A kingdom besieged, p.31
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       A Kingdom Besieged, p.31

           Raymond E. Feist
 

  ‘If the Pantathians are in fact back in numbers then they must be sought out.’

  ‘I will go, Father,’ said Magnus.

  ‘You?’

  ‘You’re needed here, and if things are coming quickly to crisis, you can’t be away. I can travel faster than you,’ Magnus said without boasting, ‘and you have a more critical task.’

  Pug looked pained. ‘Yes, I think I didn’t want to see that.’

  ‘What is that task?’ asked Jim.

  ‘Like you, I must begin to find out who betrayed us.’

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Treachery

  THERE CAME A POUNDING ON THE DOOR.

  It was the dead of night, but Hal and Ty were both out of their beds with swords drawn before they were fully awake.

  Ty pulled open the door to find a servant with a lantern standing there. The man said, ‘Quickly. My mistress says to dress and come at once.’

  Both young men hurried to do as they were told and were dressed, with weapons buckled on, and moving down the corridor following the servant within moments.

  Lady Franciezka was dressed in leather breeches, a heavy woollen shirt, a cloak and a pair of heavy leather boots. ‘Come,’ she said and led them down the stairs.

  As they reached the front of the large estate house in which they had been guests for a week, both boys heard pounding at the front door and a man’s voice cry, ‘Open in the name of the King!’

  They scurried to the back of the house and she showed them to stairs leading down into the basement. The pounding on the front door became more insistent as they reached the bottom. She pointed to a storage shelf and said, ‘That is a false shelf. Move it to the right and it will swing out. Behind is a safe room. Wait there until I come back.’

  ‘What if you don’t come back?’ said Ty.

  ‘Then things are in far worse shape than I think. If I don’t return by tomorrow, go to your father’s restaurant any way you can. He’ll know what to do.’

  She hurried back up the stairs as the young men heard angry male voices.

  ‘By whose authority—’ the voice of Lady Franciezka faded out of hearing range.

  Ty and Hal found it easy to move the shelf and it did swing away to reveal a hidden room. They entered and lit a single candle, then closed the shelf behind them. Inside, there was only a bed, a stool, and a table. Hal took the stool, leaving the bed for Ty.

  They sat and said nothing. After a few minutes they could hear the muffled sound of boots on the stairs to the basement, and some indistinguishable voices coming from the other side of the false wall.

  The search of the basement took about ten minutes, then they heard more steps up the wooden stairs, and finally silence.

  Hal held up his hand and mouthed, ‘Wait.’

  A minute of silence went by, then they heard faint sounds of movement, then fainter creaking on the stairs.

  Whispering, Hal said, ‘Leaving someone behind to see if anyone was hiding is what I would do.’

  Ty smiled. ‘Sneaky bastard.’

  ‘What do you think is going on?’ asked Hal.

  Ty shrugged. ‘Your guess is no worse than mine.’

  The night passed slowly and they played ‘odds and evens’ to see who got the bed. Ty won. Hal made do with sleeping on the chair with his feet up on the tiny table, and was rewarded with a night spent dozing while trying not to fall off the chair.

  They were both awake when the false wall suddenly swung aside and Lady Franciezka stood there, one of the servants beside her holding a lantern. ‘You may come out now.’

  Ty said, ‘Lady, what was that about?’

  ‘I was summoned to the castle.’ She led them upstairs and back to the kitchen at the rear of the house. ‘I expect you’re hungry.’

  ‘Always,’ said Hal with a laugh. ‘Father says I’ll be as fat as a prize hog if I don’t keep busy.’

  ‘Yes, thank you,’ said Ty.

  Food was served with a hot pot of Keshian coffee. ‘Enjoy that,’ she said indicating the steaming black liquid as she poured herself a cup. ‘The way things are, it may be hard to get in a few weeks.’

  ‘What news?’

  ‘I was summoned by Lord Worthington.’

  ‘Worthington?’ said Hal. ‘Sounds like a man from the Isles.’

