Ventus – Day 93 of 135


“They’ve taken the middle tower!” The bearer of the bad news was black with soot and bleeding from a wound in his shoulder. The gangs by the steam cannon stopped working and fell into a confused battle of talk. Armiger shrugged.

“Let them have it. Makes a bigger target.”

This comment was relayed down the line, eliciting an uncertain cheer from the gunners. “So shall we turn the beasts on the tower, then?” asked one.

They were set up in the center of the palace parade grounds, east of the queen’s walled garden. From here the cannon could be aimed anywhere except at the houses northwest of the keep. From here Armiger could see and judge most of the action, but not what was taking place there. What he could see was smoke and chaos at six points along the walls; fires in the tent town and boiling mobs of refugees trying to get into the great hall or over the walls into the garden. The mobs were getting in the way of Matthias’ mobile squads, who were supposed to be crisscrossing the grounds quickly to tend to potential breaches. They were bogged down amid screaming women and children, unable to reach the troubles spots along the southern walls.

The only really important news came from the semaphores. Armiger let his glance touch on each of the flag teams in turn, filling in a mental picture of how Lavin’s forces were arrayed around the palace.

“He’s up to something.” This was no determined assault–just a lot of smoke and bluster. Armiger had no idea what Parliament’s general might be planning, and that worried him far more than the loss of the gate tower.

“Forget the tower, load the charges like I showed you!” He waved his sword in a tight circle over his head. All down the line, the gunners began lighting the sacks he’d had prepared last night. Then as the great wheels of the cannon began to turn, they fed the smoking bundles into the hoppers.

“What good will this do?” whined one of Matthias’ lieutenants. The man was a tenth-generation noble, completely ineffectual. He was positioned here, away from the walls, so he could do as little harm as possible. “All those things do is make a stink. That’s not going to stop Lavin.”

“You’d be surprised,” said Armiger. The sacks were filled with a combination of pitch, oil, wood, offal, and metal shavings, designed to produce a good imitation of industrial smog. The Winds would pay little attention to wood smoke, however large the conflagration, since it mostly just released carbon that trees had previously fixed from the atmosphere anyway. This stuff, though, would loose ozone, sulphur dioxide, maybe a little cyanide into the atmosphere. With an extra whiff of hot metals for good measure, it should whip the Winds into a fury.

He watched with satisfaction as the first of the smoking bags lofted over the walls. The environmental insult would be coming from Lavin’s camp. Lavin would know what he was doing; the fatal results of the battle where Armiger had first used sulphur were widely known now.

“We should be sweeping those walls clean!” The lieutenant pointed.

Armiger shook his head. “Just wait. And be ready to run for cover.” He would have preferred to have used this tactic as soon as the assault started, but he had wanted to make sure that Lavin’s camp no longer contained enough men to extinguish these fume-bombs. The attackers were engaged at the walls now; in the chaos, this smoke should be overlooked.

“What do you mean, run for cover?”

“I mean you might want to dig a hole and bury yourself in it now, because they may decide to take away all the buildings when they get here.”

“They…?” The lieutenant’s face went pale.

Armiger watched him with amusement. “This is no time for half measures.”

The gunners were well into the rhythm of it now. Time to turn his attention elsewhere. Armiger strolled away from them, leaving the lieutenant stuttering.

He had to trust that he was still invisible to the Winds. With luck they would concentrate their fury on Parliament’s encampment. He certainly hoped he could get everyone inside and under cover before the forces of the Ventus Terraforming System arrived.

It was the biggest risk he had taken since coming to this world. He was deliberately inviting the scrutiny of the Winds. Nothing else about this siege could threaten his existence or his plans. From a strategic point of view, risking a meeting with the Winds now was idiotic.

Armiger didn’t care. There were people he felt for in the palace. He would surely survive this assault, but he doubted he could save them–at best, he could probably escape with Megan, but Galas was the queen bee, the attackers would swarm her the instant they glimpsed her. No, it was better to annihilate Lavin’s forces using the Winds, and hope that they left the ordinary stone and wood of the palace alone.

He read the situation from the semaphores again, and made his decision. The chaos of battle was reaching its peak. Under its cover, he would be able to spirit Megan and Galas away from this place. If all went according to schedule, the Winds would arrive after his escape and pin down Lavin’s forces, giving Armiger and his people time to complete their escape.

