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15

Before the Battle


Have I a solitary evening before me? I hope so. The town is celebrating, as well it should; this is not a night for speeches, especially speeches from me. Perhaps I'll be able to get some writing done.

If I were to speak to these citizens of Blanko, I am afraid I would talk mostly about Chaku and Teras, who perished in the sewer fighting the white worm, yet were alive again and walked, speechless and dazed, among us when we woke. Who can plumb the mind of the Outsider, or search out all his ways? Our riches are his dross, and our gods his toys.


The townspeople are shooting off fireworks, and I am sorry to say that a few of my troopers seem to be firing their slug guns into the air. The sky over Blanko is no place for Oreb tonight, and he knows it.

All this because a courier from Olmo arrived at shadelow, a tired man on a blown horse. I cannot help wondering whether either are getting any rest. Perhaps they are-they seemed fatigued enough to sleep through anything. The news, and it is wonderful news indeed, is that the Duko has turned against Olmo, and that Olmo has turned to us in its extremity. We are offered an alliance: Olmo will fight against Soldo and Duko Rigoglio – indeed, Olmo must, since Duko Rigoglio has laid siege to Olmo. Olmo asks only that it be permitted to retain its independence, and begs Blanko's aid.

Eco was captured or killed, and the letter he carried believed; there can be no doubt of it. How I wish Fava were still alive so that I could send her to Soldo to try to secure his release! If the Outsider wills it, Eco should remain safe (although imprisoned) throughout the rest of our small and foolish war.

We will free him when it is over. Was Mora killed or captured too? It seems likely.

I had intended to write about Chaku and Teras, and our joy at waking in the snow and seeing them, whom we had buried upon Green and prayed over, wake with us; and how we had discovered that they could neither speak nor understand what was said to them. It would all be true, but I cannot forget poor Fava. All human semblance was gone; she was an inhuma in a girl's flowered gown, a dead inhuma painted and decked in a wig-nothing more. I covered her as quickly as I could and demanded that the mercenaries who had not allowed us a fire lend me a pick and shovel. A dozen strong men would have helped me, and gladly; but I sent them away and buried her myself near the crest of the hill, beneath a flat stone on which I scratched her name and the sign of addition, not knowing how else to mark it.

Fava, who was well and very happy on Green, is dead here on Blue; and Chaku and Teras, who were dead on Green, are alive here if they have not been killed in one of Inclito's battles.

"Man come," Oreb mutters. I have opened the door and looked outside, but there is no one. I asked him whether it was a good man, but he only clacked his beak and fluttered his wings. Those are generally signs of nervousness, but he was doing both before he announced our visitor, and with all the fireworks and shooting he has more than enough to be nervous about.

I should say here – or at least I certainly ought to say somewhere – that Fava, Valico, and I halted when we heard the mercenaries behind us in the sewer. Oreb did not halt, Molpe bless him, but flew back to investigate.

Several prostrated themselves, which was embarrassing. I told them that I would not talk to them until they bound Sfido and gave me his needier, which they did at once. "We lifted the stone," Kupus explained to me. "There was a sheer drop under it. One by one we jumped, and found ourselves on a dark street in Soldo."

I nodded.

Fava (I intend the human girl whom I have been calling Fava) laughed at him. "Incanto is a strego, didn't I tell you? The best any of us have ever seen."

"I never believed in any of that raff," Kupus said. "It's you women that believe it, mostly. But you women are right, and Kupus wrong."

He drew his sword and raised it, grasping it by the blade, point downward. "I and those who follow me will follow you, Rajan, working and fighting for you wherever you may lead us, loyal as long as the last rogue breathes. We require no pay from you, beyond your good will."

I asked how long they bound themselves for, and he and dozens of others answered forever. More would, I think, but those farther back on the narrow walkway cannot have heard what we said.

"Will you still serve me when we return to Blue?" I asked Kupus and Lieutenant Zepter, who was looking over his shoulder.

"Anywhere," they declared; and Zepter used a phrase I had not heard before: "In the three whorls or beyond them." You who will read this in the years to come may call me a fool, but I detect the Outsider's hand in it.



* * * | In Green`s Jungles | * * *



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