ZIHAEN, The Shadow of the Revenaunt, Book 2


The Companions’ journey through the forest of Southern Leudra proved uneventful. Though this region was part of the ancient Gisterwoud, the Leudran princes had domesticated their woods ages ago. A network of paths connected hunting cabins with wood plantations – and, after three days, with Davall’s army camp. Even so, Ghyll didn’t feel easy. The memory of the Dar’khamorth sorceress and her helper, the boar man who had nearly beaten him to death in the Gisterwoud, were still too fresh in his mind.

‘We’re almost there.’ Knight Druyel, the escort commander, pointed to the treeless hill rising up from the forest. ‘On the other side lies the camp.’

As they neared the top, they heard the blaring sound of a horn. At the first notes of the signal, Ghyll had already drawn his sword.

‘It’s noon,’ Druyel said apologetically. ‘The changing of the Guard.’

‘Oh,’ Ghyll grimaced. ‘This forest is full of bad memories,’ he said sheepishly. With a clack of his tongue, he urged his horse and galloped to the top. Once there, he stopped and stared at the camp at his feet.

‘That’s the standard of the 6th Corps,’ Damion said, and the lieutenant nodded.

‘The first two kolonnes. The third guards Leudra City.’

Camp Dirdahn was a complete village of tents, kitchens and latrines, surrounded by a tall palisade. Two heavily armed soldiers in the shining armor of the Guard in Leudra were posted at the main gate. When Ghyll and his Companions approached with their escort, the soldiers came to attention with a clatter of steel. Knight Druyel asked a few short questions and then turned to Ghyll.

‘Divine Tilia is with us, Baron; the general is here. I will bring you to his headquarters.’

This was the first time that Ghyll had visited a military encampment and he looked with approval at the orderly activity. The square tents for the troops formed straight lanes. At the end of every lane stood a smaller tent, for the officers, he supposed. After every two tents, there was a separate place for cooking. Everything was well organized and disciplined.

‘My father’s wet dream,’ Damion muttered, staring around him.

‘Hah!’ Uwella said grimly.

The boy colored. ‘Excuse me, it slipped out’ He grinned broadly.

Ghyll smiled at Damion’s unmeant apology.

When they reached the command tent in the exact center of the camp, the escort halted. At the entrance a guard posted, motionless at attention.

‘Is the general in?’ Druyel asked.

The guard moved her eyes to the speaker. ‘Yes, Lieutenant,’ she said. ‘But the general can’t be disturbed. He is in discussion with the staff.’

Knight Druyel glanced at Ghyll, but he received no response. ‘Tell the general that Baron Halwyrd, the new King’s Lieutenant, has arrived and requests a moment of his time.’

The guard hesitated.

‘The King’s Lieutenant is the representative of His Grace the Regent. He is not accustomed to waiting,’ Druyel growled.

The woman’s eyes glazed over, and with military stiffness, she disappeared into the tent.

Olle pushed the standard into Torril’s hands. ‘Here, keep it upright if you love your hide.’

The boy paled and unconsciously imitated the stance of the guard, with the banner lance planted firmly between his feet.

A few moments later, the guard returned, held the tent flap open for Ghyll, and shouted, ‘Baron Halwyrd, King’s Lieutenant.’

‘Wait here,’ Ghyll said to the rest, as he stepped inside with Olle and Zino on his heels.

The surprised buzz in the tent died down, and everyone stood up. A tall, elderly man with a general’s badge on his armor came forward. Ghyll recognized Davall immediately by the resemblance to his son.

‘You are the King’s Lieutenant?’ The general’s eyes were watchful. ‘You seem a little young for that position.’

Ghyll silently handed him his credentials and Davall gave them a fleeting look. Then he solemnly saluted.

‘Welcome, Baron Halwyrd. Excuse me that I hesitated, but I had not yet heard of your appointment. You surprise me with this visit. Are you here to inspect the maneuvers?’

‘Your hesitation is perfectly understandable, General. My appointment is recent and my arrival here is strictly confidential. I have come for something very different from the exercises, I fear. I would speak with you alone, because it is a delicate matter.’

Davall frowned. ‘There is nothing wrong with my…’

‘Oh no,’ Ghyll said quickly. ‘It’s purely business. I’ve met your son Jerann. He is an excellent officer. It was a pleasure to work with him.’

The general bowed. ‘Thank you. It does my heart good to hear that, Excellency.’ He gave brief orders to the officer nearest to him. The man saluted and led the others outside.

Davall pointed to a folding chair. ‘That’s the most comfort I can offer,’ he said with a smile. ‘How may I help you?’

Ghyll’s face was tight. ‘I can count on your discretion, General Davall?’

The general nodded. ‘Of course, Excellency.’

‘Then let me first introduce my companions, this is my foster brother and aide, Olle thu Maubyn, and this is His Highness Prince Zinobad of Opit-Mandaba.’

Davall jumped up. ‘But…’

Ghyll made an impatient gesture. ‘I already said that our presence has nothing to do with your maneuvers, General.’

Davall smiled. ‘Excuse me, I was only surprised. His Highness is always welcome, at our maneuvers or otherwise.’

Zino put his hand on his stomach and bowed slightly.

