Luthien's Gamble by R. A. Salvatore


  “Finish the speech,” Siobahn insisted, and Luthien let fly.

  The arrow streaked upward and Aubrey waved at it, discarding it as a futile attempt.

  Halfway to the tower the arrow seemed to falter and slow, losing momentum. Aubrey saw it and laughed aloud, turning to share his mirth with the cyclopians standing behind him.

  Brind’Amour’s enchantment grabbed the arrow in midflight.

  Aubrey looked back to see it gaining speed, streaking unerringly for the target Luthien had selected.

  The viscount’s eyes widened as he realized the sudden danger. He threw his hands up before him frantically, helplessly.

  The arrow hit him with the force of a lightning stroke, hurling him back from the battlement. He felt his breastbone shatter under the weight of that blow, felt his heart explode. Somehow he staggered back to the tower’s edge and looked down at Luthien, standing atop the gallows.

  The executioner.

  Aubrey tried to deny the man, to deny the possibility of such a shot. It was too late; he was already dead.

  He slumped in the crenellations, visible to the gathering below.

  All eyes turned to Luthien; not a man spoke out, too stunned by the impossible shot. Even Oliver and Katerin had no words for their friend.

  “There is no place in Caer MacDonald for the lies and threats of Greensparrow,” Luthien said to them.

  The hushed moment broke. Ten thousand voices cried out in the exhilaration of freedom, and ten thousand fists punched the air defiantly.

  Luthien had finished his speech.

  OUT OF HIS ELEMENT

  We could take it down on top of them,” Shuglin offered. The dwarf continued to study the parchment spread wide on the table before him, all the while stroking his blue-black beard.

  “Take it down?” Oliver asked, and he seemed as horrified as Luthien.

  “Drop the building,” the dwarf explained matter-of-factly. “With all the stones tumbling down, every one of those damned one-eyes would be squashed flat.”

  “This is a church!” Oliver hollered. “A cathedral!”

  Shuglin seemed not to understand.

  “Only God can drop a church,” the halfling insisted.

  “That’s a bet I would take,” Shuglin grumbled sarcastically under his breath. The place was strongly built, but the dwarf had no doubt that by knocking out a few key stones . . .

  “And if God had any intention of destroying the Ministry, he would have done so during Morkney’s evil reign,” Luthien added, his sudden interjection into the conversation taking Shuglin away from his enjoyable musings.

  “By the whales, aren’t we feeling superior?” came a voice from the door, and the three turned to see Katerin enter the room in Luthien and Oliver’s apartment on Tiny Alcove, which still served as headquarters for the resistance even though great mansions and Duke Morkney’s own palace lay open for the taking. Staying on Tiny Alcove in one of the poorest sections of Montfort was Luthien’s idea, for he believed that this was a cause of the common folk, and that he, as their appointed leader, should remain among them, as one of them.

  Luthien eyed Katerin carefully as she sauntered across the room. The apartment was below ground, down a narrow stair from the street, Tiny Alcove, which was, in truth, no more than an alleyway. Luthien could see the worn stairs rising behind Katerin and the guards Siobahn had posted, relaxing against the wall, taking in the warm day.

  Mostly, though, the young Bedwyr saw Katerin. Only Katerin. She was one to talk about feeling superior! Ever since the incident in the Dwelf, Katerin had taken on cool airs whenever she was around Luthien. She rarely met his eyes these days, seemed rather to look past him, as though he wasn’t even there.

  “Of course we are,” Oliver answered with a huff. “We won.”

  “Not superior,” Luthien corrected, his tone sharp—sharper than he had intended. “But I do not doubt the evil that was Morkney, and that is Greensparrow. We are not superior, but we are in the right. I have no—”

  Katerin’s expression grew sour and she held up her hand to stop the lecture before it had even begun.

  Luthien winced. The woman’s attitude was getting to him.

  “Whatever you intend to do with the Ministry, you should do it soon,” Katerin said, suddenly grim. “We have news of a fleet sailing off the western coast, south of the Iron Cross.”

