It was midday when Chance woke. He was testy and spoke very little while he drank tea. The tents of the Dui were spread across a space beside South March; inside, Beerron's army huddled awaiting their fate.
First, he was hungry. He stood and went over to a man who stirred a pot on the side of the fire. Gratefully, he accepted a bowl of stew and then sat beside Vind. Chiefs were seated nearby. He only needed a glance to know that tempers were poised to spew; that was plain in their eyes.
The stew was good; Chance ate and ignored everyone. The chiefs were impatient but waited for him to finish and set the bowl to the side. Chance looked past them for a moment, thinking over what to do with the prisoners.
He doubted they numbered more than five hundred now; still, that was a great many. Up the hill, his barrier glowed dully in the daylight. Vind remarked that Beerron's bad boys tried it now and again. Chance did not answer that as he assumed they would test it.
Tzesnos stood and came over to sit next to Chance in order to translate; the chiefs were not willing to wait longer. Chance saw the faces that stared at him were openly hostile.
He did not care just then and said: "Today I shall decide on those inside my barrier. But now, we settle your fixation on revenge: you may not. I shall prevent it."
The translation made its way from the chiefs to the ranks behind them. Protests erupted and Chance waited. Tzesnos remarked that what was being said did not translate easily, too many nuances about body functions.
It was becoming apparent, at least to the chiefs in the first row beyond Chance, that the High Mage was prepared to kill any who disobeyed him. He was sitting like a rock, his hand on his sword hilt. That realization quieted them.
Chance noticed a group of Dui sat slightly apart. They were older and wore thick coats to stay warm. They neither spoke nor joined in the clamoring for blood.
When it was still again, Chance stated: "Dui honor stood up and showed itself by valor and courage against twice your number - the strength of the Dui spirit won the battle."
Tzesnos translated, and the chiefs seemed slightly appeased by this acknowledgment of what their warriors achieved. There was more to say: "The cost has been too high. Too many are dead, lost to us forever; too many lay bleeding out their lives - beyond the help of Healers."
Again, the words were sent along in dialect. Chance recognized one of the older men as having been beside Ce when the shaman disrupted. The Elders continued to look at him but some were nodding their heads at his words.
Chance placed his hand on Vind's shoulder and said: "We will not ask like this again. You have done as pledged and will soon be paid your well-earned second coin."
After giving Tzesnos time to say it in dialect, he added: "Where a man has been wounded or died, payment will go to his family in his name, plus a blood fee."
That was met with approval. Chance looked aside at the Elders a moment. They appeared content with his words. He turned back to the rows of chiefs and warriors in front of him. He said flatly: "The battle from here is mine."
* * *
Vind thought Chance was saying the right words, and his impression was the Dui were satisfied. He even thought that if Chance needed to hire them again, they would come.
There were other matters, such as what to do with prisoners. Vind was curious how that would be settled. Chance was quiet for a few moments, so Vind let him sit without pressing. Then, he spoke asking for all: "What of the prisoners?"
A smile crept up Chance's face as he answered that he wanted some value for the price of the Dui. Vind laughed saying what will Chance do, sell them to Degazi as slaves?
Chance shook his head; he glanced at Tzesnos who began translating. Dui were told that those of the prisoners who wished to go, could do so. Any wishing to remain and work for Chance could choose that instead.
Vind interrupted querying: "Turn them loose but keep some?" He started right off saying that the Master surely emptied Beerron's prisons, possibly Nodun's too, to man this army. His opinion was they were scum, one and all.
Tzesnos dutifully kept up a running translation. The Dui followed along; they were forbidden from killing the prisoners, and Chance was offering them work.
Of Vind's dregs of Beerron, a count had been done: three hundred were dead, perhaps as many as one hundred here were wounded enough to need care. Chance thought another hundred were with Rixt along with an equal number who cared for their own. Thus, four hundred were able-bodied and able to choose.
Chance said let us go ask them who will go and who would rather take their chances with a rogue and outlaw. Vind objected again repeating that every one of the Master's army was a scoundrel, a criminal, a person whose word was worthless.
