The Republic Besieged, Chapter 27-28.

Richard receives a report. Jimmy and Talissa visit Ishendell.

Chapter 27.

Elysahone.

Keerla had spent Winterfaire with her parents, brothers and sister at the Sanctuary. Of course that had led to a lot of questions and demands from her brothers and sister that they be allowed to use the portal and get keys. Her older brother worked in the Mechanitiar’s staff, so that was not a problem. Her younger brother and sister were, as Keerla was a bit concerned about letting them loose on the unsuspecting Empire. So she obtained limited keys that allowed them the public portals and places like Elysahone and the palace that were relatively safe. Yesterday, she had led them on a bit of a whirlwind tour of Elysahone, The Lower City and the Imperial plaza with some spending money before returning with them to Elysahone and the house. Yddren, who had been with them and had brought his younger brother and sister said, “That was exhausting.”

“Wasn’t it? At least the lot of them are happy with the tour.”

“It was fun, wasn’t it? The interesting thing as that neither of us were exactly old hats in those places either.”

“No, but we had at least been there. Knowing my brother, he’s going to leverage that and be dragging his friends all over the Lower City all too soon.”

“Not the Cloud City?”
“Not at first. The lot of them are going to be looking for things that the original trading kids didn’t know about. That means the Lower City.”

“That’s a bit of a surprise for a family related to the Darkmage.”
“Father was only a general because he did well at the games. His family came from shopkeepers, librarians and Mechanitiars.”

“So your mother married beneath her.”

“She doesn’t see it that way. You’ve seen my parents together. She is as glad to get out of the gilded cage as I was. As for my father, I think he likes working in the timberlands better than he ever did in the army.”

“He did say that he would be the last man returned to the city.”

“Yes he did. I just hope that we can keep the Darkmage from ruining everything.”

“That sounds strange coming from his family.”

“None of us were asked to be on the Project. My aunts may have corrupted themselves, but I haven’t.”

“So what do we do with the kids next?”

“That will take some thinking.”

House Qinvaris.

Hagre was a bit frightened to walk into the Lord’s office. He and his brother Hubys had been managing the House for a very long time and he was concerned about what the lord would do if somebody took a large number of the people on the estates. He had been so since the matter with House Sarferen and this was looking to be worse. He walked in and the Lord looked at him and said, “It must be bad, Hagre. What is it?”
“Apparently there has been a campaign to retrieve the compelled and take them out of the estate and elsewhere.”
“Where?”
“That is being investigated. There was some shooting and bodies. One of them may be one of the young lords Nerihorn.”

“That would be a very stupid thing for him to be doing. I want Darfin, Aquilan and Adreth to meet me at the estate in a twentieth, if they are not already there. I suspect that somebody is already working on this. Standing Order Three is now in effect. Do you have a brief?”

“Here, milord.”

Hagre handed him the brief and Richard said, “I would have expected that these idiots would know better than to do something like this. On the other hand, we knew that they were going to do this at some point. Send the messages out, I need to get going.”

The lord left and Hagre was glad that the rifle was hidden at the hunting lodge and the suppressors would prevent the lord from Jumping. He sent the messages and went to find the lady, who was dealing with household matters in her office. He walked in and said, “Milady, somebody is apparently making off with our people. Several towns have been hit.”
“Have you told Richard yet?”
“Yes, milady. He is off to deal with the situation. What concerns me is that there was apparently some shooting and young Lord Nerihorn was apparently killed.”

“So the Nerihorns were involved. Most of the rest of that crowd too in whatever is happening. Are you concerned about what Richard will do?”

“It is a bit deeper than that. I am concerned about the stability of the Empire if the lord should take action against all the Houses that may be involved. This is not a case of one House, but perhaps a quarter of a Conclave that is already in stress after the recent events.”

“I take it that you want me to discuss this with the Empress, perhaps?”
“That was my suggestion, milady. With the Dowager Empress out of the scene, she can approach things directly.”

“Why don’t you send a message to the Empress asking if she would chat with me about a serious and rather urgent matter?”

