Early the following day, Zarsan and Florian entered Luh for the first time in almost eleven years while Keegan headed for Ludrig Castle. The work that the Luhans and Ludrig had done here was remarkable. All the harbours were fully restored and businesses were doing well. The two men stood in a square of public gardens and Zarsan let the memories flood through his head. The last time he'd stood in this garden, it had been in front of Elias Bright's house and Harper had been inside nursing their newborn baby.
"Rest well, Elias." Zarsan knelt on the grass before a flowerbed. "This fence is a disgrace. I'll get right on it." He smiled, then stood up while Florian paid his respects. Word spread quite quickly that Zarsan had returned to Luh and that caused quite a bit of excitement.
"Zarsan?" He had to alter his eye level to look at the bent old woman standing by his horse.
"Nanny Crook!" Zarsan knelt on the ground once more, in order to speak to the old nurse's face. "This place has changed since you told me off in that garden."
"Noisy man. You and him over there. I remember you." Nanny pointed at Florian. "Poor Elias. I tried to get them out of there, I really did. He was discussing some sort of schedule in there with his elders. Elders!" The old woman laughed. "All Elias' cronies were elderly, me included. Ah it's good to see you lad. I knew you'd come back one day."
"I should have come sooner, Nanny. Ludrig's done this himself and it's shameful that I didn't come and contribute." Zarsan said regretfully.
"If I had good news about Harper and the child, I'd have walked all the way to Agalia to tell you. No one had much definite news about anyone. It was just complete chaos and slaughter." Nanny said sadly. Zarsan just nodded. Despite his urge to run around yelling that Harper and Zari were alive in Ludrigshires, common sense had prevailed. He needed Ludrig's presence to look after his family when he returned to Agalia. He also needed the situation in Agalia resolved completely before he produced Harper and Zari. "I'm so sorry about Lady Kez. She had a beautiful reputation down here."
"A well deserved reputation. Thank you Nanny. She was a very fine lady and she's a big miss to many people." Zarsan told her.
"And the little Lady?"
"Kezia. She's as beautiful as her mother was."
"Zarsan, the Inn's organised." Perrin had stayed to offer his services and Zarsan was far more approachable than Ludrig. Keegan must have been exactly like his mother.
"Take care, Nanny. I'm quite sure we'll see each other again." Zarsan stood up.
"Yes and don't leave it ten years. I can still dish out a scolding that would blister paintwork, Emperor or not." Nanny Crook winked at Zarsan and hobbled away.
"Is Ben Foley still in the Inn?" Zarsan asked Perrin.
"The very same. He was asking after you, Florian. Something about trampling on his turnips while dressed in his wife's nightgown? I'm intrigued." Perrin and Zarsan both laughed.
"I'd forgot about that. Why is he moaning on? Have you ever tried to trample a turnip? It can't be done, I'm telling you. All I ended up with was two sprained ankles." Florian pointed out.
"Hardly the point, Florian. Why were you doing it and why do it in Mrs Foley's nightdress. More to the point how in the Creek did you end up with her nightdress? I've seen her. I think she's probably Luh's secret weapon." Perrin shuddered.
"Don't be crass." Florian sniffed. "That was some party. We were all celebrating the birth of Zari. Remember Zarsan? You paid for the ale then went home." He rolled his eyes. "I was dancing on the turnips. No, I don't know why. The nightdress was on the clothesline and to suggest otherwise is just ... just ... strange."
Foley's Inn was one of the very few buildings in Luh that was untouched by the sacking. Ludrig reckoned even the Golon weren't that disrespectful. The sight that met them in the common room had them roaring with laughter. Ben Foley was standing behind the bar wearing his wife's nightdress.
Harper strode around the Castle hallway and Keegan had a headache. He'd only been in Ludrigshires for an hour and Harper didn't seem to grasp the concept of rest or food.
"When can we go? Has he changed? I think not. What did he say when you told him? Did you tell him that Zari looks like him? What about all our books? He has to read them all. Did you tell him ... "
"Harper you're melting my brain." Keegan smiled and stood up. "You can ask him all this yourself soon. Where's Zari?"
"Dressing his horse. He's been in there for hours." Harper said.
"Do you mean grooming it? He dresses himself, Harper, not the horse." Keegan laughed. "I still think you should get on the back of mine."
"The trap will be fine, thank you." Harper said ruefully. "I can't believe this is happening, Keegan. Eleven years."
"I don't think he can believe it either. Oh come on Ludrig, you old ... "
"Fart." Ludrig finished, coming through the doors. "News for Zarsan, Keegan, rather unexpected news. That shower of Easterners up by their north gate have moved. Instead of conceding or retreating they're making their way north. What does that suggest?"
"Lafi and Waylon are alive and up north somewhere." Harper answered so Keegan closed his mouth. "Jullit?"
"I'd say so yes." Ludrig nodded. "The worry is that they'll replete their troops from Jullit's army."
"Not if they're intercepted before they get there. Lafi and Waylon will be isolated." Harper pointed out. "Is it still a bad idea for you to get involved? I just mean a little tiny bit, not a big marauding assault. Teeny tiny bit? In fact, if we get the details right, no one will see them and no one will know it was you."
"That's because it wasn't me, it was you. Get on with it." Ludrig scowled at Harper who smiled brightly.
"Zarsan gets some of his soldiers to herd the other soldiers north and to block off their path back to Agalia. You can have your archers on the cliffs, hiding behind the ridges, and they'll be trapped. I know Zarsan won't want soldier attacking soldier but the cost in lives is dragging on and on and on. It'll flare up dramatically if that division gets to Jullit." Harper reasoned.
"Are you sure Jullit will side with East Agalia?" Keegan asked.
"It's Agalia, Keegan. Jullit is part of the Agalian Empire and its obligations are to Agalia as a whole. The eastern army is Agalian." Ludrig shrugged. "So this archer business. Who's idea was that?"
"Mendir Ludrig's." Harper replied. "That'll be your great grandfather."
"I've read about him." Ludrig nodded. "A fight a day or he was a bad mood."
"Oh I wonder who he's like?" Keegan rolled his eyes. "You've been studying our ancestry Harper?" He asked in surprise.
"Just the good bits, like the battles with Agalia." Harper nodded.
"Girl after my own heart. Keegan, you're just a girl. Carry on Harper." Ludrig nodded.
"The Shiremen were the only ones skilled enough on horseback to negotiate the dry and stony ground. That meant they could get up the west coast quite quickly. Zarsan told me that the ground on the west coast is the same type as the cliffs and Mendir will have known this too. He sent combat soldiers to draw the Agalians out to the north, then the Archer Elites peppered them from the cliffs. Even the best horsemen in Agalia couldn't match the Shiremen. It was impossible for them to get onto the cliff tops. Mendir knew his terrains."
"I'll discuss it with Zarsan." Ludrig decided. "It would have to be vitally discrete and I'm not noted for that. I suppose you could lead it, Keegan, seeing as Harper will be busy. So are you going to sit here talking like a man just to show Keegan up? Go and get Zari. Your man's waiting in Luh."
Emperors And Kings