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Towers of midnight
  • Текст добавлен: 15 октября 2016, 06:27

Текст книги "Towers of midnight"

Автор книги: Robert Jordan

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Текущая страница: 3 (всего у книги 65 страниц)

Galad pulled his horse up before the High Inquisitor. Asunawa was surrounded by a small guard of his Questioners, but was also accompanied by five Lords Captain, each of whom Galad had met with—or served under—during his short time in the Children.

Asunawa leaned forward in his saddle, sunken eyes narrowing. "Your rebels form ranks. Tell them to stand down or my archers will loose."

"Surely you would not ignore the rules of formal engagement?" Galad said. "You would draw arrows upon men as they form ranks? Where is your honor?"

"Darkfriends deserve no honor," Asunawa snapped. "Nor do they deserve pity."

"You name us Darkfriends then?" Galad asked, turning his mount slightly. "A seven thousand Children who were under Valda's command? Men your soldiers have served with, eaten with, known and fought beside? Men you yourself watched over not two months ago?"

Asunawa hesitated. Naming seven thousand of the Children as Darkfriends would be ridiculous—it would mean that two out of three remaining Children had gone to the Shadow.

"No," Asunawa said. "Perhaps they are simply… misguided. Even a good man can stray down shadowed paths if his leaders are Darkfriends."

"I am no Darkfriend." Galad met Asunawa's eyes.

"Submit to my questioning and prove it."

"The Lord Captain Commander submits himself to no one," Galad said. "Under the Light, I order you to stand down."

Asunawa laughed. "Child, we hold a knife to your throat! This is your chance to surrender!"

"Golever," Galad said, looking at the Lord Captain at Asunawa's left. Golever was a lanky, bearded man, as hard as they came—but he was also fair. "Tell me, do the Children of the Light surrender?"

Golever shook his head. "We do not. The Light will prove us victorious."

"And if we face superior odds?" Galad asked.

"We fight on."

"If we are tired and sore?"

"The Light will protect us," Golever said. "And if it is our time to die, then so be it. Let us take as many enemies with us as we may."

Galad turned back to Asunawa. "You see that I am in a predicament. To fight is to let you name us Darkfriends, but to surrender is to deny our oaths. By my honor as the Lord Captain Commander, I can accept neither option."

Asunawa's expression darkened. "You are not the Lord Captain Commander. He is dead."

"By my hand," Galad said, unsheathing his weapon, holding it forward so that the herons gleamed in the light. "And I hold his sword. Do you deny that you yourself watched me face Valda in fair combat, as prescribed by law?"

"As by the law, perhaps," Asunawa said. "But I would not call that fight fair. You drew on the powers of Shadow; I saw you standing in darkness despite the daylight, and I saw the Dragon's Fang sprout on your forehead. Valda never had a chance."

"Harnesh," Galad said, turning to the Lord Captain to the right of Asunawa. He was a short man, bald, missing one ear from fighting Dragonsworn. "Tell me. Is the Shadow stronger than the Light?"

"Of course not," the man said, spitting to the side.

"If the Lord Captain Commander's cause had been honorable, would he have fallen to me in a battle under the Light? If I were a Darkfriend, could I have slain the Lord Captain Commander himself?"

Harnesh didn't answer, but Galad could almost see the thoughts in his head. The Shadow might display strength at times, but the Light always revealed and destroyed it. It was possible for the Lord Captain Commander to fall to a Darkfriend—it was possible for any man to fall. But in a duel before the other Children? A duel for honor, under the Light?

"Sometimes the Shadow displays cunning and strength," Asunawa cut in before Galad could continue to question. "At times, good men die."

"You all know what Valda did," Galad said. "My mother is dead. Is there an argument against my right to challenge him?"

"You have no rights as a Darkfriend! I will parley no more with you, murderer." Asunawa waved a hand, and several of his Questioners drew swords. Immediately, Galad's companions did the same. Behind, he could hear his weary forces hastily closing their ranks.

"What will happen to us, Asunawa, if Child fights Child?" Galad asked softly. "I will not surrender, and I would not attack you, but perhaps we can reunite. Not as enemies, but as brothers separated for a time."

"I will never associate with Darkfriends," Asunawa said, though he sounded hesitant. He watched Galad's men. Asunawa would win a battle, but if Galad's men stood their ground, it would be a costly victory. Both sides would lose thousands.

"I will submit to you," Galad said. "On certain terms."