  ‘Our two nations are closely linked. His forebears were from the Isles, but he is minor nobility of Roldem, very minor.’ She let out an aggravated sigh. ‘He’s a jumped-up, but very ambitious, fellow distantly related to some important nobles, but that’s true of almost anyone with a title on this tiny little island we call home.

  ‘But in the last five years he has risen fast and has grown very influential. He is said to control many voices in the most import ant circles of society, and has many friends in the House of Nobles. It’s also rumoured he has a strong desire to see Princess Stephané married off to his son.’

  ‘Can’t spite a man for ambition,’ said Ty, ‘but for all of that, how does he get off summoning you? I mean, from what I know, you’re very close to the King yourself.’

  She looked at Ty with a narrow gaze. ‘Few people know that, and I would advise you to consider keeping it that way. I am officially a minor court lady, occasionally a lady-in-waiting to the Princess, living on an inheritance from a rich father. I know I am considered desirable—,’ she held up her hand, ‘—none of your childish flattery; I’m not in the mood, don’t have time, and you’re not very good at it, Ty. Now, your father, he could charm the ladies from what I hear, but that’s for another time.

  ‘Anyway, Lord Worthington has no idea who I really am, a situation I’d like to continue. I have seen many ambitious lords come and go, especially when the two princes were in their young “I love everyone when I’m drinking” phase of life. The list of suitors for the Princess is breathtaking, so normally I would expect to see Lord Worthington spend his brief days, a few months perhaps, in the glory of the King’s sun then fade back into gloomy obscurity, but there is nothing normal about these times.’ She took a deep breath. ‘For the duration of this emergency, by the King’s order, Lord Worthington has been named Chancellor of Roldem, with extraordinary powers.’

  ‘But what of the old Chancellor?’ asked Ty.

  ‘Suddenly retired, apparently, and he never had the powers granted to Worthington.’

  ‘You suspect him of—’

  ‘I suspect everyone right now, except for you two, and only because you—’ she pointed at Hal, ‘are vouched for by someone I trust implicitly, and you—’ she pointed at Ty, ‘because I’ve known your father since I was a child. Everyone else right now is suspect.’

  Ty detected something in her voice. ‘What is it?’

  ‘Worthington has declared martial law.’

  The two young men exchanged glances, and Hal said, ‘With the Keshian fleet anchored off the harbour mouth that’s not entirely unreasonable.’

  ‘With Kesh sending love poems to Roldem, indicating that their business is with the Isles, yes it is. It creates strife and engenders fear and panic where none need exist. Moreover, he’s secured the palace. No one enters or leaves without the Lord Chancellor’s writ.’

  Ty said, ‘Does that mean the King and his family . . .’

  ‘Are virtual prisoners within their own villas in the heart of the palace. No one can get near them without the Lord Chancellor’s permission.’

  ‘The King approves of this?’

  Lady Franciezka’s blue eyes flashed. ‘How would I know? No one can get near the King to ask him, save with Worthington’s seal on a pass.’

  ‘What of Constantine and Albér?’

  ‘On their ships, at anchor in the harbour, under “protection” by the King’s Own Royal Marines.’

  ‘Grandy?’ asked Ty.

  ‘The young general has gone missing,’ she said with a smile.

  ‘You know where he is!’ Ty looked delighted.

  ‘No, but I think I do, and I will know if I’m right in
a few days.’

  ‘And the Princess?’ asked Hal, and Ty threw a glance at him.

  ‘With her mother and father,’ said Lady Franciezka. ‘You let me worry about her. I saw the way you two young peacocks strutted when presented to the royal family. She is the prize young hen in Roldem, in the entire Sea of Kingdoms, and I’m not about to let either one of you romantic fools get any closer to her than I am allowing Worthington’s son. She will marry the next King of the Isles or highest-ranking duke’s son I can find.

  ‘This war has shown that Kesh is flexing its muscle again and if the Isles survives they must be made whole, and quickly. For Kesh without the Isles means Roldem’s end eventually. It’s that simple.’

