CHAPTER 24: A Siege and Negotiating Surrender
Hugh and Dengana were both devastated by Tye’s action.
‘It seems like a desertion, but it isn’t really, I suppose,’ Hugh said miserably. ‘It is her idea of what is most important, and she could even be right. Still, why is it that doing the right thing seems so wrong?’
‘I think Tye she not do right thing,’ was Dengana’s opinion. ‘Tye she always not-easy person, but I get feeling more and more she know and do things more than we know or do.’
Hugh thought about it. Yes, there had been times when he had felt increasingly on a different wavelength to Tye, and from a different viewpoint than their original differences when she was being spoilt-brattish. And, now that Dengana mentioned it …
’I wonder if Pip had something to do with it? he speculated. ‘I noticed a sort of level of secrecy from about the time she got him,’
They weren’t able to devote much thought to Tye after that though. Other things, like a massive army on the doorstep, tended to take their attention.
This army underwent a transformation later in the day. The patrols of flying Darxds at the fringes of the shield were increased and were flying in patterns as close to all parts of the shield as they dared – not that Hugh had held much hope of getting past the previous less-organised ones.
Hugh gave a start of alarm when he saw that some of the air force consisted also of darxtyls. ‘Why don’t they send squads of those through the shield?’ he asked Demp, pointing. ‘They’re immune to magic, aren’t they?’
‘Don’t you know? Darxtyls avoid going through shields or attacking large numbers of shielded creatures, because doing that saps their anti-magic magic,’ was the reply.
‘Why don’t repeated magic attacks directed against them do the same thing?’ Hugh wanted to know.
‘I’ve wondered about that myself; but it doesn’t,’ Dent said. ‘I think the nature of it is that it just bounces attacking magic off, but uses some of itself every time it resists shield magic.’
This was demonstrated effectively when the Crows sent a single darxtyl through not long after, presumably as a test. As soon as it flew into range, relatively tame blasts from the palace were enough to knock it out of the sky.
Then, large groups of attackers started testing the shield strength by all sending blasts at the same small section at the same time. A few of the most concentrated of these needed some quick repairs by teams Demp had ready and watching from the palace.
‘I think Higher Prince you blast in wing he now walk here and he tell them what to do,’ Dengana surmised.
‘You could be right,’ said Hugh. ‘It did look as though he had things better organised while he was active, and they became pretty pathetic as soon as he fell. Maybe we were silly not to bump him off.’
‘That Higher Prince he not that good as leader.’ Dengana shook his head. ‘Good leader he make sure others able to do same things.’
This discussion started a germ of an idea in Hugh’s mind, which started to look for cells where it could replicate and form a culture …
The attacking force continued throughout the day to try various experiments on the defences, some of which were worryingly effective. One was for an enormous circle of Darxds to fly so that the nearest part of their circle was within blasting range of one part of the defence shield, and to for each to blast as they came level with it. Thus there was an ongoing series of blasts battering at one tiny section. This actually did cause a breach, but not large enough for the attackers to do anything about, and one of Demp’s teams repaired it almost immediately.
Still, it was an unpleasant indication of what could be achieved if they carried it out on a considerably larger scale, which their numbers made them quite capable of doing.
Dallent Island Palace went into high alert during the night which followed, but there was no need for it. The enemy kept a perimeter of watchers on shifts of duty throughout the night, and patrols in the air to as high as the conditions would allow them to rise, but otherwise seemed to spend the time in restful sleep. This was more than could be said for most in the palace.
Apart from patrols, there was surprisingly little activity from the attacking force during the earlier part of the morning. Then, in an unexpected development, the forces withdrew from being almost right up against the shield to some distance away from it.
As soon as this had been done, a solitary Darxd, of the washed-out colours seen with most of them, flew to a point directly facing the main entrance to the palace and started waving frantically.
Dallent was called, and said, ‘I would think he has some sort of message for us.’ He turned to Demp. ‘Drop the shield at that point for long enough to allow him in, and let’s find out what this is all about.’