"No!" Bornhald said from behind, but Galad raised a hand, silencing him.

"What terms would those be?" Asunawa asked.

"You swear—before the Light and the Lords Captain here with you—that you will not harm, question, or otherwise condemn the men who followed me. They were only doing what they thought was right."

Asunawa's eyes narrowed, his lips forming a straight line.

"That includes my companions here," Galad said, nodding to Byar and Bornhald. "Every man, Asunawa. They must never know questioning."

"You cannot hinder the Hand of the Light in such a way! This would give them free rein to seek the Shadow!"

"And is it only fear of Questioning that keeps us in the Light, Asunawa?" Galad asked. "Are not the Children valiant and true?"

Asunawa fell silent. Galad closed his eyes, feeling the weight of leadership. Each moment he stalled increased the bargaining position for his men. He opened his eyes. "The Last Battle comes, Asunawa. We haven't time for squabbling. The Dragon Reborn walks the land."

"Heresy!" Asunawa said.

"Yes," Galad said. "And truth as well."

Asunawa ground his teeth, but seemed to be considering the offer.

"Galad," Bornhald said softly. "Don't do this. We can fight. The Light will protect us!"

"If we fight, we will kill good men, Child Bornhald," Galad said, without turning. "Each stroke of our swords will be a blow for the Dark One. The Children are the only true foundation that this world has left. We are needed. If my life is what is demanded to bring unity, then so be it. You would do the same, I believe." He met Asunawa's eyes.

"Take him," Asunawa snapped, looking dissatisfied. "And tell the legions to stand down. Inform them that I have taken the false Lord Captain Commander into custody, and will Question him to determine the extent of his crimes." He hesitated. "But also pass the word that those who followed him are not to be punished or Questioned." Asunawa spun his horse and rode away.

Galad turned his sword and handed it out to Bornhald. "Return to our men; tell them what happened here, and do not let them fight or try to rescue me. That is an order."

Bornhald met his eyes, then slowly took the sword. At last, he saluted. "Yes, my Lord Captain Commander."

As soon as they turned to ride away, rough hands grabbed Galad and pulled him from Stout's saddle. He hit the ground with a grunt, his bad shoulder throwing a spike of agony across his chest. He tried to climb to his feet, but several Questioners dismounted and knocked him down again.

One forced Galad to the ground, a boot on his back, and Galad heard the metallic rasp of a knife being unsheathed. They cut his armor and clothing free.

"You will not wear the uniform of a Child of the Light, Darkfriend," a Questioner said in his ear.

"I am not a Darkfriend," Galad said, face pressed to the grassy earth. "I will never speak that lie. I walk in the Light."

That earned him a kick to the side, then another, and another. He curled up, grunting. But the blows continued to fall.

Finally, the darkness took him.

The creature that had once been Padan Fain walked down the side of a hill. The brown weeds grew in broken patches, like the scrub on the chin of a beggar.

The sky was black. A tempest. He liked that, though he hated the one who caused it.

Hatred. It was the proof that he still lived, the one emotion left. The only emotion. It was all that there could be.

Consuming. Thrilling. Beautiful. Warming. Violent. Hatred. Wonderful. It was the storm that gave him strength, the purpose that drove him. Al'Thor would die. By his hand. And perhaps after that, the Dark One. Wonderful…

The creature that had been Padan Fain fingered his beautiful dagger, feeling the ridges of the designs in the fine golden wire that wrapped its hilt. A large ruby capped the end of its hilt, and he carried the weapon unsheathed in his right hand so that the blade extended between his first two fingers. The sides of those fingers had been cut a dozen times over.

Blood dripped from the tip of the dagger down onto the weeds. Crimson spots to cheer him. Red below, black above. Perfect. Did his hatred cause that storm? It must be so. Yes.

The drops of blood fell alongside spots of darkness that appeared on dead leaves and stems as he moved farther north into the Blight.

He was mad. That was good. When you accepted madness into yourself—embraced it and drank it in as if it were sunlight or water or the air itself—it became another part of you. Like a hand or an eye. You could see by madness. You could hold things with madness. It was wonderful. Liberating.

He was finally free.

The creature that had been Mordeth reached the bottom of the hill and did not look back at the large, purplish mass that he'd left atop it. Worms were very messy to kill the right way, but some things needed to be done the right way. It was the principle of the thing.

Mist had begun to trail him, creeping up from the ground. Was that mist his madness, or was it his hatred? It was so familiar. It twisted around his ankles and licked at his heels.

