General Moira cursed under her breath as another boulder smashed into the city walls. They held, which was why she cursed.
“This is taking too damn long, we've been here for a week already,” she growled.
Her captain tried to soothe her, but his tone sounded more like a harassed wheedle, “their walls are too thick, my Lady. It will take time to surmount them.”
“I thought you had men in the walls. Defectors?”
“I believe they were found and killed, general.”
“Damn your spies. I told you they weren’t useful!” Espionage required subtlety and Moira was not a subtle woman. She simply stuck her sword in anyone who got in her way. But it was a great pain in the ass to stab someone behind a stone wall.
A commotion came from the eastern wall. Mora couldn't hear arrows being fired, but the air took on a distorted quality which told her someone was being shot at. She frowned. None of her men had been ordered to attack that wall yet. But as time went on, the small dot in the distance turned into a man on a horse. He rode fast, despite being hampered a bit by the arrow sticking out of his side.
The captain moved to investigate and came back leading an extremely pale looking man barely hanging onto his horse, “find a tent!”
Moira didn't wait for the stranger to get comfortable before she started in on him. The man struggled to keep up with her questions while the surgeon looked him over. The captain tried to slow her down, but she wasn't in the mood.
Finally, she grabbed the arrow in his side and twisted it. The man screamed and started blubbering, “you'd better give me something useful spy. I don't know why you defected, and I don't care. You might as well curl over and die right now to save me the trouble.”
“Wait, wait!” the man wailed, “I know something, I do!”
“Out with it then,” the general snapped.
“There is a wizard. A week to the west of here, in Grimloak Woods.”
“ I don't see how that helps me,” Mora said dangerously.
“A noble,” the man said, on the verge of panic, “I got him drunk and he told me a secret he was going to use to blackmail the wizard. You can do that! You can blackmail the wizard into breaking the walls!”
The captain looked thoughtful; he stroked his chin “there are a lot of things we could do with a wizard.”
Moira didn't like the woods. The trees were too close together, and she had to concentrate to keep her horse from straying off the narrow deer path. Who ever this wizard was, he seemed like he didn't want to be bothered. The locals had assured her, however, that he was extremely helpful to anyone who approached him. Moira didn't like the sound of him. She didn't like the idea of him. Who lived in the woods and helped people? Faeries, wisps and all manner of nonsense creatures who later got you lost in the tangle of trees until you starved to death.
Eventually, they reached a small cabin set in a clearing. There was a structure, true, but it was really little more than a bundle of sticks set against a cliff. Probably sheltering a cave. Mora and her men dismounted as the captain knocked on the door politely. Damn him. The general strode over and banged on the warped wood.
It was opened a second later by a young woman whose pretty face was framed by long, well cared for brown hair.
“You'll have to wait a minute. The wizard is busy,” she said, and closed the door.
Moira put her tongue in her cheek in annoyance, and pounded on the door again..., and again. She was about ready to kick it down when it opened again. A weathered looking man came out nervously, clutching something in a jar. He took one look at the soldiers and half ran into the woods. The impatient General pushed the door open further and strutted past the poor girl on the other side. She walked up to an old man sitting at a low table, pulled out a chair, and sat in it.
“I don't believe I have any business with soldiers,” the wizard said, leaning back in his chair.
“That's a pretty girl,” Mora said, “she's your...?”
“Wife,” the old man answered, “are you here about saddle sores? Foot rot? It's not the rainy season yet.”
“I'm here about a city. Treibor.”
“Ah! There is your problem then. It's a week east. Thank you for coming. I believe you know the way out.”
Mora gave him a foul look, “I know where it is. I can't crack it's walls. You're going to help me.”
“I don't kill,” the wizard said severely, “not now and not anytime in the future. Now I suggest you leave.”
“Or you'll do what?” Moira met his gaze and stood up.
“By all means, stay and find out,” the old man kept her gaze, but instead of standing, he simply relaxed more in his chair.
Mora turned away and walked out of the shack, her captain on her heels.
He spoke once they were outside, “I thought we were going to tell him we knew that...,”
“Shut up,” Moira said, “you just watch.”
