In those days the Company was in service to the Prahbrindrah Drah of Taglios. That prince was too easygoing to master a numerous, factious people like the Taglians. But his natural optimism and forgiving nature were offset by his sister, the Radisha Drah. A small, dark, hard woman, the Radisha had a will of sword steel and the conscience of a hurtling stone.
While the Black Company and the Shadowmasters contested possession of Dejagore, or Stormgard, the Prahbrindrah Drah held an audience three hundred miles to the north.
The prince stood five and a half feet tall. Though dark, his features were caucasic. He glowered at the priests and engineers before him. He wanted to throw them out. But in godridden Taglios no one offended the priesthoods.
He spied his sister signalling from the shadowed rear of the chamber. “Excuse me.” He walked out. Bad manners they would tolerate. He joined the Radisha. “What is it?”
“Not now.” The Radisha strode off. “Majarindi looked unhappy.”
“He got his hand caught in a monkey trap. He insisted we build a wall because Shaza has been having holy visions. But once the others demanded a share he sang a different song. I asked if Shaza had begun having unvisions. He wasn’t amused.”
The Radisha led her brother through tortuous passages. The palace was ancient. Additions were cobbled on during every reign. No one knew the labyrinth whole except Smoke.
The Radisha went to one of the wizard’s secret places, a room sheltered from eavesdroppers by the old man’s finest spells. The Prahbrindrah Drah shut the door. “Well?”
“A pigeon brought a message. From Smoke.”
“Our mercenaries have been defeated at Stormgard.” The Shadowmasters called Dejagore Stormgard.
“Is there any other...?”
“Yes.” Before the appearance of the Shadowmasters Taglios had been a pacifist state. But when that danger first beckoned the Prahbrindrah had exhumed the ancient strategikons. “Were they annihilated? Routed? How badly did they hurt the Shadowmasters? Is Taglios in danger?”
“They shouldn’t have crossed the Main.”
“They had to harry the survivors from Ghoja ford. They’re the professionals, Sis. We said we wouldn’t secondguess or interfere. We didn’t believe they could win at Ghoja, so we’re way ahead. Give me details.”
“A pigeon isn’t a condor.” The Radisha made a face. “They marched down with a mob of liberated slaves, took Dejagore by stealth, destroyed Stormshadow and wounded Shadowspinner. But today Moonshadow appeared with a fresh army. Casualties were heavy on both sides. Moonshadow may have been killed. But we lost. Some of the troops retreated into the city. The rest scattered. Most of the mercenaries, including the captain and his woman, were killed.”
“Lady is dead? That’s a pity. She was exquisite.”
“You’re a lustful ape.”
“I am, aren’t I? But she did stop hearts wherever she went.”
“And never noticed. The only man she saw was her captain. That Croaker character.”
“Are you miffed because he only had eyes for her?”
She gave him a savage look.
“What’s Smoke doing?”
“Fleeing north. Blade, Swan, and Mather will try to rally the survivors at Ghoja.”
“I don’t like that. Smoke should’ve stayed down there. Rallied them there, to support the men in the city. You don’t give away ground you’ve gained.”
“Smoke is scared the Shadowmasters will find out about him.”
“They don’t know? That would surprise me.” The Prahbrindrah shrugged. “What’s he saving himself for? I’m going down there.”
“You can’t. Those idiot priests would steal everything but your eyes. Stay. Keep them occupied with their idiot wall. I’ll go. And I’ll kick Smoke’s butt till he gets off it and does something.”
The prince sighed. “You’re right. But go quietly. They behave better when they think you’re watching.”
“They didn’t miss me last time.”
“Don’t leave me twisting in the wind. They’re hard to deal with when they know more than I do.”
“I’ll keep them off balance.” She patted his arm. “Go shock them with your turnaround. Work them into a wall building frenzy. Get benevolent toward whichever cult shows the most productivity. Get them cutting each other’s throats.”
The Prahbrindrah grinned boyishly. That was the game he loved. That was the way to accumulate power. Get the priests to disarm themselves.