Something peeked around a hillside nearby, then ducked back. Worms died loudly. Worms did everything loudly. A pack of Worms could destroy an entire legion. When you heard them, you went the other way, quickly. But then, it could be advantageous to send scouts to go judge the direction of the pack, lest you continue on and run across it again elsewhere.

So the creature that had been Padan Fain was not surprised when he rounded the hillside and found a nervous group of Trollocs there, a Myrddraal guiding them.

He smiled. My friends. It had been too long.

It took a moment for their brutish brains to come to the obvious—but false—conclusion: if a man was wandering around, then Worms couldn't be near. Those would have smelled his blood and come for him. Worms preferred humans over Trollocs. That made sense. The creature that had been Mordeth had tasted both, and Trolloc flesh had little to recommend it.

The Trollocs tore forward in a mismatched pack, feathers, beaks, claws, teeth, tusks. The creature that had been Fain stood still, mist licking his unshod feet. How wonderful! At the very back of the group, the Myrddraal hesitated, its eyeless gaze fixed on him. Perhaps it sensed that something was terribly, terribly wrong. And right, of course. You couldn't be one without the other. That wouldn't make sense.

The creature that had been Mordeth—he would need a new name soon—smiled deeply.

The Myrddraal turned to run away.

The mist struck.

It rolled over the Trollocs, moving quickly, like the tentacles of a leviathan in the Aryth Ocean. Lengths of it snapped forward through Trolloc chests. One long rope whipped above their heads, then shot forward in a blur, taking the Fade in the neck.

The Trollocs screamed, dropping, spasming. Their hair fell out in patches, and their skin began to boil. Blisters and cysts. When those popped, they left craterlike pocks in the Shadowspawn skin, like bubbles on the surface of metal that cooled too quickly.

The creature that had been Padan Fain opened his mouth in glee, closing his eyes to the tumultuous black sky and raising his face, lips parted, enjoying his feast. After it passed, he sighed, holding his dagger tighter—cutting his flesh. Red below, black above. Red and black, red and black, so much red and black. Wonderful.

He walked on through the Blight.

The corrupted Trollocs climbed to their feet behind him, lurching into motion, spittle dropping from their lips. Their eyes had grown sluggish and dull, but when he desired it, they would respond with a frenzied battle lust that would surpass what they had known in life.

He left the Myrddraal. It would not rise, as rumors said they did. His touch now brought instant death to one of its kind. Pity. He had a few nails he might have otherwise put to good use.

Perhaps he should get some gloves. But if he did, he couldn't cut his hand. What a problem.

No matter. Onward. The time had come to kill al'Thor.

It saddened him that the hunt must end. But there was no longer a reason for a hunt. You didn't hunt something when you knew exactly where it was going to be. You merely showed up to meet it.

Like an old friend. A dear, beloved old friend that you were going to stab through the eye, open up at the gut and consume by handfuls while drinking his blood. That was the proper way to treat friends.

It was an honor.

Malenarin Rai shuffled through supply reports. That blasted shutter on the window behind his desk snapped and blew open again, letting in the damp heat of the Blight.

Despite ten years serving as commander of Heeth Tower, he hadn't grown accustomed to the heat in the highlands. Damp. Muggy, the air often full of rotting scents.

The whistling wind rattled the wooden shutter. He rose, walking over to pull it shut, then twisted a bit of twine around its handle to keep it closed.

He walked back to his desk, looking over the roster of newly arrived soldiers. Each name had a specialty beside it—up here, every soldier had to fill two or more duties. Skill at binding wounds. Swift feet for running messages. A keen eye with a bow. The ability to make the same old mush taste like new mush. Malenarin always asked specifically for men in the last group. Any cook who could make soldiers eager to come to mess was worth his weight in gold.

Malenarin set aside his current report, weighing it down with the lead-filled Trolloc horn he kept for the purpose. The next sheet in his stack was a letter from a man named Barriga, a merchant who was bringing his caravan to the tower to trade. Malenarin smiled; he was a soldier first, but he wore the three silver chains across his chest that marked him as a master merchant. While his tower received many of its supplies directly from the Queen, no Kandori commander was denied the opportunity to barter with merchants.

If he was lucky, he'd be able to get this outlander merchant drunk at the bargaining table. Malenarin had forced more than one merchant into a year of military service as penance for entering bargains he could not keep. A year of training with the Queen's forces often did plump foreign merchants a great deal of good.