“I will do so.”

Treehollow Faery Kingdom.

The expected assaults on the faery kingdom had not materialized and after a couple days of tension, the various people that Moonspear had gathered went to look into why. When Moonspear looked into the Nerihorn estate, he found the big reason. The people that had been training, the monsters and now, compelled were being sent through a very large portal on the Nerihorn estate. Moonspear took some pictures with a crystal and then went to the nearest portal, where still more compelled were being sent. He took more pictures, crept back across the border and the shield of the faery kingdom, Jumped to the lore keeper’s house which had become a headquarters, transformed to trueform and entered a rather crowded room where Gander was looking at still more pictures. “They’re sending everyone through portals to someplace.”

“We’ve seen that.”
“The Nerihorns have a huge portal on their estate. I don’t think that it worked before, but it does now.”

“It’s probably an ancient Imperial portal,” Adiun said. “We found one in an abandoned town up in the Timberlands that was much bigger than any that I or my father built. I brought it down in pieces to the estate, but making it operate was simply out of the question because of how much mana it would draw. The Dakrmage must have another mage or at least a portal expert on tap to get something like that running. They are probably running it one way.”

Evin came in and said, “Gander, I need you.”
“Why?”

“Folas Nerihorn was killed on the Qinvaris estate, apparently chasing after a girl while collecting compelled. I have people on this and House Qinvaris has people working on this, but if this goes the way I think that it could, things could be very bad.”

Moonspear blinked. “The last House that tried to raid House Qinvaris was crushed in two fivedays. Lord Nerihorn is Chancellor of the Exchequer. If his House goes, it could take the Empire with it.”

“That is why we need a clear picture fast,” Evin said.

“Lord Stormfire has been taking compelled and sending them through a huge portal, on the Nerihorn estate.”
“Thus we have a bomb the Empire does not need,” Evin said. “Gander, get your people on this fast. We need to have a clear picture of what happened before the waters get muddy and the blood flows.”

“Moonspear was just at the Nerihorn estate,” Gander said. “I will get my people started in on this immediately. Of course some of them are already.”

The Imperial Palace.

Empress Itireae looked up from the schedule that she was working on as Galan entered her office and said, “What is it, Galan?”
“Lady Qinvaris would like to meet for luncheon or tea today on a rather urgent matter.”
“Do you have any idea what that may be?”
“There have been some rumors that certain Houses are actively using portals to send compelled someplace after providing them with firearms training. If this is something involving the Darkmage, Lord Qinvaris may involve himself, or the Houses involved may have raided House Qinvaris.”

“That would be a matter of urgency. My mother is coming for lunch, but I think that she will not mind if we have Rosa as well. Tell Rosa to come for luncheon today.”

Galan left and the Empress went back to her schedule. Very little time had seemingly passed when her mother, Meira appeared and said, “Dear, you shouldn’t let the details soak you in to the point that you lose focus on the important things.”

Itireae set aside the schedule and said, “You are right as usual, mother.”

“Of course I am. So how are your four menaces?”

“Not here, fortunately. We had some menaces, or potential menaces that is, come through from the Sanctuary recently. They were Keerla’s brother and sister. I suspect that we will be seeing them again.”

“No more bears?”

“With our uninvited guests gone, House Biqen is not sending bears to pester us, much to the menaces’ disappointment. I may see if I can borrow Snuggles to manage them for a day.”

“They will love that.”

“That is something I am afraid of. I had a request by a lady to see me and I invited her to lunch.”

“Who?”

“Lady Qinavaris.”
“That may be interesting with her rather inappropriate, but very wealthy husband.”

“I do not believe that Richard will be coming.”

“That is a shame. I knew his mother and I would like to know when she may return.”

“We can ask. The party the Winterfaire before last was wonderful, but this year’s did not have the girls’ hands involved since they were all off to the Republic this year.”

“I look forward to the forthcoming luncheon. Shall we remove ourselves to the parlor to await our guest?”

“Let us do so. At least with Rosa, I will not have to dress.”

“She is that good a friend already?”

