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The Great Sea of the West Lands is divided in twain lobes by the peninsula of Magodon, as large as Florida and anchored to the mainlaind on the west. But sheer cliffs rising as much as four hundred feet guard every approach to Magodon by sea. This natural wall is made of soft sandstone and could not be scaled by any army. At the feet of these bluffs all around the peninsula lay impassible swamps that would swallow horses and trap the wheels of chariots.

Also none could pass by land around the Sea to the north or the south. There roaring waves ran nigh to the very Ice, and often vast slabs of ice would melt and slide into the sea with great thunder. No permanent road could be carved, no tunnel bored, to permit passage east or west.

And that was why King Arman had thought Lord Kirodiel to be a big fat liar for suggesting House Antero was preparing to invade Magodon from across the water. For only at the uttermost pointy eastern tip of the peninsula of Magodon could armies pass, but this was guarded by the Nine Mile Wall and also several small islands bristling with fortified settlements, whose chief city was Rumbek.

So it was that the Bellon capital at Rumbek had long been the chief bulwark against any Gerash incursion, protecting not only the Brown Beard’s lands in Magodon and beyond, but also the lands of family Antero and Larund far in the west. As for the other invasion route, assuming House Gerash could subdue House Sala, their army would be stopped by the Wall of God in Haaretz blocking any further travel east.

The day after the Council abruptly ended with Kirodiel and Joy departing on Demonstroke, Talishi whisked King Brogan by her avatar to Jelaket, where he organized the immediate deployment of the greater part of the forces of House Antero to ride with all haste to the east to come to the aid of House Bellon. The mobilization would take a number of days yet Princess Khondiel deemed this was the only hope that Rumbek would survive the impending onslaught of House Gerash.

The following day the onslaught arrived. A well-orchestrated ballet of Gerash sailing craft, guided by lights on the shore of Sealiah Island, concentrated at nightfall in the three mile-wide gap between the tip of the Isle of Sealiah and the village of Gurtus on the mainland. The tiny settlement of Surat at Sealiah’s tip, including the ferry landing, were taken by Eye of Mastema commandos and then many of the new Gerash ships traversed the narrow strait.

Five battalions of Gerash troops went ashore unopposed, led by Eye of Mastema officers. The boats had to be driven well up on the beach to avoid the omnipresent man-eating flora in the waters of the Eastern Sea, which also afflicted the Western Sea nigh to Salem in the Middle Lands.

Lord Kirodiel’s ships then turned southwest down the Tala Strait toward Rumbek. In this crucial time Kirodiel accumulated his forces as quickly as possible so a credible penetration into Bellon territory could be attempted.

At daybreak the southern-most two battalions of the amphibious invasion force linked together and marched across Sealiah Island. They began taking it house-to-house. This was accomplished with little resistance and only scattered bow-shot. Likewise, the village of Surat in the north fell quickly to the endless troops pouring over the beachhead. Soon the residents of both towns regretted surrendering so easily, for the Eyes of Mastema began obeying Kirodiel’s orders to kill male Brown Beards on sight.

Meanwhile three other battalions erupted from the beach and cut southwest across the island to join up with the first two. But Khondiel’s Amazons issued forth from Castle Brys to hit them on their left flank. Princess Khondiel herself, however remained in the castle to defend Talishi.

Finally all of Sealiah was awake and began putting up the first real resistance of the new war. Movement ground to a halt as a pitched battle developed along a front that crept south down the Isle of Sealiah. But the army of Mastema slowly gained the upper hand.

In the Tala Strait the defenders of Rumbek answered Kirodiel’s incursions with a wall of ships. In this arena alone did the House of Bellon gain a clear victory. By the end of the first day no Gerash ships were left to threaten Rumbek, for all the surviving ships were pulled north to defend the beachhead.

On the second day of the war as the fighting drew near the subjects protected in Castle Brys began leaving on foot. Khondiel and Talishi fell in with them, and King Arman assigned a squad to guard them led by one Hashmal Binyiel. But Talishi objected, saying, “Hashmal, please return to the King, for I have Khondiel with me, and the people of House Bellon need you and your men far more than we do.”

But Hashmal Binyiel said, “Even so, the King himself charged me never to depart your side. And in her presence he produced the King’s own ring, embossed with the seal of the House of Bellon, which the King used to imprint documents sealed with wax to assure their authenticity. Now to Talishi the Hashmal gave the King’s ring, and Talishi mourned, because she knew this as a token of the King’s premonition that he would not survive the coming attack. But Talishi accepted the ring and also Hashmal Binyiel as a companion.

Even as they made their way down from the top of Sujelah Hill the road to Mandakar along the west shore of Sealiah fell to the Army of Mastema. They watched a massive bridge sunk by Bellon engineers with black powder as a final defensive measure.

But on this day the Bellon navy prevailed in a large sea battle. They won through to demolish Kirodiel’s pontoon bridge and set fire to his remaining ships, thus cutting off the only Gerash line of supply to Sealiah.

“The whole north of Sealiah is occupied,” Hashmal Binyiel said to Talishi. “Even Kelang is under assault. Only here in the extreme south does Sealiah remain free.”

Over the shoulders of Mount Memalek and to a seldom-seen natural bridge trudged Khondiel and Talishi, escorted by Hashmal Binyiel and two other officers. They moved by secret paths in the steep wilderness terrain until they were come to the village of Olivus snuggled in the hills along the southern shore. Then Talishi said, “Khondiel, I am unwarlike, and a weakling woman, and I am about to swoon from this march. Perhaps I could rest for a while in that cottage hard by.”

“What do you say to that, Hashmal?” asked Khondiel.

In answer, Hashmal Binyiel approached the nearest cottage and pounded on the door. “Open in the name of King Arman!”

The man who answered the door didn’t look happy. He barked, “What do you want?”

“Lodging for these two travelers. They go with the blessing of the King himself.”

The owner was irritated, and said, “How much did they pay you to say that, soldier? Do you think in this confusion the ‘blessing of the King’ are the pass words to help yourself to the bounty of any subject of the realm?”

So Binyiel produced the King’s ring, and the hospitality of that cottage improved markedly. Talishi and Khondiel were welcomed for the night, while the soldiers stood guard outside.

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