  “Sailing north,” Oliver reasoned.

  “So say the whispers,” Katerin replied.

  Luthien was not surprised; he had known all along that Greensparrow would respond with an army. But though he understood that the war was not ended, that Greensparrow would come, the confirmation still hit him hard. Caer MacDonald wasn’t even secured yet, and there were so many other tasks before the young man, more decisions each day than he had made in his entire life. Fifteen thousand people were depending on him, looking to him to solve every problem.

  “The weather-watchers believe that the warm will stay,” Katerin said, and though that sounded like good news to the winter-weary group, her tone was not light.

  “The roads from Port Charley will be deep with mud for many weeks,” Luthien reasoned, thinking he understood the woman’s dismay. The snow was not so deep, but traveling in the early spring wasn’t much better than a winter caravan.

  Katerin shook her head; she wasn’t thinking at all of the potential problems coming from the west. “We have dead to bury,” she said. “Thousands of dead, both man and cyclopian.”

  “To the buzzards with the cyclopians!” Shuglin growled.

  “They stink,” Katerin replied. “And their bloated corpses breed vermin.” She eyed Luthien squarely for the first time in several days. “You must see to the details. . . .”

  She rambled on, but Luthien fell back into a chair beside the small table and drifted out of the conversation. He must see to it. He must see to it. How many times an hour did he hear those words? Oliver, Siobahn, Katerin, Shuglin, and a handful of others were a great help to him, but ultimately the last say in every decision fell upon Luthien’s increasingly weary shoulders.

  “Well?” Katerin huffed, drawing him back to the present conversation. Luthien stared at her blankly.

  “If we do not do it now, we may find no time later,” Oliver said in Katerin’s defense. Luthien had no idea what they were talking about.

  “We believe that they are sympathetic to our cause,” Katerin added, and the way she spoke the words made Luthien believe that she had just said them a minute ago.

  “What do you suggest?” the young Bedwyr bluffed.

  Katerin paused and studied the young man, as though she realized that he hadn’t a clue of where the discussion had led. “Have Tasman assemble a group and go out to them,” Katerin said. “He’s knowing the farmers better than any. If there’s one among us who can make certain that food flows into Caer MacDonald, it is Tasman.”

  Luthien brightened, glad to be back in on the conversation and that this was one decision he didn’t have to make alone. “See to it,” he said to Katerin.

  She started to turn, but her green eyes lingered on Luthien for a long while. She seemed to be sizing him up, and . . .

  And what? Luthien wondered. There was something else in those orbs he thought he knew so well. Pain? Anger? He suspected that his continuing relationship with Siobahn did hurt Katerin, though she said differently to any who would listen.

  The red-haired woman turned and walked out of the room, back up the stairs past the elven guards.

  Of course, the proud Katerin O’Hale would never admit her pain, Luthien reasoned. Not about anything as trivial as love.

  “We’ll find no volunteers to bury one-eyes,” Oliver remarked after a moment.

  Shuglin snorted. “My kin will do it, and me with them,” the dwarf said, and with a quick bow to Luthien, he, too, turned to leave. “There is pleasure to be found in putting dirt on top of cyclopians.”

  “More pleasure if they are alive when you do,” Oliver snick
ered.

  “Think on dropping that building,” the dwarf called over his shoulder, and he seemed quite eager for that task. “By the gods, if we do it, then the cyclopians inside will already be buried! Save us the trouble!”

  Shuglin stopped at the door and spun about, his face beaming with an idea. “If we can get the one-eyed brutes to take their dead inside, and then we drop the building . . .”

  Luthien waved at him impatiently and he shrugged and left.

  “What are we to do about the Ministry?” Oliver asked after moving to the door and closing it.

  “We have people distributing weapons,” Luthien replied. “And we have others training the former slaves and the commoners to use them. Shuglin’s folk have devised some defenses for the city, and I must meet with them to approve the plans. Now we have dead men to bury and food to gather. Alliances to secure with neighboring farm villages. Then there is the matter of Port Charley and the fleet that is supposedly sailing north along the coast. And, of course, the dead cyclopians must be removed.”

