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Although the genre of fantasy, and this sub-genre of political fantasy, is a new one for me here on GA, I have been developing the world of Mulia in which this story takes place (and other stories in this world) for the best part of 20 years, so we are like old friends.

A link to the world map is included here, although I provide many descriptions in the story.


Heart of Black Ice - 12. Beacon

Brathay finally installs the crystals.

Moonlight continued to glow as Leonmarkh picked up their pace to beat the approaching clouds, the horses familiar with the track leading around the town and up to the gatehouse. From their vantage point, Brathay could see the whole top of the southeastern side of the tower ablaze, the metal housing of the beacon a dark shadow hovering above the flames, like a stoic martyr being slowly burnt to death.

"Something is amiss," said Leonmarkh, his eyes glued to the sight as he rode. “We are not witnessing an invasion warning. The casing enclosure for the beacon has been engaged, designed to smother and block out the fire's light from inside the cage, the way we do during a test trial. If left open for any length of time, the next watchtower will light its own beacon and commence the coastal warning sequence. Someone has prevented that from happening. But the flames we can see must be from the stores of beaconwood held in the tower around the beacon. That is not a good sign."

Apart from the orange glow—which seemed to pulse as though someone was attempting to staunch the fire—Brathay felt sure he noticed the silhouettes of figures along the base of the keep and wondered what had transpired. Perhaps the keep residents had evacuated the interior as a precaution against the fire spreading to other wooden housings and trapping them inside.

"Brathay." Even with the single word, Brathay sensed a familiar coldness and formality in Leonmarkh's tone. "I need to ride ahead, to locate my captains and find out what happened. Can I trust you to do what must be done with the crystals?"

"Of course. But before we part ways, can I offer a word of warning? One of your house staff regularly snoops into my personal notebook while making up the room. Without my knowledge, of course. Or so they think. But you should be careful for your own protection.”

Brathay could see Leonmarkh ahead processing his disclosure.

“That is useful to know. None of the house staff were chosen by me. That job fell to Khraxwall. They service my rooms as well, but you should know that I am extremely cautious with my belongings, Brathay. Anything of any import is locked and hidden away whenever I leave my quarters—an old habit I picked up from my uncle. But this is precisely why I need your eyes and ears.”

Leonmarkh slowed his horse then, drew level and met Brathay's gaze. "I do not know what this fire means, but I fear it cannot bode well. I will need to be on my guard for the next few days until this situation has been dealt with. If we do not speak soon, I want to know how much I value having you here.”

"I am with you to the end, Lord Leonmarkh. Anything you need, simply ask. Anything."

"Thank you." Leonmarkh smiled through his chagrin. "Let us not show any newfound familiarity in the presence of others. Continue to address me as your lordship, and I will call you Mr Stonearm. But when we are alone together, I would like that you call me Leon. Would that make you uncomfortable?"

"No, Lord—uh—Leon. But please do not ask for a foreshortened name from me. I will not be known as Brat to any man or woman."

Brathay smiled when Leonmarkh laughed aloud before turning his horse and galloping on ahead. Tuskerman appeared eager to follow, but Brathay held him back, unsure of the terrain and not wanting to risk falling from his saddle in the dark. When he rounded a bend in the rock and began to climb the steep slope towards the gatehouse, he saw that his observation of the line of people had been correct. Except they appeared to be passing objects between them.

"What happened?" Brathay asked Myxel, the young stableboy, who stood by waiting for Brathay to dismount. A line of soldiers and townspeople acknowledged him as they passed heavy pails through the gatehouse passage into the keep, across the courtyard and up the narrow staircase of the beacon tower. At the same time, they returned empty buckets.

"None knows. Happened between six and seven bells. Mr Zhorman was first to spot it. His soldiers had barely returned, and we was tending their horses by the stables. Everyone wondered if a spark from one of them braziers in the courtyard rose up and set the stockpiles alight. Mr Khraxwall ordered them lit when he heard the horn announcing the return of the first group. Seems unlikely if you ask me, although there was a feisty wind whipping through here earlier."

"Are those townsfolk helping to carry pails?”

"They are. Mr Sturridge it was who suggested getting help from the town. Knows a couple of people down there, it seems. Bit of a dark horse is our gaffer. But someone in the village had already seen the fire and he met Mr Fleming halfway to the keep. Brought their own group of some fifty folk, they did. Anyone they could drag along who was willing and available. And they brought their own buckets."

