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riding down; made you a liar, didn t we? So the angry sentinels left you for
us, apropos of your falsehood?
The collector-newsgiver admitted it. The American chortled.  You poor sucker.
Your employers never told you what happens to propagandists when reality
catches up, did they?
 I did believe it to be the truth, I swear upon my father s eyes! Why else
would I have stopped up here before turning south? Eee, spare me my life, I
beg; I can make good recompense.
 What payment is that? pounced the captain.
 Do you but bring my donkeys, and I will show. When the animals were fetched,
he unpacked a long, thin sack. He opened one end, and spilled out a thin
stream of red powder.
 Earnai, the captain said,  Dreamdrowse. He rattled the newsgiver by
gathered lapels.  Why did the sentinels not take it?
 Have mercy! Am I a madman, to risk my life by telling those provincial scum I
was transporting the product of a season? And later, before I could buy back
my freedom, I was gagged unspeaking.
Reacher turned to go. The discovery had no tactical significance. Maybe, he
thought, the Southwastelanders would find it and make themselves stuporous,
but he doubted that. The collector-newsgiver, released, slumped in
astonishment. They had no time to go slowly, with a prisoner, and it wasn t
the King s way to slay offhandedly.
But Van Duyn was stirring the red powder with his boot. He called the
Wolf-Brother back.  We could put this to work, you know. Getting no response,
he continued,  This is the form they call  mahónn , am I correct?
 It looks to be, the captain agreed.  It is from the Old Tongue, meaning
 Very concentrated, Van Duyn went on,  quite flammable. Suppose we burned it
upwind, when the Southwastelanders came?
They all struggled to absorb the idea, except the King. Arms folded across his
chest, he strolled over to look down the slope to the south.  Would they not
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avoid it?
The American frowned.  Very well then, scatter it among the grass and fire it.
Or better yet, egg them into charging upslope, and fire the mahónn as they
pass through it.
The captain spoke up,  If it does no more than afford us time it will be much,
my Lord King.
Reacher turned back to them.  We have only some minutes, he warned;
 therefore, let us do this thing with all speed.
Prepared in the form of mahónn, the Dreamdrowse wasn t effective until burned.
Still, Van Duyn and the others tore strips of cloth and masked themselves
against the dust they would raise sowing their bizarre seed. It was stored in
long, thin tubes of canvas. Holding one end of a sack, they slit a corner at
the opposite end and cantered along, shaking Earnai in among the tufts of
grass, losing little to the wind. There were a dozen sacks in all, the area s
entire refined product of  rescue for this growing season. The captive
couldn t bear to watch; he sat rocking and wailing with the hem of his robe to
his eyes. At the bottom of the slope, sheltered by rocks, Reacher and fifty
men waited to bait the trap.
Van Duyn finished, gave the command and sped back up the hill. The American
and Reacher s captain crouched and marked time.
They d barely made it. The Southwastelanders formation, less disciplined than
was the northern habit, appeared. It had extended itself in the course of a
hard ride; Reacher had counted on that. He slammed down his visor, dropped his
lance and charged, leading the way, but left it to his men to take up the war
cry. The Wolf-Brother and his little wedge of armored men hewed into the
southerners left flank, throwing dozens of them down with their first
strikes. Then they fell in among the surprised desert men with swords, maces
and cavalry picks. There was the wild, random exchange of blows. From the
crest of the hill Van Duyn watched sunlight flicker on metal and heard the
screams of the wounded and dying. The Freegaters had gotten to close quarters
before the Occhlon could use their maneuverability, and Reacher s strongly
armored men prevailed.
But more Southwastelanders came up quickly behind the first. The King gave his
trumpeter a yell. Retreat blew, and Reacher raced from the fray, his
standard-bearer and trumpeter close after. They swept up the hill, their
horses still fresh. Only a handful of desert men gave immediate chase; few
really knew what had happened.
When they topped the hill, the men of Freegate turned and gave battle again.
The captain spurred up in support, with the other northerners. While a milling
skirmish broke out beside the way station, the rest of the Occhlon regrouped
at the foot of the hill, and followed. Van Duyn noticed the southern banner
for the first tune, a black scorpion on a crimson field, the device carried by
Ibn-al-Yed, the sorcerer who d died during the battle of the Hightower.
Reacher slid from his saddle and took the bow and fire-arrows that had been
readied. He took his first arrow, with its collar of oil-soaked straw tied by
wetted gut, and lit it from a fire-pot. He nocked, drew until the nock lay
under his right eye, sighted and released in smooth series. There were three
more arrows prepared, burning. Before the first had landed, he d fired them
all. Downslope, they thudded in among the clumps of sun-browned grass,
scattering embers.
Smoke appeared, the wind nurturing it, as Reacher completed his pattern with [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]