It was a nothing town.
Some sheep pens, a general store, well-wrought houses and a good deep well. It was Victor’s home, and he loved it fiercely.
The blacksmith stood next to the stockade, a few paces into the dark so the torch would not rob his eyes of sight. The wood was still green, hastily hewn from the nearby pines. It was ramshackle, quickly slapped together — it made Victor’s hands ache to see such shoddy workmanship, but they’d had little time, and the crude fence had helped them turn the first dozen assaults. As if the green pines had kept a little of the love of the land in their bark, and were just as determined as Victor and the people of Starmhill to weather the vicious assault that came once, twice …sometimes three times a night.
“Vic. Vic!” The portly shepherd Kanley called from behind the stockade. “You see anything?”
“No. Nothing.” the blacksmith switched his two-handed sledge to the other shoulder but did not move.
“Maybe they’ll give us a night off. Three hours til dawn and nothing tonight.” Kanley said. Victor heard the sound of scratching. The boy was still worrying at that vicious rash on his neck, the creature’s hands had left blisters and boils even as it died. Kanley’s friend Jak had taken the beast in the back with a spear, a relieved grin on his long-jawed face. That was three nights ago, Jak had been dead for nearly twenty hours now.
Victor took a long look down the stockade. Tired men and women moved their patrols with the half-stutter shamble of sleepwalkers. He had tried to enforce strict sleeping schedules during the daytime, but with the constant grieving and the endless fear — he himself had found sleep an elusive phantom.
We can’t last much longer. Two days, three — four at the outside?
At the barest edge of the torch’s light, he could just make out the slow turn of the giant floating obelisk — Starmhill’s one claim to fame. It moved in and out of shadow, as careless as a leaf floating in a stream.
“Vic, you need to get some sleep.” A different voice, a younger voice — an irritating voice. Della Akson. The blacksmith turned in anger, to see her young face approaching through the narrow opening in the stockade. She wore a crude black-iron sword on her shoulder.
“Girl, I told you to guard the church.”
“There’s plenty of people to stand guard. That crazy old wizard, and the book-girl — they’re driving me plain witless with their rambling talk.” Della sqauared her shoulders and put her hands on her hips. Victor noticed that her left hand was inflamed and red, still swollen from the loss of her last three fingers. “And you need sleep most of any of us.”
“Della …you are too young to be on the front lines, you can be most helpful where I told-”
“I’m the best sword-swinger you got, Boss. Sad as it may be…I think it’s time you stop pretending otherwise.” the young girl’s face was stern and sure.
How old is Della now? Is the thirteen? Fourteen? Victor tried to think. Lord of the Crook, I’m so tired.
The blacksmith ran a weary hand down his face. He made himself smile at the girl. What a man can do, he should do …as Victor’s father always taught. “All right, Captain Akson – I guess you’re right about that. Why don’t you walk the stockade and make sure no one is nodding off. Splash a little -”
Victor’s words died in his throat. A snapping branch whipped his head into the darkness, and he saw it.
A tiny green flame, just a pinprick the size of a wyrefly. It was about to begin. Victor took his sledge in both hands and called down the lines.
“All right people — here we go, you know your jobs well, you’ve had plenty of practice these nights. We are Starmhill. We will hold them. WE ARE STARMHILL.”
The cry went up, ragged but strong down the green pine fence. Fewer voices than their had been, but enough. Victor prayed that there would be enough for tonight, tomorrow would have to wait.
The blacksmith’s cry died out and the defenders looked out into the darkness. The first prick of green light had become a field of green stars. Bright and shining and drawing closer.
For the first time this night, he heard it. Every night when they attacked, again and again ripping and tearing at the flesh and wood of his home — every time as they came, they sang. They sang the same song, merry and bright like a knife-cut.
“King of Glass, hear our prayer — King of Glass, take our gift — King of Glass, sing our song — King of Glass, blood and fire! Blood and Fire! Blood and Fire!”
The blacksmith went to work, and prayed with a sick heart. To hear this song again was agony, but he prayed to keep hearing it, for as many nights as his strength could stand to protect his home.