As soon as Demp confirmed that it had been done, Dallent stepped forward and made beckoning movements. Immediately, the Darxd took to the air and flew towards them, landing a respectful distance in front of a group which had moved closer to the edge of the lake to greet him. Dengana and Hugh stayed in the background of this group, carefully being as anonymous as possible.
‘Triumph the Cause!’ greeted the Darxd, but did not really appear to expect a response. ‘I come with a generous offer from our commander, Higher Prince Dolk, to discuss with you the terms of your surrender. You will send ten of your number to meet with ten of ours, on the other side of this lake. What is your response?’
‘Well, I suppose we might …’ began Dallent, but paused when a call of, ‘Wait,’ came from someone behind him. The messenger craned to see who had said it, and Hugh stared from side to side as if looking to see who had spoken, so Dengana did the same.
‘Let me confer with my men,’ said Dallent, and they all walked back towards the palace and then out of view of the messenger behind some shrubbery.
‘Was that you, Dew?’ Dallent asked, and Hugh nodded reluctantly. With difficulty he cast off another feeling of self-doubt, wishing he had Tye with him to do it for him again.
‘I have an idea which involves Dengana and myself slipping unnoticed into the Crow ranks,’ he said. ‘Agree to meet, but insist that there be about fifty of us on each side so that there can be full understanding and agreement. Suggest that we go to the comfort of that area to the left, where there is shade and where the forest comes closer to the edge of the lake.’
Dallent looked, and then gave a snort. ‘That is stupid,’ he said. ‘It would allow them to have men in hiding there, far in excess of the fifty sent to negotiate.’
‘I’m relying on that,’ Hugh said with increased confidence. ‘Now, everyone who comes with us should tone their colours down as far as possible, and mill about a lot when we fly across, so that it is difficult to count numbers. Then, instead of standing in a group, start wandering as close to getting in amongst them as you can …’
After Hugh had finished quite a few more suggestions and instructions, and had taken a most informative lesson in Darx geography, they all went forward again for Dallent to give the proposed changes, which he ended with, ‘If these arrangements are acceptable, your delegation can simply move to that agreed spot over there and ours will join them.’
Not long after the messenger had returned, there was a movement of a number of the Crows to the area indicated, and they were finally joined by a Higher Prince who walked rather than flew – significantly, from the direction of the nearby woods.
Fifty-two fliers then set out from Dallent Island Palace, giving the appearance of a most undisciplined rabble. They were weaving in and out, and frequently almost colliding with one another. There was a sneer on the face of Higher Prince Dolk as they landed untidily, with a forward stumble almost into the Crow ranks to catch their balance.
‘Triumph the Cause!’ he snapped at them. He received no reply but only more restless jostling about. ‘You may not respond now, but you will soon learn to,’ he went on menacingly. ‘Now, I’ll keep this simple. In return for your immediate surrender, we will agree to spare the lives of those who show they are able to eliminate these disgusting signs of self and pride,’ and he glared at their colourful outfits, ‘and to become true followers of The Cause.’
Actually, the clothing was much reduced in colour from the norm for Dallent Island Palace. Most of those in the party had indeed been chosen for their ability to dim their dazzle.
‘H-how do we know you won’t just kill all of us?’ Dallent whined. Hugh thought he was overacting just a bit.
Dolk gave another sneer. ‘You don’t,’ he said, ’but you’ll have to take a chance on it. Oh, and by the way, the prince I do want to kill personally is the one who did this to me,’ and he pointed to a part of his wing which looked very much the worse for wear.
By this time Hugh and Dengana were among those of the Dallent group who were mingling slightly with the Crows, and the further the two moved into that group the more their costumes gradually toned down …
‘Don’t think that would be out of revenge, either,’ Dolk went on. ‘No, it is because anyone who had the full opportunity to kill me in such a situation, and didn’t, would be useless as a true soldier in the service of His Greatestness. In fact, while I can understand why you concentrated on drogres, I cannot understand why the rest of your force did not target our Darxds. Too lily-livered, perhaps? Or hoping it would count in your favour when we defeated you?’