“Very much so. She became so during the Conclave and you may remember how she took the park from the Dowager Empress and didn’t blink.”

“I am glad that the vipress has been slain. I doubt that you would have been safe here in the palace as long as she was present.”

“Narbeth was sure of that as well and set the Justiciar to the task of providing cause to drive her out, if not ruin her. In the end, she chose ruin and suicide.”

Meira was grinning as she and her daughter entered the parlor and she said, “We must do something nice for Justiciar Dawkins.”

“That may not be easy. He is not enamored by the trappings of being a high elf.”

Faylen opened the door and said, “Lady Qinvaris is here, your majesty.”

“Bring her in.”

Rosa entered and said, “Thank you for having me on such short notice, your majesty.”

“It is Itireae for you, Rosa. That is unless you do something that displeases me like waving too many “your majesties about. I do not believe that you have met my mother, Lady Vakrana.”

“I do not believe that I have. I may have met you at one of my mother’s things long ago, but they hardly count.”

“I remember you as a rather sad child,” Meira said. “I think that you wanted to be elsewhere, riding your horse.”

“That must have been before my noticing boys. Then I was a bit more tolerant of my mother’s things until everything fell apart.”

“How did you meet your rather scandalous husband? On the auction block?”

“No, actually. Princess Glynnii saw him there, according to some stories and was afraid of him. No, my slavemaster bought him and some others off the boat. He has a good eye for talent and made the right choices, including not one, but two Harpers he purchased that year. I ran into Richard while he was supervising the dealing of disease on the fields. From the first, two things were obvious. One, was that he was the most competent man that I had ever met and two, he was the man I wanted. It took six moons, but I got him.”

“From all accounts, the Empire is blessed to have him. What happened to the other Harper?”

“He runs transportation for the House. He has a wife that was left out on an estate, saw him one day and made sure that he didn’t get away. That rather scandalized her family, but Dennis bought the estate to keep Eletha in the home that she grew up in when her brother threatened to throw her out. Of course, much of the year, she is making sure that the charges are right. She runs accounting for the drovers and what not with a fist that makes coins squeal.”

“So it is a partnership.”

“Very much so.”

“So, what brings you to me today?”

“Folas Nerihorn may have been killed on Qinvaris property while committing theft of propery and kidnapping.”

“Your husband is known for being able to deal with such things. Frankly I am surprised that House Nerihorn would be stupid enough to do such things.”

“I am as well, Itireae. I would be surprised that any House would do such things in a way that Richard would discover who they were before they were covered. What concerns me isn’t House Nerihorn, but their friends, who may be involved and what will happen if more sons are killed or wounded badly. I’m also worried about Richard and certain rather bad habits.”

“I shouldn’t pry, but what bad habits?”

“Before Richard was brought here, he was involved in a war on the Peninsula like the one there now. Because of Richard’s family, he couldn’t be placed in the thick of the fighting, but likewise, the generals could not give him a nothing job, especially since they needed every man in his speciality.”

“Which was?”

“He was a sharpshooter. In any case, he was given command of a platoon and stationed at a place called Bloody Ridge with his platoon. The Fellowship’s general planned to station artillery on the ridge to sweep the Republican rear areas and force the Republican army off the Peninsula. So, knowing that the Ridge was lightly defended and also being short of troops for every task, he assigned a battalion of Service soldiers, from Zirgoccol.”

“Why was that significant?” Meira asked. “I’m not sure of the details, but having all the officers and soldiers from one city should not be that important.”

“The officers, at least the junior officers, were all sons of highly influential or politically connected people serving their Service duty for their citizenships. In the Fellowship, or for that matter, all the Blasted Lands, you cannot be a full Citizen without performing your Service duty. That may mean serving in the military, or it may mean the courts, the government or some other duty like taking care of a park. Most young men and many women do their Service duty so that they can vote and participate in elections.”

“So they are slaves for a time, in exchange for being able to have influence later.”

