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.“They came out of the darkness in the east, a horde of them, twice as many as we could muster.We’ve always had some trouble with Dark Landers on our eastern border, you know, miserable barbarians making forays which we beat off without too much trouble.And most of them told of pressure from some power—forcing them to fall on us.But we never thought too much of it.Not before it was too late.“We don’t know much about Ganasth.It seems to be a fairly civilized state, somewhere out there in the cold and the dark.How they ever became civilized with nothing but howling savages around them I’ll never imagine.But they’ve built up a power like Ryvan’s, only bigger.It seems to include conscripts from many Dark Land tribes who’re only too glad to leave their miserable frozen wastes and move into our territory.Their armies are as well trained and equipped as our own, and they fight like demons.Those war-gongs, and those dead faces…”He shuddered.“The prisoners we’ve taken say they aim to take over all the Twilight Lands.They’re starting with Ryvan—it’s the strongest state, and once they’ve knocked us over the rest will be easy.We’ve appealed for help to other nations but they’re all too afraid, too busy raising their own silly defenses, to do anything.So for the past year the war’s been raging up and down our empire.” He waved a hand, wearily, at the blasted landscape.“You see what that’s meant.Famine and plague are starting to hit us now—”“And you could never stand before them?” asked Kery.“Oh, yes, we had our victories and they had theirs.But when we won a battle they’d just retreat and sack some other area.They’ve been living off the country—our country—the devils!” The soldier’s face twisted.“My own little sister was in Aquilaea when they took that.When I think of those white-haired fiends—“Well about a month ago, the great battle was fought.Jonan led the massed forces of Ryvan out and caught the main body of Ganasthi at Seven Rivers, in the Donam Hills.I was there.The fight lasted, oh, four sleeps maybe, and nobody gave quarter or asked it.We outnumbered them a little, but they finally won.They slaughtered us like driven cattle.Jonan was lucky to pull half his forces out of there.The rest left their bones at Seven Rivers.Since then we’ve been a broken nation.“We’re pulling all we have left back toward Ryvan in the hope of holding it till a miracle happens.Do you have any miracles for sale, Northman?” The soldier laughed bitterly.“What about this army here?” asked Kery.“We still make sorties, you know.This one went out from Ryvan city a few sleeps past to the relief of Tusca, which our scouts said the Ganasthi were besieging with only a small force.But an enemy army intercepted us on the way.We cut our way out and shook them, but they’re on our tail in all likelihood.When we chanced to hear the noise of your fight with the invaders we took the opportunity… Almighty Dyuus, it was good to hack them down and see them run!”The soldier shrugged.“But what good did it do, really? What chance have we got? That was a good magic you had at the fight.I thought my heart was going to stop when that demon music started.But can you pipe your way out of hell, barbarian? Can you?”IVRYVAN WAS a fair city, with terraced gardens and high shining towers to be seen over the white walls, and it lay among wide fields not yet ravaged by the enemy.But around it, under its walls, spilling out over the land, huddled the miserable shacks and tents of those who had fled hither and could find no room within the town till the foe came over the horizon—the broken folk, the ragged horror-ridden peasants who stared mutely at the defeated army as it streamed through the gates.The men of Killorn made camp under one wall and soon their fires smudged the deep silver-blue sky and their warriors stood guard against the Ryvanians.They did not trust even these comrades in woe, for they came of the fat southlands and the wide highways and the iron legions, and not of Killorn and its harsh windy loneliness.Before long word came that the barbarian leaders were expected at the palace.So Bram, Nessa, and Kery put on their polished byrnies, and over them tunics and cloaks of their best plunder.They slung their swords over their shoulders and mounted their hests and rode between two squads of Ryvanian guardsmen through the gates and into the city.It was packed and roiling with those who had fled.Crowds surged aimlessly around the broad avenues and spilled into the colonnaded temples and the looming apartments and even the gardens and villas of the nobility.There was the dusty, bearded peasant, clinging to his wife and his children and looking on the world with frightened eyes.Gaily decked noble, riding through the mob with patrician hauteur and fear underneath it.Fat merchant and shaven priest, glowering at the refugees who came in penniless to throng the city and must, by the queen’s orders, be fed and housed.Patrolling soldiers, striving to keep order in the mindless whirlpool of man, their young faces drawn and their shoulders stooped beneath their mail [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]