His reaction to Chance's proposal was mild compared to the Dui. Most were too surprised to speak when Tzesnos first translated.
Tzesnos glanced in the direction of the prisoner compound; he remarked: "Releasing several hundred will place them in the distance between here and Flas. They will turn to banditry before the sun sets."
Among the chiefs, Ce was puzzling through his vocabulary and finding more holes in it than he liked. He understood enough to know that Chance was talking about releasing prisoners.
He suggested, with a crooked smile, that perhaps Chance might let the Dui torture a few, hang them from trees and such. It would be a warning against coming back.
Chance answered agreeing it would be a graphic reminder of just how fearsome Dui are. Vind took up the game and observed that, well spaced, hanging men could be strung at intervals all the way to Flas' walls. Once that was translated, the Dui chiefs laughed with Vind.
* * *
After this meeting Chance intended to go to the prisoners; no one stayed behind because they wanted to see what happened. Chance stood to go and remembered to tell Tzesnos that Esala was with Rixt. That brought the chief of the Red Dui up straight; he began to ask why was she here but then knew. He smiled, proud of her.
Ce became agitated and wanted to know if Dana was with her. Chance answered he did not see her; however, he was not there long.
The three leaders, Tzesnos, Vind on horseback and Chance walked up the slope to the South March mound followed by Ce, chiefs, Elders and warriors. As he came up to the prisoners, he called out for them to assemble. The barrier was opened in one place, enough to step through.
The commander stood in front; his men stood in rows that could not be called a formation. The man was afraid of what Chance was coming to tell him. The expectation among the prisoners was that executions were about to begin. The commander forced himself not to back away as Chance came nearer him.
The commander tried to be brave, drew himself up and demanded that Chance release them at once. Barely pausing for breath, he went on that the Master of Beerron was not one to be trifled with.
Before he could continue, Chance interrupted saying that any who wished to leave were free to do so, without weapons. Those who did not could remain instead and take work under him.
After a moment, he added that the badly wounded who needed care could be left behind. Healers were with the Dui injured in the battle and were helping their wounded as well.
Vind moved through the barrier, scooted to place himself beside Chance. In a forceful voice, he told those who wished to remain to stand on the left; leavers to the right.
Seeing Vind on the ground, the commander could not move, no sound came from his mouth. Around him, men were mumbling, talk was going back and forth rapidly. Some began to gather together and move. The commander went to the right.
Men pushed or elbowed their way to the side they picked; some changed their minds seeing who was on the other side and went over. Chance waited patiently and only watched.
Vind on the ground and Chance alone tempted a group who had not yet decided and they made a move toward him. Chance drew his sword and shook his head in warning.
Then it was done. About half the men stood with the commander; the other half stood away. Chance went over to the commander and told him to leave now, right now.
Surprised, the man called out and ordered the makeshift tents pulled down, packs loaded. There was scuffling over what belonged to whom; half of the men caring for wounded comrades refused to leave them.
Chance went to the barrier and lowered it so that the commander could lead his men out. The whole event astonished and entertained the Dui. No one could understand the High Mage at all.
Ce went with Dui riders who followed the marching men, to as much frighten them as see that no soldier strayed even to piss. He kept warriors from breaking Chance's pardon.
Chance dropped the barrier as he and Vind came out. He called to the remaining men to prepare to leave this day. They, and their wounded, were moving to Onne. After a moment's confusion, they began to organize themselves.
The Dui left the hill and returned to break down their camp. The whole area was busy with packing as hundreds of men prepared to move out.
Vind took his Riders into Baslaat and came back with wagons to carry wounded and gear. He did not explain where he found them nor offer any explanation. He oversaw that wagons were cleaned and horses' tack was correct. He did not explain where he obtained horses either.
* * *
Before midday, all moved in a procession on to the road to Onne. The pace was slow because of men walking and wagons. Dui amused themselves by riding as if shepherding a herd of stupid animals and shouted insults that only they understood.
