The Swan of Thessali
Getting the Lay of the Land
Below the wall the first squads of the archer units were arriving. The melody of a single violin blasted across the wide bailey and gardens beyond. Whispers spread among the squads. Captain Arryo had warned those under his command that he and others were taking matters into their own hands. The soldiers could stay at their post but he intended to make an impact in the war that the generals had been unable to do. The entire unit packed up with their leader and got on the road. The retired mage-general Avast joined them on the march to the wall. That hinted they were heading into something serious.
A reasonable confusion came over the squads as they set up camp. Drums or music on the battlefield weren't uncommon. Yet, before them, the entire wall was being configured with lights. Several platforms stuck out of the wall-walk for musicians. And, the popular bard, Ranon, danced across the battlement. The unexpected performance by the bard lifted their spirits and many cheered. Ranon responded with a leap and a few rolls while she was playing. Everyone dropped their gear and cheered for more.
Ranon dove into the impromptu performance. She only took a bow when Captain Arryo and General Avast made their way onto the wall-walk. Most of the unit had arrived by that point. Behind them cart after cart filled with arrows were being brought into the courtyard. Down the road the carriage of Prince Calin had just crested the horizon.
Review the Plan
Ranon caught her breath while she looked out over the arrival of her allies. The energy of an audience always a boon to her.
"Whew." she took another breath. "We are going to have a party tonight boys!" Another breath. "You brought the whole army Arryo?"
"My lady, you just needed to send word." Captain Arryo bowed. "Most of them are from Southern Heliopedia. The only music they get to hear is what they make or when you used to do the free concert tours."
Ranon nodded. "Fourteen shows in three days. That schedule was brutal but needed. I wish I had the stamina to do more."
"Ranon, the hand off is happening as we speak," General Avast advised. "When the spell components arrive I will begin the incantation immediately. I sent an elite squad to do the trade, they will join us in the fight."
"The druid gave assurances, right? We aren't doing this for naught are we? This is putting a lot of lives at risk. My sister is not but 10 miles from here." Ranon pointed out over the hills and challenged the general.
"It is a pact." Avast said with a twinge of regret. "We have to make a stand. We let the horde's charm infiltrate city after city. The only way to win is to break the spell held over the hordes. The arrows will deliver the enchantment from the druid. It will prevent them from hearing the voice that turns them into the horde. Your performance will protect us." Avast's face was getting red.
Ranon put her hand on his arm. "I know. Fiends to friends. We will do this, for everyone."
She turned toward the wall. The thought raced through her mind, "If they breach the wall, how much of a chance will we have." She took a deep breath.
Prince Calin reached the wall walkway. He greeted Captain Arryo and Avast then turned to Ranon and kissed her on the cheek. "I did not know if I would get to see you again."
Ranon's last performance at the royal hall had been over a year ago. She had brought her younger sister to the performance. Her sister had... a quirk and often had trouble in crowds. She was twelve years old at that point and Ranon was her guardian. She begged to see Ranon perform. Two thirds of the way through a song her sister started screaming. Ranon stopped her performance and the prince got up out of his chair. That minor shift in their positions disrupted an assassination attempt on the prince. The sisters made a quick exit during the ensuing chaos.
"Those assassins got off one lucky shot. Signal and I got out of the way and laid low. I'm pleased you survived. Thank you for coming." Ranon acknowledged him but kept her distance. She was not available to continue that romance.
The Prince pulled her to the side, "You did not respond to my offer. I had hoped your music would grace our halls once again and perhaps more."
"I still feel that arrow in my back when I play. I can't take on performance like I used to. Thank you for coming tonight and for bringing your royal guards. This may be my last performance, I am glad you will get to hear it."
She turned from him and looked out over the wall. He placed a hand on her shoulder then returned to the bailey.
Wealth of Community
Yelsin brought over a leather vest and pieces of armor for Ranon. He had prepared some adjustments to her outfit. Ranon smiled at her fussy designer. He made sure everything fit to his satisfaction. Then, he handed her a pouch with dried Thistle, Fennel and Mugwort.
"If you are going to be dancing across the battlement, I can't have you ripping seams."
Ranon chuckled "Not after the incident with High Priest Edwards!"
Yelsin sighed "Don't remind me. When you need a little boost, crush the mixture in the pouch and say 'val-ma-oum-a-tia'. Sprinkle on your boots."
Ranon mouthed his words. "Got it. Thank you my friend. You have your papers and coin for the trip to Etonia?" Yelsin nodded. "You should head out now."
Ranon called her manager and lead drummer over. A talent in her own right, Ranon's manager had been instrumental in building the bard's career. The network the manager developed put Ranon on the map and into every court in the South. Ranon held both of their hands. They stood together as a group for a few minutes. The conversation revolved around changes to the upcoming performance. It then shifted to a more personal note.
The bard spoke. "Now that we are here, I think you were right to draw up the travel papers and provide a way for resistance to continue. I'm sorry I gave you such a hard time, it is not just my money. Everyone has worked so hard."
Her manager responded, "Thank you, Ranon. It is easy to think we have made the best plan, put in the most effort, and have the right ideas. Even if that is all true, it doesn't guarantee success here but this way we'll keep fighting."
The drummer added, "we are nothing if not resilient. No one else is thinking long-term. This gives me hope."
As they parted ways Ranon requested one final task from her manager. "Rynn, make sure all Arryo's archers get travel papers and coin in addition to those you planned. I brought extra gold, it's in the third tower. Take whoever you need to get it done, do it before nightfall. The rest of my coin is on its way to Etonia like we discussed." Rynn hugged Ranon and hurried off.
The granite hills of Thessali seemed an ageless place. The softer rock worn away eons ago. On the sharp and rugged ridges a fortification stood to block a pass that lead to the coast. The kingdoms of the South presented it as the entry way to civilization. Over time new trade routes and shifting alliances left the fortifications unnecessary. It fell into dis-use. The wall stood proud, if a bit worn, to become the turning point in the Rose War.