Now Hugh and Dengana were in the back row of Crows and dimming rapidly. All eyes were proudly on Dolk as he made the enemies of The Cause squirm, so nobody noticed them. Not even were they noticed when they finally went down to colours matching the average Crow present, stepped back smartly, and started making for the woods.
‘One of the first things you are going to do,’ Dolk was saying, is for each and every one in that palace to bring and serve a full meal to all of us here. We have been on short rations lately.’
‘I can start setting up such arrangements immediately,’ Dallent said meekly.
Hugh and Dengana went straight towards many pairs of eyes which were watching them. ‘You fools,’ Hugh snapped. ‘What part of remaining hidden did you not understand? Get back, get back! You, there, I can still see part of you!’
‘Some on that side they also not know how to hide,’ Dengana remarked. ‘Come, we give to them education.’ The two strode arrogantly further into the woods.
Dolk was now becoming impatient. ‘Well, now, get on with it; lift your shield,’ he demanded. ’Let us in; now!’
‘Afraid I can’t do that yet,’ Dallent whined. ‘I have to go back and get the agreement of a meeting of princes. Sorry, and all that. Come on, let’s go!’
Remarkably quickly for such a casual bunch, the Dallent Island Palace group suddenly un-mingled themselves and headed through an area which became a shield again as soon as they had passed through. They still flew in a highly disorganised flock, though.
Before dismissing them, Dolk decided to do the chosen group he had taken with him the honour of having his actions explained to them. ‘Actually letting them surrender is a better idea than our plan of capturing them and holding them to the ransom of lifting the shield,’ he said. ‘It will save us a good deal of trouble, in the long run. Send the men in the trees back to other duties.’
Dengana and Hugh made their way on foot to the other side of the wood, and then in various flying bursts, as if carrying messages or doing chores, until they finally reached the perimeter of the camp. This took some time. The camp was massive.
‘This it be the hard part,’ Dengana said. ‘Now we must hide-hide, or find others they go this way that we can follow.’ After skulking along trying to stay under woods for some time, they did, in fact, see some scattered groups of flyers also going north, as they were. They never did find out where these were headed or what they were doing, but it became possible to form a group of two going in the same direction for as far as they thought necessary.
Then they flew up to the top of the highest hill they could find, with the appearance of small, only very-slightly-coloured princes. They flew high into the sky above it as utterly dingy, much larger, Highest Princes. Now they turned south again to approach the camp in a leisurely fashion, trying to be as noticed as possible.
Fortunately all these elaborate preparations were not wasted. In spite of the fact that most eyes were fixed on the Dallent Island Palace shield, wondering just how long it was going to take for it to be lifted, one alert Crow did happen to spot them as, apparently, coming from way out north. He called to his fellows, and soon a group came out to meet them.
As they opened their mouths to call out a greeting, Hugh forestalled them. ‘Triumph-the-Cause-and-why-has-it-taken-you-so-long-to-see-us? Are you all blind?’ he yelled.
A prince was thrust forward as the spokesman. ‘No, Your Highestnesses, but we …’
‘Triumph-the-Cause-and-where-is-your-proper-salute?’ Dengana shouted.
‘I … we … Triumph-the-Cause! … we … that is …’ The prince was now squirming so much that his flying was becoming wiggly.
‘You will conduct us on an aerial inspection of your camp, and then you will take us to Higher Prince Dolk,’ Hugh snarled. ‘And you,’ he added ominously, ’would be Prince …?
‘Dunk,’ responded the prince miserably.
Dunk and his Darxds then led them on a flyover of all the camp which included almost every part of it, and meant that they ended up being goggled at by everyone there. This included Dolk, who danced around trying to get their attention and finally sent a flyer with a frantic message to tell them where he was.
’Tell Dolk that we know very well where he is and that we will get to him in our own good time. Now go!’ snapped Hugh.