"Carrying seawater up all the way from the seashore. That is some burden."

Myxel snorted. "Not seawater, Mr Brathay. Water don't do nowt against beaconwood. Mr Khraxwall told 'em. That there's wet sand from the beach. Only way is to smother the flames. Mr Khraxwall took charge, thankfully. Looks to me as though they have things under control now. Him it was as managed to raise the beacon blockers, to stop the signal from passing down the line. Got a few burns doing so, by all accounts."

Brathay climbed down from his horse and looked to the top of the keep. Maybe he and Leonmarkh had experienced their fair share of troubles during the day, but the keep staff had been kept busy, too. Mxyel was right, though. Flames no longer flickered angrily from the tower, now more of a soft glow. Already nonverbal signals seemed to be spreading down the human chain, telling them to slow.

As he stood there, Brathay felt a few drops of cold rain land on his head.

"I think I had best stay out of the way," he said, "before the rains come.”

"Leave Tuskerman with me. Mrs Sturridge and her crew delayed serving dinner 'til nine bells. 'Cause of all the hoo-ha. They never left the kitchens, any of 'em."

"Thank you, Myxel. This place keeps us all on our feet, does it not?"

Myxel barked out a laugh. Rather than being shaken—as he had been with the flogging—he appeared enlivened by the communal hive of activity. After taking the reins of Brathay's steed, he was about to head off when he turned back.

"Sorry, Mr Brathay. I didn't ask. How was your day’s trek with his lordship?"

Brathay pulled a face. "Equally unexpected and vexing. But let us not dwell on that right now."

He decided to use the diversion to investigate the mechanism beneath the keep. As soon as he entered his newly tidied room, he already knew his notebook had been moved and, after a quick check, found a simple bow knot tied around the cover. Someone had read his notes. Not that he had added anything of substance before leaving that day, which he deemed to be a good thing. If the reader found provocative entries every time, they might start to get suspicious.

After dropping his bags, he tucked the wooden container beneath his arm, lifted a lit torch from the wall of his room and headed to the stairwell furthest away from the beacon tower, the one few ever used. Soldiers favoured the southeastern stairs which brought them out between the kitchens and the refectory. Light rain had begun to fall. As he entered the darkness of the stairs, the bell for the evening meal sounded, creating a perfect diversion. Stepping quickly down the spiral stone steps, he was grateful to meet nobody coming up.

On the floor below the courtyard, he located the cast-iron casing housing the Karak crystals. Brathay had noticed before how the contraption had been walled up behind thick blocks of granite, except for one heavy cast-iron door on one side. After fixing the torch into a wall housing, and with some effort, he managed to haul the portal open. The cradle sat at head height, too high for him to reach. Already rain had begun to filter through the grating and clattered onto the crystals. After a quick look around himself, he found a broken bucket discarded against a wall and used the upturned pail to stand on. Doing so, he could just about reach into the narrow space.

With both hands, he heaved the huge cradle around in a circular motion very slowly—the mechanism rumbling and squeaking and groaning with age—until one of the petal-shaped cavities sat in front of him. He stepped down from the bucket and lifted a fiery crystal from the box. Once inserted in place, he hauled the frame around again until he had only one petal left to place.

Maybe his imagination was playing tricks on him, but there appeared to be a lull in the wind and rain, and the previous backdrop of urgent voices seemed to have dissipated. With no idea what to expect, he used both hands to position the last of the weighty petals over the hole and dropped the crystal in place—and waited.

And waited.

Light rain became heavier. But nothing happened. Using both hands, he hauled the cylindrical cradle around to provide some momentum but still nothing. Out of desperation, he stared down at the wooden casing for the crystal petals, but no inspiration came. Perhaps an element was missing, something they had overlooked. When they managed to get some time together, he would check with Leonmarkh. After a moment of consideration, he decided to leave the crystals in the cradle, to close and bolt the door and head back to his room.

As he entered the refectory to take his seat, everyone already sat and ate as Leonmarkh addressed the men. Fleming and three village elders, including Mjaj, appeared to have been invited to eat with them at the head table. Brathay smirked slightly, wondering what they would make of Mrs Sturridge's cooking.

"—and before we settle into the evening meal that Mrs Sturridge and her team have kindly kept warm for us, I want to extend my sincere gratitude to Mr Fleming, the town elder, Mjaj, and our friends of Black Ice Bay who came to our aide today in our time of need. Your kindness will not be forgotten.”