Once Chance saw that they were indeed on the way south and that Dui were not going to ride down a defenseless man, he ran ahead.
He went along the road to where Dui and Beerron injured were being cared for. As he hunted for Rixt, he saw many of Beerron's troops among the wounded. They were separated from Dui where possible, but all were being treated.
Rixt listened as he explained what was coming. Ruby and Esala came over and heard as well. Dana was a shadow behind her mother and peeped out a little while Shana appeared sad and stood beside Ruby, only looking down.
Chance said to Rixt that he thought patients could be cared for at the Enclosure in Onne. Most of the buildings were empty and space was available for so many needing shelter and hospice care.
Rixt agree at once and asked that Esala and the others spread the word. Healers fretted and worried but went to patients to ready them; Rixt moved through it all, a ship breasting the waves and leaving calm behind.
Chance waited with the others as the group from South March approached. Rixt looked at the former prisoners and Vind's ten Riders. Moving wounded men kept her attention, and she chose not to question Chance's reasoning.
Onne was too far for such slow movers, so camp was set up and campfires started. Cooking was set out soon after and wounded, jostled on the way here, were attended to.
Chance saw that food on hand was shared with the prisoners. As they ate, he installed a temporary Barrier spell around them. He told them it was to protect them from Dui.
Late that night, Chance and Rixt were lucky to have a tent to themselves. She made tea, and both sat quietly. They spoke little as they drank; both were too tired from the last few days.
Her voice thin from a day of talking, she asked where were the rest. Vind told her there were four hundred prisoners at South March and a couple hundred were here, not counting the wounded.
Chance said he sent them away. Rixt laughed; that was nonsense, and she looked more closely at him. She snapped that they will restock and return. He answered he did not think so.
Rixt sat on the edge of the bed, too exhausted to argue about his decision, then lay back beside Chance. She was asleep almost at once, so he did not disturb her further.
* * *
Winter held off from the Laatine coast; the weather was unseasonably mild. Still, it was cold in the tent when Chance and Rixt woke. He was first out and built up the fire in a small hearth set just outside their shelter.
Rixt remained in bed and only sat up when he brought her tea. She looked as if she slept badly. While she drank the hot, spiced tea, she said she dreamed so much.
He sat with her on the bed and heard that she Eased ten men the day before. She looked away saying that today would see more. Moving was hard on fresh wounds.
Chance wanted to tell her how he fought the Third mage in Onne, to describe how he drove the First mage from Rieurs, to talk of his relief that he could fight and not resort to becoming a kind of demon.
He wanted to tell her his feelings and hopes but did not. Instead, he offered her encouragement, asked how he could help more and said how grateful he was that she was doing so much.
The sun was barely above the eastern mountains when the convoy started up again. Slowly but steadily, it moved towards Onne. Farmers looked up as they went by, curious about the High Mage.
The strain of travel was beginning to show, on wounded, Healers and former prisoners who were now unsure of their status. Chance kept the Dui's more undisciplined men away from the walkers, yanking one off his horse and tossing him into a field when he became too aggressive. Tzesnos and Ce backed him as did the chiefs and Elders.
Chance was relieved when Onne finally came into view. The wagons turned and approached the Enclosure. Chance, Vind and his Riders went in first and informed the compound's population of what was coming and what they were to do about it. The demands shocked the servants who remained after their masters left.
Even more alarming, hundreds of Dui warriors were at the walls of Onne and pitching tents. The arrival of wagons, wounded and a young woman determined to see her patients housed stunned them further.
Rixt began to allot patients to various empty buildings. The Day market was without enough to feed such a swollen number of residents. Rixt instructed them to resupply and do it quickly.
Ruby stayed long enough to help with getting people to assigned places then left with Shana to return to the Mark. Esala came to Chance saying she was leaving with Tzesnos in the morning but would see that help came for the wounded. The Dui would not leave them to survive as they could nor burden Rixt.