He set that sheet beneath the Trolloc horn, then hesitated as he saw the last item for his attention at the bottom of the stack. It was a reminder from his steward. Keemlin, his eldest son, was approaching his fourteenth nameday. As if Malenarin could forget about that! He needed no reminder.

He smiled, setting the Trolloc horn on the note, in case that shutter broke open again. He'd slain the Trolloc who had borne that horn himself. Then he walked over to the side of his office and opened his battered oak trunk. Among the other effects inside was a cloth-wrapped sword, the brown scabbard kept well oiled and maintained, but faded with time. His father's sword.

In three days, he would give it to Keemlin. A boy became a man on his fourteenth nameday, the day he was given his first sword and became responsible for himself. Keemlin had worked hard to learn his forms under the harshest trainers Malenarin could provide. Soon his son would become a man. How quickly the years passed.

Taking a proud breath, Malenarin closed the trunk, then rose and left his office for his daily rounds. The tower housed two hundred and fifty soldiers, a bastion of defense that watched the Blight.

To have a duty was to have pride—just as to bear a burden was to gain strength. Watching the Blight was his duty and his strength, and it was particularly important these days, with the strange storm to the north, and with the Queen and much of the Kandori army having marched to seek the Dragon Reborn. He pulled the door to his office closed, then threw the hidden latch that barred it on the other side. It was one of several such doors in the hallway; an enemy storming the tower wouldn't know which one opened onto the stairwell upward. In this way, a small office could function as part of the tower defense.

He walked to the stairwell. These top levels were not accessible from the ground level—the entire bottom forty feet of the tower was a trap. An enemy who entered at the ground floor and climbed up three flights of garrison quarters would discover no way up to the fourth floor. The only way to go to the fourth level was to climb a narrow, collapsible ramp on the outside of the tower that led from the second level up to the fourth. Running on it left attackers fully exposed to arrows from above. Then, once some of them were up but others not, the Kandori would collapse the ramp, dividing the enemy force and leaving those above to be killed as they tried to find the interior stairwells.

Malenarin climbed at a brisk pace. Periodic slits to the sides of the steps looked down on the stairs beneath, and would allow archers to fire on invaders. When he was about halfway to the top, he heard hasty footfalls coming down. A second later, Jargen—sergeant of the watch—rounded the bend. Like most Kandori, Jargen wore a forked beard; his black hair was dusted with gray.

Jargen had joined the Blightwatch the day after his fourteenth nameday. He wore a cord looped around the shoulder of his brown uniform; it bore a knot for each Trolloc he'd killed. There had to be approaching fifty knots in the thing by now.

Jargen saluted with arm to breast, then lowered his hand to rest on his sword, a sign of respect for his commander. In many countries, holding the weapon like that would be an insult, but Southerners were known to be peevish and ill-tempered. Couldn't they see that it was an honor to hold your sword and imply you found your commander a worthy threat?

"My Lord," Jargen said, voice gruff. "A flash from Rena Tower."

"What?" Malenarin asked. The two fell into step, trotting up the stairwell.

"It was distinct, sir," Jargen said. "Saw it myself, I did. Only a flash, but it was there."

"Did they send a correction?"

"They may have by now. I ran to fetch you first."

If there had been more news, Jargen would have shared it, so Malenarin did not waste breath pressing him. Shortly, they stepped up onto the top of the tower, which held an enormous mechanism of mirrors and lamps. With the apparatus, the tower could send messages to the east or west—where other towers lined the Blight—or southward, along a line of towers that ran to the Aesdaishar Palace in Chachin.

The vast, undulating Kandori highlands spread out from his tower. Some of the southern hills were still lightly laced with morning fog. That land to the south, free of this unnatural heat, would soon grow green, and Kandori herdsmen would climb to the high pastures to graze their sheep.

Northward lay the Blight. Malenarin had read of days when the Blight had barely been visible from this tower. Now it ran nearly to the base of the stonework. Rena Tower was northwest as well. Its commander—Lord Niach of House Okatomo—was a distant cousin and a good friend. He would not have sent a flash without reason, and would send a retraction if it had been an accident.

"Any further word?" Malenarin asked.

The soldiers on watch shook their heads. Jargen tapped his foot, and Malenarin folded his arms to wait for a correction.

Nothing came. Rena Tower stood within the Blight these days, as it was farther north than Heeth Tower. Its position within the Blight was normally not an issue. Even the most fearsome creatures of the Blight knew not to attack a Kandori tower.

