Maps and lists scrawled on parchment lay strewn across the wooden table. The chairs of the Reevesmen had been pulled back so Olwen might better manoeuvre around her plans. They had drawn up lines of supply; most shire’s food stores were pitifully low but their harvests were plentiful and, for the first year in living memory, Dragon March would keep it all. Plus a few lighting raids across the border were bringing in a little extra for the fort of Dragon Hold. But they were still low on soldiers, good weapons, and armour.
The empty seats at the table reminded Andra of all the men who should have been there. All the men it had taken to make decisions in the past. All the bickering and obfuscation that had taken place within these walls.
Now, that it was just Olwen and her loyal General things were getting done.
As excited as the power and freedom made her, the burden was heavy, and she listened carefully to Olwen’s barked orders, hoping she could follow them with few obstacles as possible.
“-and keep the forge burning night and day,” Olwen continued, reaching across the table for a pile of lists, “build a weapons stockpile, then turn the smiths to soldiers.”
“But what of the festival? A drawn-out campaign will attract attention all across the edge islands, Orcs, Dwarves-”
“We shall have conquered them by then.”
Andra looked down at the maps. Olwen’s hurried scribbles marked out the strategic settlements; fourteen hill-forts including Winterslow and Woodfalls. Countless villages, farmsteads, and fords; her army would have to conquer them all. They would surround Midwinter Down with Northern Druid forces and cut off their supplies and reinforcements. But this would take time and holding down uprisings would need more soldiers.
By the longest night, hundreds of people, officials, diplomats, generals, and ordinary folk, would descend upon Midwinter Down. People from all corners of the Edge Islands, bringing their fat spring hogs with them for the great feast. That gave Andra a little over two moons. Two winter moons at that.
Just two moons to conquer a new land.
It would be chaos.
She would have to bring in a late harvest, supply an army, harry the enemy into submission, conquer the largest settlement of Midwinter by siege, and install a new leader… all before crowds of enemies, potential allies, and neutral observers alike descended.
Andra shook her head trying to find the right words to express her doubt tactfully.
But at that moment they were both startled by a crash behind them.
Two Sycorax, carrying a third between them tumbled from the sky, over the balcony, and in through the open window to the council chamber itself.
Even loyal Officers were banished from the upper chamber and Andra stepped toward the hog-faced brutes. “How dare you burst into the Mistress’s private chamber?”
But before they could answer Olwen pushed her aside.
Upon seeing their Mistress the largest of the Sycorax, a lithe grey-haired creature with a lighter white mane, scrambled to kneel before her his wings curled against his back and his talons withdrawn.
“Mistress,” his voice was low, rasping and lingered upon the hissing ‘S’s, “we bring news.”
“News?” Olwen stepped forward and Andra carefully drew her blade. “Where are the rest of you?”
The grey Sycorax glanced at the other two, both bloodied, the first had cut wounds upon his feet and legs, the second had gaping wounds in her wings.
“Fallen, Mistress.” He spoke with his head bowed, either in mourning or apology, Andra wasn’t certain which but she little trusted either to be true.
“Fallen?” Olwen snapped, “Already?”
“Apologies, Mistress.” As Olwen moved towards the creature, he scuttled back. Andra wondered if he would have the same respect if Olwen had no magic, she doubted it, and maintained a firm grip on her sword.
“There was…” the grey Sycorax continued, “a lightning mage,” he was bowing so low his face was almost brushing the floorboards, “she had Elves with her, they carried arrows and travelled fast upon the water. We did what we could to destroy their vessel, but alas we lost many… Mistress?”
Andra had been listening to the Sycorax’s tale, she hadn’t noticed Olwen turn white and reach out for a chair. She looked weak, her eyes were pale.
“Mistress?” the Sycorax asked again, his poisonous talons reaching out for Olwen.
“Back!” Andra commanded, coming between the wretch and her lover, pointing the blade at the beast even as it cowered away from her. “Get out!” She shouted, “Go on, shoo!” she herded the creatures back out of the room. With a last glance back at Olwen they leapt from the balcony and disappeared.
Andra’s heart racing, she turned to the pale and unmoving Olwen. “What is it, my love?” she fell to her knees in front of her, casting the blade aside and clutching her lover’s hands, trying to catch her eye and pull her back from wherever she had gone.
“She’s coming for me,” Olwen whispered.
“We’re ready for whatever that dwarf has-”
“She has the Elves, Andra.” Olwen stood, marching to the table, staring down at her plans. “She’s on the border with an Elven army,” Olwen was fishing through the reams of parchment, desperate, searching for answers, “We’re not ready!”
Andra reached out, grabbing her shoulders and running her hands down her arms. “We will face them,” she spoke slowly, trying to pour her own calm onto Olwen’s frenzied soul, “We will face whatever comes our way together. Dragon Hold is strong-”
Olwen threw Andra off. “I’m not waiting for her,” she turned, fear stained her light blue eyes, “I will not hide in the dark waiting for that bitch to kill me.”
“We can use the Essence-”
Olwen banged the table, silencing her suggestion. “No. She’ll turn the accursed beasts against us again, they’ll slaughter our army and the Elves will march across their corpses.” Olwen was frantic her breathing was rapid, and she clutched the edge of the table.
Andra wanted to speak to her, to say the words that would calm her, that would bring her peace. She searched her mind for anything, anything that could mollify her swelling rage. “I…” she scoured her mind, searching desperately for a plan, a piece of information, something to give her, but there was only one thing she had, “I love you.”
Olwen looked at her. She stared for a long hard moment and then nodded to herself. “We need to invade Midwinter. Take it back, build our army with Druids.”
Andra nodded. “The plans are in place, I’ll double the hands at the forge-”
“No,” Olwen waved a hand to silence her, “today.”
“If that… woman is at our borders then we need to start now.”
“But the harvest-”
“Curse the harvest! If we don’t move against her, then they’ll be no one alive to feed.”
Andra shook her head, it was impossible. Yet they had achieved the impossible before.
Olwen took her hand and pulled Andra close. “With every enemy we conquer we shall grow stronger, you will lead our army, and our enemies will fall before they even know we’re coming for them.” She rested her head against Andra’s shoulder. “Without you, I am nothing.”
Andra clutched her, breathing in the woman’s scent. “We march tonight,” she whispered.