The Web Of Darkness

Soledad

Chapter 014

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Chapter 14

Chapter Notes

Tolkien had, indeed, considered making the Nazgûl incapable of crossing water, especially flowing water. However, it was never explained why.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
PART 14

As soon as the battle had died down and the enemy retreated from the walls – for the time being, at least – the defenders of Dale turned their attention to the damage done. The fires were put off, the charred roof beams torn off if necessary, so that no-one would get hurt by falling roof tiles, and the wounded brought to the infirmary.

The Healing House of Dale was a surface building, in one of the best-protected quarters of the town, for it would have been too stressful for ill or wounded people to be dragged underneath. It did have a large underground hall, like all buildings in town, for times of great peril… like the one they were having right now. But the healers preferred to keep their patients in the sunlit rooms as long as possible. ‘Twas best for the spirit and aided the healing.

Drizzt was surprised that a town as large as Dale had only one healer: Annlaw ap Math, as small and wiry and bird-like as his wife, Helydd - the midwife of the town - was round and voluptuous and ruddy-faced. They were both elderly, childless, and devoted to their work. The barbers of Dale had come to help them treat the wounded, and some four or five apprentices were busily preparing bandages and tinctures in a small back room.

The barbers dealt with the most severely wounded first: those who had lost a limb during the battle. They bound off the maimed limb to stop the bleeding, cauterized the stump with white-hot iron and bandaged it as well as they could, hoping that there would be no infection later. The wounded then were given poppy juice in wine and laid on woollen blankets in a row, for space was precious and could become even more so as soon as the next attack started.

Few of them would live to see the end of the siege and they knew it. The resignation showed on their faces spoke more clearly than any words could have done.

Mistress Helydd and a good number of other women, who had volunteered to help with the wounded, were treating burns with some specific ointment. It had a rotten smell, but the injured seemed to feel better after the treatment. Young women and lads were carrying water in jugs and wooden cups to everyone, and the exhausted men drank greedily. ‘Twas a good thing that Dale had been built on the lakeshore. At the very least, they did not need to worry about running out of water.

Drizzt found Master Otir in one of the side rooms. The sturdy Lakeman’s face was ashen with pain, even in his sleep.

“He had been given some poppy juice,” explained one of the helpers to the Drow. “Master Annlaw worked for the better part of an hour to get the iron spikes and the bone splitters out of his shoulder.”

“Will he live?” asked Drizzt in concern, for even in the short time of their acquaintance, he had grown fond of the big, lusty Lakeman.

The helper shrugged. “He will, unless an infection sets in, as can always happen with such an ugly wound,” she said. “But he will never be able to bend a bow again. Not with that damaged shoulder.”

“That would be a hard blow for him,” said Drizzt. “He is the Master Bowman of Esgaroth, after all.”

“At least he is still alive, and with some luck might stay that way,” replied the helper. “Many others were less fortunate.”

And she looked out to the northern courtyard of the Healing House, where the fallen defenders had been laid and covered with straw mats to keep the carrion birds away. Drizzt could hardly argue with her.

The Drow thanked the helping woman and left the Healing House to see how the King, his knights and his captains were doing. Sad as it was that so many of the common folk had already been slain or grievously wounded, the fate of the town lay in the hands of the leaders. As long as they were unharmed and could keep up people’s spirits, there was still hope.

He found them in a good enough shape. Only Master Dafydd had a bad leg wound – and not even from enemy weapons but from a roof beam that fell down near him and one of whose splinters, a fairly big piece, pierced his leg like a spear-head. But the wound had already been tended to and properly bandaged, and though it obviously caused him considerable pain, he bore it stoically and did not allow it to bother him too much. His wife, Mistress Byrnach, with whom he had four grown children, seemed every bit as unshakable as he was. A soldier’s wife and the mother to two soldiers, she had long grown used to seeing her menfolk bloody and battered.

She was serving the King, his knights, his court officials and his captains a simple meal, such as could be prepared under the circumstances. While eating, the King listened to the reports from the captain and from Master Aeddan, his steward. It seemed that while the loss of lives was, sadly, considerable, the town itself had fared a little better. Other than the broken and charred roofs of some houses, no other damage had been done – so far.

