And the third part:
As always, feel free to comment!!
ReunionBelaika moved fast and low, keeping his head below the height of the grass. He used the stars as guides, quickly closing the gap between his small camp and the larger one to the east. Any other scouts out would be humans, which meant he held a slight advantage.
He glanced up at the sky with its countless glittering stars. However imperfectly, even humans could see in this. Even he would be seen if he stood upright. Still no hint of a moon, another advantage.
Belaika paused often and looked around carefully for anything out of place. After pausing for a quick sniff, rabbits ignored or moved out of his way; if any humans were near, the rabbits' behavior would be quite different.
Soon, he saw no more rabbits.
He stopped and carefully lifted his head, hoping no light reflected out from his eyes. His instincts were good. A dark shape ahead, that might be mistaken for a rock, but for the wind rippling what he assumed was a cloak. He lay lower in the grass.
Earpoints twitching and eyes questing for more scouts, Belaika went around this one, but the perimeter guards were the next humans he saw. At least these were easier to spot than the scout, because they moved about and stood out against the sky.
He slipped past undetected.
Only a couple of fires still burned, threatening to destroy his night vision. Wagons surrounded tents in a series of defensive squares and only a few soldiers were still about. But what a camp! Stretching for some distance, the watching sylph estimated at least two thousand here, including camp followers.
He began to recognize the people here.
Tempted to report immediately, Belaika remembered how camp sylphs had pointed him out the last time he reported this particular army's location. And that had led to humiliation. Though this army had somehow shrunk in size compared with last year, he knew that there were well over a hundred sylphs here, all with ears that would now recognize a scout's whistle.
Not only the first sylph scout captured by an enemy, but so far the only sylph scout captured by an enemy. His face burned in embarrassment.
He successfully and easily evaded the perimeter guards for a second time, moved carefully until past the scout again (the man had not moved, which surprised the sylph) and had almost reached the byawta before pinging Fhionnen.
The reply came almost immediately, so the boy had not fallen asleep, another of the good things about him.
"Well?" asked Fhionnen, silvery eyes glowing faintly as his companion returned.
"Mirrin's Eldovans," replied Belaika. "They will make contact tomorrow." He stood, facing Kelanus's small group, and whistled his report.
Faintly, he heard the report repeated, so Shyamon must be still awake. He turned back to Fhionnen.
"You have improved," said Belaika. "You saw me before I arrived."
Fhionnen grinned. "Three more years and I might be as good as you," he replied, referring to the length of time the Calcan scouts claimed it took to train. Five years to reach the required standard, and Fhionnen had joined the corps two years earlier.
Shyamon's whistle reached their ears.
"Kelanus-ya is pleased," said Fhionnen.
"I heard," replied Belaika. "You had better go back to sleep; it's still my watch."
Belaika and Fhionnen paralleled the Eldovans as they continued along the road. The two scouts sent no messages between each other, just in case any camp sylphs were listening. As a further precaution, they stayed beyond the range of the human scouts with the army.
In daylight, Belaika saw more familiar faces.
Lieutenant Kadyah must be the senior officer, riding ahead of the long column on a white stallion. A patch of blue showed where his sylph - Wenna, if Belaika's memory served - walked at his stirrup.
The fat quartermaster Jurabim rode on the lead wagon, also surrounded by sylphs, most walking, but one sat beside him. Belaika knew without looking there were four, all without owners. There had been six, but two had decided to stay with the Markans for their own reasons.
Belaika grimaced, pleased that Gajaran had chosen to stay behind in Marka with her new owner. The only infertile who had ever made him feel uncomfortable, she blamed sylph scouts for her previous owner's death. He hoped she and Sandev had bonded well. And he hoped he never saw her again.
He glimpsed Cavalry Sergeant Somersen on his horse and shuddered. The man had not been pleasant to the scout during his captivity. The man had never given any hint of an apology; did he hate all sylphs, or just scouts? It must be only scouts; Somersen had displayed no cruelty to any other sylph.
So many faces he remembered and he could put names to most. Once the enemy, but now a defeated and disarmed - if still disciplined - group of men with their camp followers.
Men Kelanus hoped to use.
Belaika shivered. He had his own reasons for coming here, but part of him felt Kelanus's plan was either madness, or perhaps bold and daring. The best plans always appeared insane in the sylph's view.
Belaika grimaced again when he spotted a couple of Eldovan scouts. He remembered his chats with Nalred and Vaul. The Eldovan scouts had adapted, wearing drab clothes, and now painted exposed skin brown and green for better camouflage.
Perhaps he would be in trouble for showing the humans the way.
Nearing the borderstones, Belaika stiffened, watching General Mirrin and Yeoman Taved, ride forward to meet their old comrades.
Kadyah held up an arm, and the column halted. Eventually. More men rode or walked to the head of the army to huddle with Mirrin and his yeoman.
Belaika sat back in the grass, so he could just see the wagons and keep an eye on Mirrin. Now everybody else had stopped, any movement from him might be seen by the wrong people.
