Volume II : The First Sin
Chapter 54 – The Waiting[2890 words]
From what Amon observed, the giants were besieging Princess Sissila in the valley and had deployed guards to the ridges of both sides as lookouts. Most of the giants should be around the breach. Thus, not many of them were sent to the mountain, which allowed Amon and Metatro to get onto the ridge quite easily. Crawling back to Metatro’s hideout, Amon started to tell him what he had seen.
“I found seven or eight bowmen when I got near the breach. But they were all asleep. Isn’t that strange? The princess’ troops should have easily broken through these careless giants.”
Metatro frowned, “It is not that strange. People have to sleep. The watchers at the breach must be vigilant enough. If the princess wants to break out, all the giants will be woken up by a whistle.”
Amon nodded, “That makes sense. We came here easily without being noticed only because we came from outside. The princess needs to get across the open field and the cliff if she wants to come out. That’s much more difficult.”
Metatro watched the dim light from the bonfire, “Now that we know their disposition, we can wait till the clouds cover the moon and venture down the cliff and join them. We can climb up here and sneak away.”
Amon shook his head, “It’s too risky. You could be noticed by a detecting magic. We don’t know if there’s another mage among the giants at the breach. They may have more than one mage.”
“A mage? He looks like a sorcerer. How can he be your match? You can hide your presence with magic. He won’t find anything… When you were away, I was thinking we could just knock out the giants at the breach, sneak into the valley and get the princess out. That would be quite something.”
“But where are we going to go once we get her out?”
Metatro sighed, “Hmm, the princess can’t run with us. There are too many thick woods and small cliffs on the way back. I was thinking if I could carry her on my back, but it would be too dangerous once the giants find out she’s gone. I can’t run fast with a princess on my back.”
“That’s right. We can’t look after her if we have to fight the giants. Besides, there must be wounded people in the valley too. If not, the warrior who broke out of the encirclement would have already have brought her out.”
Metatro smiled embarrassedly, “Sorry, I’m too eager to do something heroic in this affair.”
Amon pointed at the middle of the valley and said, “The advantage we have now, is that we know more than our opponents. We know where they are and they don’t even know that we are here. If Gekait can also suss out the situation at the other side, we will all be prepared. We are just a part of the plan. So we had better stick to it. We don’t need to do anything but wait until tomorrow. ”
“Your decision make perfect sense, my lord. I’m awaiting your orders… Though, can we send the princess a message? Let them know that we are here.”
Amon considered it for a short while and said, “I can do that. They should be able to receive my message.” He raised the staff and pointed it at the middle of the valley, focused his mind and tried to bring his magic power together and send it out in a line. Metatro tried to sense the message, but he found nothing.
Amon was only a fifth-level sorcerer. He was not able to perform supreme magics. But he was good at using the techniques he already knew. With the powerful staff he had, he could maximize the effect of any advanced magic he had mastered. Although he couldn’t tell which level Inanna had achieved, he knew that she was at least an adept at message magic. When she went away with Gilgamesh, she could send her voice to him from miles away, and kept it as clear and real as a whisper over his shoulder. Amon knew that it was something that he was still far from being able to do.
The bonfire seemed so far from the top of the cliff. Amon had to use his full magic power on the Detection Eyes to sense the general situation there. Princess Sissila’s bodyguards had built a temporary base with a two-man-high wall made of rock and logs. Inside the wall was the bonfire and a big tent. Amon couldn’t sense the situation in the tent. Apart from the distance, there seemed to be magic power blocking any possible prying eyes.
In the tent, a man and a woman were having a conversation. Parangons were deliberately put at the edge of the tent, making the tent an isolated field that no sound could penetrate.
The woman sitting in the middle was Princess Sissila. The man standing to the side in front of her was a beautiful man. “Handsome” might not be enough to describe the glamour he had. Perhaps it was because of his narrow and long eyes under his curly dark hair, or because of his thin red lips and his pale skin. There was always a sense of danger behind his seemingly harmless smile.
The man had just finished talking when he suddenly looked up, as if he had found something bothering over his head. Princess Sissila asked, “What’s wrong, Peri?”
The man’s eyes narrowed, “Someone is sending us a signal from afar. Probably that way on top of the cliff.” He raised his fingers and pointed to a certain direction.
The princess was shocked, “Who is it? What signal?”
