The Lost, Part 1
Château de Selvilles
36 Òreseur, 596 Année de Paix
The raven was a black speck against the blindingly white snow. It approached from the west, beating its wings hard against the frigid wind. There was only one source of a raven from the west — that direction contained nothing but the desolate Déchirét mountains and three or four tiny hamlets. The raven was from le Fort du Poissot, one of the two dark headquarters of the Mountain Guard. Jean-Pierre Challant stood atop the rookery tower and waited for its arrival.
In general, the Mountain Guard operated with a high degree of independence. While Jean-Pierre had supreme authority over the Guard, it was perfectly capable of running itself and he rarely interfered, preferring to allow the expert Captains work as they pleased. Every first day of the month, two ravens would arrive — one from each fort — containing a terse briefing on the Guard’s activities for the past forty days. That was the extent of the usual communication.
But today was not the first of the month. It was possible, Jean-Pierre thought, that Commander D’Alagin, leader of le Fort du Poissot, had sent this raven five days early. But it was not like D’Alagin to be imprecise. Something unusual had occurred.
The raven was closer now, and approaching fast. Beside Jean-Pierre, a young servant stepped forward with a leather glove around his hand. Quickly and nimbly, the dark bird landed on the glove and extended a leg, tied around which was a small scroll. The servant fumbled with the scroll for a moment before untying it and handing it over.
“Merci,” said Jean-Pierre, and unfurled the parchment.
He walked as he read, heading down the winding staircase that led directly to his study. The flickering torchlight cast strange shadows across the page.
Monsieur le Comte,
As you may be aware, the Mountain Guard regularly escorts caravans across the mountains to and from Baungrvuor. Typically, these caravans are large and well-defended enough to require only a handful of Guardsmen; we have not lost a caravan in over a century, though several have been attacked by the Mountain Dwellers.
The caravan due to arrive last week, however, has not arrived. Scouts sent across the pass to look for it returned emptyhanded; there is simply no trace of the caravan. The mountain pass is well traveled and my men are experts. I find it unlikely that this loss is a freak accident. My lord, I am forced to conclude that the Mountain Dwellers have become capable of taking down our caravans. I have dispatched additional patrols to protect border villages but I seek your counsel before proceeding any further to deal with this development.
I await your reply.
Jean-Pierre furrowed his brow. The Mountain Dwellers had never posed much of a threat in the past, a well-organized and disciplined military presence had made sure of that. But D’Alagin came from a long line of commanders and was a competent leader. Something must have changed with the Dwellers.
His immediate thought was the damned Ganche. Those idolatrous tribes from the south of the Sejíre had hated Dántaine since before recorded history, and it would not be beneath them to sell weapons to the Dwellers simply out of spite toward the people of Ántou.
It was no certainty. But no matter. Jean-Pierre would find out for himself.
With the ring of a bell, a page appeared at the door, bowing deeply.
“Summon the Commandant,” Jean-Pierre said. “Muster an army. We are going to war with the Mountains.”