Chance thanked her for coming; she said she could do no other. He saw how tired she was, her eyes were lined and her mouth drawn tightly. She was, even like this, one of the most beautiful women he ever saw. He thought Tzesnos a lucky man that she loved him.
Next, it was necessary to square things with the servants in the Enclosure. He made his way from one vacant building to the next: assuring pay would come, asking for their cooperation and thanking them for helping with hospice work. The look in his eye did not suggest that he was inviting comment nor offering a choice.
After them, he sought out the Day market folk and repeated his promise, request and thanks, delivered in the same no-nonsense way. He made sure Rixt and the Healers were settled and then went into Onne and to the Mark of the Hand.
* * *
Xsel burst out of the front door of the inn, grinning widely as Chance approached. He was a little embarrassed when the innkeeper embraced him and congratulated him on winning. Chance was able to unwrap Xsel, and both then went inside.
Chance first spoke of Ruby and how she helped after the battle. He said he admired her courage. Xsel beamed proudly. With a tilt of his head, he indicated the new map hanging on the wall next to the messenger cabinet. Chance said it looked good there and was happy to have it in front of him while he drank.
Xsel took that as a hint and drew a cider for him. Chance was ready to have it; he raised the mug and toasted Vind, Linnet's Riders, the Dui... He would have gone on but Xsel said: "Yes, yes - but now drink."
Ruby came out from the kitchen and smiled his way. She said that simmer meat was on tonight's menu. There would be a box for Rixt as Ruby guessed that the makeshift hospice was taking all her time.
She went out into the room, checking on customers and seeing who would eat at the inn that evening. On her way back to the kitchen, she paused thoughtfully a moment, then said to Chance: "Hospice is a good use for the Enclosure - no sense leaving it empty."
Chance nodded his agreement and silently vowed to be very sure of the servants there. He did not want any trouble for Rixt or for her patients.
Skor surprised by strolling in the front door right on time for the evening meal. He remarked that simmer meat was one of his favorites, even more so than fish soup.
Chance asked if there was news. Skor nodded and sat beside him at the bar. Skor began at once and told Chance that the First was in Flas.
About the commander of Beerron's army, the news was unpleasant. The man was decorating Flas' southern gate, parts of him at any rate.
As well, Skor continued, every other man of the released army was hanged in view of the others. Skor paused to collect his information in a neat way; as he did, Chance looked at this man, who assured Rixt would know right off when the battle was over and so could start out.
Before Skor spoke again, Chance said that he was grateful the people along the coast allowed a Dui army to pass. That amused Skor as odd to hear from a commander, but he only said that it was an army, as Chance stated, and the fisher folk had no desire to anger it.
* * *
After eating, Chance left the Mark and went over to the Enclosure. As he approached, he saw smoke from chimneys and, closer, smelled food. It was difficult finding Rixt, but he was able to track her down through a number of people who pointed to where she was last seen.
She was distracted when he came to her but very pleased that Ruby sent a meal. Her face showed worry; she said that one of the patients was in a bad way. She planned to stay with him here tonight. Chance was told to return to the Mark; she would come there when she could.
He was only a few steps on his way back when Vind rode up. Would Chance spare a few moments to discuss things? Agreeing, Chance followed Vind to a courtyard where about a hundred fifty men were. What did Chance want done with prisoners?
Looking around, Chance could see that the men were settled, or would be by night. The servants of the house, which was formerly a Guild hall, were moving among them.
It appeared that things were civil, so far. That could not be counted on to continue of its own. Chance called to them and asked them to come listen; he wished to discuss their future.
First, he told them about Linnet and Bos. Those who wished to join the Riders were welcome to apply. If that did not suit, there was work here in the Enclosure. Much remodeling will be necessary to make a hospice of this place. That, he went on, would start tomorrow and go on through winter.
As well, roads needed repair. Very soon, work crews would begin on the roads from Onne to Baslaat, Rieurs and Arlo. That too would continue through winter and into the next year.
Chance said finally: "If none appeal and you lay about, if you turn to petty stealing and thuggery, if you prove unfaithful and cheat - then you shall do Penance for as long as I see fit."