“The attack in the morn will be much heavier than the one was today,” said Spymaster Fychan ap Rhys with emphasis. “Today they were hungry for booty. Tomorrow they will be hungry for blood and vengeance, too. They had hoped to overrun us easily. Now they know it will cost them a great deal of fighting and many lives.”

“It will cost us many lives, too,” replied the King grimly. “I wonder what is keeping the Dwarves of the Mountain. We could use their battle-axes on our side.”

“And you shall have them, King of Men,” said a deep voice, and Dáin Ironfoot, the King under the Mountain, entered the room, clad in shining armour from head to toe. “We regret to have come late to the battle, but we were delayed by the work in our tunnels. We had to prepare the means to collapse them behind us, should the enemy break through our lines, to protect our families.”

Drizzt had to hide a smile. This strategy sounded so very Dwarfish; indeed, it reminded him of Bruenor’s defensive strategy at the time when the barbarians had tried to overrun Ten-Towns. Apparently, Dwarves were of a like mind in every plane of existence.

King Dáin had brought with him his personal guards and as many Dwarven warriors as Erebor could spare and still defend itself; all in all, two hundred and thirty of them, which was not a very high number. But they were Dwarves, meaning that every single one of them was at least worth two Men, if not more. The defenders were heartened by the sight of the short, stocky warriors in their shining armour and elaborate helmets, carrying great, double-bladed battle-axes or deadly battle-hammers, their beards braided and adorned with small golden or silver beads. They were a sight to behold; a sight to put fear in their enemies’ hearts.

The townspeople knew many of them personally: from the trade that had flourished between Erebor and Dale since both realms had been restored; from the markets held either in Dale or in Esgaroth; from caravans that passed through Mirkwood and over the High Pass under the protection of Dwarven guardsmen; from many feasts shared by both peoples on high days. Some of them, like Master Blacksmith Collen ap Collfrewr, had even been apprenticed to Dwarven craftsmen in their youth. For even though the Dwarf masters never shared every single one of their secrets, those who had been taught by them still turned out a great deal more skilled and knowledgeable than any other Man of the same trade.

Thus the Dwarven warriors were welcomed with joy, taken in with great hospitality and offered food and good, dark ale. They sat with their friends in The Dragon’s Hoard, the largest inn in town and the only one still open during the siege, and sang ancient songs of honour and bravery in their deep voices: some in Khuzdul and some in Common, filling the hearts of the townspeople with new hope.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Aboard the Grey Gull, young Leifdall was holding council with the other ships’ captains at the same time. They had all watched the first battle of the siege and were now seriously concerned about the outcome of the next one.

“We do not have enough men to harm the rear-guard of the Easterlings in earnest, or even to draw away many of their troops from storming the town,” said Leifdall grimly. “If the Dwarves of the Iron Hills need too long to get here, Dale will fall ere they can enter the battle. We need to ferry more of our people over, to ease the weight bearing down on the defenders.”

Thórvall, the most experienced among the drakkar captains – a big, flaxen-haired man in his early forties – shook his head.

“I do not believe you would be able to convince the Master to allow any more soldiers to leave our town,” he said.

“And rightly so,” replied Leifdall, “for we need those to defend Esgaroth, should any of the Khimmer jarls decide to make a detour to the South, if for naught else than for food. But we could call for volunteers. No-one can hinder us to do so or forbid any men who want to come to the aid of Dale to follow us.”

“You hope to find any?” asked Thórvall doubtfully. “They would be too concerned about their own families to leave, I deem.”

“Yea, but many have blood-kin in Dale as well,” reminded him Leifdall. “I am not the only one who has taken a wife from the North, and I am certain that those others are just as concerned for their kin here as for their family back home. They would come if asked.”

“We cannot leave,” said Thórvall. “We are needed here.”

“Not all of us,” argued Leifdall. “We can sail home with two or three ships only, fill them with volunteers and return under the veil of the night.”

“Fill them with volunteers?” Thórvall shook his head in tolerant amusement. “I wish I had your faith, my friend.”

Leifdall sighed. “I have to try, at the very least. If Dale falls, we have no chance to prevail. Our fate will be decided here, on this battlefield.”

“I know that,” answered Thórvall, “but I fear you might not be able to convince our people; they have grown too comfortable since the fall of the Dragon. You are right, though; we must try, for that is our only chance. Go then. Whom will you take with you? Do you want me to go?”

