Lytica joined his brothers in prayer for two days. He sang with the others, head lowered around the tables of the dining hall.
“The southmen are coming!” came a voice from outside the doors.
Manfry looked up. “Lytica, with me.”
Of all the monks, Manfry chose him, one of the youngest. He could only assume the abbot acted from a sense of apprehension.
“Pray for us,” Manfry said.
The monks resumed their prayers, as Lytica accompanied him out of the monastery doors and into the courtyard.
“They are progressing nearer from the end of the plain, Abbot,” said a monk from on top of the wall.
Manfry nodded, as Lytica made for the armoury.
“No weapons, Brother.”
Lytica changed direction and headed through the double doors beneath the wall. What difference would one sword have made in any case? He soon saw the truth of his thoughts as he watched the moving files of men. In the time it took for them to arrive, he could have descended and waited. Instead, he had to move at the same pace as Abbot Manfry.
They eventually alighted. Only several hundred paces separated them from the red caped officers, riding horses in the lead. As they drew nearer, Lytica could make out individual faces. Unlike the beserker style shirts and and weapons he had seen the southmen wear in the past, these looked uniform. They marched in perfect step, within rigidly straight lines. It bespoke of organisation, an army acting as one man, making them so much more formidable.
Lytica was never more afraid.
An officer in the lead held up his palm. Shouts relayed from the other officers down the line, for the army to “halt.” The officer removed his helmet and handed it to the rider beside him. He had blue eyes, and closely cropped blond hair which he smoothed back, as his gaze fell on Manfry.
“I am General Yathebon.”
Yathebon laughed. “Aye, many have marvelled that one so young should have attained such a rank, but to business.”
He slid from his saddle and walked over to meet them.
“I take it you lead this monastery?” he said.
Manfry adopted a smile. “Aye, I am Abbot here.”
He extended his hand.
Yathebon gripped his wrist and shook.
“Brother Lytica here has surmised that the river is flooded way to the east, and that you wish to use our home as a pass through the mountains,” said Manfry.
“He assumes rightly on both counts.”
“I was hoping we could settle this peaceably.”
“As was I, Abbot. All we ask, is that you allow us passage through. None of your people will be harmed. Then, once we are gone, you may go back to your lives and neither one of us will see the other again.”
“We cannot do this,” Lytica said aside.
Yathebon’s smile became strained.
“Enough, Brother,” Manfry gently admonished. “Let us discuss this over wine at our table, General. I am sure we could…”
“What if we just killed you?” Yathebon interrupted.