The motor wasn’t engaging.
Everything else on the ballista was in order, but the flywheel motor just wasn’t turning on. Ean grabbed a voltmeter out of the toolkit and started testing the wiring.
The needle read nothing. Anywhere.
“I think it’s the battery, Tala,” Ean said.
Tala stuck her head under the deck of the ballista and looked at him. Her black hair hung strangely over the straps for the goggles she was wearing.
“Are you sure? I just put in a fresh one.”
Ean tested the wiring connections again, moving back toward the section underneath the drax-bone battery that powered everything.
“If it’s not the battery then its the contacts or something else right next to them,” he said.
Tala’s face disappeared and he heard the muffled shink of someone flipping the main power switch to off, then the clunk and rattle-squeak of a socket wrench. There was another clunk, most likely Tala opening the battery compartment, and then silence followed by a few tunks.
“Contacts look fine…” Tala called. “Wait. Found it!”
Ean heard the sound of a cable sliding against metal.
“The positive lead came loose. Looks like the nut fell off. I’ll get another on it.”
Positive lead? Somebody forgot to do a full check on the electricals. Sigh.
Thank you, Ahttah, that the others are all working.
He quickly bolted the undercarriage cover closed again and slid himself out from under the ballista wagon, something of a feat in full drax armor. When he stood up, Tala was putting a new bolt on the lead. A moment later she closed the battery cover, bolted it down, then grabbed the big knife switch controlling the power and slammed it closed.
The flywheel spun up with a distinct mechanical whirr.
Tala smiled at him.
“Ready to go!”
Ean smiled back, then ordered the artillery team responsible for the ballista, two burly Lilta men in green half-plate marked with matte gold trebuchet’s on the pauldrons, to get it loaded and ready to fire.
They locked the bolt magazine on top of the ballista between the thick, reversed compound bow arms, filled it to capacity with five Thunderbolts, then made sure the launching-cable was settled into the hooks for the cocking-winch and let it rip.
With a thunk the flywheel engaged, powering the winch and dragging the string back in just over three tikkits. With a clunk the first thunderbolt dropped into place, ready to fire.
“Okay. It’s good,” Ean said. “Trin! How’s the rest of the ambush party?”
Trin, also fully armored in her drax plate, jogged over so she wouldn’t have to yell
“The other ballistas are loaded and ready. Archers are all hidden in their blinds and have incendiaries nocked and the cav archers are cooled and waiting in the wings. We’re ready.”
“Alright. Get the pop-blinds back in place around this ballista.”
Ean waved to the nearby soldiers to hide the ballista and its crew again and headed to where Commander KarLidrell was overseeing final preparations from horseback. Trin and Tala followed close on his heels.
When the Commander saw them he nodded.
“Strange to have a Garagran on our side today,” he said.
Ean smiled and nodded.
“Where is she?”
The Commander gave him a confused look, then scanned the area.
“Lady Firrisskahv should be…”
“Right here,” came Danya’s deep voice from no more than five heights away. Ean looked and saw that what had appeared to be a large clump of bushes around the base of a thick pine was actually the female Garagran. Scales flattened out and colors shifted from mottled greens to black, and Danya appeared in front of them.
“Dear Kai, that’s disturbing,” The Commander said. “I hope this Empire Garagran we’re waiting for can’t sneak like that.”
“If he’s trained he can probably hide better than me,” Danya said, “But no Garagran can be invisible while moving. He may be harder to see at a distance, but as long as he’s going faster than a very slow walk you’ll be able to spot him up close.”
“Are you ready?” Ean asked.
Danya studied him with those familiar gold eyes, then glanced at Trin and back to him.
“I can wrestle and block for you, but that’s it. I’m not a good fighter.”
“Can’t tell that from the field exercises,” the Commander said.
Danya glanced at him, then back at Ean.
“Don’t rely on me to win this.”
A soldier trotted over, holding a set of binoculars with a signalling scope.
“Message in, sir. It’s still headed this way. Should be here any moment.”
The Commander nodded.
“Alright. Take the word around for everyone to be ready. Lady Firrisskahv, please stand by to block and hold this Garagran in the open at my signal. Don’t wrestle if you can avoid it. We don’t want to hit you.” He turned to Ean.
“Prince Tavarin, please stay back with the ballistae.”
“I should be close enough to talk to this Garagran.”
Ean stared the man down.
The Commander sighed and grabbed a megaphone off his saddle and held it out to Ean.
“Thank you. I don’t intend to get eaten.”
Ean headed for one of the blinds near the clearing. Footsteps followed. When he looked back it was Tala.
“You need to be with the ballistae,” he said.
“Of course. You should be to.”
“Tala… just keep the weapons running and make sure nobody shoots me. I’ll get behind cover if I need to.”
He turned his back and was pretty sure he heard a growl from behind as he jogged the rest of the way to the blind. The half-squad of archers waiting there welcomed him and he settled in.
Their quarry arrived ten kellas later.
Currently a mottled brown that faded into the tree trunks and pinestraw, the Garagran slunk into the clearing and looked around. Even at a distance of half a feld it was obvious that he was taller than Danya. Maybe by as much as half a height at the shoulder, judging by a nearby tree Ean had walked by earlier. Also, his frame was noticeably broader and he had a huge set of horns that curved forward from the peak of his head.
Definitely male, and definitely powerful. Ean suddenly saw what Danya meant about not being a fighter. If this was what she had expected…
The Garagran stopped when he reached the middle, took another step, then narrowed his eyes. He looked behind, listened for a moment, then relaxed.
“I see you have me surrounded,” the Garagran called out in Tokal. “Either you are very confident, or very stupid. Perhaps both. Do you wish to parlay, or fight?”
Ean stepped out from behind the blind and the Garagran’s eyes snapped to him. For a moment he was certain he saw surprise.
Ean lifted the megaphone.
“I am Prince Ean Tavarin of Salshira. Why have you entered our country?”
The Garagran eyed him for a long moment before answering. Ean tried hard not to shrink under that golden gaze, far colder than any of those Danya had ever given him. It was hard. His instincts whispered that half-a-feld wasn’t very far away for something that large.
Ean prayed, gave the fear away, and straightened.
The Garagran smiled, a subtle expression that showed only in his eyes and at the corner of his mouth.
“Prince Tavarin,” he called. “I am Lieutenant Daskevrren of the Western armies of the Most Holy Emperor Vohrskrain. I have come here seeking a fugitive Garagran.”
Ean twitched. Lieutenant Daskevrren saw it.
“Ahh. I see you might know of such a one. But maybe not the same. The one I seek is small, much smaller than myself, and rightly goes by the name of Ember Rehksskari. Do you know her?”
Thoughts, comments, and critique greatly appreciated. If you can’t think of anything, then I would especially love to hear your answers to these questions: Is there anything you don’t understand? Anything that threw you out of the story? Places where it moved too fast? Too slow? What do you think of the characters?