Chapter 48: A Light in the Darkness
Egan helped the townspeople off the battlements. The eastern wall was secured. He turned to Avery, who stood over the body of his wife, now covered by a blanket. “I’m so sorry Avery. I don’t have the words to tell you . . .” he paused.
“There are no words, Chief,” Avery said as he gazed at her. “She did what needed doing.”
“I knew my plan was a long shot at best,” Egan started, “but if I’d stopped to think of the cost . . ..”
“There’s always a cost, my lord,” Avery looked up at him, grimly. “Everything we do in this life has one. You did what you knew was best, and for the sake of the others, at least, it was.”
“I’ll give you time to bury her.”
“No,” Avery said, “not yet. The dead will have to tend to themselves until morning. There are those that still live that have a reckoning due them. I’ll be with you when that happens.” Avery removed his coat and laid it over her before nodding at his captain and friend.
Egan turned as a messenger ran to his side. Egan turned to him, “News?”
“Chief, the Amorite forces have been pushed back to the Ambassador’s Square near the western gate!”
“And what of the explosions we heard?”
“The king’s operatives laid a trap, though half the city now burns, it has taken the lives of many invaders. The King wishes you to take what forces you can muster round to the docks at the Lion’s Maw.”
“Cut them off, yes, it would work. A few private docks lay off the beaches south of the bay, we could launch from there if any boats remain,” Egan said as he gazed past the eastern gate to the moors and beaches beyond. “Still, entering the bay would make us targets of their fleet. Thank you, Soldier. See to your duties.” Egan saluted the man, and the soldier turned away.
Avery’s voice broke his thoughts. “Chief, if I may, I’d wager most of the Amorite ships’ crews will have mostly sailors, their deadliest warriors have already disembarked. A small fighting force could infiltrate and board one with little resistance. With one of their own commandeered vessels, we could slip through their blockade easily and make our way right to the docks, surprise their land forces from behind. I’d wager most of their soldiers have already climbed the great steps to the Ambassador’s Square.”
“Would it be enough?” Egan asked. “Even a schooner with two score men to fight with us would not be much of a barricade to stop the foot soldiers retreat, and we have fewer men than that here.” Egan looked around and quickly counted roughly ten men able to hold a blade.
Alexandra stepped out from the shadows to Egan’s side. “Then we attack their warships instead!” she said.
Egan’s mouth dropped. “Princess! Where did you--”
“There’s no time to explain, I’ll not sit idly by in this fight and I swear if you command me to leave I’ll race ahead of you in battle!”
“My charge was to protect you.”
“You’ll need protecting as much as I. If Avery’s plan is to work, you’ll need all the help you can get.”
Egan looked over the sullied armor Alexandra wore. In the dim light, she looked older, more mature, almost elegant. “You wear those well. I won’t argue it further then.”
“That’s wise,” Alexandra responded and smiled. “I left a skiff on the southern shores when I first entered the city a night ago. Others are often docked there as well, with all the carnage at play I wouldn’t be surprised if some were abandoned by their owners running for their lives. The boats could easily ferry us to one of the Amorite ships.”
Egan glanced back to Avery, “Assuming, we do take one of their vessels do you really think we can wipe out their whole fleet? Even with enough shot, we’d be outnumbered on every side.”
Avery shook his head. “Wipe out? No. I’m suggesting we cause as much chaos as possible,” his fist tightened around his sword hilt, and his brow furrowed, “and by doing so we muddy their logistics and cut off their one chance at escape. We’ve been given a window. Their army is in disarray, and if we distract their fleet, their barrage will stop and their men will be stranded on the shore.”
Alexandra nodded, “At the very least we can buy my father time to oust them from the city. When they run for their ships, they’ll find only splinters.”
“Aye.” Avery spat, “We’ll make them bleed some and let their cries fall silent on the sand.”
Egan turned to his men. “To arms! All fighting men! Gather your weapons and say your goodbyes. The Amorites shall see what true wrath can do!”
* * * * * * * *
The trees had not thinned as Colin trudged forward, but the ground had become increasingly bog-like, making each step a chore. He paused to catch his breath and felt a great rumbling beneath his feet. Panic would have set in had a huge but familiar stone face not burst from the ground and towered over him.
“Hello, little pebble, or I should say, Beast Tamer, Stone Speaker? Ah, now that name no longer fits. You’ve outgrown it. You are something more now. I can sense it.”
“I thought you were gone, sleeping or whatever it is rocks do.”
“I laid deep in the earth for a time, but sleep could not find me. Then I stretched to the roots of the scorched tree, and it spoke. It hasn’t spoken in a very, very long time.”
“The dead tree spoke?” Colin wondered why this surprised him after all he’d seen.
“Ah, but it’s not dead. Nothing ever really is. It gave you its last gift.”
Colin patted his pocket. “Yeah, the resin. It’s the balm of Gilead, isn’t it?”
“Humans gave it that name, but it does heal.”
Colin nodded. “I have it, or at least some of it. But I’ve no way to get home. I have to return–my mother needs it.”
The stone face shifted its gaze to the west and closed it eyes, listening intently. After several moments Crag turned his gaze back to Colin.
“Perhaps home is not where you are meant to roll to. If one way is shut another way always opens. I think the tree, the earth even, has wakened me for a reason, little pebble. I think you are meant to handle grave matters to the west. The old stone walls of Gilead are groaning in pain.”
“They can keep groaning. Look, this place, this world is amazing. I’ll admit it. But it’s beyond my help. Even if I offered it, I doubt Alex and the others would accept it. They left me to rot in a prison for God’s sake. And really, what could I offer? Words of encouragement? This is not my battle, Crag. It’s not my problem.” The memory of Alexandra’s disdain as she walked away from him in the dungeon still stung. He didn’t need that. He hadn’t come this far to be scorned.
“Pebble, you are rolling and gathering mass as you move. You are growing. You are much more than you realize. I cannot say what you will become, but I feel, in time, you may move mountains. But if you only see yourself as small, how can you expect others to see you differently?”
“But, what if I fail?”
“You only fail if you do nothing.”
Colin took a deep breath and then nodded. “Ok, ok, I’ll go. But who knows how long it will take me to get there? It has to be at least a day’s journey, Hell, it could take a week. By then will my arrival even make a difference? Maybe if I were on a boat or something I could get there faster.”
“But you are not on water. You are on soil. And for one such as I, soil spreads as easily as water. Come, Beast Tamer, Stone Speaker, and Serpent Crusher step onto my hand . . .”
The ground shook violently again as Crag’s huge rocky fist erupted from the ground and opened. Though made of granite, the stone hand was as smooth as polished marble. His fingers were easily seven feet taller than Colin himself. Colin climbed into Crag’s massive palm.
“I will protect you, but it will be . . . bumpy,” Crag said.
Colin nodded and sat, holding his legs tightly to his chest. “I’ve had worse rides.”
Crag’s other stone hand broke from the ground and covered Colin completely. Crag’s fists shot downwards into the soil and in an instant, they were gone.