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Guardians of the West

Guardians of the West: Page 74

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"Good for you, girl," Vella said warmly, clapping her on the shoulder. "I always enjoy seeing a woman get ahead."

* * * *

It was midmorning of a gray, cloudy day when Garion crested a hill and looked across a shallow valley at the imposing bulk of Rheon. The town stood atop a steep hill, and its walls reared up sharply out of the rank gorse covering the slopes.

"Well," Barak said quietly as he joined Garion, "there it is."

"I didn't realize the walls were quite so high," Garion admitted.

"They've been working on them," Barak said, pointing. "You can see that new stonework on the parapet."

Flying defiantly above the city, the scarlet banner of the Bear-cult, a blood-red flag with the black outline of a shambling bear in the center, snapped in the chill breeze. For some reason that flag raised an almost irrational rage in Garion.

"I want that thing down," he said from between clenched teeth.

"That's why we came," Barak told him.

Mandorallen, burnished in his armor, joined them.

"This isn't going to be easy, is it?" Garion said to them.

"It won't be so bad," Barak replied, "once Hettar gets here." Mandorallen had been assessing the town's fortifications with a professional eye. "I foresee no insurmountable difficulties," he declared confidently. "Immediately upon the return of the several hundred men I dispatched to procure timbers from the forest lying some leagues to the north, I shall begin the construction of siege engines."

"Can you actually throw a rock big enough to hock a hole in walls that thick?" Garion asked dubiously.

" 'Tis not the single stroke that reduces them, Garion," the knight replied. " 'Tis the repetition of blow after blow. I will ring the town with engines and rain stones upon their walls. I doubt not that there will be a breach or two 'ere my Lord Hettar arrives."

"Won't the people inside repair them as fast as you break them?" Garion asked.

" Not if you've got other catapults throwing burning pitch at them," Barak told him. "It's very hard to concentrate on anything when you're on fire."

Garion winced. "I hate using fire on people," he said, briefly remembering Asharak the Murgo.

"It's the only way, Garion," Barak said soberly. "Otherwise you're going to lose a lot of good men."

Garion sighed. "All right," he said. "Let's get started then."

Reinforced by Yarblek's trappers, the Rivans drew up in a wide circle around the fortified town.
Though their combined numbers were not yet sufficient to mount a successful assault on those high, grim walls, they were nonetheless enough to seal the town effectively. The construction of Mandorallen's siege engines took but a few days; once they were completed and moved into position, the steady twang of tightly twisted ropes uncoiling with terrific force and the sharp crack of heavy rocks shattering against the walls of Rheon was almost continual.

Garion watched from a vantage point atop a nearby hill as rock after rock lofted high into the air to smash down on those seemingly impregnable walls.

"It's a sad thing to watch," Queen Porenn noted as she joined him. A stiff breeze tugged at her black gown and stirred her flaxen hair as she moodily watched Mandorallen's engines pound relentlessly at the walls. "Rheon has stood here for almost three thousand years. It's been like a rock guarding the frontier. It seems very strange to attack one of my own cities -particularly when you consider the fact that half of our forces are Nadraks, the very people Rheon was built to hold off in the first place."

"Wars are always a little absurd, Porenn," Garion agreed.

"More than just a little. Oh, Polgara asked me to tell you that Beldin has come back. He has something to tell you."

"All right. Shall we go back down, then?" He offered the Queen of Drasnia his arm.

Beldin was lounging on the grass near the tents, gnawing the shreds of meat off a soup bone and exchanging casual insults with Vella. "You've got a bit of a problem, Belgarion," he told Garion. "Those Drasnian pikemen have broken camp and they're marching this way."

Garion frowned. "How far away is Hettar?" he asked.

"Far enough to turn it into a race," the little hunchback replied. "I expect that the whole outcome is going to depend on which army gets here first."

The Drasnians wouldn't really attack us, would they?" Ce'Nedra asked.

