncle... Valdon says Tancred used mind-powers in the combat, but if the lesser gods are on the Teuta's side... Then an image of Valdon, eyes wide with fury, backhanding a young man so hard he was knocked to the ground. Griselde running to kneel beside the lad.
"Deusetats is ours," Valdon snarled. There was a circle of barons and retainers around him. He swung his head this way and that, seeking out each man and woman in turn. "You will stand by me. I am your king. And the next man who questions my decisions will be hung from the walls of the castle."
A king is chosen, thought Griselde. A king rules with our consent. She helped the young man to stand.
"Rainhart, what is it?" said Tancred. "Where did you go?"
"Baroness Griselde has taken off her darkwood," said Rainhart. "Valdon's hold on his barons is slipping."
Rainhart closed his eyes and breathed slowly. Griselde was hurrying down the passage. The lad Valdon had beaten--her son--was on one side of her, and her husband was on the other. Her thoughts were still running ahead of her. If Tancred and his ilk have been gifted powers of the mind, perhaps they can hear me now. The image of the darkwood ring in her pocket. We have watch of the gatehouse tonight. Perhaps if I told my men to unlatch the gate and raise the portcullis two hours after moonrise, Tancred's folk would be there.
YOU ARE READING
Philomena is a child of the empire, traded to faraway Deusetats to seal an alliance and marry a prince: the handsome but arrogant Prince Rainhart. However, politics is never simple. On the eve of Philomena's wedding, the king is brutally assassinat...