CHAPTER 3 Eimund's Wrath A little murder goes a long way. When a fisherman turned up dead among the rocks of Marvus Cove, it caused a shaking of the chess board. The local landlord, Senator Marvitus, had always feared the Lost Ocean - that misty, silent sea northward of Sunne. It was an undiscovered abyss that laid heavy on his nightmares, as it did on any man who stared too long beyond the borders of the known. While saner fellows of Tavark had learned from birth not to linger by the ocean's grasp, the Senator had made it obsession in his twilight years. And the sea had worked its spell. Marvitus took the murder as an omen, and ordered his militia to watch that stretch of coastline. This move caused counter-move from the hunters of Tavark. Their foraging routes were blocked, and those wise enough not to dare the crossbow-happy militia took detours to the west grounds. In days the patterns of predation shifted, and this in turn caused bolder moves from the ice trolls and sabre-bears who found their territories unharassed. And in this the final move was triggered. Tavark's standing army - the finest sons of the trapper houses - were repositioned to the south, to ward against the restless predators. And when the Ghoul Sage's storm touched down, these men were caught in rescue operations through the hamlets and camps beyond. The play was perfect. A little murder goes a long way. Shadows broke the shoreline at first light. A single ship, though one was too many. One should not have come from that haunted ocean. No ship that ever sailed, from smallest fishing boat to largest galley, had ever lasted in that sea. The Lost Ocean was death. Every child of Tavark knew this. And yet here was a ship, peeling in silence from the morning fog. It made the shore and was a moment like a phantom - a mirage coughed up by the deviling sea. Then splashes proved it physical, as armoured men leapt down and waded through the rocks. Like an ant hill they spread, warrior and wizard spilling from the decks. For a moment they seemed to relish their freedom. So long crammed together in the bowels of their vessel, this newfound space was euphoria. But then the instinct of their fellowship... the edge of their training... and the eye of their masters, brought them back to heel. In double file they moved, a black line of blade and armour snaking up the shore and between the trees. The forest took them in like a cancer, and in moments the ship was left. A relic, swaying in the tides. * * * * * * The invaders moved as fast as words. Captain Thrake of the Tavark Watch caught the stumbling form of a milk maid, and heard her panicked talk of strangers at the gates, and no sooner had her news been given than he saw the shadows soaking through the alleyways. "Get inside," he told the woman, and let her go as his small squad of watchmen grouped around him. They were a handful and they were tired. While their comrades dealt with storm relief in the south, this little squad had been left in the city to watch the captive dragon and to hunt the murderer M'Vae. And though both tasks were done their bones were tired and ready for sleep. "Keep your weapons sheathed. These aren't trolls." The captain knew that much from the motion of the figures filing through the north gate. He led his squad towards them, down the main street that slumbered in the chill of morning. Their pace was the same as the strangers, slow and methodical. He saw men in armour, dragging sleds and leashing pack dogs. Their equipment was familiar. Had the main army circled back to the north? As alleys and town squares were occupied the Captain still could not fathom it. He paused in the street and let the strangers come forward. Some of the gate guard were among them, shaking hands and slapping shoulders. There was celebration, but it was muted, soaked in a sheen of menace. One silhouette had seen him and made directly to meet his squad. And as the ice wind blew between them, the captain made recognition. His gasp was one both joyful and horrified. "Eimund!" "Never seen a dead man before, Thrake?" The voice was ocean deep, black and ancient. The captain felt his men retreat. He could only stare at the face before him. "Your ship was lost!... we searched..." Behind Lord Eimund, a second figure stood, a hooded cloak that trailed like seaweed. "Yet it was God who found him." Eimund's beard cracked with frost as he smiled to Thrake. "Give us the city." The captain's eyes went wide. He shook his head, one hand on his sword hilt, and breath misted as he implored his old friend. "Don't do this, Ei--" Then the world turned strange. The houses and the pine trees tilted. The street swung upside down, and the sky went dark. The captain's head had been removed from his shoulders. Tavark would be taken within the hour.