“I can’t tell his identity. It was too distant. I failed to sense it clearly. The caster was very cautious, focusing the magic power into a line and making no disturbance in the other direction. The signal shows no hostility. It’s just like saying: ‘I’m here’.”
Princess Sissila frowned, “Would it be the rescue? Or maybe you were just too sensitive.”
Peri bowed and said, “Please trust me, your highness.”
The princess broke into a smile, “How could I not trust you, my dear supreme mage? You trust me so much that I’m the first and only one knowing that you’ve just ascended to the seventh level. But why haven’t you told it to the public? Your status will be a lot different once the kingdom learns of your achievement.”
Peri smiled, “Being able to serve your highness is much more important. You know my ambition well. Hiding behind your highness will do us more good. Fame is nothing but vanity. There are multiple supreme mages in the court, but only one Princess of Bablon.”
The princess stroked the arm of her chair and said, “Of course, I know your ambition, Peri. Few people in the capital have the nous to see what you and I can see. If I can achieve my ambition, you will certainly get what you want too, and even more… What was that signal then? Is it a mage who has come to rescue me?”
Peri’s eyes narrowed again, “In the Academy, the person closest to the seventh-level is Gekait. He can ascend to it once he passes the test. Being Prince Benut’s tutor and close friend, he is the one who leads the prince to see Humbaba’s final battlefield. They should be making their way through Arcade by now. And it should be him who has sent us the signal.”
Princess Sissila nodded with satisfaction, “Everything is happening according to your plan. Once Klautz managed to send the message to Arcade at the right moment, Benut and Gekait could do nothing but come to us… There must just be the two of them now, in order to get to here so quickly… When do you think they will finally attack? We can send our men to the battleground and watch for a chance to get them all under our control.”
Peri watched the back of his hand and replied dryly, “Prince Benut is a man of passion. He cares a lot about his beautiful young aunt… Your highness doesn’t need to worry. I am well acquainted with every one of them. I can put them under control at any moment. They won’t be prepared with those foolish highlanders messing around… Before long, the people in the capital will hear that Prince Benut had hired some highland giants to assassinate the princess, and was caught in the fight… So that your highness can then come out and gracefully pardon his sin, earning the admiration and reverence from the people.”
Princess Sissila half-smiled, “I will pardon all of his sins, even those he hasn’t committed. He is the youngest candidate for the crown, and the most prominent one. He is smarter and more popular than his elder brothers. But after this affair, his reputation will be ruined… If the signal is from Gekait, we make no response. Let’s wait and enjoy their fight with the highlanders.”
“Fortunately, simple-minded as they are, those highlanders always keep their words. They won’t let us leave before they get the goods. But why does Prince Benut come so early? Will the goods arrive soon too?”
“Not in ten days.” Princess Sissila answered with confidence, “They can get ready soon if it was just about money. But for a huge quantity of live materials? A small town like Arcade can’t prepare it all in three days. They have to go look for help from the state… Even if they use the best horses as transport, ten days is the best they can do.”
“Ussir is the most interesting highlander I’ve seen so far. He organizes those tribes well so they can be ready to go at any time. With those goods, they can build a nice new home in that faraway land… Your highness is indeed a genius to come up with such a great idea. Ussir will never know that the land you granted him along with his noble title actually belongs to Hittite. And nobody will even imagine that you can fund an expeditionary force at no cost in such an unexpected way. ”
The smile on the princess’ face faded, “That land belongs to Hittite merely in name. With the arrival of the armies from all the different nations, it will soon become a battlefield. If the highlanders can settle down there in advance, under my guidance, and build shrines for our god, I think even His Majesty will appreciate our effort. More importantly, Bablon will take the initiative in this coming war where I will definitely play a key role. This, is how my big plan starts.”
How shocked would Amon be, had he heard this conversation? But the two confident conspirators made two mistakes in their estimation. First, it was not Gekait but Amon who had sent them the signal. Second, Mayor Tich had only spent one and a half day to get all the materials prepared and another day to send them all to the giants.
Amon put down his staff. He stood still for a long time, as if he was waiting for something. Metatro asked, confused, “What are you doing, my lord?”
“I’ve just sent a signal towards their direction, showing them that the rescue has arrived. But I’ve gotten no message in response back.”
Metatro was suprised, “As a sorcerer, I have no idea what you have just done. I felt nothing.”