Would the returning Eldovans see things Kelanus's way, or want revenge for last year's defeat? Apart from the sylph scouts, only Kelanus, Hanmer and Felis were Markan, though Tahena might be able to use the Gift to help them all escape.
Kelanus had taken a huge gamble and Belaika hoped it worked in the Markans' favor.
"S'ranva's breath, it's good to see you again, Sir!" exclaimed Lieutenant Kadyar. "How did you get here before us?"
"Long story," replied Mirrin. "Let's just say ours wasn't the only defeat last year. Hingast got routed, but he fled and left the rest of his men to sink."
Kadyar's blue eyes hardened. "Those rumors, about Hingast being not what he seems."
Mirrin nodded. "That's why we're here. The real Hingast has a son and if Eldova is ruled by an imposter, we will put him on Eldova's throne."
"How can we prove it?"
"We'll prove it, Kadyar. Tell me, how was the journey home?"
"Not good." Kadyar's lips thinned before he continued. "We armed ourselves with staffs but still got attacked several times. We also lost a lot of men who've turned mercenary and sold their services to petty lords along the way."
Mirrin grimaced. "How many are left?"
"Just over half, Sir."
Mirrin growled an oath. "Half?"
"If all had come, we'd have starved before now. The Barren is aptly named."
Mirrin glanced along the column. About two thousand men, plus whatever might return from the northern group, who were the Eldovans he didn't trust. The men here might have to be enough.
"Janost is with me," said Mirrin.
Kadyar, not yet as politically minded as Mirrin, nodded.
"And a Markan general. Kelanus."
Kadyar nodded again. "Has he brought any abominations with him?"
"Five." Mirrin forced a smile. "Two will be around here somewhere; they reported your approach late yesterday."
Kadyar scowled. "I suppose we could use them."
"Come meet Kelanus and listen to what he has to say."
"We'll come," promised Kadyar, "and we'll listen. But beyond that, we'll make our own decisions."
Mirrin smiled. "Of course." He hoped his men would make the right choice.
Kelanus had expected a rough ride and he wasn't disappointed. Understandably, the Eldovans refused to trust a word he said, even if respect tempered their opinion of him. After all, he had defeated Hingast not once, but twice.
But they were reluctant to believe that Hingast was an imposter.
Only officers and sergeants were present, their weapons still locked away in the wagon. Should they decide to take matters into their own hands, there was little anybody would do to stop them. Perhaps why they had not, so far, made any demands concerning their arms.
"You expect us to infiltrate our own city?" demanded Sergeant Somersen.
"No," replied Kelanus, "I expect you to exercise discretion until we learn what the man who calls himself Hingast has said or done about you. He fled the field last year and returned home. He and those with him do not want to see you ever again. You fought honorably, but he fled home, so politically, you are all potentially embarrassing. He will have worked out a story to explain his presence and your absence."
"How do you know he fled the field?" demanded an anonymous sergeant.
"He fled the field," said Janost. "I was there."
Silence met that.
"He ran," insisted Kelanus. "He saw an opportunity to go and abandoned everybody with him. Should any appear, his position is weakened. The man I suspect who is really Hingast will realize that and will have done something about it. You will be the ones accused of treason and cowardice."
A growl of disgust met that.
"Exactly. This is the sort of man you're dealing with," said Kelanus.
"Sounds nothing like the Hingast I know," said Nalred, Sergeant of Scouts.
Kelanus smiled. "That's because he isn't the Hingast you know."
"Then who? And how can he pass as Hingast?"
"His name is Ranallic Eydren and he is a sorcerer of some considerable ability. I've seen him at work, when he fled a field of contest, again as a coward." Kelanus's mouth twisted with the memory. He'd had him and still the man managed to escape!
"Ranallic Eydren is a southerner," said a doubting voice. "No way could he pass as Hingast."
Kelanus stared. "You know him?"
Quartermaster Jurabim stepped forward. "Sure I do. And I won't be alone in that. Anyone in the army more'n ten years will remember Ranallic. Ended up a lieutenant and deserted at the turn of the century."
Kelanus exchanged a look with Mirrin. "Do you know the man?"
Mirrin shook his head. "I've always been posted south of Eldova."
Jurabim warmed to his theme. "He was well in with Hingast. And his advisor, ah, Dervra."
"He used to find sylphs for Hingast to hunt," continued the quartermaster. "Some of 'em were already half-dead for some reason."
Kelanus turned to Tahena. "Everything fits," he whispered. "It explains the gap between leaving Pensdren and surfacing in Sandester. He must have learned sorcery from Dervra. Even how he manages to pass as Hingast; he must know him better than almost anybody else."
"But what do you intend to do?" asked Kadyar, quietly.
"My plan is simple." Kelanus smiled. "I intend to kill Ranallic Eydren."
He continued to smile throughout the uproar now surrounding him.
As always, feel free to comment!!