“A direct assault will never work!” Dag shouted.
“It will if we strike hard and fast!” Illhiem replied.
Jormund sighed. Both men had been going round and round the subject for a few hours now. Regardless of what strategy they came up with, the argument always ended up the same.
He glanced around the tent. It was a bit grandiose, but Henrik seemed to enjoy such things. Furs lined the ground and he had bought chairs and some tables from the market. It was almost like being in a room at a tavern.
A small fire blazed at the center of the tent. It was set in a pit about a foot deep into the ground. Just over it was a small hole to let the smoke escape harmlessly to the outside.
The two men continued arguing. Dag wanted a more cautious approach. To take steps to hinder and cripple Viktor. Henrik wanted to be like a bolt of lighting. Quick and decisive.
Between Viktor, Savar and the frost giants, they were outnumbered. The giants were a surprise and a problem. Worse, more were supposedly coming. It seemed Viktor was quick to use his potion and capitalize on controlling them.
Savar had also been a setback. If anyone doubted his support of Viktor, they need only look at the city streets. Three hundred men were more of a war party than a protective detail. It was far more men than they had anticipated.
As the argument shifted to troop placement and positioning. Henrik kept insisting he lead the assault. He’d been adamant about it throughout the conversation.
The question was how could he lead an assault if he were attending the banquet with everyone else?
I’m starting to wonder if you have a death wish, old man.
As it stood, both men were right. Surprise and timing were key, but execution was critical. They had discussed using the Rangers and Eadra’s wizard to deal with the giants. The druids would provide support for the main force. While Henrik’s riders led the charge, preferably with him leading them.
Again, catching Viktor and his allies off guard was ideal. Capturing him might solve the problem, but then what? If he had drugged the townsfolk or enough of his men, according to Eadra, they would fight to the death to save him.
There has to be a better way.
“We still need to decide on how to strike!” Dag shouted.
“We have!” Henrik replied. “At the banquet. My men can ride ahead with Jormund’s as support. The druids can use their magic to hinder reinforcements, long enough for us to seize the lodge.”
At least he’d finally given up on leading the charge.
“It won’t be enough!” Dag shot back. “Even with the handful I brought helping to secure the lodge on the inside, our time is limited. We have to take Viktor down within the first few minutes of the fighting. Not to mention the frost giant leader, and Savar.”
“I can take Viktor in a fight!” Henrik growled.
“Can you?” Dag replied. “I mean no disrespect to a man who has fought frost giants and won, Henrik, but Viktor is quite skilled. He has killed many who’ve attempted to take his throne.”
This is going nowhere. Jormund glanced at the map of the city laying on the table, it had cost a gold shard to acquire and keep the matter quiet. There were no direct routes to the lodge, fighting their way to it would be costly. They were outnumbered and had yet to approach the others. Dag had the right idea about using the handful of men he had brought to help secure it.
Jormund traced the main street from the gate to the market with his fingers. He then glanced at the connecting avenues. Too many choke points. The riders won’t make it.
“Something on your mind, Jormund?” Henrik asked.
“You’re both right and wrong. We need a quick decisive strike, but a direct fight won’t work. The city’s layout just doesn’t give us what we need.” Both men grew quiet, their expressions grave. “We’ve been at this for hours. I know you both see it.”
Dag scowled, then nodded. “What do you suggest?”
“As we’ve all agreed, the banquet is the best time to strike, but I think the Rangers are more suited to fighting in the streets. They have been watching troop movements since arriving in Grunier.”
“They can cut off reinforcements better and respond more quickly,” Henrik commented.
Jormund nodded. “Your troops are better suited for open engagement than fighting in the streets. We’ll need their mobility for the giants.” Henrik winced. It was obvious he was concerned about the dragons.
“Do you think Eadra’s wizard capable of dealing with them?” he asked.
He was right to ask the question. The giants rarely brought more than one or two on past raids and skirmishes along the border. Taking those down was hard enough. Six was obscene. “I don’t know why, but I trust her, Henrik.”
The old Thran nodded. “Then, will trust your judgment, Jormund.”
“We just need to identify the riders and kill them quickly,” Dag said. “They are trained to obey only them. Without the riders, they won’t be nearly as effective.”
“Then you should watch who feeds and tends to them.”
Jormund’s chest tightened as the tent flap flew wide open and Illhiem stepped in. The old Thran’s wizened face was as hard as iron. Dag looked ready to cut the man down, while Henrik was stoic as ever.
“Don’t look so surprised,” he said, closing the tent flap behind him. “It was Henrik who invited me.”
Henrik cracked a slight smile. “Took you long enough.”
“What choice do I have, Savar has made his stance clear and the three of you are obviously up to something.”
“So you are with us?” Dag asked.
Illhiem shook his head. “You have to convince me first,” he replied. “If the orcs of the north accept sanctuary, I can bolster my defenses against Savar and Viktor.”
“But for how long?” Dag replied. “He has the giants and their dragons now.”
He’s too proud to admit that it’s a war he cannot win. Jormund took a breath. “Illhiem, this isn’t like before. None of us are going to be leaving this meeting on our terms if we don’t take action. You’re no fool, I know you can see it.”
