"He's... you really have to see him eat a whale one of these days. It's kind of impressive," Artos told us.
"Boy, I'm glad he was in a good mood while we were on that lake," I mused.
"Yeah. He was practically gamboling," Meara smiled.
"Everything was gamboling that day."
"But sure. Ladder." He pointed us in the right direction.
"Thank you. We're going to go check out the castle," she told him.
"Are you feeling okay?" I asked. He hadn't asked to come along.
"Oh, I know I'm just going to get yelled at if I go up there, and then nothing good will happen," he sighed.
"If we actually get ourselves to a point where we really seriously think we're going into a fight, though, we may come and talk to you," Meara added.
"You could do that."
"Or at least Gaenor. Hell, all of you. Might be a big fight," I said.
Meara remembered something. "You know, something took out a large number of those orcs, we forgot to mention that last time we were there."
"Well, thank you for bringing it up, I'll remember to tell my wife. What's a large number?" he asked.
"He took out two hills, two warrens. Wynn took out two warrens of orcs. Men and women, or well, male and female."
"By himself," I added.
"Okay.... Pleasant," he judged.
"Yeah. And I'm thinking traditional protections against Fae don't work against him."
"Thanks for the ladder," I told him. "We'll bring it back."
"If we were going to try to burn down the castle, how much wood do you think we'd need?"
"Well, back when it was white I would have said a lot, but I'm not sure it would work any more," he told us.
"Maybe we should get some paint," she grinned suddenly. "Perhaps some bleach, maybe some lime."
That set us all laughing. "Just paint the place? He wakes up at sunset...?"
"Okay, let's go."
The torches disappeared at daybreak, leaving only the hint of unpleasant smoke on the wind. There was no hint of motion from the place, so we set the ladder against the front gate and climbed up. Meara drew a line on the wall, marking where the blackness ended.
We immediately found out what the pounding was about. In the courtyard rested a large humanoid figure, surrounded by braziers and smithing equipment. It looked like a statue cast in iron, of a large man wrapped almost entirely in chains. Emer's folk had added a few structural supports to the thing.
He was turning it into a throne.
For a while we just stared at it, dumbfounded by the sheer ego required for the undertaking.
"He's as unhinged as Wynn, just in a different direction," I decided. "Well."
"I hear that Egypt is lovely this time of year," Meara suggested.
The main hall was entirely boarded up from the inside, and we weren't going to get in without a great deal of effort; Meara tried slipping a dagger between the shutters, but she couldn't lift the bar, and there might be magic as well. There wasn't much else to find. The watchtowers were well-supplied with fuel for the braziers, spears, bows and arrows, a few swords and axes. Gannon, unsurprisingly, sensed a great deal of magic in the area, and none of it felt friendly.
"At least now we know what he's doing," I remarked, shaking my head as we looked at the throne in the making. It was all but unbelievable. "He and Wynn deserve each other."
"And he's the sane one," Meara remarked.
"Yeah. Sane. Well, I won't say sane. I will say he's perhaps the slightly more rational one."
"Or at leastwise linear in his insanity."
"Well, at least we know he's not trying to set Balor free." I was trying to look on the bright side.
"We could try luring them out twenty at a time."
"As if they'd be so polite. We could just camp out here and wait til they wake up."
"There is that. It's just that I'm sure we could take all of them."
"So we send for Gaenor and them."
"And try to bust down the door and make our way inside, and let sunshine in? That's probably our best bet." She seemed to be hearing an echo in her head: Hammer the door down.
"Hope it doesn't just make them cranky," I grinned.
"Hope that there's a reason why they're pinning this thing up quite so well. I could, with a little bit of effort, probably burn this place," she added. "But I don't think it would do any good, and it would probably backlash on us. We can hammer the door down, we might want to have some backup. This is what I heard while I was talking."
"Well, all right then. I'll go back and round everybody up. Gaenor will be thrilled."
"Maybe we should save this for tomorrow."
"It's only ten o'clock in the morning."
"Yeah, but the fishing fleet has left."
She had a point. "Guess we'll have to wait until tomorrow."
"Let's go talk to Gaenor though, I think this is actually an option."
"Maybe she knows how to use a war-hammer."
"He's got the strength to use the war-hammer," she said, thinking of Conner.
"Yeah, but she might be good at it."
"Well, that's true. Actually, what are we saying? If we're going to give anybody the war hammer, let's give it to Artos."
"We might have trouble getting it back."
"There is that, but you think we're going to be able to arm-wrestle Gaenor for it?"
We brought the ladder back and went to talk to Rhonwen.
"It doesn't sound like a bad idea," she said cautiously. "It would be the war band, not everybody in the town."
"We figured," I assured her.
"We would probably be doing this beneath the Rhys banner," Meara told her.
"What do you mean, probably?'" I replied, raising an eyebrow.
"Always nice to have governmentally approved rapine," Rhonwen said dryly.
"That way it's not mutiny against a legal lord, also," she pointed out. "You know he's trying to make a throne out of that stupid thing?"
"He's got Balor," Meara expanded, "wrapped up in iron chains, encased in iron, and he's trying to hammer him into a thone."
"Which has just got to be pissing him off to no end," I added.
"I think our sovereign lord has lost it," she murmured. "What the hell?!"
"I'm thinking so," Meara agreed. "Maybe he's hoping that this is really irritating the snot out of Wynn, since Wynn seems to be channeling Balor."
"I'm sure it is. That might be a large part of Wynn's problem lately," I said.
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© 2002 Rebecca J. Stevenson et al