On Brathay's approach, Leonmarkh caught his eye but continued to speak to his soldiers. Brathay kept moving but gave a gentle nod of his head. A flicker of a smile passed across Leonmarkh's face as he continued on.

"Now, please continue eating. And once you have taken your fill, unless any of you have duties you need to attend to, I would like to address everyone before you go and rest.”

As Brathay took a seat clearly left empty for him between Bhullard and Fleming, he noticed Marietta standing against the wall outside the kitchen next to Mrs Sturridge. When he beckoned her to sit with them, she smiled and shook her head, indicating her choice to remain with the kitchen staff.

"She has been happily lending a hand to prepare the evening meal," said Fleming, passing bread rolls down the table.

"Does that mean tonight's fare might be edible?" asked Bhullard.

"Is the food really that bad?" asked an amused Fleming.

"Unless the apprentice is working his magic in the kitchens, then yes, the food is barely palatable."

"Ignore her," said Brathay, grinning at Bhullard. "Does anyone here look malnourished? How did you fare today?"

"Until we arrived back to this mayhem," continued Bhullard, “today had become the best day I have spent in this desolate hole. We managed to secure an assortment of game meats including venison and wild boar. Enough to nicely supplement what we already have. And I hear you found a freshwater lake. Leonmarkh showed us the fat trout you managed to snag."

"Not I. Leonmarkh was the one to secure the fish," said Brathay, accepting a bowl of steaming stew from a server. "And what else did he tell you?”

"Enough," said Bhullard, sucking in a breath and grimacing. “Poor you. I cannot imagine how terrified you must have been."

"What happened?" asked Fleming.

"Our young apprentice fell through the thin ice of a lake into freezing water. Almost drowned. Luckily for him, Lord Leonmarkh was not far behind and managed to pull him to safety."

As they began to eat, Fleming cast a quizzical glance Brathay's way.

"Another time," muttered Brathay. "Today has been an eventful one. For us all."

"Then it is time I sent you another invitation to visit. Marietta and I miss your company. And we have much to catch up on."

Fleming's expression betrayed nothing as he passed a platter of rolls to Brathay.

Even after one mouthful, Brathay could tell Marietta had put her culinary touch to the meal, the broth thicker and heartier, the addition of a bread dumpling and a delicious herb he could not determine. Bhullard eagerly accepted a second helping. At the end of the meal, bowls of dried fruit were handed around for the soldiers to pick from, which Mrs Sturridge said she only ever served for ceremonial meals. A contented murmur settled on the hall as Leonmarkh stood from his place.

"Today, I am sure, we all have stories to share. For my part, I would like to congratulate all of you on what you have achieved. Despite other setbacks, we are in a much healthier position than we were yesterday. I know the hour is late—I can already see some of you tiring—so I will let you take your leave and get a good night's sleep. Captains, domestic heads, and Mr Stonearm, please remain behind. Mr Fleming, can you also ask our guests from the village to remain for a short while?"

Once everyone had filed out of the room and the kitchen staff had cleared tables, everyone moved to the head table where Leonmarkh held court. Only the keep managers chose to remain standing.

"I do not want to diminish the good that has happened today because of one misfortune. But there are two things I need to reinforce. Our principal purpose is to ensure the lighting of the beacon in the event of a threat. Beaconwood would have helped us do this more easily. Through some calamity, we no longer have that advantage—"

"What I want to know is who allowed this to happen, your lordship—"

"No, Zhorman. There will be no pointing fingers or throwing blame around. Right now, I am not concerned with how this happened—in due course, we will find that out—my main concern is how we continue to carry out our duty. What I was going to say is that beaconwood has only been made available to Watchmen across the realm in the last fifty years. In the past, they would have had to rely on traditional firewood. Can you remind everyone know how much lumber you managed to amass, Haycock?”

"Sire, we are in excellent shape. The storeroom is now full to the door with chopped logs and smaller bundles of wood. Surplus stocks have been secured in the lower level of the keep. We have enough to last the season and well into the next."

“Which is great news. Once the embers have died down, can we ensure enough supplies are taken to the beacon tower tonight? Make sure the beacon is replenished, and the surplus covered securely?"

"Let me take charge of that, your lordship." Khraxwall appeared the most tired and haggard and diminished of them all. The left side of his face shone red and livid where he had apparently tackled the flames, and one hand had been wrapped hastily in a bandage.

