of the Last God
(Book III of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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D'Viall rapped lightly at the chamber door with his knuckles, then waited. It had been a long day - one of many, these last few weeks - yet he could not ignore Lady L'Sala's summons. At her call from within, he opened the door, and entered.
L'Valin sat at a table in her quarters, a series of documents spread before her. Her paws rested lightly atop them, and she looked up to D'Viall with a calm, impassive face. "Mrr... Good evening, Lord Seneschal. How goes your preparations?" L'Valin asked. The flickering candlelight from the candelabra beside her lit her face eerily, making her emerald eyes gleam.
"Miao... Well, my lady, the last of the supplies have been placed in our stockrooms, and we have barreled enough water to last about two months. We may have to survive on jerked meat and dried, powdered organs as soup-stock, but we'll survive. Morale is high at the moment - we're as ready as we'll ever be."
L'Sala nodded, then picked up a small slip of paper, barely as wide as a finger and longer than a palm - the message slip from a carrier-pigeon. "Miao... This is good, because our spies have sent word that the forces of Clan T'Mrr are on the move. They should be here within the next few days."
"Mrr... I thought it wouldn't be much longer, my lady. Do they say what forces they have?"
"Miao... Ten thousand warriors, approximately, with about half mounted. Can we hold out against that?"
"Mrr... If we can resist their initial attack and they settle into a siege, then yes, my lady - but not for long. We have but two hundred warriors to hold the castle, so resisting their initial rush will be somewhat difficult."
"Miao... Most of the T'Mrr's warriors are mercenaries - and Lord R'Narr has said before that a mercenary's loyalty only holds so long as the pay is good and the risk is not too great. A protracted siege may not be to their liking, particularly if you can make it costly for them in lives."
D'Viall nodded. "Mrowrrr... We can try, my lady. Castle V'Nass may be old, but it is very well designed. The moat is river-fed, and even if they dam up the river, it would be nearly a month before the muddy ditch that remained would be crossable. It is also quite deep - it would take months of careful digging to mine the walls, unless they dammed the river to drain the moat first - and even then, the earth beneath the moat would be dangerous to mine for at least three months. The walls themselves are also well-designed, with a curtain-wall to shield the inner wall from catapult-stones," D'Viall said, then paused to think. "Mrr... We should be able to hold off their first assault, if all goes well - after that, they'll almost certainly settle into a siege, and try to work on ways to get around our defenses. In repulsing their attempts to storm our walls, we should be able to inflict a reasonable amount of casualties on them."
L'Sala nodded. "Mrr... How long can we hold out?"
"Miao... No longer than two months, my lady - I'm sorry. Most of our supplies went along with Lord R'Narr to help provision his army. Two months is the most we can hold out. After that, we'll run out of water, and we'll be forced to surrender."
L'Sala nodded. "Mrr... Very well, then, my Lord Seneschal. I'll see what I can do to arrange relief before that time. Good evening," L'Sala replied, dismissing D'Viall.
D'Viall bowed. "Mrr... Good evening, my lady." D'Viall then turned and walked out of the room, his tail lashing as he closed the door behind him. It was obvious to him - if some help wasn't forthcoming, they would lose. While it was possible General R'Narr might complete his campaign and return before their supplies ran out in two months, it was unlikely. He could only hope Lady L'Sala had something up her lovely lace sleeve, or they would all be dead.
L'Sala sat for a moment after D'Viall left, considering the situation. They could not hold out indefinitely - that was obvious. She was also fairly certain that two months would not be long enough - though she was confident that D'Viall was skilled enough at the Art of War to insure they had at least two months. Yes, some help had to be forthcoming. Yet, there remained few sources of help she could turn to. All R'Narr's allies here in the eastern hinterlands had followed him to war against the Shazad. Those few clans that remained could not be relied on to assist in breaking the siege - either they had too few warriors to be able to, even if she paid them, or their loyalties were questionable in the first place. It seemed, in the end, that there was only one alternative - the one she told R'Narr of before he left to war on the Shazad.
L'Sala quietly composed note on a slender slip of paper, scribing the alien characters carefully and precisely. She read it over to check it for errors - she could not afford a misunderstanding. Finally, she rolled it up tightly and slipped it inside the small metal message-tube that lay near at paw. Rising from the table, L'Sala walked to a small cage that sat on a table in the corner of the room.
The pigeon that rested inside the cage would, normally, be kept with the other messenger-birds - but it was far too valuable for that. Once L'Sala realized it would be needed, she had it moved and placed in a special cage in her chambers, where she could keep a careful eye on it. It wouldn't do for a spy of T'Zama T'Mrr to kill it, and destroy their only chance at survival. The pigeon regarded her quietly, it's beady little blue eyes showing the haughty disposition of it's breed. It was not one of the messenger pigeons of the cats - that was easily seen. The messenger pigeons of the cats were generally a pale white, and in many ways resembled doves. No, this bird was dark gray, with brown markings, scarlet feet, and an ebon beak. To a cat, it looked quite ordinary - but, to it's original owners, it's coloring marked what it was at a glance.
L'Sala gently reached inside the cage, withdrawing the bird and stroking it quietly. Carefully, she clipped the message cylinder around it's left leg, then twisted the slender wire to seal it there, as an added precaution. The bird remained silent throughout all this - unusual, to L'Sala, though she supposed it was normal for this breed. L'Sala then went to the doorway that led out onto the balcony. Closing her eyes, she waited for her night-vision to return, gently cradling the bird in her paws.
Many minutes later, L'Sala opened her eyes and carefully examined the castle. A few guards were present, patrolling the walls, but otherwise, all was still. The lands surrounding the castle stretched away as far as the eye could see in the starlit darkness, and the moon was merely a slender sliver of silver in the ebon sky. L'Sala waited until she was certain she would be unobserved, then tossed the bird into the air.
The bird circled above the castle for a long moment, and L'Sala wondered if what she'd been told about it's breed was wrong. The birds of the cats could not be released at night - they would simply land and roost until morning. These birds, she'd been told, could be released at any time, and often were released at night, when it was less likely they'd be spotted by an enemy archer and shot down. They also were not as swift as the birds of the cats, but their range was longer. L'Sala could only hope that they were more reliable, as well, since she only had one.
After a moment, the pigeon stopped circling the castle, and headed southeast. L'Sala watched it for a long moment, until finally it disappeared against the darkness of the starlit sky.
"Mrr... Fly home,
little bird. Fly home to your master, Lord Xaa'ap'Gasha... And be
safe," she whispered after it, then turned and walked back
inside her chambers again.
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