I scattered the spell that baffled shadows, though it was not yet dark. It would be dark before we finished.
The horsemen were in place. The Shadowlanders did not appear suspicious. They were up to whatever with those work parties. Both had vanished into the hills, taking a thousand men out of my way.
What temper possessed Shadowspinner? Not a good one, surely. Having four thousand men nipped off an undermanned siege force had to stick in his craw.
Blade had spread enough infantrymen around to cover the cavalry withdrawal. I told Ram, “It’s time.”
He nodded. He did not have much to say now.
I urged my stallion onto an outcrop from which we would be visible all over the plain. He followed. I hoped he would do nothing clumsy. Falling off your horse takes something away from high drama.
I drew my sword. It blossomed fire.
Trumpets sounded. The horsemen broke cover.
The Shadar element were very nearly veterans now. Blade had them in shape. I was pleased by their performance.
Chaos broke its chains down below.
It seemed the Shadowlanders would never get together. I feared I would have another unexpected victory on my hands. It was full dark before I lowered my sword and the trumpets sounded recall. The Shadowlanders did not pursue my horsemen.
Blade showed up quickly. “What now?”
“The message has been delivered. Maybe we should back off.” A gangrenous glow formed inside the walled camp beside the city. “Before that gets here.” I cancelled the spells illuminating Ram and myself, dismounted, led the way out of there.
I stumbled into Sindhu, who had come from Narayan with the question Blade had asked. I told him, “I want Narayan and your friends to join me. Evacuate the cavalry. The infantry should come out behind them. We’ll take tomorrow off.”
I needed the rest. I felt drained all the time. All I wanted to do was lie down and sleep. I had been going on will power for so long I feared I would collapse at a critical moment.
There had been no time to filter all the infantry down the slope. Once it had become apparent that was impossible I had sent the majority back to make camp. I longed to be there now. But the night was not yet done.
The valley glowed as though a cancerous green moon was rising there. The green grew brighter. “Down!” I snapped, and hit the dirt.
A ball of ugly light crashed into the eminence from which I had observed the fighting. Earth and vegetation melted. Smoke filled the air. Fires started but burned out quickly. My companions were awed.
I was pleased. Shadowspinner had missed by two hundred yards. He did not know where I was. His bats were flying to my kill trap and his shadows were confused. Sometimes little tricks can be as useful as ones like Spinner’s fireball.
“Let’s move out,” I said. “He’ll need time to ready another shot. Take advantage of it. Ram, let’s get out of the way and out of these costumes. They’re too damned cumbersome.”
We did that. Horsemen moved past, talking softly, wearily, in good spirits. They had made a big mess out there. They were pleased with themselves.
Narayan’s friends gathered, one now, one then. By the time the infantry started out, there were eighty of them. “Mainly men of my band,” he explained. “They came to Ghoja in answer to my summons. What do you plan now?”
“Down.” Shadowspinner was pasting the hills with random sorceries, hurling his darts blind. From beside Narayan, with stones grinding into my belly and breasts, I murmured, “We’re going to infiltrate their camp and try for the Shadowmaster.”
I could not see his face. Just as well, probably. The idea did not thrill him. “But...”
“Never have a better chance. Longshadow knows everything that happens as soon as it happens. His resources haven’t been tapped. He sees Shadowspinner in bad trouble, he’ll do something.” Send the Howler, probably. “We’d better get what we can while we can get it.”
He did not want to try. Damn him. If he refused, his Stranglers would, too.
But he had sewn himself into a sack. I was his Daughter of Night. For his own sake he dared not argue. He grunted, whispered, “I don’t like it. If it has to be done, please don’t you go. The risk is too great.”
“I have to. I’m the messiah, remember? It’s still that time when I have to win support by demonstration.”
I did not want to go. I just wanted to lie down and sleep. But my role demanded I play it totally.
He selected twenty-five men whose abilities he knew. The rest he dismissed. They joined the soldiers headed for camp. Lucky bastards.
“Sindhu. Take four men and scout ahead. As carefully as you can. Don’t take anybody out without checking. Unless you have to.” He chose the men to accompany Sindhu. We followed in a tighter crowd, with flankers out. Narayan knew his small-unit tactics.
Shadows fluttered around us, still blind to our presence. But I did not trust their blindness. Had I been Shadowspinner I would have had them pretend.
Chaos still reigned. Spinner kept pounding the hills. Maybe his shadows did not know where we were, only that we had not all departed.
Sindhu drifted back from the point. “Ground’s wet ahead.”
That made no sense. It had been dry before sundown. It had not rained. “Water?” I asked.
“Strange.” But no way to see what it meant before morning. “Be careful.” He went forward again. We resumed moving. Soon I was in water an inch deep. The earth beneath was not waterlogged.
The reason for part of the confusion became apparent. The Shadowlanders were trying to stay away from the hills. When they got too close to the city archers sniped at them. But the disorder was sorting itself out.
Sindhu had to eliminate several sentries.
Shadowspinner stopped hammering the hills. Narayan guessed, “His shadows were watching his sentries.”
Not so. Their confusion was caused by my proximity. It would envelop the sentries. But maybe he sensed our approach some other way. I sent word to Sindhu to run for it the instant he thought we were walking into something.
I was a hundred yards from the old walled camp. Sindhu was at its shattered gate. He thought the way was clear. We might actually get our shot at Shadowspinner.
All hell broke loose.
Half a hundred fireballs jumped straight up to push back the night. Their light betrayed a hundred men stealing toward the camp. Taglian men and big black men. Some were in hand-shaking distance of my Stranglers.
I looked into the eyes of their commander, Mogaba the Nar, from thirty feet away. He had had the same idea as I’d had.