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part one

Apeliotes Island

Candil strained her eyes, focusing on the horizon through narrow slits. Nothing. Nothing but the soft moonlight glimmering off the water.

With a gentle sigh she sat back against the wooden wall, contemplating for the thousandth time the tedium of the job. King Arthur had learned from the mistakes of the last attack on Apeliotes Island, and had since had a thick wall constructed around the entire perimeter of the isle. The wall was made of a cheap wood and very quickly pieced together, but it was vital to get it up as quickly as possible. The beacon system the wall operated was identical to the one employed by the British under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I; three look-outs stationed at each turret worked eight-hour shifts to ensure constant surveillance. If one of them spotted something, they would light the beacon in their turret. Once one beacon was lit, it would start a chain reaction as the look-outs in each turret lit their own beacons, alerting the islanders of an intruding presence. It was the same system which had warned the British of the arrival of the Spanish Armada in 1588. The British won the subsequent battle.

It may be an important job, but it was a thankless one. Candil didn’t regret volunteering for the role, since it did make her feel as if she were contributing something valuable to the cause, but she couldn’t imagine a more boring task. She currently had the night-shift. Fairies are not naturally nocturnal, and although she had been given ample time beforehand to adjust her body clock to the new pattern, she often had to work hard to prevent herself from dozing off on the job. Most nights her thoughts turned to her family, and in particular Henry. Regardless of his choices in life, he was her son, and she wanted nothing more than to help him get away from Gwythr.

Tonight would be one of those nights. The moon was only a slim crescent, but in the dark, still night it illuminated the battlements spectacularly. Strict blackout rules had been enforced since the Battle of Apeliotes Island in order to make them more difficult to spot at night, thus cutting the chance of an attack at that time. Glancing across at the next turret, Candil could just make out the dark, motionless form of Emma, her young face was indistinguishable in the darkness and the distance. So many innocent, gentle people had had the world blown apart in this war. With another little sigh, Candil turned her gaze back out towards the sea – and sat bolt upright.

That wasn’t moonlight, that little flickering ball. Moonlight was silver and solid; this was an artificial kind of orange, and danced in and out of focus like fire. Candil barely had time to focus on it before it vanished. Muscles tense, body rigid, she leant as far out over the wall as she dared, her keen eyes raking the sea for – there. There. Some sort of disturbance on the surface of the water, far away. A fish, or something more sinister? Candil hesitated only briefly before pulling a box of matches out of her pocket and fumbling inside it with numb, shaking fingers. There were no second chances in war.


“Start having the larger flying familiars ship the vulnerable over to the Castle. Get them to take a roundabout route; I don’t want anybody, anybody flying directly over Per-a’a Nakht’s army, understood?”

“Yes, sir!”

Arthur didn’t watch the young man spin on his heel and start back the way they’d come; he trusted his men to follow orders, and there were too many other groups requiring his attention. The lookouts had been quick to light their beacons but were now being too slow to extinguish them, and he’d already had to waste a few men on that particular errand. People were running in all directions, but he was confident at least that everyone knew the role they had to play; everyone moved with a sense of purpose, and nobody was panicking or causing a scene. As far as most of them were concerned, this was just another drill. Hopefully it would stay that way.

One man who understood the seriousness of the situation was Arthur’s closest friend, Joel. As the carpenter approached, the King took a moment to quickly scan the surrounding faces again. One person was missing. He felt a twinge of annoyance and turned to the nearest person – a boy of about eighteen who snapped immediately to attention – trying to keep his face and voice calm.

“Fetch Aura. And Mallos,” he added as an afterthought. The young man saluted and ran back to the village while Joel, who had overheard the exchange, expressed his opinion of gods who don’t show up to battles on time. “Let’s not jump to conclusions,” he told his friend sternly, having already jumped to the same conclusion himself.

The pair of them made their way swiftly towards the seafront, with Arthur occasionally shouting orders at people or pausing to soothe someone whose nerves had gotten the better of them. Despite this, they managed to get to the fortress at the northern-facing beach relatively quickly where the calmer, more experienced fighters were waiting as the first line of defence. If Set-Merut’s forces were strong enough and they succeeded in concentrating the Per-a’a Nakht soldiers through a narrow space, in theory the latter should never make it up the beach. However, Arthur was wary of a double attack and had ordered the lookouts to hold their positions across the island, as well as leaving a few soldiers stationed in the village in case anyone tried to fly in. Resting his hands on the edge of the wall, he gazed out across the empty ocean and frowned. No good. Between the darkness and a thick mist rolling in from the mainland, visibility beyond a few hundred yards out to sea was practically zero.

Whipping around, Arthur ordered two of the soldiers to shift one of the beacons closer to the wall and blinker its sides so that, when lit, it would give a concentrated beam of light into the area where the lookout had spotted something. They were still scrabbling around with the ropes when the young boy he’d sent off earlier came running back up.

“They’re gone, sir,” he panted breathlessly before the King could get a word out. “Just gone, both of ’em. Not anywhere. Nobody’s seen either of ’em since yesterday.”

“What about Blue?”

“Missing too, sir. Er,” he added with understandable hesitation, “Poppy’s here, sir.”

Joel seemed to read Arthur’s mind. “We can hold our ground without any divines,” he pointed out. “Our army is more than twice as strong as theirs. If we can bring their damn dragon down, we can deal with the rest easy enough.”

The truth of the words did nothing to settle the feeling of uneasiness in Arthur’s stomach. “Light the beacon,” he demanded.

His command was carried out with the swift efficiency he had come to expect from the island’s army. A clear beam of amber light stole across the ocean, illuminating the head of what must be an entire fleet of boats concealed in darkness and mist. Arthur lifted his telescope to his eye and, after a minute’s searching, felt his heart sink as his worst fears were confirmed. Silently, he handed the instrument to Joel and turned back towards the men, who were waiting with abated breath.

“It’s not a false alarm,” he said in clear, cool tones. “The enemy are close, and Gwythr is leading the attack.”


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