“Nay,” said Leifdall. “I want you to take command over the remaining ships. You are respected, and the others listen to you. I shall take Starkadh and Daghr with their ships. Their oarsmen are young and strong. We shall need their strength to be back in time.”

“Good,” said Thórvall. “Just see to it that you slip away unnoticed while there is still day. They have one of those foul creatures with them, or can you not feel its dreary presence? If it catches you unaware during the night, it shall need no army to destroy you and any men who might follow you. They say those Wraiths draw their strength from the darkness itself.”

“The also say they cannot cross living water, and the Lake has two rivers flowing through it,” replied Leifdall, “but you need not to worry in any case. We shall be careful.”

And indeed, after a few quietly distributed orders, three of the sleek little drakkars left the small fleet of Esgaroth. Thrice eight pairs of oars moved in unison and with almost no noise at all, to drive the ships, in the middle of the Lake where enemy spies would be hard-pressed to spot them due South, towards their home harbour.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ever since the fleet of scout ships had left to ferry people to the aid of Dale, Master Ketill had been deeply concerned. He might not look like a great leader of Men, but he was, nonetheless, a man of wisdom and experience; that was why he had been chosen for his office. It had always been the way of the Lakemen to elect the Master from among the old and wise – not to mention the wealthy – instead of enduring the rule of mere fighting men, and Ketill was, so people generally thought, a good choice.

Personally, he had begun to doubt his own wisdom in recent times. For so many years, ever since Esgaroth had been rebuilt, things seemed to have gone so well. His own father had led the new town wisely, and thus people were forgetting the very real perils outside their small realm. Ketill himself had grown comfortable in wealth and safety, depending more and more heavily on the captains and the spymaster to deal with the outside world, and focused his attention on the immediate matters of town life and the legal regulations of trade and finances, with the help of his brother Kolbeinn, who happened to be a lawyer. And not just any lawyer, but one who had been taught the laws of Dale, the Riddermark and Gondor as well and wrote contracts for far-away merchant towns and great lords among Men, too. For a long time, Master Ketill had little doubt about the safety and the further flourish of Esgaroth.

Yet since the young Easterling Ásgeirr had been brought before him, the Master of Esgaroth had been questioning his past actions. Mayhap he should have given more of his attention to things that were happening in other realms. Mayhap he should have kept a closer eye on the actions of his spymaster and his captains. Trusting his people was good, but checking on them more often might have been better.

The questioning of young Ásgeirr had shaken his faith badly. The youngster knew very little about his uncle’s deeds, but Master Ketill needed just a few key facts to figure out the rest. That Turcaill could have betrayed him like that was hard to believe – the husband of his own daughter! Yet it seemed that the betrayal had begun before Turcaill would even take over as family head… Master Ketill could still barely accept it. The wealthy merchants of Esgaroth were concerned about their riches, that much was true, but never had they sold out their own people before.

Was this what the Dwarves called the Dragon Sickness? People becoming so obsessed with wealth and position that they would sacrifice everything for more, even their own family? And if so, how deep would the roots of betrayal reach? Who else was involved in the spymaster’s scheming?

He had not revealed to Turcaill the capture of young Ásgeirr yet. If Dale survived the siege – of which he Master of Esgaroth did have his doubts – there would be a formal hearing. All Turcaill’s deeds, and perchance those of his late father, needed to be laid open. Only a thorough investigation could show the full harm done. Only after that could Master Ketill consider how to save his own daughter, assuming she was not part of her husband’s schemes, from sharing Turcaill’s fate… a fate that would not be pleasant. The Lakemen had harsh punishments for traitors from their midst.

Until that hearing, young Ásgeirr would be held in a secret place, bound and gagged, released only for his daily needs. Master Ketill had assigned the delicate task to four old Town Guards who had always been his most trusted men. They would not betray him; of that he had taken care years ago. The young Easterling would be there to stand witness at his uncle’s trial.

A soft knock on his door interrupted his thoughts. He called out to wherever it was to enter, and the captain of the Town Guard followed his call, bowing respectfully.

“Leifdall Thorleifsson has returned with two of his fellow captains, Master Ketill,” he reported. “It seems Dale has survived the first day of the siege; but the battle was horrible, he says. He is now recruiting volunteers to return with him to Dale’s aid. Should we let him do so?”

“Is he trying to convince any of the soldiers to abandon their posts and go with him?” asked the Master.

