“Blood, blood everywhere. Blood singing from mangled corpses swimming in red.”
(The Lore of the Night 1:6)The hall filled up quickly. Wendy stood in front of the Indigo Bench. She could not sit. After the clattering of hundreds of people entering the room died down silence swept into the room like a brisk sea wind and held the room in militarized attention. Wendy let the shrill screams of Miamm, creeping ever closer, fill out the vacuum which the silence had created.
The screams smelled of fear. Maybe, it was the stench of the silence. Regardless, Wendy let the sounds and smells permeate throughout the Templar’s Room. She could see Patre scanning the room. He studied each situation carefully. Measured every possible outcome. They had that in common. He was her logical sounding board. Together they crafted masterpieces from the bare scraps of social interactions but his was a world of politics; a world where one’s word counted. P Patre lifted his eyebrows at Wendy. Wendy shifted her wait in acknowledgment.
Wendy North’s gaze wandered towards Marθia who thoughtfully touched her lips in the back of the room. Marθia knew what was coming. She was near the Avanna delegation. Wendy’s eyes smiled when saw Marθia’s other hand. It rested playfully on Denier Zunig’s hip. Marθia was a survivor. She had been since she was a little girl. She was action emblazed in intelligence. She had socked Wendy in the face when they argued the first time. Different times. A different age.
Marθia nodded at her. Wendy didn’t have a plan. She was caught without a plan for the first time in a long time and she was uncomfortable. She always had a plan. She always had a plan even for the unexpected. This was unexpected. She didn’t have a plan. In fact, she had turned desperately in her mind to The Gatherings. She tried to remember anything in the sacred writings to help her. As specific as the writings were, they were also very vague. Details filled the pages but they did not have anything to do with the North or, for that matter, anywhere else other than the South. She could remember no writings that mentioned the Dark Night beyond the South.
As she looked at the crowd waiting for her words, the edges of a plan were forming in her mind. Marθia nodded again. It would be Marθia on this, not Patre. Patre had not said a word but Wendy looked at him and shook her head. We cannot afford subtlety.
Wendy scanned the room, once more, taking in the uncomfortable silence overpowered by the rising wailing. She raised one hand and let it hang in an unfinished gesture.
“We are under attack,” Wendy paused trying to see the edges of the plan forming in the periphery of her mind.
A murmur broke out and from the back, Denier shouted, “who is attacking us?”
Wendy did not hesitate, “by an enemy that will overpower us no matter what we do.”
Another member of the Avanna delegation shouted, “that sounds like cowardice.”
Wendy looked at the servants she had commanded to stay at the front of the sweaty mass of people, “have any of you,” waving her hand in an expansive manner, “spoken to the people on the streets?” She let the question hang against the terrifying sounds in the background. She looked at the servants, “speak, tell us what the people who walk without guards, the people in the streets and farms, are saying.”
Eloi hesitated and said softly, “there is fear — .”
Wendy interrupted, “speak loudly. Let them hear the people speak.”
Eloi began again, louder, more confidently, “the people from the farms. The ones who survived. They are scared. They say very little and what they do say is indiscernible. There is real fear in their eyes. This is no normal enemy. The women have left their children behind. Came into the city only holding rags. One had a small child’s arm in her hand. The whole city has moved closer to the wet city.”
Eloi paused, and people began to murmur. Wendy saw disbelieve in their eyes. They were too busy with their elections and banquets to grasp the magnitude of the coming menace. They had grown complacent in the peace of the last couple of decades.
Candida, the servant Wendy had originally addressed, spoke up, “listen, they have entered the city. There are fires burning in the fog. People are scared, displaced.”
“Who, who are they? This invisible menace? From where do they hail?” Denier shouted.
Before Wendy could speak, Sarah one of the servants, yelled back, “while you sit here questioning our reports, people are being ripped apart — torn to pieces. Blood has started running downhill. Listen to the screams, the groans.”
A pall fell over the muttering again.
Wendy had no other choice. Her plan was coming into focus. It was the only option left to save as many people as possible even if it meant a disastrous outcome for herself and friends. It wouldn’t be a Marθia plan either.
“Gather up your loved ones. Send a message across Miamm. The bridges will be restored and the gates will remain open for the next two hours. At that time, the bridges will be drawn and the gates sealed. We act now not for glory, not for politics, and not for foreign interests. We act now for Indigo Isle and her people. We act for survival. Send a message across the Isle, let everyone find a place to hide and hide.”
“This is cowardice,” shouted Denier again, “Avanna would never sanction this.”
Wendy said fiercely, “Avanna does not command here, I do. If this is cowardice than you can stay outside the gates.” Then speaking to the crowd who understood what the Evacuation Plan meant for Wendy said, “you are dismissed prepare the Keep for a siege. The Evacuation Plan is now in motion.”
The crowd excited in a hushed silence, but they left quickly. Two hours was a short time for such a demanding exercise. Marθia moved to the front of the room as Wendy descended the stage. Wendy could read on Marθia what she was going to ask. Patre stayed put. He allowed Wendy to walk over.
When the room was empty and the doors were closed Marθia said, “Hazel is not in the Keep.” It was a statement, but it had the self-doubt of a question.
Wendy nodded and turned to Patre allowing him to voice his concerns, “there is no exit strategy here.”
Wendy nodded again and said nothing. She had nothing to say. Patre was right and Marθia was pretty sure Hazel was out of the city. Patre walked up the bench and went around it. He headed to the window and grabbed the drapery resentfully. He threw the draperies open and let the fog enter. The fog was a dense wall in the night.
Finally, he said absentmindedly, “there is no exit strategy anyway. Not with this fog. Not with this sarding prolonged night.”
Wendy rubbed her eyes, “The plan is to survive. This is what the sacred writings call the Dark Night. There is no fighting it. In the South, they crawl underground. Let us crawl.”
Wendy took Marθia’s hand and squeezed it hard. Marθia knew what she must do in the next two hours before the doors closed. She left. Patre walked down from the windows, leaving them open, and escorted Wendy to her room. He would help her bring what she needed down to the cellars. They would be evacuating Wendy and her staff to the watery floors under the keep. Probably to their graves.