Dawn broke over the horizon and set the enemy ships’ sails glowing like embers. Maybe if Tystral wished hard enough, they would turn to true flame. If wishes were horses… they could not be used to fight ships anyway. Tystral rested her forearms on the wall and watched the stir of motion on the ships.
“If they weren’t trying to kill us, I would find them gorgeous,” Raedeth said. He walked up behind her and clasped his hands behind his back.
“They can be gorgeous and still try to kill us,” Tystral shot back. “They aren’t mutually exclusive.”
“I find it hard to be moved when the light makes it clear they are going to be bombarding our walls in the next hour.” He didn’t move, but Tystral heard the shrug in his voice. “Perspective also counts for something.”
Tystral lifted her hand in the motion of a fencer acknowledging a hit, then dropped it back to the wall. The creak of ropes being wound and pulled taut carried across the water along with the tangle of syllables that made up the Skirlish tongue. The heavy ballista rotated on the prow of each ship, finding a new marker after the drift on last night’s sea.
“How are we doing on supplies?” Tystral asked.
“Holding,” Raedeth replied. “Supplies won’t be the problem. We need a way to stop the ships, and nothing we have can reach them.”
“Any of the messengers get through?”
“We won’t know for another three days.”
Tystral turned and leaned her back against the wall. “So how do we last at least three days?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet.” He swept his gaze over the fleet in the harbor, his eyes hard. “But I’m going to.”
Tystral looked at him, then looked at the ships. “I will not last another day of waiting, Raedeth.” She pushed off from the wall and spun. “If I have to swim out to those ships, I will. If prancing naked on the lower wall would give us an opening, I’d do that. If you told me peeling potatoes in the caverns would disrupt their aim-”
“The potatoes do need to be peeled,” Raedeth intoned gravely and his eyes gained a bit of their old humor.
“And people will peel them, but unless you have a reason,” Tystal stressed that last word. “Like potatoes are the fatal weakness of ballista bolts and if we line the walls-”
Raedeth’s laughter interrupted her. She waited with a smile as he calmed himself down.
A whistle and crack sounded and the stones beneath their feet shook. The bolt didn’t stick, but clattered down to land among the rocks.
“For all the work that goes into turning tree trunks into tree trunks with steel tips, they are spent really quick,” Tystral said and kept her head down.
“When you have barges full of ammunition I guess it doesn’t matter as much.” Another bolt hit and glanced off. “They’re finding the range again.” Raedeth muttered.
They got down from the wall and into the center of the keep. They ate breakfast in silence. Raedeth met with the commanders while Tystral tended those hurt by fallen debris. Raedeth returned from his meeting and tapped Tystral on the shoulder. They walked to the library.
“If peeling potatoes was almost certain to kill you, would you do it?” Raedeth’s shoulders were hard as stone and he looked a bit sick.
Tystral leaned back and searched his face. “Yes.” It rang true when she said it, which surprised her a little.
“The other demands were cover, you know-“
“You think I should.”
Raedeth fell into parade rest. “We don’t have three days.” He said shortly and forced himself to meet Tystral’s eyes.
She thought about it. “They’d take it.” Thought about all the people shuddering when the ballista hit, the kids looking to their parents and finding no answer to their questions, and at the thought of being outside the walls, of even the slightest chance she could change the trials her country faced. “I’ll do it.”
Raedeth stepped forward and grabbed her arm. “Tystral, I don’t know if I-”
“Don’t.” She shook her head quickly. “You will.” She smiled at him. “It’s a good plan. Don’t let my father chop your head off for it.”
Raedeth winced. “I’ll…” His voice caught and he cleared his throat. “I’ll have Geirent send up the flag.”
Tystral gently pulled Raedeth’s hand from her arm. “I’d better pack my trunk.”
Raedeth let her walk a few steps before he spoke again. “Tystral?”
“I’ll be back in three months, you’ll see.”
“I bet you will.”
I’ve been robbed! This line was stolen by my friend Gwen to write her story “Incendiary Materials.” Keep an eye out for the whole ring of thieves.