She found the girl later by a stream, washing clothes. Just where she thought she would be. She purposely made noise as she approached her. The woman looked up, startled, and drew a necklace from her shirt.
“I warn you, I'm warded!” the young woman yelled.
“I'm not here to hurt you,” the general said.
The young woman looked nervous, magic ward or not, “well then.., what are you here for? Gregor said you might try to kidnap me. That didn't go so well for the last person.”
“She must have been pretty,” Moira said.
“What? Who?” The girl asked.
“Your daughter. The one you lost.”
The girl looked taken aback, “I... don't want to talk about her.”
“I heard she had your eyes. Your hair too.”
The wizard's wife hurriedly gathered the half washed clothes from the stream.
“I heard she looked exactly like you.”
“Stop it! Go away!”
“Did you decide you were going to take your mother's place before or after she died?” Moira asked quietly.
The girl stood stock still. She didn't look Moira in the eye, but the hardened woman could see the tears and the terrified expression.
“Did he know before, or after he had you in his bed? The way he looks at you, I'd guess before.”
The girl gave her a pitiful look, then said the words the heartless warrior had been waiting for, “you can't tell anyone, please! All he does is help people. That's all he wants to do. He was so sad and lonely. How could I watch him give everything then lose everything?”
The general twisted the knife, “why not? You can always make him another daughter.”
The poor girl looked ready to collapse, “they'll run him out if they know. That would break his heart all over again.”
“You already know what I'm going to say. Convince him to help me take Treibor, and I'll forget everything. I'll be back tomorrow.
She did go back the next day. Instead of knocking, she simply threw open the door. The wizard still sat in his chair behind the table. His daughter wife sat next to him, face red and streaked from crying. The wizard rubbed her back with his left hand, and his right rested on a travel bag. Moira smiled, “you and your... wife can share a horse.”
A week later, the city's walls still stood. They looked a little worse for wear, but still strong. Cracking them would take months. Starving the defenders out would take even longer. But the wizard stood on the hill with them, shading his eyes against the sun.
“I told you I don't kill,” he said, “if I'm going to do this, I do it my way.”
“I just want that city,” Moira said, leaning on her horse's neck.
The old man pointed, “ position your army to attack the city as if it had no walls.”
“Why?” Moira asked, curious.
“Because soon it won't,” the wizard said in an annoyed voice.
Moira felt a small rush of excitement. Magic was never something she trusted, and she didn't think about it often. But suddenly having it on her side? That was something she could get used to. She quickly conferred with her captains and sent them out onto the field. The catapults went silent for the first time in weeks as careful formations of soldiers took shape just out of arrow's reach.
The wizard had remained silent through all this. He stood there with his daughter, who still had that trapped, ashamed look on her face. He whispered something in her ear. But so far, he had been unable to make her seem any less miserable.
“Well, I'm waiting, wizard!” The general called as her army finished forming up.
The old wizard stepped away from his daughter and started waving his hands around and chanting. Moira almost felt disappointed, at first. Until he started glowing. Then she had to pull her horse's reins tight as the ground lurched below them. In the distance, a faint rumbling sound grew louder.
And then the walls started to sink. Slowly, like in a dream, the wall got smaller and smaller. The stone receded into the ground until an astonished Moira could clearly see the cityscape once hidden behind. She raised her sword and yelled, as did her captains and men on the field below. They charged forwards, but Moira hung back. She still had her mouth open in surprise. Not from the spectacle of the wall, but because when she had screamed, no sound had come out. She tried it again, but there was only silence. She turned towards the wizard. Both he and his wife were already on their horse, wheeling it about.
“Try telling anyone now! Ha!” The wizard shouted, pointing behind him.
Moira looked behind her, towards her army. They were almost in the city now. But something was wrong. Her army suddenly pulled up short. No, they hit something. With a shimmer, the wall reappeared. Mora opened her mouth to cry out, but no sound came. She looked behind her to see the wizard riding away with his daughter. Now in front of her, her army was being pulled to pieces in an unprepared direct assault on a fortified city. She sat on her horse, feeling fear for the first time in years.