No correction came. Not a glimmer. "Send a message to Rena," Malenarin said. "Ask if their flash was a mistake. Then ask Farmay Tower if they have noticed anything strange."

Jargen set the men to work, but gave Malenarin a flat glance, as if to ask, "You think I haven't done that already?"

That meant messages had been sent, but there was no word back. Wind blew across the tower top, creaking the steel of the mirror apparatus as his men sent another series of flashes. That wind was humid. Far too hot. Malenarin glanced upward, toward where that same black storm boiled and rolled. It seemed to have settled down.

That struck him as very discomforting.

"Flash a message backward," Malenarin said, "toward the inland towers. Tell them what we saw; tell them to be ready in case of trouble."

The men set to work.

"Sergeant," Malenarin said, "who is next on the messenger roster?"

The tower force included a small group of boys who were excellent riders. Lightweight, they could go on fast horses should a commander decide to bypass the mirrors. Mirror light was fast, but it could be seen by one's enemies. Besides, if the line of towers was broken—or if the apparatus was damaged—they would need a means to get word to the capital.

"Next on the roster…" Jargen said, checking a list nailed to the inside of the door onto the rooftop. "It would be Keemlin, my Lord."

Keemlin. His Keemlin.

Malenarin glanced to the northwest, toward the silent tower that had flashed so ominously. "Bring me word if there is a hint of response from the other towers," Malenarin said to the soldiers. "Jargen, come with me."

The two of them hurried down the stairs. "We need to send a messenger southward," Malenarin said, then hesitated. "No. No, we need to send several messengers. Double up. Just in case the towers fall." He began moving again.

The two of them left the stairwell and entered Malenarin's office. He grabbed his best quill off the rack on his wall. That blasted shutter was blowing and rattling again; the papers on his desk rustled as he pulled out a fresh sheet of paper.

Rena and Farmay not responding to flash messages. Possibly overrun or severely hampered. Be advised. Heeth will stand.

He folded the paper, holding it up to Jargen. The man took it with a leathery hand, read it over, then grunted. "Two copies, then?"

"Three," Malenarin said. "Mobilize the archers and send them to the roof. Tell them danger may come from above."

If he wasn't merely jumping at shadows—if the towers to either side of Heeth had fallen so quickly—then so could those to the south. And if he'd been the one making an assault, he'd have done anything he could to sneak around and take out one of the southern towers first. That was the best way to make sure no messages got back to the capital.

Jargen saluted, fist to chest, then withdrew. The message would be sent immediately: three times on legs of horseflesh, once on legs of light. Malenarin let himself feel a hint of relief that his son was one of those riding to safety. There was no dishonor in that; the messages needed to be delivered, and Keemlin was next on the roster.

Malenarin glanced out his window. It faced north, toward the Blight. Every commander's office did that. The bubbling storm, with its silvery clouds. Sometimes they looked like straight geometric shapes. He had listened well to passing merchants. Troubled times were coming. The Queen would not have gone south to seek a false Dragon, no matter how cunning or influential he might be. She believed.

It was time for Tarmon Gai'don. And looking out into that storm, Malenarin thought he could see to the very edge of time itself. An edge that was not far distant. In fact, it seemed to be growing darker. And there was a darkness beneath it, on the ground northward.

That darkness was advancing.

Malenarin dashed out of the room, racing up the steps to the roof, where the wind swept against men pushing and moving mirrors.

"Was the message sent to the south?" he demanded.

"Yes, sir," Lieutenant Landalin said. He'd been roused to take command of the tower's top. "No reply yet."

Malenarin glanced down, and picked out three riders breaking away from the tower at full speed. The messengers were off. They would stop at Barklan if it wasn't being attacked. The captain there would send them on southward, just in case. And if Barklan didn't stand, the boys would continue on, all the way to the capital if needed.

Malenarin turned back to the storm. That advancing darkness had him on edge. It was coming.

"Raise the hoardings," he ordered Landalin. "Bring up the store hitchings and empty the cellars. Have the loaders gather all of the arrows and set up stations for resupplying the archers, and put archers at every choke point, kill slit and window. Start the firepots and have men ready to drop the outer ramps. Prepare for a siege."

As Landalin barked orders, men rushed away. Malenarin heard boots scrape stone behind him, and he glanced over his shoulder. Was that Jargen back again?