“Henrikson speaks truth, Illhiem,” Henrik chimed in. “Viktor has a weapon that can steal a man’s mind and enslave him to his will.”
Illhiem raised an eye in surprise.
Jormund sighed. I wish he wouldn’t do that.
“Henrikson?” he asked. “So you’ve found a successor after all.”
Henrik nodded. “I have,” he replied.
Illhiem grinned, approaching the table. He scanned the map, then looked up. “So, he has a weapon?”
“He does, a potion of some kind distilled from the Fern. We believe he’s already used it on Savar and the giants.”
“We?” Illhiem asked. “So all of you are in agreement on this?”
“We are,” Dag replied. “The druids have confirmed it.”
Illhiem glanced at Dag appearing strangely irritated.
“Did you get my message, Dag?” he asked. “About my shaman’s vision?”
“I did, but I dismissed it as nonsense…”
The old Thran narrowed his eyes. “Yet, here we have dragons outside the city walls…”
Jormund felt a sudden chill. Henrik had said to keep an open mind about such things. “What prophecy?”
Illhiem closed his eyes and began mumbling to himself. It was almost as if he were reciting something before speaking it aloud. He opened his eyes and then spoke.
“Beneath our feet lies an ancient past, one that slumbers and though has breathed its last. At its back comes ice and death, should the last of a great warrior line draw her final breath.
Then from a sea of white, a hungering king shall rise to reclaim the land as its prize. Neither wolf nor bear, nor any who stands to fight, have the strength to resist the coming of this sleeping death’s might. At dragon’s roar, the moment will be nigh to protect this warrior lest she die.”
The silence was unsettling. Jormund glanced at Henrik. He was deep in thought, the gears in his head turning like a Banesian clock. It was hard not to think that Eadra was the warrior, but who was this sleeping king?
“Care to share?” Illhiem asked. “I get the feeling that you know something.”
“Before I answer, are you with us?”
“I am, Henrikson,” he replied. “I’ve no love for Viktor, nor will I be his slave.”
Jormund bit his lip. The look on Henrik’s face confirmed his suspicions. “I think we may know who the woman we need to protect is. If we are to keep her safe, then we need to agree on a plan of attack.”
“Then, please continue, Jormund,” Illhiem replied. “When we finish, I’ll speak to Grenden on your behalf.”
It was hard to keep restrained against the suspicious glares from passersby. Even at his back, they pricked like tiny needles. Grazigs pulled his hood up and glanced at the warriors walking with him.
In another age, humans. There were stories of a time when humanity served at the boot of orcs. But even for orckind, those were dark times. The Tellings told of another kind of slavery. One born of forbidden magic wrought by the Dakren. They were reminders that freedom always has a price.
Grazigs shook his head. Those days were millennia gone, like snowflakes tossed in a storm. He gripped the small sphere attached to the silver necklace he wore around his neck. It was warm to the touch.
“She’s close,” he muttered. The trio of warriors walking with him stiffened, their eyes alert. None of them knew who they were looking for. The necklace granted to them by the shaman was their only guide. Illhiem’s instructions had also been very clear. Find her.
The sphere would grow warmer the closer it got to their mark. The shaman said the woman they were to protect would be here. When they did, the metal sphere would crack open releasing the spirit bound to it from service.
Illhiem had gone to meet with the other Thran. He seemed especially irritated with Dag and Grenden. Neither had responded to the messages they had been sent weeks ago. They had likely dismissed the vision as nonsense.
Volkin had disappeared. The supposed ‘goblin king’ and his entourage, had vanished once camp had been made. No doubt they were skulking in places they shouldn’t.
Knowing Volkin he was hunting for information he could use to his advantage. It was that or he and his goblins were helping themselves to things that caught their eye in the bustle of such a large gathering.
Grazigs gripped the sphere, it was growing warmer. He closed his eyes, pivoting slightly in place to find a direction. It suddenly spiked warmer when he turned toward a nearby avenue.
His warriors followed, the sphere growing warmer until the avenue opened up to a wide street leading from the market. He unclasped the necklace, holding it in the palm of his large hand.
Grazigs began discreetly panning back and forth, the sphere suddenly cracking after it crossed paths with an elf wearing a heavy fur cloak. She didn’t seem to notice him, her attention focused on a connecting street and the inn at the end of it.
“Found you,” he grinned.
Picking up the pace, his warriors on his heels, the four of them darted across the street. The sphere grew hot the closer they got, confirming the elf was the mark. When it cracked open, she had already drawn her blades and spun around to greet them.
Grazigs felt his heart quicken at the ferocity in the female elf’s eyes. “She is the one, there's no doubt.”
“I have no interest in causing a scene, but I suggest you take your business elsewhere,” she said.
Her speech was odd, there was no hint of an accent that Shay’lin were known to have when speaking the trade tongue. “If it were only that simple, honorable Shaylin, but I fear you are our business.”
The intensity in her eyes never wavered save for a brief smattering of curiosity. “Then explain quickly,” she said.
Grazigs glanced about the street, people were starting to stare, some of them Blades. “Perhaps it’s something better discussed in that in you were heading to?”
She paused, looking around, then nodded. “Once we cross the threshold, you have five minutes.”
Grazigs smiled, tusks rubbing against his upper lip. “That’s all I need.”