Ben offered: “We’ve more or less come to the conclusion that the Sword-bearer is probably down there. What do you say, do we go after his Sword again?”
They debated it a little, and Ben’s tentative effort to lift the trap discovered it to be locked somehow from below. Mark eventually decided it would be better to block the trap, for the time being.
It was not hard to find the proper materials for the job of blocking the trapdoor. The pyramidal pile of defensive rocks, in the busy hands of Mark and Ben, was soon being transferred right on top of it.
“There,” Mark grunted some time later, setting the last rock in place atop the reconstructed pile, and pausing to wipe sweat from his face. “You might be able to push that trap open from below now, but I doubt there’s another man anywhere who could manage it.”
Ben squinted at the pyramid of stones and shook his head. “I wouldn’t care to try.”
The three on the roof got through the day, taking turns napping in the shade of the lookout’s shelter. As old soldiers, they were all accustomed to not thinking about food for long intervals, and otherwise they were comfortable enough for the time being.
The patience of experience saw them through the day.
The night began with the three people on the roof taking turns at watchful listening and rest. It was about two hours before dawn when the enemy made an almost silent attempt to put a new ladder into place upon the upper end of the external stair. Lady Yambu happened to be on watch at the time. Listening attentively and timing her moves carefully, she put another rock neatly over the edge. This time the Sword of Force was evidently not on hand to fend it off. The missile fell for almost the full height of two men before it struck something. There was a muffled impact, followed by a fading, wailing cry, as of a man departing under the full acceleration of gravity. There followed the faint but rapid sounds of scurrying feet going back down the stairs. Then silence reigned again.
Early in the night there had been a discussion among the leaders of Honan-Fu’s assault force as to whether they should try to recruit Draffut to pull some of their boats into position for the final attack. In the end it was decided that they should all row themselves into position, leaving Draffut to do whatever he thought best to help them in his own way. The Lord of Beasts had indicated that he would do something, but perhaps because he did not trust their human councils he had kept his exact intentions to himself until the flotilla of constabulary boats were ready to put out into the lake.
Zoltan watched from a distance as the Lord of Beasts left the lake and moved up into the hills, his head overtopping half the trees he passed. Draffut passed out of Zoltan’s sight for a while, and when he returned he was carrying the stripped trunk of a pine tree that had been twice taller than himself. When he came down among the people again they could smell the aromatic sap oozing from the torn bark.
Draffut announced to Zoltan and those near him that this was going to be his scaling ladder.
The boats did not begin to move into their final positions for the assault until about midnight. Honan-Fu’s planning allowed several hours for them all to get into position. The idea was to put men ashore simultaneously on all sides of the island, getting ready to assail every part of the castle’s perimeter at once.
Knowing just where Draffut planned to land, Zoltan could see the Beastlord wade ashore, for the moment undiscovered by the castle’s lookouts. The towering figure emerged from the water on the spit of sand that extended from the island’s northern end, and before the enemy had spotted him, he was running toward the castle. When he was within reach of the wall that towered over him, the Lord of Beasts wedged the base of his tree trunk into the sand, and leaned the upper end against the castle wall, which it slightly overtopped.
At this point shouts of warning, cries that trembled on the verge of being screams of terror, went up from Wood’s human lookouts. Draffut responded to them at once, with the most bloodcurdling bellow he could produce. In the next moment he was swarming up his improvised ladder, and a moment after that he was crouched apelike atop the thickness of the wall.
The sentries who had been manning that portion of the wall were there no longer, having delayed not a second in getting out of Draffut’s way. There were a few more, now standing paralyzed with terror at a little distance, and Draffut waved his arms at them and bellowed again, effectively frightening them away.
Now he could get down to work. Wrapped around his body under his thick fur Draffut was wearing a couple of rope ladders, fabricated by the women of Triplicane in twenty-four hours of intensive work. In a moment the Beastlord had looped an end of one of these ladders over a merlon on the nearest parapet, then tossed the rest of the ladder out over the wall, so that the other end, if its length had been correctly calculated, would now be trailing on the ground.
He trusted that the people in the boats were already responding to his noise, and that by now the first troops of the landing were no more than moments from the beach.
Moving rapidly along the top of the wall, edging past a slender watchtower already abandoned by its defenders, Draffut disposed of his second rope ladder in the same manner as the first, and at a distance of some thirty meters from it.
As he was engaged in this operation, an arrow flew at him from somewhere, and stuck in a fringe of his heavy fur, almost between his eyes. It would be too much to expect that he could frighten all of the enemy away, and now some of them were waking up, regaining at least a minimum of courage. It was time for him to see what he might be able to accomplish at ground level, before his advantage of surprise and shock was entirely dissipated.
He let himself over the inner surface of the castle’s thick outer wall, hung briefly by his hands, and then dropped into a courtyard. The shock of his huge weight dropping on the bones of his legs and feet was tremendous, but he was almost immune to internal injury of any kind. The powers that enabled him to heal others worked almost automatically within his own body.
From the courtyard where he had landed, a small postern gate opened through the outer wall. It was defended by some guards, and Draffut, three times as tall as a man, moved boldly toward them. He was able to frighten away this gate’s defenders with another bellow and a blow of his fist against the wall near them, making the stones quiver. Then he sprawled on his belly to get a good look at the gate. There was an inner gate, a simple affair of wood reinforced with iron bars, and easy enough to pull open. When this was done he lay there groping with one hand beyond the inner gate, into the deep penetration of the wall, until he reached an outer gate and could punch it open too. Now he had provided yet another means of entrance for the attackers.
Meanwhile more arrows were sinking into his fur. And a javelin, hurled by some unseen hand, flew near Draffut as he rolled over and got to his feet again. He looked about him. There were no more gates here to be broken open, but there, at about the second floor level, a stony bartizan pierced with archers’ slits looked out over what would otherwise have been a blind expanse of exterior wall. If those openings were enlarged sufficiently, they would provide another means of ingress once the people outside could get a ladder of modest length into position.
Thrusting a finger into one after another of the archer’s slits, Draffut willed power into his hand. The stones softened, and one by one the openings dilated until he could pass his whole hand through each of them. The ancient power of the Lake of Life was working in the Beastlord still, and it was capable of temporarily animating even the very stones of a castle wall.
A small swarm of arrows stung his back. Turning round, he was unable to spot his assailants, who were keeping under cover as much as possible, but he did behold a much more welcome sight. The troops of Honan-Fu, in green and gold, were already in small numbers atop the wall where Draffut had just strung up the ladders. More were coming up the ladders all the time, but the attackers were not maintaining their foothold unopposed; already the defenders in red and gray were coming out in comparable numbers to meet them, and the fight was beginning briskly.