The Aterland Chronicles

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Chapter 37: Fortify

Cries of women and children rang out, filling the air and fighting for dominance over the cackling of the gulls. Their stark calls mocked the overladen, graceless ships as the small fleet set sail for Knucker Island.

Vega watched from the dock as the last vessel departed. Lyra and his two children stood on the deck, their arms raised in farewell. Tau swung himself onto the rigging, climbing higher as he waved, and seemingly oblivious to Lilly, who was openly chiding him, as sisters tend to do. The great craft that once ploughed effortlessly through the waves sat low in the water, rocking awkwardly as it headed towards the North Western horizon. Knucker Island was just visible from the quay, a jagged mound silhouetted against the blood-red sky of a rapidly setting sun.

“They’ll be fine my friend,” Lord Dux, rested a hand on Vega’s shoulder, “Marshall Shadbrook was right. It would serve no purpose to keep the children and infirm with us here. They will be safe on the island, and now they are gone, the rest of us will be more able to focus on what needs to be done.”

“Aye,” Vega cupped his hand over his mouth, rubbing his stubbly beard, “’Tis just… It’s the first time Lyra and me ’ave been apart since we were wed. She’s an admirable woman, I wish I’d told her…”

“Lyra knows,” said Dux, “she spoke to me yesterday. Asked me to take care of you. She told me you were hopeless.”

“Aye, that I am.”

“Are you ready my friend?” Dux lowered his voice.

“Always…” said Vega, “’t’is rule number nine… be prepared to expect the unexpected.”

As they walked the length of the city wall, Dux cast the shield of enchantment as he went. A shimmering magical curtain rose up around the city walls until it had enveloped the entire citadel. As they passed through the main gates, Dux sealed the opening behind them.

“The spell is not powerful enough to stop the confractio,” he said, “but it’ll slow the Djinn down for a while.”

It had begun to snow again, large flakes floated around them as they entered the city and made their way across the central courtyard toward the Pyrus where Rose was waiting to meet them.

“Lord Dux, we need to talk urgently,” Rose hurried towards them, “I’ve just spoken with Che. El-on-ah has confirmed that Lord Ka is in Aurum. He is at the Oratory in Aureus, so he has access to the Sooth which means…”

“My child,” Dux smiled. “I am aware of what that means. It is as we expected is it not?”

The man exuded an air of calm that Rose found impossible to replicate.

“No… well yes, I suppose, but not so soon. Ash has only just left. There will be no time…”

“Come,” Dux took her arm and lead her into the council chamber. The fire flickered with the draft from the door as they entered. The walls, furniture and upholstery of this, like all of Dux’s rooms, was steeped in the aroma of pine smoke, parchment ink and confectionery. A plate filled with sugary pastries rested on the table next to a large pitcher of mead. Vega filled a large flagon with the sweet amber liquid, before downing a couple of bright pink pastries.

“Lord Ash, more than likely, will have reached Aurum already,” said Dux, “he is well aware of the urgency of our situation. We have to trust that he will obtain what we need and return promptly. Lord Eldwyn’s prophecy has been accurate up until now. Have faith in Lord Eldwyn and Ash my dear Rose, for they both have great confidence in you.”

“But what if Ash fails to return?” Rose said, “no matter how much faith people have in me if I don’t have the ingredients for the spell, I cannot cast it. I’ll be about as useful as an Ascendant without a ring.”

“Elder possessed no ring,” Dux winked, “but whenever there is power and the will to achieve something, there is always a way…”

“Did Lady El-on-ah agree to help us?” Asked Vega, his mouth ringed with powdered sugar.

“No,” Rose smiled, despite her dark mood, “ However, Che seems convinced she will eventually come around. Though I am not so sure. El-on-ah is convinced Lord Ka is all powerful and has likely resigned herself to perishing along with the rest of us. I doubt she can foresee of any circumstance where a small insignificant band of misfits such as us, could take on the great Lord Ka with his vast army of Afreet, and win.”

“I did not believe a tiny insect could move a berry ten times larger than itself, until I saw it with my own eyes,” said Vega. “The ant believed it though.”

“Okay, I get it,” said Rose, “you two have made your point quite eloquently. I need to have more faith, in myself, in Ash, and in Lady El-on-ah. I should not expect to be able to control everything. You are right, we are a team, I have to learn to let go… That said, if Lord Eldwyn’s prophecy is fulfilled, then ultimately the fate of our people will rest in the hands of Lord Ka and I. We cannot avoid that fact, our confrontation is assured. The anticipation of this battle hangs over me like an avalanche of snow waiting to fall. It’s this waiting I can’t abide. I feel so useless.”

“You will play your part soon enough my dear Rose, enjoy this tranquillity while you may - it will not last long.” Dux lifted the plate of pastries offering it to her. Rose shook her head. The last thing she felt like doing was eating.

“You are right Lord Dux,” said Rose, as with a flash of insight, she finally understood the source of her unease, “now that Ka is in Aureus, he will use the Sooth to discover where we are. I doubt he will wait for long before launching an attack. So why is everyone so reluctant to discuss what happens if Ash fails to make it back. Why have we no plan for that? You say have faith, but faith alone does not win wars.”

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