"So we should go give them a hand?" I offered.
"Okay, um... they're flying."
"You know damn well we're outclassed," Meara muttered. As we watched, that seemed debatable, but the battle's altitude remained a problem.
I wasn't happy with sitting there. "Presumably, if we were to go over there they would come down and attack us...."
"Might it not be better to let them cull the ranks a bit?" Gannon suggested.
"I'm sure this actually goes on on a regular basis, but what I'm thinking is we might be able to talk Emer into letting us get to the other guy through his castle," Meara said.
"Why do we need to go through the castle?" I gave her a puzzled look.
"The castle's divided through the middle, they're evidently fighting each other."
"No, I think Emer's coming out and defending, and they're coming out from the mine," Conner squinted.
"Half of the castle is in black."
"Yes, but the evil forces aren't coming out of that half of the castle."
"The green fire was lining up to the entrance of the castle."
"I think green fire is just the default. The ravens came from the mine."
"So you might be right," she conceded.
"Emer might be using the weapons of the enemy here."
"If those are the skeletons of his band, fighting the ravens?" I suggested. Or perhaps those of people who have come calling at the castle since the haunting began, though where the batwings came from remained a question.
The battle continued for several hours. It would have been shorter if either side had been better at what they were doing, unless this was some kind of ritual event that neither side actually cared about. Every once in a while someone got knocked out of the sky into the swamp below. The skeletons appeared to have lost, but there was only one crow-rider remaining, who circled once to get his bearings, then flew straight toward the watchtower.
As the rider crossed the swamp, there was suddenly a very tall woman in his way, half her body in decay. She reached out with a titanic hand and swiped crow and rider from the air with a snarl, and then all were gone.
Moral being, don't rain undead down on the home of a high priestess of Hel.
"There's something you don't see every day," Conner remarked in a strained voice. "I'm going to go to sleep before I claw my eyes out if that's all right."
"Good night," I told him, still a bit miffed about not getting to fight any of the flying things.
"There's not enough force on this earth to keep me from this spot now, but we owe it to the kingdom to tell them what's going on in case we lose," Meara pointed out. "It's duty. First we see to our duty, then we see to our glory. Besides, you know they'll try to kill us on our way home, we'll have plenty of opportunities to fight things."
That did cheer me up a bit. It wasn't the glory, really, just that it would be nice to be able to handle a large problem without outside assistance.
"Ma'am, I really think you might have been slightly more explicit in your instructions to the Abbott," she added for Brigid's ears.
"We can send somebody from the village," I suggested.
"I think so."
"Of course, they might get killed...."
Meara nodded. "I'm just worried that they're not going to make it. I'm figuring that the exchequer was actually more skilled than our accountant, and our accountant is fairly skilled."
"We don't know that his death had anything to do with this...."
"I know, but he was only one day out of this valley."
"I know. It seems unlikely that they were unconnected, but he doesn't seem to have done anything that would trigger it."
"I suspect that, being a member of the Accountants' Guild, he was skilled at people not noticing him, and he might have poked his nose into the wrong place."
After a moment's thought Meara suggested, "They could go by sea...."
"Think we could send a boat down the coast?" The idea had a lot of appeal.
"It would be faster."
It was a quiet if not a restful night, notwithstanding the howling of the wolves from the darkness. Gannon slept soundly. Conner was pretty foggy.
Someone knocked at the watchtower door; it was Gaenor.
"Good morning," I chirped.
"Good morning. So what were you guys up to?"
"Apparently bothered something."
"You have any idea what this spot is?" Meara asked her.
"What what spot is?"
"Where the druid stand is."
"Where the druid stand is?" She looked confused.
"The ancient history of this place."
"You're probably happier that way."
"They've lived here fifty years with a curtain of darkness," I pointed out quietly. "The spirit of inquiry does not live in this valley."
"Inquiry gets you dead. That's why you have Rhyses, that's why you pay your taxes."
"I leave asking questions like that to the professionals," Gaenor said dryly. "I talk to my best friend, she sends her husband to go ask stupid questions."
"Here's a question. We want to be able to get a message to the capital," Meara switched topics.
"Her capital," with a nod at me.
"Just in case whatever this is turns out to be a bigger problem than we think it is," I added.
Meara suffered a brief coughing fit. "Excuse me a moment. Ah, yes."
"I take it this means that you're not going to go yourself?" Gaenor looked from one to the other.
"It would take a long time," I said.
"It would take a long time, and in the meantime somebody else might come along and solve the problem for us."
"There is that," Gaenor seemed to understand. "You could hire somebody to go."
"I'm worried that they're going to get torn to shreds one day out of this valley."
"Give them hazard pay," Gannon advised.
"You could hire a boat."
"That's what I'm thinking."
We arranged to hire the closest thing to a coaster the village boasted for the trip.
"So does the battle of the various dead factions happen often?" was Meara's next question.
"Fairly rarely, actually."
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© 2002 Rebecca J. Stevenson et al