Chapter Eight

30 Newthaw, YK 54

This was it. This was the day he had anxiously awaited for the last two weeks. This was the day Private Benji Littlehawk would fall flat on his face.

Jimmy woke and climbed out of bed with a rising feeling of elation. Though the men had suddenly become infinitely cooperative, they still had no weapons, no real training, no sense at all of what they were facing. And Robin was…Robin.

Grinning hugely, Jimmy dressed rapidly and left his room, striding gaily down the corridor to the bunkroom.

"All righty, boys, today's your lucky—"

Jimmy stopped. There was no one there.

Oh, no. Now what have they done?

A very sharp pin thrust itself into Jimmy's mood, which took a sudden nosedive. Trying to hold out hope, the young lieutenant raced to the mess hall, but the men were not there, either. In fact, there was nothing there. Cold dread wrapped itself around his chest, squeezing so tight he could hardly breathe. Jimmy crossed over to the kitchens, but there was no one there, nothing there. No food. No water. No supplies at all.

A single word bounced around in Jimmy's head, a word that spelled doom for every dream he had ever had, blocking out every other thought, every other feeling, blocking out everything.

And the word was mutiny.

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Lieutenant Robin Smith rode at the head of his cavalry. He had left the infantry behind at the Post, certain he would not need them for the task at hand. He tried to focus on his mission, the one his dear friend Jimmy had given him, but the thought of battle, even a staged fight, made his blood sing in eager anticipation. There had been far too little action in the last few years, and even the thought of a wily, unpredictable enemy commander could not dampen his mood.

Fort Drake loomed ahead, a hulking giant set squarely in the middle of the most traveled pass from Devlinton to Shurthil, the only true city the Killeen'ghymn held. Robin had never been here before, but he had heard plenty of stories. Fort Drake had long been the first line of defense against the savages, but the Killeen'ghymn had not engaged in any major campaigns for the two or three years, and the historical landmark had fallen into near-ruins. Robin would have thought Jimmy might have revived the old dump, but his friend's letters had held a note of desperation evident enough that he was not surprised to find the walls overgrown with ivy and mold and the gates so warped they did not close properly. This was going to be a walk in the park, and all Robin had to do was strike fear into a handful of green recruits.

Especially a certain private, one Benji Littlehawk.

Ah, well. Perhaps this would not be such a challenge as Robin had predicted. Nevertheless, he intended to give it his all.

To this end, Robin lifted his left arm, and the score and more of soldiers behind him came to an abrupt halt. Tension sparked like static in the air. Horses snorted and pawed against their tight rein. Men hardly breathed in the still morning air.

"All right, boys. Let's go!" Robin swept his arm down.

Given free rein at last, the horses leapt forward, a single tide of warm bodies. The men drew their swords, as they had been instructed beforehand, and lifted their voices in a harsh, ululating cry.

Robin reached the gates first. The gap between the twin wooden panels was not so large as it had seemed from afar, and his horse shied and reared. Its iron-shod hooves pawed the air, then slammed into the doors, which swung open, unlocked and unbarred.

This is too easy.

Men poured through the breached defense, filling the courtyard with their showy ruckus. Robin wheeled his mount in the center of the square, suddenly confused.

There was no one here.

A single person emerged from the barracks, a familiar person. Robin waved him over.

"What's going on, Jimmy? I thought we were to engage in war games, not…this."

Jimmy shook his head and flicked his fingers back through his short hair. "Robin…"

He looked as though he had more to say, but an ominous rumbling cut him off just then, and an instant later, the gates crashed closed behind the last man. The ground began to shake, and a series of thuds, bangs, and what sounded like minor explosions assaulted the eardrums of everyone present.

When the dust had settled, Robin swung from his horse and raced over to the gates. He pushed, but they would not budge. Bewildered, he turned to face his men, his eyes locking with Jimmy's from across the yard.

"We're locked in."

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"Yes! We got them!"

Hawk grinned over his shoulder at Pyp. "Of course we did! I told you it would work out fine!"

Jaime surveyed the wreckage below them with a sort of grim satisfaction before turning to regard Hawk speculatively. "For once, Littlehawk, I think you might have done something right."

Victor, Gary, and Tobe came running up to the place where the rest of the men crouched, all three panting heavily and covered with dust. Gary offered a brilliant smile. "Success!" He punched a fist into the air.

Hawk stood and clapped his friend on the shoulder. "Well done!" Now all they had to do was wait. Eventually, Python and his pal would realize that they weren't getting out. After all, the twelve of them had spent every possible moment of the last two weeks engineering the mighty avalanche Victor, Gary, and Tobe had just set off, angling everything just right, leaving just enough support…and their efforts had paid off big-time. But they couldn't have done it without the help of Flyn. Hawk turned now to the young, bright-eyed wizard.

"Thanks, Flyn, for all your help."

The small man beamed. Hawk had recruited him upon his arrival a few days ago with a message from Python's superior. It had been his magic that had ensured that everything had been properly timed, and, once Smith surrendered, it would be his responsibility to transport the rocks and boulders blocking the entrance to Fort Drake to someplace else. "Glad I could help!" Flyn looked flushed with excitement.

Hawk turned to address the rest of the gathered men. "All right. Everybody remember the plan?"

There came a general murmur of assent.

"Now, remember, everything has to be absolutely perfect. Even you, Billy."

Billiy nodded once, but did not respond. He had not spoken much since Hawk had revealed his plans to defeat Robin Smith. Life had been so much more enjoyable recently.

"All right, let's move out!"

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Jimmy stared fixedly at the pile of rubble that blocked the only entrance to and from Fort Drake. For a moment, he found himself incapable of wrapping his mind around the implications of this new development. Then he laughed.

Robin tossed him a worried look, but Jimmy didn't care. He laughed as he had not in months, laughed so hard he cried. They probably thought he was crazy. Let them! Maybe he was. He had never imagined his plans would work out so far beyond successful. Robin crossed over to Jimmy and caught his shoulders, giving him a little shake.

"Jimmy, what's going on? What is the meaning of this?"

"Meaning?" Jimmy gasped between fits of laughter. "The meaning…is…you lose!"

For a long moment, Robin just stared blankly. Then he blinked and his face began to turn red. "What are you talking about, man?"

Jimmy struggled valiantly to rein in his merriment. "I woke this morning to find them gone—every last man. And they took the supplies with them. All of them. There's nothing left here but you and I, Robin. You've lost. You've lost to a dozen untrained, untried buffoons with no weapons, no resources, nothing but their wits…and they beat you!"

Robin went from red to pasty-white in an instant. He called for one of his men to check the status of the food stores. The soldier returned a moment later with the news that there were no food stores. "Fates above…"

Another of Robin's men approached just then, one of the two the lieutenant had set to find out what had caused the sudden landslide.

"Sir…There's a man at the gate, sir. Says his name is Benji Littlehawk. He's demanding our unconditional surrender, sir."

Robin closed his eyes and swayed. For a moment, Jimmy feared he might feint. Then he shook his head, disbelief scrawled across his expressive features. "Fates above…"