No. It was a youth of nearly fourteen summers, too young for a beard, his dark hair disheveled, his face streaming with sweat caused—presumably—by a run up seven levels of the tower.

Keemlin. Malenarin felt a stab of fear, instantly replaced with anger. "Soldier! You were to ride with a message!"

Keemlin bit his lip. "Well, sir," he said. "Tian, four places down from me. He is five, maybe ten pounds lighter than I. It makes a big difference, sir. He rides a lot faster, and I figured this would be an important message. So I asked for him to be sent in my place."

Malenarin frowned. Soldiers moved around them, rushing down the stairs or gathering with bows at the rim of the tower. The wind howled outside and thunder began to sound softly—yet insistently.

Keemlin met his eyes. "Tian's mother, Lady Yabeth, has lost four sons to the Blight," he said, softly enough that only Malenarin could hear. "Tian's the only one she has left. If one of us has a shot at getting out, sir, I figured it should be him."

Malenarin held his son's eyes. The boy understood what was coming. Light help him, but he understood. And he'd sent another away in his place.

"Kralle," Malenarin barked, glancing toward one of the soldiers passing by.

"Yes, my Lord Commander?"

"Run down to my office," Malenarin said. "There is a sword in my oaken trunk. Fetch it for me."

The man saluted, obeying.

"Father?" Keemlin said. "My nameday isn't for three days."

Malenarin waited with arms behind his back. His most important task at the moment was to be seen in command, to reassure his troops. Kralle returned with the sword; its worn scabbard bore the image of the oak set aflame. The symbol of House Rai.

"Father…" Keemlin repeated. "I—"

"This weapon is offered to a boy when he becomes a man," Malenarin said. "It seems it is too late in coming, son. For I see a man standing before me." He held the weapon forward in his right hand. Around the tower top, soldiers turned toward him: the archers with bows ready, the soldiers who operated the mirrors, the duty watchmen. As Borderlanders, each and every one of them would have been given his sword on his fourteenth nameday. Each one had felt the catch in the chest, the wonderful feeling of coming of age. It had happened to each of them, but that did not make this occasion any less special.

Keemlin went down on one knee.

"Why do you draw your sword?" Malenarin asked, voice loud so that every man atop the tower would hear.

"In defense of my honor, my family, or my homeland," Keemlin replied.

"How long do you fight?"

"Until my last breath joins the northern winds."

"When do you stop watching?"

"Never," Keemlin whispered.

"Speak it louder!"


"Once this sword is drawn, you become a warrior, always with it near you in preparation to fight the Shadow. Will you draw this blade and join us, as a man?"

Keemlin looked up, then took the hilt in a firm grip and pulled the weapon free.

"Rise as a man, my son!" Malenarin declared.

Keemlin stood, holding the weapon aloft, the bright blade reflecting the diffuse sunlight. The men atop the tower cheered.

It was no shame to find tears in one's eyes at such a moment. Malenarin blinked them free, then knelt down, buckling the sword belt at his son's waist. The men continued to cheer and yell, and he knew it was not only for his son. They yelled in defiance of the Shadow. For a moment, their voices rang louder than the thunder.

Malenarin stood, laying a hand on his son's shoulder as the boy slid his sword into its sheath. Together they turned to face the oncoming Shadow. "There!" one of the archers said, pointing upward. "There's something in the clouds!"

"Draghkar!" another one said.

The unnatural clouds were close now, and the shade they cast could no longer hide the undulating horde of Trollocs beneath. Something flew out from the sky, but a dozen of his archers let loose. The creature screamed and fell, dark wings flapping awkwardly.

Jargen pushed his way through to Malenarin. "My Lord," Jargen said, shooting a glance at Keemlin, "the boy should be below."

"Not a boy any longer," Malenarin said with pride. "A man. What is your report?"

"All is prepared." Jargen glanced over the wall, eyeing the oncoming Trollocs as evenly as if he were inspecting a stable of horses. "They will not find this tree an easy one to fell."

Malenarin nodded. Keemlin's shoulder was tense. That sea of Trollocs seemed endless. Against this foe, the tower would eventually fall. The Trollocs would keep coming, wave after wave.

But every man atop that tower knew his duty. They'd kill Shadowspawn as long as they could, hoping to buy enough time for the messages to do some good.

Malenarin was a man of the Borderlands, same as his father, same as his son beside him. They knew their task. You held until you were relieved.

That's all there was to it.

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