  “I get the point,” Oliver said dryly, his Gascon accent making the last word into two syllables, “po-went.”

  “And the Ministry,” exasperated Luthien went on. “I understand how important it is that we clear that building before Greensparrow’s army arrives. We may have to use it ourselves, as a last defense.”

  “Let us hope the Avon soldiers do not get that far inside the city,” Oliver put in.

  “Their chances of getting in will be much greater if we have to keep a quarter of our forces standing guard around the cathedral,” Luthien replied. “I know it, and know that I must come up with some plan to take the place.”

  “But . . .” Oliver prompted.

  “Too many tasks,” Luthien answered. He looked up at Oliver, needing support. “Am I to be the general, or the mayor?”

  “Which would you prefer?” Oliver asked, but he already knew the answer: Luthien wanted to fight against Greensparrow with his weapons, not his edicts.

  “Which would be the better for the cause of Eriador?” the man replied.

  Oliver snorted. There was no doubt in the halfling’s mind. He had seen Luthien lead the warriors, had watched the young man systematically free Montfort until it became Caer MacDonald. And Oliver had observed the faces of those who fought beside Luthien, those who watched in awe his movements as he led them into battle.

  There came a knock on the door, and Siobahn entered. She took one look at the pair, recognizing the weight of their discussion, then excused herself from those who had come with her, waving them back out into the street and closing the apartment door. She moved quietly to the table and remained silent, deferring to the apparently more important discussion. This was not an unusual thing; Siobahn had a way of getting in on most of Oliver and Luthien’s conversations.

  “I do not think the Crimson Shadow would be such a legend if he was the mayor of a town,” the halfling answered Luthien.

  “Who then?” Luthien wanted to know.

  The answer didn’t come from Oliver, but, unexpectedly, from the half-elf, who had already surmised the problem. “Brind’Amour,” she said evenly.

  As soon as the weight of that name registered, both the friends nearly fell over with surprise—Luthien would have had he not been sitting already.

  “How do you know that name?” Oliver, finding his voice first, wanted to know.

  Siobahn put on a wry smile.

  Oliver looked at Luthien, but the young Bedwyr shrugged, for he had not mentioned the old wizard to anybody in the city.

  “You know of Brind’Amour?” Luthien asked her. “You know who he is and where he is?”

  “I know of a wizard who lives still, somewhere in the north,” Siobahn answered. “I know that it was he who gave to you the crimson cape, and the bow.”

  “How do you know?” Oliver asked.

  “It was he who gave to me the arrow that you used to slay Viscount Aubrey,” Siobahn went on, and that was explanation enough.

  “Then you have spoken to him?” Luthien prompted.

  The half-elf shook her head. “He has . . .” She paused, trying to find the right way to put it. “He has looked at me,” she explained. “And through my eyes.” She noted the surprise—hopeful surprise—on both her companions’ faces. “Yes, Brind’Amour understands what has happened in Montfort.”

  “Caer MacDonald,” Luthien corrected.

  “In Caer MacDonald,” Siobahn agreed.

  “But will he come?” Oliver wanted to know, for the suggestion seemed perfect to the halfling. Who better than an old wizard to see to the day-to-day needs of a city?

  Siobahn honestly did not know. She had felt the presence of the wizard beside her and had feared that presence, thinking that Greensparrow was watching the movements of the rebels. Then Brind’Amour had come to her in a dream and had explained who he was. But that was the only contact she had made with the old wizard, and even it was foggy, perhaps no more than a dream.

  Although, considering the arrow she had found in her quiver, and Luthien and Oliver’s confirmation of the existence of such a man, she now knew, of course, that it had been much more than a dream.

  “Do you know where he is?” Luthien asked her.

  “No.”

  “Do you know how to speak with him?”

  “No.”

  At a loss, Luthien looked to Oliver.

  “He is a fine choice,” the halfling said, the exact words Luthien wanted to hear.