“I wouldn’t call it slavery and performing your Service is voluntary. On the other hand, the Blasted Lands see not performing the Service as irresponsible. So, you do not become a full citizen and are a resident, just like an exile is, unless they perform a Service. My brother did, by donating some of his work to the art museum in Chatsrey and the National gallery in the capital. Of, course, by the time he did that, his status as an artist was well established.”

“I think that I see what was going on,” Itireae said. “This was a task that would make all those young lords look good, but should not have been difficult. Apparently, things did not work out that way.”

“It goes back to Richard’s great grandparents on his mother’s side. House Naelana had a lady that came out of the woods. Of course, she was hardly the only one in either family as the Harpers as well were explorers and visitors to the Empire, sometimes freeing themselves and their bondeds from various kinds of restraints. My brother’s books that were done for my sister in law draw on those stories. In any case, you had a young man, with high potential, in a very high stress environment. Richard was on the ridge that needed to be held for over a five day as his platoon died around him to protect him. On the third day, the officers and sergeants of the assaulting battalion started to die, from a sharpshooter that they could not find. By the time it was over, over a hundred were dead, the assault had stalled and the Republic was able to run over the Fellowship’s lines, get to the bridges at Riverside before the Fellowship could leave their trenches and end the war at the current border. From everything that I have heard, Richard went into a stage the fae call a lost child, but instead of becoming a monster or some kind of chimera and Jumping away, he became almost a ghost on that ridge until it was over, stopping the assault cold and ending the war.”

“You are worried that something like that may happen again.”

“It has again, twice that I know of. The second time was when Richard was taken and brought here. The third was at Amarille’s home when Stormfire and some of his troopers showed up, supposedly chasing after Jimmy.”

“Stormfire is hardly a child,” Meira said with a grin. “Why was he chasing after Jimmy?”

“The idea they had was to let Jimmy loose at Amarille’s to rampage and maybe eat some of Amarille’s cows, and then they would come charging up as Richard and the sergeant were dealing with Jimmy and his appetite. Jimmy got ahead of them, Rebecca and Folmon were with us, Jimmy was freed, at least of his collar, he reverted and was fed lunch. Stormfire showed up and Richard brought the ghost out, deliberately, to make a point to the Darkmage’s children.”

“That brings us to the present and you must be concerned that Richard will do that again.”

“I think that he will see it as a duty and once Richard accepts a duty, you have seen what can happen. I can’t tell those ladies what may happen and I suspect that the mothers do not know what is happening in Istrosia and don’t realize that with his people’s lives on the line, Richard will not hold back. I was able to persuade him in the matter of House Sarfaren, but this time, I doubt that I will be able to, if things are not stopped quickly. As it is, the Houses involved will be paying a great deal of compensation that they cannot afford. If they push Richard, they will probably lose their heirs and their futures as well.”

“Why are you concerned about your enemies?” Meira asked. “That seems to be a strange thing to do. None of those Houses voted for anything that Richard proposed and were voting with the Ravathyra all through the Conclave. Most of them were involved with Shaerra as well.”

“If it were one House, or even as many as five, I would just be satisfied with crushing them. Fifty Houses, on the other hand are more than the Empire can afford to lose. I am hoping that at least some of the Houses will withdraw from this or at least withdraw their heirs before they get caught up in the middle. Richard has already called for our House standing order number three, which calls for the destruction of the invaders.”

“Standing orders?”

“Richard set that up. There are five, based on the severity of the threat. Five allows the guard to perform police actions across House borders if necessary. Four says that the House will perform intelligence collection of potential threats, but only take direct action to protect lives and the granaries. Three says that direct action may be taken across House borders if House Qinvaris lives are in jeopardy. Two and one are levels of active warfare. For instance, that invasion by the Sanctuary was dealt with under Standing order two.”

“I see, the standing orders are a level of response and if a crisis emerges, all Lord Qinvaris has to do is say what level of response is allowed and his people know what is expected of them and can start dealing with the problem while your husband comes up with a more deliberate response.”

“Yes. In the case of the armies, Horatio called the Militia up without Richard needing to say very much other than the standing order level. In this case, things are already in motion and I am hoping that you can convey that to certain ladies that would not speak to me.”