‘The prince is in Rhidauna in connection with the case I’m working on,’ Ghyll said. ‘At the request of the regent, I reopened the investigations into the death of King Halfraud, the Queen, and the two princes, linked to the murder of King Idrami and Prince Meridan of Opit, nine years ago. We have strong indications that all these crimes were committed by or on behalf of the same organization. There are also indications that members of this organization have recently been active against the Nhael Islands, but we lack further details.’

‘That’s quite something you’re telling me,’ Davall said slowly. ‘I had heard of the regicide in Opit, but a connection with our deaths is new to me. And then the Nhael… does that information come from the Heralds?’

Ghyll shook his head. ‘An eyewitness told us.’



‘Then I must accept it.’ Davall stood up as if he wanted to pace, but apparently he remembered with whom he spoke, for he sat down again with a grunt. ‘I have long been convinced that the deaths in the royal family were no accidents. After my investigations, I had clues pointing in a particular direction, but with insufficient evidence to make a case out of it. It was someone at the royal court, a…’

The agitated sound of trumpets drowned his words. Davall jumped up and grabbed his helmet. At the same time, the tent flap opened and an officer rushed inside.

‘General!’ There was panic in his voice. ‘We are under attack from the air by whole swarms of burning birds.’

‘Dar’khamorth phoenixes.’ Ghyll did his best to suppress the fear that exploded in his breast. ‘General, I suggest use your archers and artillery. Keep those birds at a distance, or they’ll burn everything.’

Outside, the confusion was absolute. Tents caught flame and turned into burning traps. Half-dressed soldiers ran around, some in blind panic, while in the air firebirds dove and danced, sowing fire all over the camp. Here and there, a subofficer knew what he had to do, but to Ghyll’s surprise most of the officers stood helplessly looking around.

Ghyll felt his animated sword Childegard vibrate on his back, and instinctively he ducked. Over his head went one of the phoenixes straight for the command tent, and in seconds, Davall’s headquarters was ablaze. Ghyll couldn’t see the general anywhere and for a moment he wondered whether Davall was still inside.

Olle left his side, shouting to a group of archers. ‘Don’t bunch up. Spread out! Watch each other.’

‘See what you can do in this mess,’ Ghyll told the others. ‘Torril, stay with me and hold that standard high.’ He drew his sword. ‘Childegard, thanks for the warning. That damned bird would’ve shaved me.’

You don’t need a shave yet, Sire, Childegard thought, with a faint chuckle. Well, we’ve gone to war then. His soft singing filled the air.

We’ve gone to war… Ghyll looked around and tried to discover how the battle was going, but the smoke from the burning tents masked a lot of the action.

Two figures appeared. ‘Where is the general?’ the first one said, his voice shaking. Ghyll recognized him as the officer closest to Davall.

‘I’m afraid he’s still in his tent,’ he said. ‘I didn’t see him come out. Who are you?’

‘Colonel Tovias, the adjutant. Oh Gods, the general.’ The man seemed on the verge of panic.

‘Colonel,’ Ghyll said as steadily as he could. ‘You should collect as many of the soldiers as you can. Rearrange them in groups to fight the fires. We must leave the defense to the archers and the artillery today.’

The second figure stepped forward. ‘I’m Marris, of the Stormriders. I came to report to the general that my people are awaiting his orders.’ She glanced at the distraught adjutant. ‘As he isn’t available, I will mount an aerial attack.’

Ghyll saw a slightly built woman of middle age, in a blue uniform. ‘Stormriders! I had no idea you were here, commander. You are very welcome. Please, do whatever you can.’ Marris bowed and the two officers disappeared back into the smoke.

From the other end of the camp came the sound of heavy mangonels trying to swat the firebirds. Ghyll heard cheers and Torril tugged at his sleeve. ‘We got one!’

Suddenly, a firebird came straight at them. Curse it, no cover anywhere! Ghyll lifted his sword and with his other arm, he pushed Torril behind his back. Childegard, help!

The sword laughed. Ice and snow, cold fun. The blade had turned white as a deadly icicle and when it attacked, small snowflakes swirled around. The attacking bird was as big as a raven, and covered in flames. Its beady eyes stared at Ghyll. Squawking, it opened its hooked beak and his wings pushed fiery tongues in their direction. Ghyll took a swipe at the monster’s head, while Torril screamed. Again, the bird sent a wave of fire, but the cold from the magic sword absorbed the heat and they felt nothing. Once Torril understood they were in no danger, he gave vent to a stream of Nhaelish profanity. Again, Ghyll slashed at the phoenix, and this time his blade connected. The bird somersaulted and crashed to the ground, convulsing as the flames slowly died around it. Torril jumped forward and hacked wildly at the feathered body.

‘There!’ he said between gritted teeth, while tears streamed down his cheeks. ‘There, and there and there!’

Ghyll grabbed him by the shoulder. ‘You can stop now; it is dead.’

Torril’s face was contorted. ‘Dammit,’ he said. ‘I’ve never been so scared.’ He took a deep breath. ‘It was Vandhaer all over, where they killed my men and took me prisoner.’

Ghyll stared at Torril. ‘Your face is full of red spots.’

‘Yours too,’ the boy said, ‘as if you’ve been in the sun too long.’ Suddenly he let out a cry. ‘Look!’

Ghyll turned and gaped at the sight of nebulous shapes floating upwards against the backdrop of the blue sky. On their backs, they bore warriors with long lances, who spitted the firebirds like spear fishers.

‘Are those the Stormriders?’ Torril shouted, while he raised Ghyll’s banner high. ‘Now we stand a chance!’


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