Vind was beside Chance and from Ido could see the entire crowd. He knew nothing of a Penance but kept his face grim as if he did and it was a terrible punishment.
The men standing there did not know of Penance either but word came that morning of the fate of their former comrades. To most, it came down to the fact they were still alive. Important to them, the High Mage did not speak of slavery.
Chance did not say more, so Vind filled in telling them if there were concerns, he would resolve them. Before he and Chance left, Vind told them to be ready to decide soon.
He asked Chance when they were alone if he intended to seal the hall with a Barrier spell. Chance answered no; he wished to know what they would do.
* * *
Vind rode beside Chance as the two returned to the Mark. Chance went inside while Vind took Ido to the stables. Alsen welcomed him and learned all about the battle as Ido received the best care.
Skor was still at the bar when Chance entered. Xsel waved him over to his customary stool and pulled a cider. After asking after Rixt and the wounded, the innkeeper settled to hear what the High Mage was going to do next.
Vind and Alsen came in now and sat with the other two. Xsel poured more cider, and one for himself. Chance was looking at the map on the wall. It was large, easy to read and displayed the Laatine, Laat Valley and lake Rayen region.
It came as a surprise when Tzesnos and Ce walked in the front door of the Mark. The Red Dui chief remarked casually that the guard at the postern was reluctant, at first, to allow them inside. Ce smiled at that.
Introductions were made, and the two latest arrivals brought over stools to sit at the bar. Tzesnos thought the cider tasty, a little dry for him but tasty. Ce was suspicious and no drinker. He began slowly with a small sip and dutifully told Xsel it was good.
Alsen was not the sort to hold back around Chance, not any more. He sent four horses to Bos a few days ago and was eyeing two more. About to chatter, Alsen stopped as the Reading Opal drifted up from a pocket in Chance's vest.
The Opal spoke inviting the amber to rise. There was a moment of expectation while all looked at Chance's vest. Slowly, tentatively, the amber came up and wobbled slightly before setting itself on the bar. Opal said now we are all in the open.
No one spoke since the Opal appeared, but Chance needed to: "I have not thanked you for all you did, both of you, in my battles. I do now before some of my best witnesses."
A sound of dismissal came from the Opal then: "The Library and I have been cruel to bring you to the cusp of your fate."
Vind drank then listed: "You mean the Schools, Guilds, Black mages, other colors and cults, the Master of Beerron, and the Pusha Empire?"
The amber glowed; its voice came as always, softly. The tone was shrewd: "I know spells from the time when Nessum set out to punctuate a thousand years of mage wars - before your Kehdy Schools and these enemies existed."
Vind saw Chance noted that sharply. The fate Opal predicted might not be as certain as it imagined. He glanced at Ce whose face was screwed up in his effort to keep up with the Common being spoken.
Tzesnos drank the cider which was becoming better tasting as he went. He said he investigated something, which seemed strange at the time.
It was about the shaman, the one with the chicken. Chance remembered him, and that he burst into the meeting just as the Green Dui chief was insulting him in front of all.
Chance looked at Tzesnos, a question on his face. The other set down his mug and pushed it towards Xsel. As he waited for a refill, he said slowly: "No one has any idea who he is; no one recognized him - at least so I was told - and I asked in such a way as to hear truth."
The man read the chicken's entrails and proclaimed Chance to be a demon. He foretold that the Dui would be killed by the abomination they were about to release.
The meeting changed after those dramatics, became orderly, and they were able to agree on a strategy. Chance observed that the shaman's appearance diffused an explosive, dangerous confrontation. Tzesnos replied that he thought so as well.
Vind and the Red Dui chief amused the others by retelling the event for those who were not there. Ce had been, so could laugh with the others, not just when they did.
Chance reflected that whoever played the shaman, he was a master of illusion and timing. The Abbot of Badi came briefly to his thoughts. However, at the moment, this one right now, he was with his friends, and Rixt was close by.
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