“So that they keep their sons here and not involved in this.”

“When Richard did what he did at Bloody Ridge, that caused political turmoil that still has reverberations. After the last Conclave and the casualties that the High Guard suffered, the same thing could happen here in the Empire. On the other hand, Richard and I will not tolerate the pillaging of my House by those who we made significant financial sacrifices to save.”

“I see your point,” Itireae said. “Where are your girls? We missed them this Winterfaire.”

“They are both in the Republic at present. Nimue is training to be a musician as well as developing other talents. Aliniss is looking into dance and costume. Of course both of them are involved in opening the Mage Queen’s vaults.”

“I thought that the Mage Queen’s vaults were a legend,” Meira said. “I have some slaves that told wonderful stories about the searches for the vault.”

“I know. When I went to the Republic, I visited the castle that sits atop the vaults, without Richard, who was off buying new toys, some of which you have seen.”

“That big machine.”

“Yes. That was work. The little cars were not, but I couldn’t stop him and Folmon from just rushing out and buying them. Richard and Folmon had a lot of fun in the Republic. Fortunately the Blight absorbed a good bit of their attention. But I was left to see all sorts of interesting and wonderful places with my sisters in law including Castle Hill Park. When the girls went to the Republic the first time, they were already thinking party, so they didn’t do much sightseeing and Tarranth was poking around in other places with Renna. So they didn’t go to Castle Hill Park, that time. This time, Tarranth went with his cousin Bill, tripped and touched the wall. Having passed the test for mana and being a descendent, the vault opened.”

Lunch came as Rosa’s stories continued and then she bid her leave and left. Meira turned to Itireae and said, “That was a very interesting chat indeed. So when do you want to talk with the ladies in question.”

“I think that we will have to set up something as soon as possible to hopefully avoid what will be essentially a civil war. I think that I must talk with Narbeth first and possibly get a better feel about what is going on.”

“A lot depends on the circumstances that occurred when young Lord Nerihorn was killed. Do you think that it was murder?”

“Lord Qinvaris has never used murder as a political tool, though as Rosa said, he is a very lethal killer. The interesting thing is that he didn’t kill Stormfire when he probably could have.”

“That, and the story about Jimmy.”

“Stormfire should have stayed closer to Jimmy. Of course maybe he was afraid of Jimmy’s appetite.”

“Having had to feed the landdragon, that is all too possible.”

Treehollow Faery Kingdom.

Jimmy looked at Lazuli, Esgalwathanar, Gander and the others and said, “I’ll do it.”

“It’s going to be risky.”

“We need to know where those portals are going and as far as risk goes, very few people who are not compelled are going to shoot at me, and if they do, I probably won’t get hurt that much.”

“If you go, I go,” Talissa said. “Otherwise this is just a stupid stunt that isn’t that important.”

“I’m not sure that either of you should go,” Lazuli said. ‘You are more important to the kingdom than any single advantage we could gain by going through the portal.”

“The kingdom is why I am going” Jimmy replied. “We need to know what kind of commitment the Darkmage is making wherever that is, so that we know if the threat to the kingdom is real or not. Talissa and I can go through at night and get a look around. As a landdragon I can carry all sorts of things and since I am well known, I suspect that the soldiers will hesitate to shoot me. Better me, who is protected than some fae that isn’t. I will take my sack of tricks with me.”

“Both sacks,” Talissa said. “We’ll give whoever is on the other side the full Jimmy treatment.”

 

 

Chapter 28.

Beltian, Capital of The Republic.

Except for the defensibility of the location, Beltian had very little to recommend to itself. There was a fairly regular vote in congress to move the capital to Chatsrey. The vote lost when it was pointed out that Chatsrey had been raided multiple times in the past and that the cost of establishing the government in Chatsrey would be rather large. There were also some advantages to keeping the business side of government away from the political side, not least of which was the incentive to increase funding when the people asking for the funding had their offices next door. An all day round trip train trip or car ride put a damper on the bureaucrats getting to every hearing and the lack of space for hotel rooms meant that it was impossible to amass a mass of bureaucrats when the budget battles started. Of course, the plateau’s climate and the fact that the climate was rather unbearable certain times of the year persuaded the congress to keep the legislative session as short as possible. None of that helped to make the meeting more pleasant as President Jarfaet Cloudrunner looked across his desk at the two men sitting there. He looked at the report and the pictures and said, “Tell me again why we should not go to war with the Fellowship?”