The captain shook his head. “Nay; he is only asking for volunteers from the common folk.”

“Then leave him alone,” ordered the Master. “’Tis better for us to keep the battle beneath the walls of Dale; they have a better chance to prevail. For if Dale falls, what else can we do than take our belongings on any ships as they are available and flee to the South? And to what end? There is war everywhere, from Mirkwood to the Riddermark and beyond, down to the southern Sea itself.”

“We could destroy the jetty and trust the Lake to protect us,” said the captain.

“For how long?” asked the Master. “How long would it take for the Easterlings, after they had levelled Dale and massacred everyone within its walls, to build rafts and do the same with Esgaroth? Or to destroy our town with fire? The Lake would not protect us for long, I fear. Nay, let Leifdall do as he wished. Our only hope lies in Dale now… and in the coming of the Dwarven army from the Iron Hills.”

The Master’s orders were handed down to the rest of the Town Guard, and so Leifdall Thorleifsson was allowed to take as many volunteers with him as his three ships could carry. To his pleasant surprise, the ships were full to the bursting point when they set sail only a few hours later. Many people, old and young alike, had understood the importance of stopping the Easterlings under the walls of Dale… or there would be no stopping of them at all.

The only one watching Leifdall’s recruiting with displeasure was Spymaster Turcaill. He had wanted Esgaroth to keep out of a battle not even the united forces of Dale and the Lakemen could hope to win. There was truly no need to get involved any more than they already had been. Whatever might happen to Dale, the Dwarves would deal with the aftermath, and even if he managed to beat the Dwarven army – which was by no means certain – Siltric Silkbeard would be too weakened to wish another battle with Esgaroth… even less so as an intact Esgaroth would be of much more use for him.

But Leifdall and the other heroic fools were just about to destroy any chance Esgaroth had to come out of the whole mess unharmed. Even defeated, Siltric Silkbeard would not forget that the townspeople had actively turned against him, had raised weapons against his army. After the departure of the fleet, two days back, Turcaill had again spoken in the Town Council and before the leaders of the Guild Merchant, spoken against any further involvement in the battle, but got outvoted once more. Even his fellow merchants began to give him strange looks whenever he spoke of restraint and properly careful actions.

Those pathetic fools! What did they hope for, to beat the army of one Khimmer chieftain – admittedly, a powerful one – and then live safely and unharmed for the rest of their mundane lives? The Easterlings were a proud people, a people of warriors who had only left the ships and caravans of the Lakemen alone because they had not seen them as a threat… and due to the long-time, carefully tended-to relationship to Turcaill himself and his father before him.

But now they would feel wronged by the Lakemen, and as it was their wont, they would answer that wrong by destroying Esgaroth. They were not known for their forgiving nature. Most of them did not even know what forgiving was, having lived in harsh, unforgiving lands for uncounted generations.

Turcaill did not intend to wait for the day of reckoning to come. During the previous night, he had sent much of his treasure to his fastest, strongest ship disguised as harmless sacks of barley, oat and rye. He had also sent his wife and daughters there, partly so that they would be in relative safety, partly because he did not want Eydís to gossip with her kin about his intention to flee the town at the first sign of trouble.

He called Prostr back from the remnants of Laketown to keep an eye on the womenfolk, for he could not trust anyone more. That meant leaving the lads behind, chained to the beams of the ruined house in which they were hidden, but that concerned him very little. The lads were of no importance. If the water goblins did not eat them beforehand, they would be starved ere the Easterlings got there. They could not betray him or his treasure.

In the townhouse, only his son Thorodd remained with him, and a few servants, to make the house seem inhabited. They would be left behind, too, when Thorodd and he escaped through the watergate with the boat that was waiting for them under the house. ‘Twas regrettable, but some always had to be sacrificed so that others could live.

Turcaill did not intend to be numbered among those who would be sacrificed. His entire family was prepared for every possibility; and with the treasure hidden in the flour sacks, they could begin a new live any time, in any place.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In that night, the Mordvin slaves of the Khimmer jarls were collecting the dead Easterlings from under the wall of the besieged city. The defenders did not hinder them. Respect towards the dead was one of the very few sentiments they shared with their enemy; and besides, they had their own dead to care for.

