The ruined tower on Jorn’s knoll had once been far grander, as Petra could see when she passed again along the spur, this time in daylight. A ring of split obsidian shards rose from a snow-covered hill. The tallest stood thirty feet above the hilltop.
“Remains of a guard tower,” said Bes.
Petra glanced back along the spur with sudden understanding. That had been the rest of it—the part that fell. It must have been taller than the one in the rotunda.
There were blackened craters on the hill near the tower’s base, scars of the bombs the airship had dropped.
As the Drakhorns came within bowshot of the tower, Karl blew a bugle on his horn. A horn answered from within. Then they crossed a stretch that had been cleared of trees. A makeshift gate of logs opened to a split in the wall, and they were inside.
Petra found herself in a fierce embrace. The top of Elder Genna’s head just reached her chin. “I told them you were coming, dear. I felt you,” croaked Genna.
Jorn Drakhorn’s hug was that of a gentle bear. “Ho, easy on the ribs, youngster—they’re still tender from the thorn Genna pulled.”
There was warmth in the reunion, but no cheer. Karl told the news that two clansmen had died in the fight with Skar’s men. And his raiders had born with them to the tower the body of Ward Drakhorn, whom they’d found on the spur surrounded by dead Flays and Broks.
There was no time to grieve, and every chance of worse to come.
“The Flays are scattered or dead,” said Petra, relaying Bes’ report.
“Black woolly hats, all I know,” said Bes.
Petra continued. “There are about eighty juggers left from the ones Otger led to the Flays. They’ll regroup soon. And another eighty to the southwest. The airship slowed them, but they’re marching this way, now.”
Karl added, “The Broks are between us and them.”
“What of the airship?” asked Jorn.
“Drifting,” said Petra. “Bes says the crew are dead.”
“Who is Bes?” asked her father, sharply.
Petra’s ears grew hot. She’d not intended to mention him. “Um … a demon I met in Karlward. He flies the dragonfly for me.”
A silence met that statement.
“Bes says he’s honored to meet the descendents of the Five-oh-nines and Sixers, and pleased to offer the boon of his wisdom.”
“We’ll speak more of Bes in due course,” said Petra’s father, coolly.
Genna smiled half a smile.
Soon after, Otger arrived with Grapple and his scouts. They’d come unseen past bands of juggers, led by an iridescent dragonfly.
Petra stared into Otger’s eyes as he stood panting in front of her, wet, muddy, and tangled-haired. The strange fire she’d felt since waking now seized her with a new kind of courage. Before her kinsmen and her dangerous father, she took his cold hands in hers, then embraced him. With her cheek pressed to his she said, for all to hear, “Otger, you’re the best of Broks and the truest of friends and the bravest boy there is.”
Otger looked surprised, then grinned.
The Drakhorn raiders, as one man, saluted him.
Like its cousin inside Karlward, the tower’s circular stump had a hollow core of iron and an outer rind, though this was of obsidian. Between them was a gap of six yards. The central core had room enough for the mules and packs. The outer walls were split by cracks which the Drakhorns had closed with logs and drak nets. Through the chinks that remained, they could see and shoot at any part of the knoll upon which the broken tower stood.
It made a strong redoubt. But Petra knew it was a death trap, too. It could be assailed from all sides, there was no water, and no way out.
As she followed the trampled path that ringed the tower’s core, she met Ked Drakhorn, once her best player in Clash. The boy she’d called ‘nest uncle’ and knocked into the mud. It seemed so long ago.
Ked looked up from crossbows he was cocking, crossbows taken from dead Flays. He was thin, his lank hair dirty, his face too pale. “So … you made it,” he said, quietly. It sounded not a challenge, just something to say.
“Not the way I wanted to,” said Petra. I probably look worse than he does, she thought.
Ked looked up from the crossbows he was cocking. He was thin, his lank hair dirty, his face too pale. “So … you made it,” he said, quietly. It sounded not a challenge, just something to say.
“Luck, Drakhorn,” said Petra.
She and Otger watched through a split in the wall as the Drakhorns shot the first juggers who ran up the knoll. They came alone, too bold or stupid to wait for orders, and their deaths were enough to give the rest pause. More gathered out of bowshot until their captains arrived with the main body of troops.
While the raiders worked feverishly to arrange their harpoon bows to best advantage, Petra drew Otger aside.
“Father wants me to bring back the dragonfly to kill juggers,” she whispered.
“Makes sense, doesn’t it?” said Otger.
“It won’t be enough. Bes says juggers in armor are harder to attack—the dragonfly’s not made for it. He says they’ve brought false-bred hawks, too. And more juggers are coming.”
Otger winced. “Damn. So … Nula?”
“Yes—maybe.” Nula’s windy voice was in Petra’s head again, faint, but still clear. “She’ll keep her promise. But she can’t fly yet—that’s the problem.”
Otger frowned, his eyes narrow. His thinking face.
“But she can walk,” prompted Petra. The idea in her head was so fanciful, she didn’t want to put it into words. She wanted to hear it—or something more sensible—from him.
This time Otger closed his eyes. He was thinking hard. Then the eyes snapped open, round with surprise. “The airship!”
Petra’s heart beat harder. Yes. “Could it carry her?”
“Um. Maybe. She’d weigh …”
“Eighteen hundred pounds,” said Bes, in Petra’s head. “They’re lighter than they look.” Otger couldn’t hear him. The demon’s body was still propped beside the mouth of Nula’s cave.
Otger’s brow scrunched in concentration. ” … maybe two thousand pounds. Four men for crew, and airships have sand balast, a steel frame … but, wait … ” He looked up again, eyes round, but uncertain. “Maybe yes, but Bes—I mean, the dragonfly—couldn’t fly it.”
“I have an idea for that,” said Petra. It was an idea that made her stomach turn.