Secretary of State Thothak Caskbelly said, “Mr. President, You will have to ask Dan because, after this, I’m of a mind to make it abundantly clear to the Fellies that this is completely unacceptable by running TAVs down Center Avenue in Zirgoccol. This is the worst atrocity I have seen in my life and I have lived a very long time. Dan, would you explain?”

“First of all, we don’t go to war with the Fellowship because the Fellowship, other than General Headbasher, is not responsible for this. We are seeing the Darkmage’s plan unfold and one thing that I am sure of is that he wants is an all out war in the Blasted Lands with the Darkmage pushing things with terrorist acts and manipulation. Qambois sent me a wire and there was a growing sentiment for a war in the Senate. This atrocity did not help the general and the Darkmage at all, as the Senate is now calling for the general’s head and wants the Fellowship marines to bring the general back. The problem is that bringing the general in may not be easy if the Darkmage wants him. The Darkmage’s things are responsible for the atrocities.”

“Why did he do that?”

“That is one question my sons and quite a few others are asking. The atrocities had to be deliberate and hurt him as much as they helped him. The thing is, from my experience, he doesn’t seem to care. I watched as he expended two armies and exposed the home that he had been keeping hidden for centuries rather than shut off the suppressors and tell his son not to send the armies. I don’t think that he understands the modern world at all and he demonstrably will discard just about anyone, including his own family into the crapper to get what he wants. His takeover of the Imperial Palace was poorly managed and if Richard had given the Justiciar in charge of the Palace security a machine gun or two, which he had, the thing would have been a debacle. As is was, Paeris saved the thing for him by covering the portal that Rosa set up that would have let the entire Conclave escape out the back. The portals had been there for ten days as the Conclave progressed and apparently Paeris was the only one of the clowns who thought to take steps to make sure that the back was covered.”

“He seems to be moving his Project forward, whatever that is.”

“That is because we weren’t looking for it. Right now I wish that I had pressed Richard to go in to the Empty Lands after the girls were taken, but he didn’t have a writ and since the girls escaped almost immediately he never had the legal reasons to poke in there, though he and Folmon Beinan did do a lot of that anyway. But at that time the Darkmage had other things going that we never saw and the Blight captured Richard’s attention. That was one reason that he didn’t pick up on the takeover.”

“I will hold off on a declaration of war and limit things to the Peninsula, for now. Dan, I want you to get together with Sarya and get everything you can on this Darkmage. Before this is over, he goes down.”

“I can’t argue with that. Sarya is still at the Hidden City. I will fly out and then to go on to Zirgoccol.”

“To Zirgoccol?”

“I want to talk to Qambois and maybe the Consul. General Headbasher is their loose cannon and I want to know what steps they have taken to tie him up.”

“That sounds like a plan. You can tell the Consul that you were the voice of reason between me and a declaration.”

The Peninsula.

Jimmy and Talissa snuck through the the Qinvaris estate until they reached the portal and ported through, scaring a pair of sentries on the other side, who took one look at Jimmy and ran. Jimmy and Talissa laughed as they moved through the camp in the morning mist, using glamor to become invisible at need and scaring the odd soldier who spotted them. By the time some organization had been put together to deal with them, they had left the camp after taking pictures on their crystals and moved on to the more or less ruined city. Soldiers were collecing bodies and Jimmy snapped a picture of the sad scene. They moved through the more or less empty city where the fighting and the attacks on civilians were evident. They reached the border of the ruined old city and the new city had been ruined by the fighting as well. When they reached the border, Talissa said, “I smell something over there.”

“Let’s see what it is.”

