|Chapter 20: Garroting Deep|
The Warward had to retreat. It was a grim and silent struggle. After the first hungry yell of the attack, Fleshharrower's army fought with dumb, maniacal ferocity. And the warrirors had no strength for shouts or cries. Only the tumult of feet, and the clash of weapons, and the moans of the maimed and dying, and the barking of orders, punctuated the mute engagement. Yet Lord Mhoram felt these clenched sounds like a deafening din; they seemed to echo off his dread. The effort to ignore the battle and concentrate on his work squeezed sweat out of his bones, made his pulse hammer like a prisoner against his temples.
When traditional names and invocations failed to bring the Forestal, he began using signs and arcane symbols. He drew pentacles and circles on the grass with his staff, set fires burning within them, waved eldritch gestures over them. He murmured labyrinthian chants under his breath.
All were useless. The silence of the Deep's gloom sounded like laughter in his ears.
Yet the sounds of killing came steadily nearer. All the valiance of the warriors was not enough; they were driven back.
Troy heard the retreat also. At last he could no longer contain himself. "Dear God, Mhoram!" he whispered urgently. "They are being butchered."
Mhoram spun on Troy, raging. "Do you think I am unaware?" But when he beheld the Warmark, he stopped. He could see Troy's torment. The sting of sweat made the Warmark's burns flame garishly; they throbbed with pain. His hands groped aimlessly about him, as if he were lost. He was blind. For all his power to plan and conceive, he was helpless to execute even the simplest of his ideas.
Lord Mhoram wrenched his anger into another channel. With its strength, he made his decision.
"Very well, my friend," he breathed heavily. "There are other attempts to be made, but perhaps only one is perilous enough to have some hope of success. Stand ready. You must take my place if I fall. Legends say that the song I mean to sing is fatal."