"It's hard to say," Porenn replied. "If Haldar has convinced them that Garion is holding me prisoner, they might. Javelin took a horse and rode back to see if he could find out exactly what's going on."

Garion began to pace up and down, gnawing worriedly on one fingernail.

"Don't bite your nails, dear," Polgara told him.

"Yes, ma'am," he replied automatically, still lost in thought. "Is Hettar coming as fast as he can?" he asked Beldin.

"He's pushing his horses about as hard as they can be pushed."

"If there was only some way to slow down the pikemen."

"I've got a couple of ideas," Beldin said. He looked at Polgara. "What do you say to a bit of flying, Pol?" he asked her. "I might need some help with this."

"I don't want you to hurt those men," Queen Porenn said firmly. "They're my people -even if they are being misled."

"If what I've got in mind works, nobody's going to get hurt," Beldin assured her. He rose to his feet and dusted off the back of his filthy tunic. "I've enjoyed chatting with you, girl," he said to Vella.

She unleashed a string of expletives at him that turned Ce'Nedra's face pale.

"You're getting better at that," he approved. "I think you're starting to get the hang of it. Coming, Pol?"

Vella's expression was indecipherable as she watched the blue-banded hawk and the snowy owl spiral upward.


Later that day, Garion rode out to continue his observations of the ongoing siege of the town of Rheon and he found Barak, Mandorallen, and Durnik in the midst of a discussion. "It has to do with the way walls are built, Mandorallen," Durnik was trying to explain. "A city wall is put together to withstand exactly what you're trying to do to that one." Mandorallen shrugged. "It becomes a test then, Goodman, a test to discover which is the stronger -their walls or mine engines.""That's the kind of test that could take months," Durnik pointed out. "But, if instead of throwing rocks at the outside of the wall, you lobbed them all the way over to hit the inside of the wall on the far side, you'd stand a pretty fair chance of toppling them outward."

Mandorallen frowned, mulling it over in his mind.

"He could be right, Mandorallen," Barak said. "City walls are usually buttressed from the inside. They're built to keep people out, not in. If you bang rocks against the inside of the walls, you won't have the strength of the buttresses to contend with. Not only that -if the walls fall outward, they'll provide us with natural ramps in the city. That way we won't need scaling ladders."

Yarblek sauntered over to join the discussion, his fur cap at a jaunty angle. After Durnik had explained his idea, the rangy-looking Nadrak's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "He's got a point, Arend," he said to Mandorallen. "And after you've pounded the walls from the inside for a while, we can throw a few grappling hooks over the tops of them. If the walls have already been weakened, we should be able to pull them down."

"I must admit the feasibility of these most unorthodox approaches to the art of the siege," Mandorallen said. "Though they both do fly in the face of long-established tradition, they show promise of shortening the tedious procedure of reducing the walls." He looked curiously at Yarblek. "I had not previously considered this notion of using grappling hooks so." he admitted.

Yarblek laughed coarsely. "That's probably because you're not a Nadrak. We're an impatient people, so we don't build very good walls. I've pulled down some pretty stout-looking houses in my time -for one reason or another."

"I think, though, that we don't want to yank down the walls too soon," Barak cautioned. "The people inside out-number us just now, and we don't want to give them any reason to come swarming out of that place -and if you pull a man's walls down, it usually makes him very grouchy." The siege of Rheon continued for two more days before Javelin returned astride an exhausted horse. "Haldar's put his own people in most of the positions of authority in the army," he reported, once they had all gathered in the large, dun-colored tent that served as the headquarters of the besieging army. "They're all going around making speeches about Belgarion taking Queen Porenn prisoner. They've about halfway persuaded the troops that they're coming to her rescue."

"Was there any sign of Brendig and the Sendars yet?" Garion asked him.

"I didn't see them personally, but Haldar has his troops moving at a forced march, and he's got a lot of scouts out behind him.

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