What they found was a tangle of wire with little bars on it with soldiers behind it wearing different uniforms. They faded back into the mist and Jimmy said, “One of these armies is probably under compulsions. That will be the Darkmage’s.”
Talissa went into a scanning posture and said, “Not this one, at least not the troops here. We didn’t check that other army.”

“Why don’t we?”

They turned around and there were other soldiers watching slaves from the Empire load bodies into wagons. Jimmy looked at them and said, “This group has been compelled. So this is the Darkmage’s army. I think that the soldiers are from the Fellowship. The slaves came from the Empire. That other army is probably from the Republic.”

“So what should we do?”

“We sneak around and get as many pictures as we can. Then we talk to the people in the Republic’s army and afterwards we sneak through the portal or scare the sentries again.”

Jhaerithe had spotted the landdragons and grinned.They could be natural animals, attracted by the carrion, except they were ignoring it and the soldiers collecting bodies. She also knew who they both were. Jimmy and Talissa disappeared into the mist, heading to the Fellie line. Jhaerithe looked at the truck stuck just outside the current perimeter of the Republican line and grinned. If she could get Jimmy’s or Talissa’s attention, they were the solution to her problem. She wanted the truck and her tyrant father would not let her outside the perimeter to collect it without a serious guard, which required the general’s permission and Uncle Norman did not want his niece outside the perimeter and didn’t want to start a potentially bloody firefight over a truck. Jimmy on the other hand, would be a very heavy guard indeed. Now she just had to get his attention.

Colonel Waterside was walking by the portals and looked at the rather elaborate new security stationed where two sentries had been sufficient the last evening. He looked at the antiTAV rifle and the heavy machine gun and said, “What is all this?”
“Sir, we had two landdragons come through the portal early this morning.”
“Landdragons? That seems rather improbable. Who saw them?”

Stalwart and Bennings, sir. They retreated and came to me. There were tracks, sir.”

“A landdragon in the camp should have caused a rather large uproar, Sergeant. Since they did not, I doubt that the landdragon is anything to be concerned about. Put these weapons back where are things to be concerned about.”

“Yes, sir.”

Jimmy and Tallissa were in a ruined building that overlooked the camp and saw the events play out. Talissa turned to Jimmy and said, “Should we make that colonel run?”

“He doesn’t look like the kind that scares easy. On the other hand we have that bridge over the old road and golem Jimmy on a wind up cart. Maybe we won’t scare him, but we may shake things up.”

They put the cart on the old bridge and launched the golem and cart, with golem Jimmy running visibly across the bridge. The Colonel saw the golem and stopped as Jimmy and Tallissa laughed silently. After some more fun, Talissa said, “Let’s go back to the the Republcan’s camp. Maybe sometbody spotted us and knew who we were.”

“Ok, I want to talk with them anyway.”

The two landdragons prowled through the ruined city, laying mischief along the way until they reached the Republican lines. They looked across the wire and Jhaerithe was waving from a GP and pointing to her left. Jimmy looked for Fellowship soldiers and then in the direction she was pointing. There was a gap in the wire and Jimmy said to Tallissa, “I think that Jhaerithe wants us to go through here.”

“Who is Jhaerithe?”

“I met her at the party. Her dad runs all of House Qinvaris’s wagons, boats and things. She’s nice. Not snooty at all.”

Jimmy led Talissa through the gap in the wire and Jhaerithe drove up in the GP. “So what brings you here, Jimmy? This is a strange place to bring your girl if you don’t want to eat bodies.”

“What happened here?”

Why don’t you two follow me to the general and he can tell you. That is if you don’t want to transform and get dressed.”

“I don’t think so. At least not here. Somebody might shoot us.”

“Good point, though this area seems to be quiet and once the other side got what they wanted, the shooting has slowed down a lot. I imagine that General Headbasher is looking to save ammunition.”

Jimmy and Talissa followed Jhaerithe back to another camp next to a pier where people were being loaded onto ships. Jhaerithe looked at the loading process and said, “This has gone well since we have an argument that General Headbasher not push too close.”