Amon smiled like a child, “You are still wet behind the ears. This is a tricky one. It’s not a supreme magic, but is much more complicated than most of the advanced ones. I have to use my staff to do it.”
“You are amazing! This is what is called magic to me. But can they do the same thing to send you back a message? Their mages may not be as good at sending messages as you are.”
Amon frowned, “It’s said that there’s a sixth-level mage with Princess Sissila. They can certainly sense my message. Moreover, I know Princess Sissila. She’s mage too. And though I don’t know how far she has learnt in magic, she knows how to send messages much better than I do. At least, I’m not capable to directly send my words into their ears… Perhaps they don’t want to expose us. Let’s find another place to hide.”
Amon and Metatro found another place that was closer to the breach, not far away from the drunk bowmen. When the fight began, they could eliminate them first. Gekait and his fellows were probably doing the same thing. If they could quickly control the breach, then the rescue operation would be closer to success.
On the other side, the giants were still counting the materials. They were all sweating. It was easy for them to carry away the goods, but the calculation and sorting were killing them. It was only because of Ussir that there wasn’t a big fight between the tribes.
Tich was chitchatting with Ussir and the headmen. His real purpose, however, was to find out more about Ussir’s agenda. It was the first time he saw Ussir and he was particularly interested in him. He asked him in a caring voice, “Please pardon me for my curiosity, are you a highlander too? You seem to have a lot in common with us, but they all listen to you.”
Ussir seemed to be offended, he replied gruffly, “How come you plainsman always ask such rude questions? I’m a proud highlander. Although my clansmen always laughed at me for being too short when I was a child, after I went down from the mountains and learned magic, they all worship me now as their true leader and sage.” He continued in a complacent tone, “They now must admit that I’m the bravest, wisest and most powerful member of the clan. And I will prove that to them over and over again.”
Tich remarked, “Of course, I see… I have no doubt of that, after all you abducted the princess of the kingdom… Please forgive me for the following question if you find it offensive, are you a sorcerer?”
Ussir shook his big round head heavily, “No. You are wrong. I am a registered second-level mage, granted by the shrine. You can find the records for my awakening in the major shrine in the capital.”
Tich was indeed shocked, he spent a good while to get his tongue untied, “Really? You, you are an esteemed mage? It’s so surreal…”
Ussir stared at him and said, “What’s surreal? My dear mayor, you can go check the records at any time you like. They are lying in wait at the shrine.”
Tich was just a mayor of a town. He didn’t have the right to check the records in the major shrine in the capital. He gave him a sulky look, “What I meant by surreal is that, as a registered mage, you dare to abduct the princess of the kingdom. I can only judge your decision as absurdly stupid. Have you ever thought of the consequences it will bring upon your clan?”
Ussir squared his shoulders, “I have my reasons, it’s… not something you should know. It’s secret.” He finally realized that he might have given away too much information. In the following conversation, he switched topics every time Tich wanted to talk about it.
At twilight, Gekait and Uledo’s team finally climbed up to the other ridge. After the overnight journey, they chose to take a short rest. Gekait sat quietly on a flat rock, a touch of tiredness was showing in his eyes. The other people were more or less bedraggled, with small cleft on the clothes ripped apart by twigs and sharp rocks. The worst wounded one was Elitt, the apprentice of Gekait. He sprained his ankle and got a slash on his calf. He had to cast a magic to heal himself.
Having grown up in the lap of luxury, it was the first time for these noble young men to travel across the precipitous mountains at night. It was an admiring feat for them to survive this kind of arduousness.
Refreshing himself with some cold water, Uledo spoke to Gekait with some perplexity, “This place is not densely guarded. There are not any giants near here.”
Gekait pointed at where they climbed up from, “It’s too big a forest. The giants can’t deploy themselves everywhere. There’s no road in the woods. One can lose his way in it too easily… Find yourselves a good place to hide. I’m going to check around. The day is coming. Be careful!”
Gekait made a tour on the ridge. The situation he found was similar to that in the other side. There were about ten giant bowmen near the breach. Gekait didn’t come too close to them. He went back to the top of the ridge and discussed with the others. Their conclusion was roughly the same as Amon’s.
The sky was bright. It’s not the time to make a big move. Gekait made the same decision as Amon did. The team went hiding near the breach, waiting for noon.[List of Characters]
Peri: Princess Sissila’s adviser, a supreme mage.