"Thank you, Khraxwall, but I think you should rest tonight. Zhorman, get the night watch to arrange the wood. And I want double the guard at the tower from now on, day and night."

“Already taken care of, Leonmarkh."

"Did we speak to the person on duty when this occurred?"

"Both guards involved have been interrogated. One claims the other, who should have replaced him on beacon watch, had been late by an hour. He had stepped away for a handful of minutes to find him when the incident occurred. The replacement says he had been caught up in the return of Ligger and Haycock's troupe—who arrived before Bhullard and me—helping to unload and store the stocks of wood. Sometimes in the past, this kind of thing happens. It will not happen again."

"No, captain, it will not."

"Your lordship." Fleming addressed Leonmarkh. Brathay noticed his head and Mjaj’s heads bowed together as Zhorman talked and assumed he had been translating. "Mjaj would like to offer a suggestion. The Sjin-Shatir use a special oil domestically that translates as Grey Flame and, when used in a specific way, allows wood to burn quickly and brightly. I am unfamiliar with the treatment of beaconwood but understand the purpose is to ignite wood quickly and for long periods. Grey Flame is not as potent and, in fact, reduces the longevity of the combustion but does help wood burn quickly. It is used extensively to treat wood in Sjin-Shatir homes and on exposed surfaces on seafaring vessels—"

"Sea vessels?" said Zhorman. "What fool would treat a ship with flammable oil?"

"And I have oil in the kitchen as can do the same job," said Mrs Sturridge.

"Forgive me. I am not explaining myself well. The oil is not flammable. Exactly the opposite. The important point—and the reason for Mjaj mentioning this—is that a naked flame cannot ignite the oil. A lantern blown over by an errant gust of wind on a stormy night and breaking onto the deck of a ship would cause no problem, the flame being unable to find purchase on the treated wood. Only the spark of a specific local grey flint can ignite the oil."

"Sorcery?" asked Ligger, with disgust.

"No, sir. At least, not according to the advisers and alchemists of the empress or her key military personnel. To be frank, they did not give much credence to the find. Although they consented that the discovery might be useful for domestic purposes, it would provide no military advantage. A ship deck coated in Grey Flame would be openly vulnerable to attack, a simple missile made of the grey flint would reduce the ship to ashes in no time. But as a short term fix and, moreover, a safe option to your beaconwood issue, Mjaj felt this might help."

"Does the oil render the wood weatherproof?" asked Khraxwall. Fleming translated for the sake of Mjaj, and everyone could see the decisive shake of his head.

"It does not. As I say, this is not as potent nor as purposeful as beaconwood."

"No matter," said Leonmarkh. "Our arrangement is to keep the beacon alight and openly visible for at least an hour. And the oil may prevent another errant spark from consuming our surplus supplies, if that is indeed what happened. At the moment, we need all the help we can get. Could you arrange a demonstration?"

Words were shared between Fleming and Mjaj before Fleming addressed him.

"Is tomorrow morning soon enough?"

Leonmarkh smiled at the words and looked to Zhorman, who smiled back. A nod of understanding passed between the two men.

"Tomorrow would be perfect. Mr Fleming, I would like you to convey my heartfelt thanks to Mjaj and his people. Their help today was selfless as well as unexpected and generous. Where is Miss Millflower?"

Brathay noticed Miss Millflower standing against the wall, stiffen at hearing her name.

"Here, your lordship."

"A severe cold spell is imminent most likely beginning over the next few days.” Both Mjaj and Fleming nodded at Leonmarkh’s words. "Tomorrow, I need you and your team to prepare the vacant guest and soldier quarters for the villagers. I would like to offer them sanctuary—"

"But your lordship, I only have a small—" began Millflower.

"Millflower," muttered Khraxwall sternly.

"I appreciate that you are busy," continued the lord. "But so are many others. When our guests are installed, I am sure they will assist with household chores. But until then, I need you to make this happen. Are we clear?"

"Quite clear, your lordship," said Millflower, fidgeting as always with her keys, her face pale. "It will be done as you wish.”

"And Mrs Sturridge? The same will go for feeding our guests. But I feel sure there will be those from the village more than able to assist. I note we already have a local addition in the kitchen tonight."

A rumble of approval rose from the tables, Fleming smiling proudly over at Marietta standing next to Mrs Sturridge. Brathay noted Mjaj grabbing Fleming's attention and whispering something in his ear.

"Your lordship. Elder Mjaj tells me that if they do need to seek refuge, they will not come empty-handed. They will bring plentiful supplies to fill your storerooms."