  She stood up. ‘Finish what you will, then rest. Ty, I want you to leave after breakfast and find your father. Ensure that all is well and ask what he has heard from Jommy, Servan, or whoever else might have news of Prince Grandy, but be discreet. Make sure no one, and I mean no one – not friends, not trusted household staff, no matter how long they’ve been with you – no one overhears you. Hal, you’ll stay here one more night. It should be safe.’

  ‘Then what?’

  ‘We move you. Someone wants you dead or captured, that’s certain, and my men have no idea who. Those men who attacked you are not known to us; they are not agents of Kesh, the Isles, or anywhere else we know of. Nor are they local thugs for hire. After asking everyone we can think of, we found they came into the city by ship just before war broke out.’

  Hal didn’t know what to say so he just sat back in his chair. ‘Very well.’ After a second he asked, ‘Have you anything here I might read? It’s tiresome being alone in a room.’

  ‘I have books.’ She looked at him. ‘I may have to reappraise you, young lord from the wild frontiers. There may be more to you than meets the eye.’

  She rose and the young men stood up and bowed. When she left they sat down again and returned to finishing their meal.

  ‘She’s quite something,’ Hal said at last.

  ‘My father once told me she was dangerous. I guess he knew of what he spoke.’

  Hal scratched at his cheek. ‘Did we really act like peacocks?’

  Ty grinned widely. ‘You did. I was a perfect gentleman.’

  Hal took a linen napkin and threw it at him.

  Sandreena rode with three other knights along the trade road from Durbin to Land’s End. As expected she had been halted by Keshian forces moving against the Kingdom three times since they had left Durbin. Her position as a Knight-Adamant of the Temple gave her a certain carte blanche when it came to travelling through such conflicts, for neither nation wished to earn the enmity of any temple, especially one with as powerful and influential a martial Order as the Temple of Dala. If need arose Grand Master Creegan could field more than four hundred veteran knights, a force that could tip many battles, if he felt one side was dominating, and at the moment the Keshians certainly appeared to have the upper hand.

  All Sandreena did was to acquaint any Keshian officers who sought to impede her travel with the fact that the High Priest of Dala in Kesh was personally interceding with the Emperor to cease hostilities and allow the temple to take a role in resolving further conflict.

  This time she faced a different impediment. A full legion of Keshian soldiers, not the traditional Dog Soldiers of the northern command, but an Imperial Legion with all the trappings: camels as well as horse cavalry, siege engines, a luggage train stretching back two days’ march, camp-followers and merchants numbering nearly as many as the fighting men. All were athwart the caravan trail and the commander was disinclined to allow anyone, for any reason, to cross the frontier.

  Looking annoyed at having to deal with this, the commander had come out of his tent to regard the four Knights-Adamant as they sat astride their mounts. He was an ideal model of a Keshian Legion Commander. His armour was of polished black lacquer, his helmet crowned by a dyed red horsehair plume; he wore a black cuirass, with black leather pauldrons, a black skirt, and shining knee-high boots. His breast was emblazoned with a relief of a snarling lion’s head, signifying that this was one of the Inner Legions, rarely seen outside the immediate vicinity of the Overn Deep. With barely contained irritation, he said, ‘I have nothing but respect for your Order—’

  Sandreena pushed up her faceplate. All four had been wearing full helms, not her personal preference, but necessary for this journey.

  ‘—Sister.’

  ‘Sergeant, Commander,’ Sandreena interrupted. ‘I’m a Sergeant Knight-Adamant.’

  ‘Sergeant, then,’ he amended, looking frustrated. ‘As you can see I have a war to conduct, and as I was about to say, I have nothing but respect for your Order, but I cannot permit potential combatants for the other side to cross the field uncontested. I know enough of your practices to believe you will be behind the barricades at Land’s End when we move on it.’

  ‘Commander, normally that would be the case, but in this instance I am under orders to take ship from Land’s End to another destination with utmost urgency. I will not be lingering to oppose your assault on a weaker position, no matter how much it might be in my nature to do so. You have my oath, by the Goddess, that I will not be stopping in Land’s End for any longer than it takes to eat a meal and secure transportation.’

  He calculated. For her to be seeking a boat from Land’s End meant a destination somewhere up the coast between Port Vykor and Ylith. If that was true, it made no difference to his efforts. ‘If you will swear you will give no information on our disposition, nor advice to the enemy, then you may ride on.’