  Luthien knew that the wizard’s cave was somewhere within the northernmost spurs of the Iron Cross, to the north and east of Caer MacDonald, on the southern side of a wide gap called Bruce MacDonald’s Swath. The young Bedwyr had been there only once, along with Oliver, but unfortunately on that occasion neither of them had found the chance to spy out the locale. A magical tunnel had brought them into the cave, whisking them off the road right in the midst of cyclopian pursuit. The pair had left via a magical tunnel, as well, Brind’Amour setting them down on the road to Montfort. Judging from where they were taken by the wizard, and where he had dropped them off, Luthien could approximate the location, and he knew that Brind’Amour’s sight was not limited by stone walls.

  Within the hour, the eager young man selected messengers, a dozen men he sent out from the city with instructions to ride to the northern tips of the Iron Cross, separate, and find high, conspicuous perches, and then read loudly from parchments Luthien gave to each of them, a note that the young man had written for the old wizard.

  “He will hear,” Luthien assured Oliver when the two saw the dozen riders off.

  Oliver wasn’t sure, or that the reclusive Brind’Amour would answer the call if he did hear. But Oliver did understand that Luthien, weary of the business of governing, had to believe that relief was on the way, and so the halfling nodded his agreement.

  • • •

  “So bids Luthien Bedwyr, present Lord of Caer MacDonald, which was Montfort,” the young man called out, standing very still, very formal and tall, on a flat-topped hillock.

  Some distance away, another man slipped off his horse and unrolled a parchment similarly inscribed. “To the wizard Brind’Amour, friend of those who do not call themselves friends of King Greensparrow . . .”

  And so it went that morning in the northernmost reaches of the Iron Cross, with the twelve messengers, two days out from Caer MacDonald, each going his own way to find a spot which seemed appropriate for such a call into the wind.

  Brind’Amour woke late that morning, after a refreshing and much-needed rest: twelve solid hours of slumber. He felt strong, despite his recent journeys into the realm of magic, always a taxing thing. He did not know yet that Viscount Aubrey was dead, slain by the arrow he had delivered into Siobahn’s quiver, for he had not peered into his crystal ball in many days.

  He still wasn’t certain of Luthien and the budding revolt, of how long Montfort could hold out against the army that would soon sail up the coast, or about his
own role in all of this. Perhaps this was all just a prelude, he had told himself the night before as he crawled into his bed. Perhaps this rumbling in Eriador would soon be quieted, but would not be forgotten, and in a few decades . . .

  Yes, the old wizard had decided. In a few decades. It seemed the safer course, the wiser choice. Let the tiny rebellion play itself out. Luthien would be killed or forced to flee, but the young Bedwyr had done his part. Oh, yes, the young warrior from Isle Bedwydrin would be remembered fondly in the years to come, and the next time Eriador decided to test the strength of Avon’s hold, Luthien’s name would be held up beside that of Bruce MacDonald. And Oliver’s, too, and perhaps that would inspire some help from Gascony.

  Yes, to wait was the wiser choice.

  When first he woke, feeling lighthearted, almost jovial, Brind’Amour told himself that he was happy because he was secure now with his decision to stay out of the fight and let it play out to the bitter end. He had chosen the safe road and could justify his inaction by looking at the greater potential for Eriador’s future. He had done well in giving Luthien the cape; Luthien had done well in putting it to use. They had all done well, and though Greensparrow would not likely grow old—the man had lived for several centuries already—he might become bored with it all. After twenty years, Greensparrow’s grip had already loosened somewhat on Eriador, else there never could have been such a rebellion in Montfort, and who could guess what the next few decades would bring? But the people of Eriador would never forget this one moment and would crystallize it, capture it as a shining flicker of hope, frozen in time, the legend growing with each retelling.

  The old wizard went to cook his breakfast full of euphoria, full of energy and hope. He might do a bit more, perhaps when the battle was renewed in Montfort. Maybe he could find a way to aid Luthien, just to add to the legend. Greensparrow’s army would no doubt regain the city, but perhaps Luthien could take on that ugly brute Belsen’Krieg and bring him to a smashing end.

 
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