The Siege of Vair

Here’s another opening scene.

Virit looked up as another fireball came over the wall. She paused and watched as it arced across the sky, trying to estimate where it was going to hit. The catapult crew had probably been aiming for the market square, but even Virit, who was not at all familiar with the city, could see they had missed badly; the fireball sailed well beyond the market. She tried to remember what lay in that direction, and guessed it was headed toward the street of the jewelers.

She supposed that jewelers, due to the nature of their business, generally had good protective spells, but someone should still do something…

But then a dozen voices called, and alarm bells sounded, and Virit decided she was not needed. The locals could take care of themselves. She turned and resumed her interrupted journey, back to their lodging.

Zalgar ti-Partha was standing in the door of his shop, staring down the street, watching people hurry past. When he saw Virit he waved. “What’s happening?” he demanded.

“Another fireball,” Virit told him, pointing. “Down that way, maybe near the jewelers.”

“But the gates are still shut?”

“So far as I know, yes.” Virit did not stop as she answered the old man’s questions, but rounded the corner and hurried up the stairs that led from the alley to the rooms above the shop, lifting her skirts so she would not trip on them.

The door was unlocked, and she stepped in to find her grandfather seated in the big rocking chair by the front window while their host, her distant cousin Burud kif-Lessi, stood beside him and stared out at the street. He turned as Virit entered. “I heard the alarms,” he said. “What happened?”

“Fireball,” Virit said, as she tried to catch her breath.

“Where?” Burud asked.

“I suppose they were aiming at the foundries,” her grandfather said.

“No, Grandfather,” she said. “I think it came down near the street of jewelers.”

“They don’t want to damage the foundries,” Burud said patiently. “That’s what they want for themselves. Capturing them intact is the whole point of the siege.”

“Hmph.” The old man turned to his granddaughter. “What did the captain say?”

Virit hesitated, then admitted, “He wouldn’t talk to me.

Her grandfather straightened in his chair. “What?”

“He wouldn’t talk to me. He sent me to talk to a lieutenant – Lieutenant Aggris. I told him I represented a visiting dignitary, and he said he didn’t care who I was; he took his orders from the Master of the City, and nobody else.” She did not mention the open contempt that both the captain and the lieutenant had displayed when she said she was speaking on behalf of an Elder of the Surushalla; that would do nothing but upset her grandfather.

She saw the expression on Burud’s face, though, and thought he could guess what had happened.

“You told them who I am?”

“Of course, Grandfather. I used your full title.”

“You told them we are Surushalla of the mountains, and not the decadent knaves who live in their filthy city?”

Burud’s mouth tightened, and it was at just that moment that his assistant, Ganur kif-Tsashu, appeared in the kitchen doorway holding a teapot in one hand and a stack of cups in the other. He exchanged glances with his master, then cleared his throat. “Tea, anyone?”

“Yes, please,” Virit said, before either Burud or her grandfather could say anything that might antagonize the other. “Let me help.” She hurried to take the cups.

As she and Ganur poured, she said, “Grandfather, I told them exactly who you are. They said it didn’t matter. Nobody goes in or out of the city without the Master’s permission. They said that if you want to leave, you’ll need to talk to him or his courtiers, not the soldiers at the gate.”

“It’s foolishness! We have nothing to do with this war.”

“I don’t think they care, Grandfather.”

“Of course they don’t, Elder,” Burud said. “They’re concerned with their city, not with us. It’s not as if you were the Walasian ambassador; you’re just a tribal leader from up in the mountains, visiting his cousin. You claim to be a dignitary, but you didn’t present yourself at court.”

“Why should I?” the old man demanded, thumping his fist on the arm of the rocking chair. “I didn’t come here to trade compliments with some confounded Chordravine overlord! I came to discuss the future of our people.”

“And that’s the problem, Elder Turunis,” Ganur said. “The Master doesn’t care any more about you than you care about him, and opening the sally port for any reason could be dangerous.”

“Hmph,” the old man said again. “Then we’ll talk to this Master.” He turned to Burud. “Arrange it, Burud.”

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