The Army of the Southlands seemed on track to arrive with the coming of night. Alvin could see the approach from his assigned post, by the catapults. He could feel the approach through the vibrations in the rock beneath his feet. There must have been thousands of them. And there, above them flew the sinister shape that was the Lord of Carvil upon his midnight-black winged horse.
The orders that the Captain had given to the catapult operators was to hold fire until the enemy had reached the road that led to Rionnag. Alvin would not have been able to remember this. Fortunately, he was not responsible for releasing the catapults, merely loading them with small boulders, so there would be no problem on that front.
The sun began to sink behind Ben Seanmhair, spreading crimson across the sky like a terrible omen. Alvin swallowed hard and suppressed the urge to shudder. He was not a particularly superstitious person, but the reference to spilled blood was too vivid to ignore. Cold sweat ran down the back of his neck and he noticed that his heart was pounding at several times its normal rate.
Soon, the sun had set completely. Alvin peered through the gathering gloom and watched as the Army of the Southlands lit hundreds of torches. They must have been quite near the road now. He began to tremble in anticipation as he lined up the boulders for use.
It was Jack Nobody, who should have been down with the archers at that moment.
"What? Why are you up here? You aren't supposed to be here."
"I'm frightened," replied Jack in a very small voice. "And I don't feel well."
"But why come to me?"
Jack hesitated, his face abnormally pale in the gloom. "Well, you're the only person who doesn't beat me or call me names, you see. I just...I just...need..."
The boy stumbled a pace and collapsed in the dirt. Alvin knelt beside him and shook him gently by the shoulders. "What is it?"
"I'm just so tired, Alvin..." he said, his voice nearly a whisper. "I need to rest."
"Right," replied Alvin. "You can rest here as long as you don't get in the way."
"Thank you. You are so kind." Jack rolled over onto his side and closed his eyes, and Alvin returned to his task.
Just then, he heard the command to fire, and the catapults squealed as they were released. Alvin heard the distant sound of chaos, but all was calm and orderly here on the pass. He loaded a new stone into the catapult to replace the last. Another followed that. And another. The rhythm was reassuring. Load, fire, load. Fire, load, fire. He nearly forgot that Jack was there, lying in the dirt behind him.