They met there, in the Hall of Truth in White Pine, the great men of the Northern League; Cilydd Cyleddon of Bitterleaves, Sinoch Seithfed of the Shining City, and Drwst Iron-Fist, and Digon Alar of the Towers, and Drudwas Tryffin of the Bells, and Teregud Iaen and Sulien Iaen, and Bradwen Iaen, and Moren Iaen, and Siawn Iaen, all of Caer Dathal, and Iustig Caw, and Edmyg Caw, and Angawdd Caw, and Gofan Caw, and Celyn Caw and Conyn Caw, and Mabsant Caw, and Gwyngad Caw, and Meilyg Caw, all of Caer Nefenyr Nine-teeth, and Gwystl Nwython and Rhun Nwython, and Llwydeu Nywthon, and young Gwydre Nywthon, all of Pen Blathaon, and Isgofan the Generous of the Hall of the Hundred Warriors, and Rheidwyn Beli, Lord of the Dev of the North, and Ysbaddaden One-Eye, Prince of the Trolls. They met in that place that the harsh hordes of the Undying One had denied them for many years, now won for them again, and as they met, the crowd outside chanted one word, and they chanted it again, and again.
"Marduk!" was the word.
And the great men of the Northern League felt an unease in their breasts, an unease that tickled at them, and gnawed at them, and set at them, and would not go away. And at long last, one of them spoke.
"So, what is to be done about this Army of Cthonique, and its hunchbacked leader?" asked Sinoch Seithfed.
"Done?" said Ysbaddaden, his voice astounded. "Lords, I beg astonishment. We sit in this hall thanks to their work, surrounded by their men, and you speak of doing something to them, as if we hold that power, and should want to if we did." The Troll shook his head. "Astonishing. Most astonishing."
Iustig Caw spat, and then he spoke, and as he spoke, his grim-faced kinsmen all nodded. "You speak all that as if it were a point of pride, One-Eye. That we, the great men of the North should be made the prisoners of a bunch of slaves."
"There are no slaves in the North, Lord Caw," said Isgofan the Generous softly.
"You know what I meant!" snapped Iustig. "Lady’s name, that Dirmyg and Cynwal should have seen this day! Our line, serving the whims of servants!"
"It is better than seeing them enslaved by the Undying One," said Gwystl Nwython, who was kin to the Caws, as the others of the fair line of Nwython all nodded, though his words were unsteady, and their nods were half-hearted.
Iustig raised a dark eyebrow at that, as if to say he did not believe it.
Teregud Iaen stood to his feet. "Friends--comrades--kinsmen--we speak, and we speak and we accomplish nothing, for what do we speak of--an army we know little of, save that it has swept away the Southerners as if they were chafe, and a leader we know less of, save that he’s hunchbacked. Let us speak to the one who has seen them as they cut down their foe." He turned to another, sitting at the table. "Cilydd Cyleddon. What say you of this army, and the man who leads it?"
And Cilydd Cyleddon shut his eyes, and thought back to the terrible morning he had had to face the Lord Pompeius, and of the sudden appearance of the Army of Cthonique, and he said, "I know little of them, but this I know in my breast--the Darksome Lady is at their backs, and guides the spear of their leader, and they are people it would do well to befriend."
Teregud nodded. "You speak clear wisdom, Archon of Bitterleaves. Let us join our cause to the Army of Cthonique, so that our liberties may endure."
"Hear, hear!" shouted the company, and then many left the Hall, and went forth into White Pine, and found Marduk as he sat upon his great horse with flowers upon his head, allowing the small child who’d placed them there to ride upon it with him, and they bowed to him, and paid obeisance. But the Caws did not leave, nor did the Nwythons, nor did the Iaens, nor did Sinoch Seithfed, nor did Digon Alar.
"Far kinsman," snapped Iustig, for the Caws and the Iaens had wed members to each other, long ago, "what meant you by that nonsense."
"Why merely this," said Teregud. "This Marduk of Cthonique is well-favored by fortune for the moment, and has won some piddling battles, and given our cause a chance. So--let us use him for the nonce." He shrugged. "And then, when his good fortune passes, and his army falls, and his name is no longer on the people’s tongue, let us discard him." He gave a laugh. "Come now, Lord Caw! You are not frighted of a slave, who is a hunchback at that! The history of our great lines are long, Caw and Nwython, Iaen and Seithfed, and forget not Alar. This Marduk of Cthonique--he is a single page in our chronicles, that men will pass over briefly, as they read of our deeds. He will win us some victories, then he will fall, and be forgotten, and our lines will return to their rightful seats, and all will be as it was."
So spoke that man, in words he imagined would be recorded, as he spoke to men few remember.