At home under their rocky hills, the Khimmer people usually entombed their fallen warriors in small, separate caves, together with their belongings and often with their wives and slaves slain to give them company, and then walled in the entrance so that no carrion-eaters could desecrate the bones of the dead heroes… including Orcs or Wargs. Here, far from their homes, they could not do that, so they chose the second best solution and gave the bodies to the fire.

The funeral pyres burned all night a little further down on the lakeshore, shrouding friend and foe with black smoke and the horrible stench of burned flesh.

Early in the morning, before daybreak, in truth, when the smoke finally dispersed and people could breathe again, the sentries reported a change… a surprising one. It seemed as if the Easterling army had withdrawn from under the walls. There was no sign anywhere of the big, heavy-boned horses of the Khimmer cavalry, the archers with their iron-encased bows, the werfers with their pikes, the valkyrie in their gleaming armour. Even the pack horses were absent.

“What has happened?” wondered Prince Meilyr, standing upon the blood-stained wall and looking for enemy movements with a spyglass, which had somehow found its way from Umbar to the North, through who knew which trade routes.

Drizzt, who had come up with him, shrugged. Whatever the reason might be, the absence of the enemy visibly lifted the hearts of the defenders a great deal. There was joy on the faces as people went about their duties. The women at the ovens sang as they baked the fresh loaves for the new day. The children were playing on the streets as in peacetime. The men gathered around the blacksmiths near the barracks to have their weapons freshly sharpened, and there was hope in their eyes again.

The Khimmer army had disappeared. It seemed certain that the Dwarven army of the Iron Hills was approaching. For where else could the Khimmer warriors have gone if not to encounter them?

The faces of the two Kings remained serious, though, and when they joined the Drow and Prince Meilyr on the wall to look out for the enemy with their own eyes, Drizzt’s heart sank again. He knew now that he might have misinterpreted the signs. He was new to Middle-earth, after all. There could be many factors he did not know yet.

“You do not believe the signs indicate the approach of the Dwarven army, do you, my Lord?” he asked King Brand.

The big, burly Man shrugged, but the gesture spoke more than any word. ‘Twas King Dáin Ironfoot who gave the Drow a proper answer.

“My people cannot be here yet,” he said in a low voice, so that he would not shatter people’s hopes, false though those might be. “And you can see the gabions that they have raised to protect their archers still in place. The slave-drivers with their whips are mostly here, too. Nay, they have not left... they are planning something.”

“I can see a large troop on horseback, beyond the place where the pyres were burning last night,” added Prince Meilyr, adjusting his spyglass. “Some of them are richly clad and heavily armed. They must be the jarls; perchance Siltric Silkbeard himself is among them, too.”

“What might the absence of the army mean, then?” asked Drizzt, a little confused.

King Brand shrugged once again. “It can only mean, Master Elf, that they have gone out into the forest, further down on the shore, where it is thicker.”

“The forest?” repeated Drizzt, still not understanding.

The King of Dale nodded. “And into the vineyards. See the horses coming back up along the shore? I bet they are carrying twigs and earth. They are going to fill in our moat and build a rampart where the walls seem the weakest to them.” He looked at Elf and Dwarf sternly. “But that is for your ears only. Let the people keep their hopes for a little while yet. After all, the Dwarf army will come to our aid, will it not?”

“It most certainly will,” replied Dáin Ironfoot slightly insulted. “I just wish they could make better speed. Things are going to heat up here, all too soon.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
As dawn finally broke, the Khimmer cavalry reappeared indeed. The clear morning light revealed that each warrior was leading his horse, and that each horse was loaded with twigs and vines in bundles. A long line of pack horses followed, carrying full sacks of earth. They approached in a single file, winding their way up the hillside towards the town.

Tuilindo ordered his Elven archers to aim at the horses, as much as they regretted having to shoot the poor beasts. But when a horse fell over, dying, there was always a Man or two, picking up the bundle of twigs and vines, and the line kept approaching. The Khimmer archers reappeared, too, sending a fiery rain of flaming arrows over the walls, and the Elves were forced to retreat; more so as the number of their arrows was not unlimited, and they had no means to replace them while bottled up within the town.

The children ceased playing on the streets and started picking up any arrows that fell down within the walls. They stomped out the burning points with practiced ease and took the shafts to the archers of the town. They were not best-suited for the bows used in Dale, but better than nothing. From time to time, the archers of Dale shot at the Mordvin slaves labouring on the makeshift rampart, but that did not help. As soon as one of them fell, hit by a deadly arrow, the slave-drivers whipped two others into obedience to take his place.

