"and so, my dear general, with the savage hordes at the gates, and the dawn breaking, you have nought better to do than gaze upon the fading stars? it would seem that the ball is over, and though i know ought of the art of war, should you not be offering some attendance at the altar of mars, in preparation for the coming battle?" ferdirondo's captains gaped at each other at this effrontery, and even the wits and sprites attendant on araminta stepped back apace. but ferdirondo only smiled.
" a pretty speech, my lady, and most apposite. but for my part i have never believed in dealing with the future - does it even exist?"
"a question for the philosophers - and you, general, have solved it?"
"i solve nothing. i only believe in the present - in war - and in love." and ferdirondo looked into araminta's eyes.
araminta - the ever clever, ever witty araminta - hesitated. "you talk of love, at a time like this?"
"it is always time for love."
"ah." araminta took her eyes from ferdirondo's and looked around. "and if barbarians brandishing swords suddenly appeared on yonder wall, what would you do? stop them with a glance?"
"no, but you might."
a few attendants, both araminta's and ferdirondo's, laughed at this. the venerable duke of w--------, ferdirondo's second in command, then stepped forward.
"day is almost here, my lord. the camp may need your attendance."
ferdirondo started, as if waking from a dream. "yes, of course. adelpho!"
"yes, my lord." the youngest of the lieutenants came forward.
"escort any of these people who wish it, to the south tower. they have been kind enough to attend to us through the night. we can only repay them by giving them the finest view, of our victory in the day." the captains and lieutenants looked at each other approvingly. this speech was more to their taste.
"yes, my lord," replied the apple-cheeked adelpho.
a few of the citizens hesitated, and made as if to leave on their own. araminta did not look back at them, keeping her eyes fixed on ferdirondo. but her hostess, the crown princess persephone, quelled the querulous ones with a steely glance, and turning back to ferdirondo, replied:
"indeed, general, your offer is too generous. as we watch the victory, if we are not too overwhelmed by the gallantry of yourself and your officers, perhaps we will find time to plan a victory celebration - unworthy as it must be."
ferdirondo bowed to the princess. "you honor me."
everything had been said that was to be said. ferdirondo and his entourage repaired to the camp and the north wall. araminta and the crown princess and their entourage followed adelpho to the south tower.
"i am sure we can find our own way," the crown persephone murmured to the youth, to put him at his ease. "after all, it is my tower - my father the duke's tower."
"i do not question the general's orders."
"naturally. and no doubt you will return in time for the battle."
"i have every hope of that." the youth blushed.
they made their way through the deserted streets. echoes of the stirrings of both armies drifted through a morning fog.
they reached the south tower. a beggar and a flower seller sat beside it. the entourage ignored them, except for araminta, who gave the beggar a coin from her kingdom, and bought a single flower.
the princess took the key to the tower from her pocket and turned to adelpho. "thank you, lieutenant. you have brought us safely here. we can climb the stairs ourselves."
adelpho bowed. "then i wish you good day." he turned to araminta. "perhaps you ladies could say a prayer for our success."
"poor boy," replied araminta. "i do not say prayers. i have prayers said to me."
all, including the beggar and the flower seller, laughed at this sally, and the princess having unlocked the tower, the party began to climb the stairs.