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"There's no time," Gowayn said bluntly, "Dress and go to the Armoured Quarter."
In the fear and confusion, Alara had forgotten she wore only her bed robes and the sheet. Slightly embarrassed, she turned to find more suitable clothing, and wondered what Gowayn had thought on seeing her bare shoulders and arms. The porter's footsteps echoed away down the stairs.
Chapter Two: The Split
Hathan, Alara's husband, was already in the Armoured Quarter when she arrived. The district was small and cramped, with low ceilings and one narrow central street that was barely more than an alleyway. Outside, the noisy impacts of various boakan projectiles had intensified, but within the thick walls and ironwood armour of the Quarter the sound was dulled to a low background ambiance. A broad Royal Guard, tall even for an aiv, bolted the thick door shut behind the queen.
As Alara walked down the alleyway, Hathan's voice could be heard in awkward discussion with the city's leaders, in a room to the left.
"Your Highness, I think it would be unwise to act without Her Majesty's advice. She has a great deal of expertise in this," a commander was saying, carefully.
Alara slowed down to savour as much of the conversation as possible before she entered the room.
"But that is precisely His Majesty's point," a senior adviser argued, "We should not act right away."
"Exactly," Hathan could be heard loudly in the alleyway, "We must wait for the arrival of the stoneguns."
"But the troops are ready now, Your Highness. They can't wait indefinitely, and if I order them back to their garrisons we might miss this opportunity," the commander tested the ground for disagreement with his king.
Alara stepped into the room at a swift pace, as if she had hurried down the alleyway. The men turned to look, the commander looking relieved and the other two looking slightly anxious.
"I agree with Commander Jowan," Alara said firmly, looking at Hathan, "Waiting for the stoneguns only gives the boakan more time to establish themselves."
The stoneguns in question had been due to arrive more than a week ago, after many months travel on the tower-road from Parasidia where they were made. The weapons were as heavy as they were powerful, and transporting them was inevitably slow. Despite the vast expense of the devices' production and delivery, there was no guarantee the convoy had not been intercepted.
"With no word from East Daloi, it's very possible that the boakan have already captured at least the tower-road in that country," Alara said, quickly to avoid too much emotion creeping into her voice. She knew everyone in the room shared the same unvoiced thought - she had grown up in East Daloi, seeing numerous boakan invasion attempts fought off with devastating losses. For it to finally fall would be an unbearable blow for the queen. Hathan glanced at her, saying nothing.
"The stoneguns may never arrive, but more boakan certainly will. Whilst we're not completely surrounded, we can win a war of attrition.