They kept Dolk waiting for a good fifteen minutes more while they finished their inspection and questioned Dunk and his party about the recent surrender demands. ‘Right,’ Hugh finally barked. ‘You will now take us to Higher Prince Dolk.’
Dolk was standing outside his dome, looking furious. He did, also, look just a trifle apprehensive, Hugh was pleased to note.
As his feet touched the ground, he opened with, ‘Triumph the Cause!’ managing to instil a lot of fury into those words.
Dolk blinked. ‘Trium… ’ he began, but Hugh cut him off.
’What has been going on here?’ he stormed. ’I come to offer a highly important commission for you and your force in the service of His Greatestness, and what do I find? This … this shambles!’
‘Shambles?’ Dolk was deeply stung. ‘We have just completely overrun Dunn Palace, and are on the verge of taking the surrender of …’
Again he was cut off. ‘From the second we first arrive,’ Dengana said, ‘we find there is bad leading. Prince Dunk he see us much too late. Not just his fault; bad command.’
‘By all accounts,’ Hugh jumped in, ‘your force showed signs of falling apart the minute you were stupid enough to allow yourself to be wounded.’
‘That isn’t really true. The princes didn’t show the initiative one might have hoped, but they are raw and …’
‘Bad training, and bad command,’ snapped Hugh. ‘Tell me, where are all the rhaxen you were given?’
‘They weren’t given; we gathered them, and …’
‘Anything which goes into the service of The Cause is given, however gained,’ Hugh ranted. ‘Do you not know such basics?’ He was winging it, but anything to rattle Dolk seemed worth trying. This proved to be a good rattler. Dolk did a goldfish imitation for a few seconds.
‘Where rhaxen?’ Dengana probed.
‘As you probably already know, they were destroyed by enemy action,’ Dolk admitted sulkily.
‘Which leads us to the drogres. Your invincible force of drogres. Where are they?’ Hugh attacked with.
‘As you know …’ Dolk mumbled.
Dengana made sure he stopped finishing sentences. ‘Take look your Darxds their raiment?’ he challenged. ‘What you see?’
‘Well, I admit, they do still show signs that self …’
‘For a well-disciplined force truly committed to The Cause, you should see that of Higher Prince Dennet in the south,’ Hugh said. ‘In fact, if you could fly, I would order you to make that journey now.’ A thought struck him. ‘Haven’t you used magic to heal it?’
‘Of course,’ Dolk said, ‘but it was a really powerful blast as if by a Higher Prince. It will take days, yet.’
‘Right. you can start for there on foot for the present,’ Hugh said. ’Once you have seen how things should be, you will rejoin the rest of your force, which you are going to order to proceed, right away, due west to the centre of the Darx Desert. There you will await further orders while making yourselves more fit to follow The Cause. To do the first part of the relocation without you in command should prove invaluable training in initiative for your underlings.’
‘But … there’s absolutely nothing there! How are we going to live? Where do we get water? What …’
‘Weren’t you even listening when I used the word “initiative”?’ Hugh said nastily.
Dolk looked shattered. ‘What about this palace?’ he bleated weakly.
‘That, it be attended to,’ Dengana said. ‘Maybe even leave for after you come back.’
A final flicker of defiance lit in Dolk. ‘You are both exceptionally young for taking such major decisions,’. he said in a considering tone.
‘Am I to take it,’ and Hugh made his voice go to the urbanity of syrup laced with sulphuric acid, ‘that you are prepared to question the chain of command in the service of His Greatestness?’
The flicker was extinguished.
‘We need to move on to do the next part of our commission,’ Hugh said, ‘but, by the way, this entire redeployment is sheathed in the greatest possible secrecy. One word to anyone, or one messenger in the wrong direction, and you’ll be truly grateful by the time your head finally rolls. Understood?’
Dolk nodded dumbly.
‘Triumph the Cause!’ Dengana and Hugh chorused, and then simply flew away, headed due north, leaving Dolk to echo the slogan after them in a voice which didn’t really mean it.