“What?”

Valiant and Conquerer. The Republic sent two ships that are both their oldest and newest battleships, at the same time.”
“Oldest and newest?”

“The two ships are the first in a refit program since they were the oldest. The refit gutted the hulls and replaced just about everything, so they are essentially new ships. They also have the best guns and fire control in the navy.”

Talissa giggled, “You have been talking with somebody.”
“Well, yes, thank you very much, princess. So far it is just talk.”

“Before you and Talissa go deep into mushy stuff, what did you want us to do?”
“I need cover so that I can get a truck towed back into the perimeter and our camp. Father won’t let me and a crew collect it without cover and the colonel doesn’t want to start something when things are quiet. If you and Talissa provide cover, I can get the truck back and have it repaired.”

Talissa said, “We can do that. Jimmy and I will be glad to help.”

“Talissa, you do know that the first rule is not to volunteer,” Jimmy said.

“We can make it work and we want to shake up the enemy anyway so that they pull troops away from the portal. At least the colonel did some of that already.”

“Ok, you have a good point and the colonel may have changed his mind now that he saw our glamor Jimmy.”

“Glamor Jimmy?” Jhaerithe asked.

“Yes. I know how to set glamors that are me and attached to things.That was a trick that I learned from Vesstan Elstina when I trained with him. I used it for Talissa’s rampage at Deephollow and that and some other things worked very well.”

“You played mischief on a bunch of fae in their own forest and pulled it all off?” Jhaerithe started to laugh. “You do know that being able to accomplish that is something to be proud of.”

“I had to or Talissa’s Aunt Lazuli and Lord Yllanan would have kept Talissa out of the grove and she would have been a landdragon forever. Do you know what that would cost in sheep and hogs? It was bad enough when we were getting to the grove, but Talissa needed to be released from her lost child or I would be buying farms worth of sheep and sheep sheds forever. I’m just a movie star. That would be too much money.”

“I see your point. Here is the general, both generals, actually. General Ironcutter, uncle, I caught some prowling landdragons. Rather famous landdragons.”

General Harper grinned. “This is a strange place for even landdragon movie stars to be prowling around. How did you two get here and why are you here?”

“General, we came through the portals from the Empire” Jimmy replied. “There are some Faery kingdoms and Dolmon as well as House Qinvaris who wanted to know just where the Darkmage was sending people using the portals and how much of a commitment this required.”

“He’s sending people here, unfortunately. You probably saw some of the old city.”

“Yes we did, and the other parts. You couldn’t defend the city?”

General Ironcutter frowned and said, “Traditional rules here in the Blasted Lands say that an offensive force give the civilians under foot a chance to evacuate before commencing a major attack on a place like a city. General Headbasher would not accept a temporary cease fire and assaulted the town using the portals, compelled slaves from someplace and monsters. The Dakmage also used a large one way portal to port more slaves and monsters in to cause havoc. I lost several sections of the city before I could put together a workable retreat. Fortunately we have ships and can evacuate the civilians to Milport. I suspect that the Darkmage got what he wanted, but General Headbasher is going for the long fall for Ishendell.”

“Do you have a report that I could take back for Queen Lazuli, Lord Yllanan, Lord Qinvaris and the Justiciars? They don’t know what was happening to the compelled people that some lords provided rifle training for and more from the Qinvaris estate. They were stopped from robbing more compelled from Lord Qinvaris.”
“That may be why things settled down. General Headbasher is in a bad spot right now as north of the river here on the Peninsula is occupied by the Republican Marine Corps and General Harper is here with arriving reinforcements.”

“Do you think that the Darkmage got what he wanted?”
“Since I am not sure what the Darkmage wanted and wants now, I can’t be sure. He may have.”

“I will take the report back to the others when we leave. Before we leave, though, we need to help Jhaerithe with a truck. Talissa volunteered us.”

“Talissa, you do know that volunteering is a mistake, don’t you?”
“Jimmy volunteered to have us come down and I don’t see that a little of our time guarding a truck is a bad thing.”

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