Lucian rose from the shadows to his feet, and saluted. “My lady, our operatives report that Estrath are reinforcing troops in Northgate. It’s possibly a routine exercise, but they could be anticipating an attack against the city, or using Northgate as a staging area.” He wandered over to the doorway, sealed the room from outside eyes, and began lighting additional candles on the walls, bathing the study in warm orange light.
The Baron frowned, splaying her hands on the war table, studying the continental map. “Hmm. Send what units we can spare to Frostreach. Leak it, we’ll see what the Estran response is.”
“Very well, my lady.”
“What news from the South?” Baron Rell tapped one gauntleted finger on the map.
“Business as usual, my lady. Reinforcements travelling to Al-Badezaar – reinforcing the city against threats from the Wastes. Scorpion-men, most likely.”
“No maneuvers northwards?”
“None that my scouts have reported, sire. Though, the Exiles. They’re reported to be in Redcrest.”
Amelia stood, a slightly puzzled expression playing on her face. “Redcrest? Why? Alathor wouldn’t want them there.”
Lucian paced back and forth as he spoke. “My lady, I am unsure of their purpose. They were last seen heading east from Márr, on their vessel.” He stopped, leant over the map. “They must have sailed round, past the Peak.” With one slender finger he traced a route clockwise around the chart.
“Past the Peak? Why would they risk that way?”
The spymaster shrugged. “They’re capable.”
The Baron smirked. “Foolish, more like.”
“Be that as it may, my lady, it is…cause for concern. They may be there against the wishes of Alathor, or Mondracon may be trying to court them to his side. Their exile was…necessary, but it has created a…new piece in this game. Our position is weakened with their loss.” He crossed his arms behind his back.
The Baron raised her head from the map, fixing Lucian with her gaze. “You know it needed done. Zorgar may have been reliable, but his companions didn’t spend years in the military like him. They lacked discipline.”
“I know, sire.” The spymaster fell into silence, considering something. The Baron maintained her eyeline. “They were too disparate to take our side in what’s to come. The Estran? The dwarf? The gloamer? Perhaps they are better as an independent pawn.”
The Baron didn’t respond for a moment. “Perhaps.” She returned to studying the map, moving a green token towards the city of Frostreach, and moving a blue piece to Northgate. “You know what happens when a pawn makes it to the end of the board unchecked, though, don’t you?”
“Mm.” Lucian was not forthcoming with any further conversation.
“And what news from within our lands?”
“Kilmoor’s deceased have been buried, Bridgehaven is being rebuilt. The Ashers are still a thorn in our side, and we have a new player in Rell’s underbelly.”
The Baron sighed. “And what is known of them?”
“We’ve no name, no information really. We have an acronym – DOS, and we know they were responsible for returning Windweaver’s stock.”
Lucian shrugged and stroked his chin. “Rumours, murmurings. Nothing more. Word is they’re being called the ‘Black Spider’.”
The Baron chuckled. “Dramatic.”
Lucian shrugged half-heartedly. “The beggars always are.”
“Keep an eye on them, I want to know who they are. Leader. Lieutenant. Operations. Headquarters.” She counted each on her fingers. “I’ll wager they aren’t entirely altruistic.”
“As would I.” Lucian’s gaze fell to the map as well. The Baron tapped one of the islands.
“What news from Scale?”
“Limited. The Greenfangs are effective at keeping secrets secret.” The spymaster furrowed his brow. “I do know that a legion of troops defected, going north. The 8th.”
The Baron looked up, a concerned look on her face. “To what end?”
“I’m not sure, sire.” Lucian did not seem overly worried. “If I were a betting man, I’d say they went to pledge service to the brothers. The timing is too convenient to be coincidence.”
Lady Rell stroked one corner of her mouth. “Hmm. Keep an eye on that. That changes things. What’s known on the Legion? How many units? Archers? Cavalry?” She opened a drawer on the war table, producing an unpainted piece. She placed it in the south, adjacent to Alathor’s capital.
Lucian watched as she did so. “No cavalry. Archers and infantry. Led by one Balax Gaur, War Priest of Tiamat herself.”
“Tiamat? He’ll know that wouldn’t sit with Zorgar. They’ll have gone to the smuggler. Looser morals. Numbers though, what are we looking at? Will they march on Calbourne?”
“It’s possible. Two to three units by our reckoning. Travelled too fast to be much more than that.”
The Baron pondered a moment. “How many does Sir Ingram have in defense?”
Lucian raised his eyebrows and blinked. “After Blackwood’s death? Who knows – the forces were already split between Castle Blackmore and Calbourne when they first tried. The sailor beat him last time though, the paladin would have cut him down just as fast.” He tapped the edge of the table. “If they make a play for Calbourne, it might not matter.”
The Baron stood, her armour rustling as she did so. She ran a thumb over the edge of her pommel. “Interesting. Keep tabs on their movements – I want to know where they are, I want to know why they’re there, and I want to know what Alathor thinks about it.”
“I’ll do my best, sire. Though it might not be as simple as that.” Lucian looked at her, his mouth thin, unblinking, one eyebrow raised.
Lady Amelia narrowed her eyelids. “I don’t want excuses.”
“I’ve grown to know that, my lady. I’m merely saying they escaped using magic last time, and reappeared in Márr three days later. It’s possible that an assault on Calbourne might be…spontaneous.”
The Baron looked back at the table. “It’s possible.”
Lucian continued. “An unexpected assault like that would give them a significant advantage against Ingram’s forces, most likely.”
A smile played at the corner of his mouth. “If they won, they’d be landed again. In our service.”
He crossed his arms behind his back. “Should I…inform Sir Ingram?”
The Baron looked up, and smiled briefly.
“I don’t think that will be necessary.”