"Thank you, Mjaj.'

"Your lordship." Khraxwall stepped forward from his place against the wall. His face appeared stricken still, his guilt and discomfort palpable. “If you ask, I will offer my resignation and step down from my post. In your absence, the duty to guard the beacon and protect the beaconwood fell to me, and I have let you down appallingly—"

"No, Hulm. There is only one Watchman of the keep, and the responsibility to manage and light the warning beacon falls to me alone. What is done cannot be undone. And I heard already how you risked life and limb to engage the beacon shutters. Without your quick thinking, we would have a sizeable sovereign army and probably an armada on a pointless race to the keep right now. If anything, your quick thinking has saved my reputation. Besides, I need your brain and common sense to determine how we brave the coming storm."

"As you wish, your lordship."

"If there is nothing else, then I will thank you all once again and let you get away. Mr Fleming, please let Mjaj know that there is a place here for him and his people—"

"Your lordship," said Mjaj, rising from his seat and bowing. Brathay grinned at the widening eyes of the captains as Mjaj spoke clearly, if a little haltingly, in the common tongue. "You show us respect and compassion. The Sjin-Shatir do not take this kindness lightly, and we will do all we can to make this arrangement work to our mutual benefit."

"Thank you, Mjaj," said Leonmarkh, standing and bowing in a similar fashion. "Now, after the events of the day, I will let everyone go so that you can enjoy a good night's rest. Captain Zhorman, please sort out the beacon as soon as possible. Mr Stonearm, remain behind.”

The offhand tone was not lost on Brathay. About to depart, Bhullard and Haycock turned to Brathay and gave him a sympathetic grimace. As the only one still seated, he overheard Fleming, leaving with Marietta and Khraxwall, offering to look at the steward's burns. When they were finally alone, Leonmarkh sat back down.

“Let me apologise for the brusqueness of my tone. But I needed to get you alone to forewarn you. My captains and house staff might begin to treat you differently. In an earlier meeting, I downplayed your usefulness during our trek. I do not want anyone sensing that I am giving you any special favours and, more importantly, have them guessing at our newly-forged alliance. But I would be interested to hear if any of them treat you differently. Now, did you manage to install the crystals?"

"I did. And they are clearly designed to fit into the three cavities in the cradle. But they had no effect. At some point, can I look through the small notebook you found in the chest in your chamber? Maybe there is an element missing, something recorded in the notes."

"Let me get that to you. Where are the new crystals now?"

"They are still installed in the grating. Do you wish me to retrieve them?"

Leonmarkh thought for a moment.

"No. Leave them. They are as secure there as anywhere."

"Sorry, your lordship. It appears to have been a waste of a day."

Leonmarkh's gaze swung to Brathay, his eyes burning into him.

"Is that how you feel?"

"We did not entirely fulfil our quest."

"I see," said Leonmarkh looking away, his head nodding. "No, we did not."

"But I am grateful we spent time together, thankful we got to know one another and each gained a truer understanding of the other."

Once again, Leonmarkh met his gaze and smiled.

"As am I. For the first time since I arrived, I feel a sense of relief, of a burden being shared. And I owe that to you. If the crystals do nothing, then our life in the keep is no worse than before our journey. But we have both returned as allies. And I value that far more than a box of pretty crystals."

On the stroll back to his quarters, Brathay smiled into the darkened night, his mind replaying Leonmarkh’s—Leon’s—parting words. On one level, he had already accomplished what he had been sent to do, to win and audience and gain the trust of Leon. Except what had happened during the day felt like so much more. Was something far bigger and deadlier truly at play? Add to that the new and intense connection to Leon and he barely recognised himself. Memories of Leon’s warm skin against his own, of his hot and substantial arousal pressed into Brathay’s stomach still shimmered inside him. Maybe someone had lit the beacon inside Black Ice Keep that day, but Leon had surely lit one inside Brathay.

He was not surprised to find the courtyard deserted. Everyone had most likely turned in for the night, although guards would be stationed out of sight at the beacon and gatehouse. On a whim, he stopped by the dark grating and peered down into the vast dark void. He could not help but feel disappointment at the failure of this key part of their quest. Perhaps Belynda had been right. Maybe the iron mechanism had become obsolete over time, a contraption from another era and now useless. After issuing a soft, steamy sigh into the emptiness, he continued on his way.