He ran for the keep. Missiles rained down into the nearby tents of the refugees. Armiger tried not to think about their fate, or that of the men on the battlements who were fighting and dying to ensure his escape.


“There is a way,” said Enneas. He began pulling down rocks with his good hand. “See there? That crack?”

They had all the lanterns here now, and everybody who could be was crammed up against the rock fall. Lavin focussed on breathing deeply to still his claustrophobia. He was afraid he would have an attack of his old vertigo here, and that was the worse thing that could possibly happen.

The little chink Enneas had found looked impossibly small to get through. The old robber picked up one of the lanterns and stuck his arm in it, then twisted to peer after it. “Yes!” he shouted excitedly. “I can see right through.”

“We can’t get through that,” grumbled somebody.

You can’t,” agreed the thief. He sized up the men pressed up against him. “I can; I’m little. He can, so can he…” He appraised Lavin. “And so can you, sir. But we’ll have to remove our armor.”

Lavin’s throat was dry. Worm into that little crack? With a thousand tonnes of stone poised to collapse on him?

He glanced at the faces of his men. They were determined. Enneas seemed positively jubilant; this kind of challenge appeared to be what he lived for.

“All right,” said Lavin. “You first, thief. Show us how to shove a mouse through a keyhole.”

Enneas began unlacing his armor. “This is going to hurt,” he muttered. “Doing it one-handed will be hard. I’ll need some help.”

In the end it took two men on either side and one underneath to slide Enneas into the chink. He left his lantern behind, held his broken arm tight to his side and pulled himself into pitch darkness on his scabbed back with no complaints.

“Damn,” whispered the man next to Lavin. “I would never have believed it.”

Lavin grinned. “Pass him his lantern.”

“Come on!” Enneas waved from the other side. “It’s clear from here on in.”

When it was his turn, Lavin too went without complaint. The thief was a braver man than he, it seemed. Life never tired of teaching new lessons.

They were able to get the four smallest men inside along with Lavin and Enneas. This was not the force Lavin needed for his first plan, which had been to sneak in, grab the queen, and sneak out again. There were enough men to try his second plan, which was to steal into the queen’s chambers, take her and dangle her from a window until the defenders surrendered. For that plan, he needed only enough men to hold a doorway for some critical minutes.

They were all dressed in the colors of the royalists, which should help; it still depended on how many soldiers were now in the tower. If Hesty had done his work, they were spread out on the walls, ready to fall back when Lavin’s forces made onto the grounds.

Hesty had been instructed to wait two hours before exploiting any breach. Lavin didn’t want the defenders rabbiting up the palace steps too soon.

The others passed them their armor and weapons, and when they were ready Lavin gestured with his chin, and they moved forward into broader and quieter precincts.

Enneas seemed happy now, despite having opened the wounds on his back. He hummed as he looked around himself alertly. “Nearly there,” he said after some time. “Look for a side passage.”

They found it, right where Enneas had said it would be. The space was little more than a crawlway, but the thief slipped into it without difficulty, and the others followed. This passage had been dug through the sandy soil under the palace, and soil crumbled and fell in Lavin’s eyes and mouth with each pull he made to follow Enneas. Blinking and coughing, he finally sat up next to the thief to discover they were at the bottom of an eight-foot deep pit. The ceiling above the pit was of fitted stone, arching toward some pillar out of sight.

“Old cistern,” said Enneas. “We’re at the farthest extent of the catacombs. It’s a maze, so follow close and don’t take any turnoffs on your own.” He looked at them expectantly. “Well? Somebody give me a boost.”

When they were up and ready to set off after Enneas, Lavin nodded to one of his men. He had given him a sack of copper pennies earlier, and now that man took up the rear, and dropped a penny every few meters. Lavin didn’t want to have to rely on Enneas to find his way out of here.

They came to a stone staircase leading up. “That’s it,” said Enneas. “Those stairs take you to the lower servants’ way, and there’s a door there that exits right into the front hall of the palace.”

“I’ve seen it,” said Lavin. “Thanks. You stay here and wait for us.”

“Gladly,” said the thief.

Lavin walked up the steps, took a turn, opened a door and despite his confidence was somehow still surprised to find himself standing in the empty entrance hall below Galas’ audience chamber.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)