In the end, King Brand forbade the archers within the walls to shoot at them. “We would only waste our arrows, killing those poor slaves,” he said. “Save them for the true enemy.”

Dáin Ironfoot and his Dwarves were watching the work of the rampart-builders closely. They examined it from all sides, exchanging soft comments in low voices among each other but said nothing to the others, as yet.

“We need to find a way to slow down the construction,” he finally said to King Brand. “We must give my kin more time to reach Dale.”

King Brand sighed. “I know. But the thought of massacring these unfortunate slaves who have not chosen to fight against us disturbs me deeply.”

“Whether they chose to do so or not, they are labouring on the destruction of your town,” the Dwarf reminded him soberly. “But you need not to have your Men shoot at the slaves. Let them shoot at the slave-drivers.”

Ieuan ap Ifor, who, standing nearby, had been listening to their conversation, shook his head. “They are out of our reach, I fear,” he said.

The Dwarf-King shrugged. “They are not out of the reach of Elves,” he pointed out.

Tuilindo judged the distance with a critical eye. In his green and grey garb, ash blond hair neatly braided away from his face so that it would not get caught by the bowstring, he looked like a young willow-tree on the bank of a brook. Looking at his fair, youthful face Drizzt had a hard time believing that the archer had already fought in the War of the Elves and Sauron in the Second Age, some four or five thousand years back, and had stood on the battle plain of Dagorlad, facing Barad-dûr itself.

“It is possible,” the captain of the Elven archers finally decided. “We shall give it a try. But your people should do something to… discourage the slaves as well, at least for a while.”

As his weapons master was still in the Healing House with that ugly leg wound, King Brand looked at his eldest son for suggestions. Prince Meilyr shrugged.

“Oil-dipped straw rings and fire, Sire,” he said. “That would work best. And if the slaves try to flee, the slave-drivers might come closer, too, offering a better target for Master Tuilindo’s people.”

At the King’s orders, twenty peasants came running, carrying straw rings dipped in oil in a large wicker basket. One after another, the straw rings were set alight with the help of torches and thrown down at the Mordvin slaves labouring on the building of the rampart. The rough garb of the poor wretches caught fire, and they threw themselves to the ground with piercing screams of pain and rolled around, trying to put out the flames.

The enraged slave-drivers run up wit their cruel whips, beating the injured men mercilessly.

“Up, you miserable dogs!” they shouted. “Back to work!”

“Now!” ordered Tuilindo, and a long line of Elven archers stepped up onto the wall. “Aim well!”

Amidst the chaos below, the singing of the great Elven longbows could not even be heard. Only when a dozen or so slave drivers fell over, dead, their throats pierced by Elven arrows, did the Khimmer troops realize what was happening.

“Down!” ordered Tuilindo, and the Elves jumped back from the wall ere the Khimmer archers could recover from their surprise and send another salvo of fiery arrows over the walls. A few of those arrows hit Drizzt full on the chest but slid down from the Dwarf-made armour harmlessly. Knowing that a lesser breastplate could not have withstood the strong, iron-headed arrows of the Easterlings, the Drow made a mental note to thank Master Glóin, but stepped down from the wall nonetheless. There was no need to challenge fate.

For the moment, the building of the rampart seemed to have been stopped. The Easterlings withdrew from the walls, a few unharmed slaves helping their compatriots who had been badly burned and beaten to retreat into safe distance. Dáin Ironfoot looked after them thoughtfully.

“We have won some time,” he said, “but not much, I fear. The Easterlings are mad for vengeance, and they are a resourceful people. They will think of something to carry on this work.”

“What might they come up with?” asked Drizzt. He had had some limited experience with besieged towns in his previous life in Faerûn, but it was obvious that the Dwarf knew more about such things. More than anyone else present, most likely.

“I know not… not yet,” replied King Dáin. “We shall see what they are up to soon enough, though.”

“Whatever it will be, we need to stay prepared,” said King Brand. “Master Aeddan,” he looked at his steward, “release the reserves of fat and tallow that we have kept for this very purpose. Master Ieuan, keep your archers on the wall. All others – rest as long as you can. We shall not have many restful nights before us, I fear.”

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