Chapter 27: ISINGWILD
As they reached the summit of the smallest peak of the Ice Mountains, Rose finally got her first view of Isingwilde. Its citadel and surrounding dwellings lay stretched out below them. Isingwilde’s great Ice Castle, framed by two giant snow-covered pines, glistened in the weak evening sunlight, the spires of its five turrets rising majestically into the skyline.
The castle, its city walls, and surrounding dwellings seemed to remain virtually intact despite withstanding the ravages of war and centuries of Rhodium’s devastating ice storms. Beyond the citadel, loomed a magnificent backdrop, the towering snow-covered glaciers of Knucker Island, which hung eerily on the horizon, floating on the mist that drifted over the silver waters of Knucker Bay.
“Look… look over there,” Ash gestured towards the gatehouse on the eastern wall of the city where a ribbon of smoke curled lazily upwards in the still morning air. “I knew it wasn’t my imagination, I did smell smoke. They made it!”
Rose did not respond. Her attention was taken by the two large sailing vessels anchored in the bay. Ash followed her gaze.
“Are those Aurum standards?” His jaw dropped open. “That must mean...”
“We cannot be sure what it means until we get down there,” said Rose, tempering the small ember of hope that flickered briefly inside her. “When we left Aurum the skies were heaving with Afreet, I can’t see how anyone could have escaped. We could be walking into a trap.”
“Neither Ka nor the Afreet could know that we’d come here,” Auriel’s words were spoken so rapidly that they caught in her throat. “The ships must be from Aurum. Rose, Lord Dux, the Magisters, and the rest of the novices, they could all be alive.”
“Rose is right,” said Lee, effortlessly maintaining his cool. “We cannot let emotions sway us. We need to be sure that we are not walking into a trap.”
“Then I’ll go and make sure,” said Ash, “you continue on down, and I’ll fly ahead and check things out. If you wait at the foot of the valley, I’ll meet you there and let you know if we have anything to fear.”
“No, Metamorph or not, you are still recovering from your injuries,” said Rose, “I am not happy with that plan.”
“I’ll take care Rose,” he shot her a conspiratorial wink, “I’m indestructible remember.”
“Indestructible or not,” she said, “Your wounds are still not entirely healed. We remain together. It will be dark by the time we reach the foot of the mountain so no one will see us approach. We’ll make our way to the eastern gatehouse as soon as it’s dark. Hopefully, we can get a good look at whoever is warming their behind by that fire.”
The dusk faded from purple to black as they made their way silently towards the gatehouse. A crescent moon provided scant light, though it was adequate enough for them to negotiate the rubble-strewn track leading to the city walls.
It soon became apparent that their caution had been unnecessary, and it was obvious who they would find warming his backside by the fire. The scent of wood smoke grew stronger as they neared the building. It drifted towards them in the fresh easterly breeze, and that was not all that the breeze carried.
“You can all hear that, right?” Said Ash
Their weary faces relaxed into smiles of relief as they heard the unmistakeable sound of fiddle music accompanying a male voice, singing with a broad Ferrish drawl.
“Oh now where do I be,
I be in the land of Rhodium see,
Where the winds so cold it freezes pee,
And Knuckers are a roamin’ free.
Oh now where do I stay,
I stay in the land where roams the Fae,
Where the fires kept burning night and day,
Else you’ll freeze and die right where you lay,
So take me from this barren land,
To where the deer, the bees and the wild boar roam,
Where the sun is warm and, I was grown,
Take me back… take me back home.”
“Vega!” Four voices rang out simultaneously with the Tinker’s name, the melancholy and fatigue of the past day lifting as they raced towards the gatehouse. In their excitement, they had forgotten about Ro-eh-na and Linden, who followed on behind at a somewhat less frenetic pace.
They pounded on the thick wooden door of the gatehouse. It swung open almost immediately. Vega stood there, his fiddle still in his hand and his face a picture of surprise and relief.
“Well, if you ain’t a sight for sore eyes,” he said, “come in, come in. Lyra, look who we have here… woman o’ the house, make some tea.”
The short, burly tinker greeted them all with open arms, hugging each in turn.
“Rose, I knew you’d make it,” Vega’s arms enveloped her slim frame pulling her to him and squashing her face into his chest. “I told them, I did. I said that girl would not let little things like Knuckers or Fae stop her, Lord Edlwyn knew what he was about when he sent her to us, so he did. ”
Rose stiffened. Her heart heavy in her chest. Yes, we made it, but at what price? Lord Eldwyn’s plans are not devoid of flaws.
“Vega, Linden has been severely wounded, he may die,” said Rose, “we need to get him into the warm, and he needs healing. We do not have the knowledge or the expertise to treat him.”
“I’m sad to hear that,” Vega caught sight of Ro-eh-na attempting to drag the heavy sledge through the doorway. “Wait, Lass, let me aid yer.”
They manoeuvred the stretcher into a small room off the main living room. The bearskin covering Linden’s body slipped away. Vega went to replace it, recoiling as he saw the extent of Linden’s injuries.
“Knucker-strike,” said Ash, “we are all lucky to be alive. If it wasn’t for Rose…”
“It was a team effort,” said Rose, “The fact that we did not all make it in one piece, now that is my responsibility alone, unless... Vega, why is the Aurum fleet in the harbour?”
“Ah, now there’s a story you’ll be happy to hear,” said Vega, suddenly animated. “Lord Dux cast a shield spell on the oratory, and being the great wizard that he is, it held long enough for them all to escape through the tunnels to the port at Aurora.”
“Everyone made it out of the city?” Said Ash.
“Nae, Lad. I’m afraid they didn’t. Just those who were in the oratory at the time, not even Lord Dux could save the remainder of the city folk.”
“I didn’t know there were tunnels under the Oratory,” said Auriel.
“Aye, they’ve been there since the Dragon Wars, there are tunnels under all the major cities. They’re mostly derelict and very dangerous,” said Vega, “So the Magisters keep their presence from the novices.”
“Vega, I don’t understand how Lord Dux would know to come here?” Said Rose, “Who could have got word to him when no one was aware that he had survived?”
“Have you forgotten about the Sooth?” said Vega.
Of course, the Sooth knew everything about everything, except the whereabouts of the incantatio.
Linden groaned as they slid his bed towards the fireplace. Though trembling with cold, his body dripped with perspiration.
“I’ll send word to Lord Dux that you’re here,” said Vega, “Lord De Lille has many of his apothecary materials with him, and if he can’t heal Linden then I doubt that anyone can. I expect Lord Dux will be impatient t’ speak to yer Rose.”
“Yes,” Rose waivered as she attempted to hide the fury welling up inside of her. “I am eager to speak with him also.”