The rain had ceased, but ghostly clouds issued from him with each exhalation of breath where the air temperature had plummeted. Overnight frost would make surfaces treacherous again. No doubt Mr Sturridge's stable boys would be out first thing to salt the walkways. On the off chance, he strolled over to the southeastern corner of the courtyard to where the stables were housed. Even as he approached, he could see no light burning inside, only the dark silhouettes of horses. Being at the southeastern tower, he decided to take the unlit staircase leading up to his chamber but stopped when he heard a raised voice coming from below, from a lower section of the keep. Without making a sound, he descended a few steps to hear more clearly.

"No, I will not keep my voice down. I am not a slave and will not be treated as such, not by a lord, nor a king. Not by Empress Paradyn herself."

Miss Millflower's distinctive whine echoed from the depths. Brathay considered backing out and taking another route. But then, he also knew that he might learn something to his advantage if he remained. From the safe distance, he could not determine the owner of the other voice—not even the gender. The person spoke in a soft whisper, calmly, barely making a sound.

"You need to tell him," said Millflower. "He never listens to me. Pays me no respect. Tell him that I am on the verge of walking away from this miserable place. Maybe the weather is closing in, but my sources tell me that local boats are still sailing south. And I am at the end of my wits. As if looking after that arrogant and ungrateful child from Aulderly is not bad enough, are we now to be tasked with attending on those stony-faced villagers with their queer customs? I did not choose to be in service to clean up the filth of peasants."

Once again, soft, placating noises came back. Brathay backed quietly away. No doubt Miss Millflower would take every opportunity to grumble to all who would listen before the villagers arrived. And probably even continue after that. Brathay was about to turn away when the voice came again.

"You dare threaten me?" asked Millflower, her voice carrying an angry warning. "Have you considered what his lordship would do if I were tell him your true intent? And where would that leave you? Hanging by your neck from a tower, I would warrant. Do not ever think to threaten—"

This time the second voice came back a little louder and more forcibly. Even so, Brathay could not determine the owner, nor whether it belonged to a man or woman.

"Of course not," came Millflower's voice, softer this time, the sting removed. "I would never… I am just trying to say that we are in this together. And of course I am glad this will soon be over. But I can only do so much." Another pause as the other voice spoke softly this time, and once again, Millflower responded. "I know we do. And of course I will. He may pen something tonight about their day together. Let me check tomorrow morning while he is breaking his fast."

Brathay had heard enough. But he felt sure Millflower's final comment was aimed at him and his notebook messages. As he moved soundlessly along the shadowed courtyard towards the southwestern stairwell, the night-muted toll of eleven bells sounded. Tiredness weighed down his shoulders. A speck of snow fell, settling on the frosty ground. For some reason, the sight sent a shiver through him right to his core, as though the spectacle augured the beginning of hard times to come.

As he climbed the stairs towards his floor, he noticed torchlight filtering from above. Just inside the stairwell, the silhouette of a soldier lounged against a wall on a stool. Wrapped in a thick blanket, Mollik, one of those he had joked with during a previous evening meal had already spotted him.

“Evening, Mr Brathay.”

“Evening, Mollik,” said Brathay, coming to a stop before him. “Why are you here?”

“Beacon duty, sir.” Brathay smirked as Mollik rolled his eyes. “And afore you ask, I know the beacon’s up top. But there’s one of us up at the tower, one on the ramparts above me, and one here.”

“That seems—excessive.”

“Captain Zhorman’s instructions. No more chances with the beacon, he says. We’re the night watch.”

“All night?”

“Until four bells, sir.”

“Sorry to hear that, Mollik.”

“It’s fine, sir. We’re soldiers. It’s what we’re here to do.”

Understandable, thought Brathay, considering what had transpired. Nobody would want a repetition, but tripling the guard felt like an overreaction. Maybe Zhorman had other suspicions about what caused the fire.

“In which case, I will bid you goodnight, Mollik. Looks like we’re in for snow. Try to stay warm. ”

“I will. Goodnight, sir. Sleep well.”

Thank you for reading.

Any reactions, comments, observations, interpretations, or guesses at what you think is to come, gratefully received.

And if you are feeling particularly generous, go to the Black Ice Bay summary page and click on the Recommend button, so that others may be tempted to read the story.

Copyright © 2021 lomax61; All Rights Reserved.
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That you very much for reading.

Any reactions, comments or observations are very much appreciated.

Let me know what would you think will happen next, or what you like to see happen.

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