It’s a good thing that any Khas who have even heard of what happened will flee (er, actively avoid) General Beguyan’s army rather than risk a confrontation, because if Raith does much more of this she could mess up the weather of Jomhur and nearby parts of the world for years to come. This episode has already caused a more-than-usually warm, wet and windy spring in Essle, a bad wine year in Lenyas, a wet and dismal summer in Valdis, and a dry summer followed by a rainy autumn in Ryshas.
Well, I’ve certainly been earning my keep here. We set out on horseback, Bebakshi in front of me at first, but that was awkward because she’s not only half a head taller, but the horse didn’t like it; either her specifically or dandar in general, I couldn’t tell. Behind me she was more comfortable, and so were the horse and I. It did flick its ears a lot, but that could also have been the flies.
It took us a few days to get to the other side of the plain. We left heaps of stuff to look like small camps, with fires burning, to fool the enemy into thinking we were besieging the city. As we got to the place the scouts had reported as a large square outcrop of rock, it turned out that it was a ruined building, or rather a whole ruined city, with what must have been the palace sticking out from the surrounding landscape. We didn’t even have to build a camp, but could use the more intact parts for shelter. I seem to have got used to the camp so much that it felt like camping in the wild, even if it was literally as safe as houses.
I went up to the tower –only half ruined, they made a wooden ladder for me to get up– to have a look at the surroundings, taking Bebakshi and an officer called Varzesh who had been assigned to guard me. The landscape lay at my feet– excellent! Apparently it had been a guard tower. I’d be able to work from here. I did a sweep of the land, reflexively, as I’d have done at home, and found a largish body of people to the south-west with only one mind that I could distinguish as gifted. Khas, with a mage among them. I mentioned it to Varzesh, who got a map for me to point to: apparently this was indeed the Khas army we’d been looking for, but much further south and east than anyone had anticipated. Beguyan would have to be warned. Could I do that? I tried how far my mind reached without leaving my body, but it wasn’t far enough by a long stretch, so I asked Bebakshi to ward me, and Varzesh to keep guard, and sent my mind out until I found someone of the army. It was surprisingly easy, because Tarin had been looking for me –only he couldn’t go that far– and the army had been moving west already. When I showed him where the Khas were, the atmosphere at the other end immediately became more urgent and busy.
When I was back, Bebakshi and Varzesh were very solicitous. “You were as cold as ice!” Bebakshi said, and in the same breath, “Can you teach me how to do that too?” I was too tired to explain that she’d need to learn a lot of other things first before I would even think of teaching her out-of-body work, so I made a noncommittal noise (I think I said “perhaps”) and asked for something to eat. Soldiers’ gruel was brought, and also a thing on a dish that looked most like a roast toddler. “What is that?” I asked, and the boy who brought it said that it was a monkey. Mehili had told me that it was bad luck to eat those, and I said so, which Bebakshi agreed with: it looked far too human to her. “I’ll eat anything that goes on four legs,” I said, “and anything that flies, or swims,” (which brought a sudden craving for fish) “but I don’t think I eat monkeys.” “He’s from the far east,” Varzesh said, looking at the boy with obvious distaste, “they eat everything there.” The monkey was taken away, and the three of us talked about lots of things that were good to eat, but we didn’t get anything else, however much we discussed fish and chicken and mutton. I’ll have to ask Bebakshi for recipes! The things she said about fish sounded delicious.
We had an officers’ meeting to discuss what exactly we would do, and the next morning Bebakshi and I stood on the tower gathering clouds to counteract any forest fire that the hot air would start in a place where we didn’t want it. This was the easy part, we thought at the time: to get water to rise from the sea and stay together buoyed up by the air. I could do that when I was eighteen and Bebakshi took to it as a fish to water. When we had a finger of cloud pointing at the Khas army –that alone must have scared them– I reached out to the hot air over the mountains, tentatively lifting it a bit higher than it already wanted to rise on its own.
And it came. It set the forest on fire all by itself, no lightning needed –though Bebakshi was so disappointed about that that I let her set off a few bolts. There was a hot wind with a lot of sand in it that made us have to pull bits of our clothes over our mouths. I had no control over it any more– and I’d vowed to keep our army safe. But there was the cloud mass, of course, and Bebakshi and I grabbed hold of it each on one side and let it rain away.
I don’t remember much of the aftermath, except that at one time someone got us down from the tower because the wooden ladder threatened to catch fire, or to be blown away, or whatever; and indeed the next time I looked it wasn’t there. We regrouped in the ruined palace, and I was hungry again– no wonder I stay thin however much I eat, this kind of work really takes everything I’ve got.
As soon as I could think coherently again I looked for the Khas mage, and as I’d thought he wasn’t there. We couldn’t very well not have hit him! A group of us –I don’t remember whether it was all, or most, more than a few anyway– went out to where the Khas camp had been as soon as the weather cleared a little. There was still a lot of wind, and still hot though not so hot as to burn, and an occasional gust of rain though Bebakshi and I had sent the greater part of the clouds away. The closer we came to the Khas camp, the more the forest had been damaged by fire: completely destroyed in parts. There were still some people there, a few thousand, most of them wounded; as we arrived they were piling up their dead for burial (I think they burn them– the forest fire had taken care of much of that, though not all, and thinking of it still makes me shudder so I try not to think of it). We took all of them prisoner for Beguyan to deal with.
When we reached the camp the next day, we were received as heroes. I didn’t feel at all heroic –no hands-on fighting, no real danger!– and most others looked as if they felt the same. It didn’t help that this looked like the same city-of-tents, but in a completely different place: due north of the city, in one of the spots where we had made a decoy camp on the way out. Very disconcerting to have the same thing in a different place, but the army seems to be used to it.
There were hot baths, and wine, and even some decent food, and I spent a few hours writing very terse letters to Valdyas before I could start on this one. I’m sealing it now, because I want to be fresh tomorrow when I expect to have to explain what I’ve been doing; don’t be surprised if this letter and the next reach you at the same time.
All my love, from a very tired