Good Night, Sweet Prince – Part 3

This section is partly based on a story that my sister wrote.  In fact, the dialogue was entirely from that story.  It is used here with her permission.

**

Ilya’s eyes widened when he heard the cannon fire.  The near miss was enough to shake the castle.  He didn’t want to be there when the actual bombardment started.  He was certain that Director Petrov’s message had said the attack would occur at daybreak.  It wasn’t dawn yet!  He dressed quickly and then started out of the room just as the castle was shaken a second time.

He gasped, stopping in the doorway, as dust and debris rained down from above.  At the same time, he pulled a passing maid into the doorway as well.  She released a stifled scream and he gave her a wry smile.  “The archways are stronger,” he said, pointing upward.  “They’re less likely to collapse on you.”

“Thank you,” she said, nodding.  As soon as he released his grip, she was hurrying away, but Ilya didn’t pause long enough to notice which way she had gone.

Instead, he turned away and headed off now the corridor in the opposite direction.  He blinked when someone caught him.  “Hey,” he started, cutting off the protest when he saw that it was a knight.  “Can I help you, sir?” he said, blinking.

“The watch tower has collapsed,” he said stiffly.  “Men are needed to help those trapped inside.”  When Ilya hesitated, he added, “You king was among them, man!  Why do you balk?”

“S-sorry,” Ilya said, ducking his head.  “I’m – I was frightened, sir.  Of course, I’ll help.”  He let the knight drag him outside into the pre-dawn light.  Then, he joined the other men working to pull debris away from the ruined tower and wall.

Ilya groaned as he uncovered a body.  Steeling himself, he reached down and touched the man’s throat.  He didn’t feel a pulse.  Shaking his head, he said, “Help me with this?”

Several people rushed to his side, including one of the castle physicians, but Ilya shook his head.  “It’s too late for him,” he said, his tone certain and grim.  “There might be others you can help, though.”

It was messy work and Ilya was shocked to see that some of those who’d been in the tower when it was struck actually survived.  He couldn’t imagine how long it would take them to recover.  He doubted they all would at all.  However, he’d done what he’d been called upon to do and his cover had held, at least.  That was all he could hope for.

As soon as he was able to do so, Ilya slipped away to send word of the results of the attack to Director Petrov.  The king had been among those caught in the tower.  Somehow, he’d managed to survive.  However, Ilya doubted he’d be in any shape to fight off a siege.  The castle was without leadership.  Now, Ilya wrote, was the time to strike.

He hurried back to his normal post and wasn’t surprised when a jug of wine was thrust at him and he was sent off to serve the council while they met.  He bowed politely at the butler and then hurried off to obey the order.

He was surprised when he saw the little man standing beside the queen.  Ilya knew at once that it was no child.  The shortened limbs and thick brow told him that the man was dwarf.  The blond hair, so like the queen’s own, told him that this was her younger brother.  Ilya stepped through the room, keeping to the walls and only stepping forward to fill an empty chalice when one of the men in the council seemed to want it.

Meanwhile, he listened in eager silence.  What would they do now?  How did it involve the queen’s brother?  “I’ve rallied the defenders along the wall that was broken,” he announced to the room at large.  “I also have the beginnings of a plan.  Can you send word to our men in the south that we need them to return in force?”

Ilya blinked.  Clearly the man was a skilled strategist.  If not for their foolish prejudices, he would have been on this council, quite possibly on the tower with the king during the attack.  Ilya bit his lip.  As it was, their prejudices meant he was in a position to stop the invaders, if only he could get them to listen to him.

“You aren’t part of this council,” one man protested.

The queen was quick to jump on the man.  “Does any one of you know the arts of war?” she asked, her tone scathing.  No one answered, by which she seemed unsurprised.  A sort of snide smile touched her lips and she thrust a finger at her brother.  “He does, learned at my father’s side.  Does anyone here not believe that my father is one of the best strategists we’ve ever had?”  Again she was met by silence.  “Let him speak.”

She turned to her brother then, and in a softer voice said, “What’s your plan?”

“Can we send word to the forces in the south that we need them to return?” Lord Andrien repeated.

“I’ll send out the swiftest messenger birds,” the royal magister said.  However, his brows furrowed in uncertainty and he continued.  “We’re not going to wall ourselves up here and pray that they return before those ships destroy us all, are we?”

Lord Andrien shook his head.  “The beginnings of a plan.”  He pulled up a chair to use as a ladder.  Then, he climbed up into it and looked at the map that one of the councilors had rolled out.  “We’ll pull the chains that are meant to keep pirates out of the bay up.  That way more ships won’t be able to reinforce the ones we’re already dealing with.  The alchemists will be ready with dragonfire by nightfall.”

The councilors gasped and Ilya frowned.  Whatever dragonfire was, it wasn’t good news.

“Trust me I know how volatile the stuff is,” Lord Andrien said.  He looked around the table at the gathered councilors as he continued.  “The… tubes that shoot out… whatever it is they’ve been throwing at the walls.  Those tubes work with fire.  They have flames on their ships.  We’ll fight fire with fire.  Hopefully, ours will be bigger than theirs.  We have to wait until nightfall for two reasons.  Firstly, the alchemists won’t have the stuff ready until then anyway.  Secondly, because that will be after the turning of the tide.  We want the tide going out when we start lighting the water on fire.”

“The docks,” one of the councilors murmured.

“Exactly,” he replied.  “Meanwhile… meanwhile someone will need to deal with any forces they land.  We need to take the fight to them.  We have the men in the garrison but their officers were all in the watchtower when it fell.”

“Who can lead them?” another councilor asked.

Lord Andrien looked around the table and sighed deeply.  “I suppose that my sister means it to be me, lacking anyone else.”  He turned to the queen, who nodded.  “I’ll need the council’s approval,” he said.  “They won’t follow me unless I’m duly appointed.”

“You aren’t even knighted,” one man said.

“I’m a dwarf, not allowed to sit vigil in the temple,” he pointed out.  “It would appear there is no one else.”

“We’ll draw up the papers,” another said.  “You’ll wind up with a seat on the council, temporarily perhaps but there it is.  Lord Marshal?” he said.

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