  ‘Commander, the only advice I might give to any Kingdom officer I meet would be to quit his position and make haste to Port Vykor and hide behind the King’s navy there. For in all my travels I have never seen such an army as you command here today.’

  He nodded. He wasn’t entirely sure if that was a compliment or not. He waved over one of his guardsmen and said, ‘Escort them through the line and permit them to pass over to the Kingdom side.’

  They walked their horses behind the guardsman who took them through the camp. The sheer number of soldiers was impressive and Sandreena knew that only the Prince’s Army in Krondor could withstand the siege this commander would bring. Everything between here and Krondor would eventually be swept away. And for the Kingdom to drive out the invaders another army in support of Krondor would have to arrive from the East. The last time the Armies of the East had appeared in the Western Realm had been over a century before to meet the Tsurani invasion. And before that war was over, a king died.

  Sandreena and her companions reached the barricades and she noted they were nothing more than straw bales upon which dozens of pikes and spears had been lain. She took this as an indication that the Keshians expected no counterattack. A sudden appearance of even a small company of horse archers with flaming arrows and the front line of this army would be beating a hasty retreat. It wouldn’t help the war, thought Sandreena, but it would be amusing to watch.

  The no-man’s land between the Keshian army and the outer defences at Land’s End was over two miles, which was from Sandreena’s point of view a good indicator that the Keshians were not in any hurry to advance. If you wish to sack a town, you move on it. Any student of warcraft knew that. If it was a walled city or other fortification you surrounded it. You did not permit reinforcements easy access, or those in the town easy escape.

  There was something decidedly odd about this war, but Sandreena had yet to put her finger on what it was.

  Right now her mind was on her current plight, and her annoyance with her companions wearing the garb of her Order was constant. The three other men were Black Caps. Nazir, their leader, had promised to reveal what he knew about the demon presence on Midkemia and why Dahun had provoked a massive war in the demon realm for the sole purpose of sneaking into Midkemia in human guise, but he refused to tell Sandreena.

  He would only speak directly to Pug and the Conclave.

&
nbsp; Sandreena had taken the better part of a day deciding, but he had been intractable. His small loyal band of Black Caps, the last ‘true’ Nighthawks, were quite capable of vanishing into the night, never to be found again unless they chose to be found. Better to deal with him now when he was in a mood than later when he was not, she decided.

  But getting him through the lines into the Kingdom was risky. Smugglers who could do it by boat were few and far between, and after consultation, this charade seemed the most straightforward method.

  They walked their horses to within sight of the Kingdom pickets who had alerted their command by the time Sandreena and her companions reached their lines. A young militia lieutenant said, ‘Your business?’

  Sandreena pushed up her helm. ‘I am Sandreena, Sergeant Knight-Adamant of the Order of the Shield of the Weak. I have been given orders to come to Land’s End and take a boat north.’

  ‘Orders by whom?’

  She smiled indulgently. ‘By the Grand Master of the Shield.’

  He clearly did not know what to do. After a moment, he said, ‘Wait here.’

  He ran off and Sandreena looked around. Wherever the small army of Land’s End might be, it wasn’t here. The barony of Land’s End was one of the poorest and least important in the Kingdom, save for the fact that it was the last town of size before leaving the Kingdom and entering Kesh. But it was part of the Principality of Krondor, specifically under the care of the Duke of the Southern Marches, Lord Sutherland, who was headquartered in Port Vykor. His mandate precluded giving up this town and pulling back to a stronger position, which was the expedient thing to do. Instead he had to make a show of defending it, which meant leaving a lot of ill-trained local boys and old men to fight against a trained army.

  A few minutes later, the young officer returned. When he grew near, Sandreena asked, ‘What did your father say?’

  The boy said, ‘My fath—’ His eyes narrowed. ‘The Baron said for you to come to the command centre.’

  ‘And where is that?’ asked Sandreena.

  ‘The big house up on the hill,’ he answered quietly, obvious feeling self-conscious.

 
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