“Well, that seems very well-prepared,” said Mansemat Cthonique, with a firm nod. “Seventeen-hundred-twenty-three bolts. Very nice”
“We labored long, making sure that we had an accurate count, Dark Lord,” stated Allard, casting a resentful glance at Rainald.
Mansemat coughed. “Please--let us… dispense with formalities, if that is… all right with you.” He smiled nervously. Rainald regarded this… man of the Nightfolk with his pale white skin, and his dark black armor, and great black cloak, and he was puzzled. What is it about Lord Cthonique that makes him both everything I expected from a Dark Lord, and… nothing that I expected? “Just call me by my name, and I shall call you by yours.” He clenched his fist and gave it an invigorating wave. “We are allies. Fighting side by side against a common foe.”
“Who the last time there was a war was our ally against you,” stated Guiscard.
Mansemat shifted slightly at that. “Well… funny old world. Funny old world.” He thought it over. “Also--the last war for you. There were a whole bunch of wars for us after it, on the other side of the river. Fought against people who are also now our allies.” He spread his arms. “Which again demonstrates--funny old world.” The three brothers glanced at each other. “Let’s go to the battlements. I’d… like to get a look at the defenses.”
It wasn’t a long walk back to the ramparts, but it felt like one, as the crowds stared at the Dark Lord, and the brothers Lasliez. Rainald saw the nervous eyes, and he knew what was in them, or thought he did--not fear exactly, but a certain… wariness, a thing in you that asked ‘What now?’. They’d called to the Dark Lord of the Plains of Dread for aid. And he’d come. And even though, there were not signs yet they’d made a bad bargain, they had to wonder--what if all the stories were true? Or half of them?
Or even a quarter of them?
Mansemat slapped his hands on the walls when he reached them, and smiled. “Sturdy work this. And unless I miss my guess, there’s Old Magic in these stones. Powerful Old Magic.” He looked at Rainald with those strange brilliant green eyes of his, the ones that reminded you that a Nightfolk wasn’t the same as you. “These are charms that have stood for ages, strengthened by the love, the honor and the duty of those they protect. “ He let go of the wall, and turned back to regard the city. “It is a lovely place, your White Mountain. And I’m privileged to help you defend it.” He gave a rueful smile. “I am also sorry if this siege got in the way of your celebration.”
Rainald was certain that his brothers were looking at each other again, but determined that the Dark Lord’s eloquence would get a worthy answer. “We are honored to have you here, Mansemat Cthonique, whatever the past between our two houses has been. As you say--this a lovely place, and my family has kept it safe with love, honor, and duty for generations. Now it is threatened, and we found ourselves turning to you for aid. I have no doubt you have reasons you could have cited to refuse. But you did not. We called and you came. For that reason--we are honored.”
There was fluttering in the air, and then the Badb was hovering above them. She landed by her husband. “Trouble, Manny,” she said, quietly.
“What…?” he began, only for her to gesture out to the Leonais encampment with her pestle. He turned to look, hand on his sword, then recoiled with a hiss.
“What is it?” asked Guiscard.
“I told you that there was Old Magic in these walls of yours,” said Mansemat, as he rubbed his forehead. “Well, there’s a different sort of magic out there. There are paths that those who use it are not to walk down. Evil ways.” He shuddered and shook his head. “We… believe that there are among you a group of men who have trod very far on those paths. Perhaps because they did not realize what they were doing in the beginning. Perhaps because they did not care.”
He is talking of the Stylites, Rainald realized. Seven help us, the bloody Dark Lords are scared of the Stylites! What have the Knights of the Tower been doing all these years?
“That’s… that’s dangerous, I guess,” muttered Allard.
“All magic is dangerous,” said Mansemat. “All magic can be used for ill. All magic can harm. But the evil ways are inevitably so. They are evil in use, evil in intent, and they twist the user as he twists them to do his bidding.” He sighed. “And yet there are always fools convinced that they’re the exception. On our side of the river as well.” He turned back to the Leonais, though seemed warier--more guarded, as he gazed. “There is one of the men I mentioned out there. He’s not trying to hide his presence. Don’t know if he could… That amount of corruption… It’s like a stench of rotting meat…”
Rainald felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to see the Badb smiling at him. “Don’t get too worried. Evil magic isn’t stronger… just viler.” She frowned slightly. “We… just weren’t expecting one of them to be here.”
Rainald looked out at the field and wondered what lay ahead.