Heavy clouds , the color of pewter, rolled low over the walls of Paris as the city prepared for another day of siege. The attackers, unwelcome guests at the city's feet for the past five weeks, grumbled over their morning ablutions at the day's prospects. A massive assault was planned: one that was to breach the city's defenses, end the siege, and return their liege lord's property to him, restoring his family's honor and allowing them all to return to their new-found Spanish homes. Beji Al Hasrad knew of these plans. He knew also that the Franks had proven unexpectedly fierce, that the siege had gone on much longer than his lord had anticipated, that it must be brought to a swift conclusion because winter was coming on, and that of all these factors none began to compare with The Roland. It was The Roland that had brought them there and it was The Roland who had thwarted, sometimes single-handedly, every wave they had launched. He knew it was The Roland who caused the sharifs of his lord's army, hardened veterans all, to grumble over their breakfasts.


"Yes lord?"

He knew what was coming.

"Cast the stones for me."

A hesitation.

"Yes lord."

Beji Al Hasrad drew from under his tunic a pouch which contained his dearest posessions. The stones. He cast a furtive glance at his master - one designed to show his loyalty, respect and unease at the circumstance.

For weeks now the casting had been poorer and poorer for his master. Each casting and each adjacent defeat pulled his master deeper into an obsession that could only end in disaster.

The stones hit the sand, pwithing tiny clouds into the damp air. As the pattern revealed itself Beji remembered The Roland. Ostensibly, he cast for his master on the outcome of the day's battle. But they both knew he cast on The Roland. He was like a murderous lightening, Roland, rolling along the ramparts, filling a breach, shouting encouragement, slaying by the dozens. He was the lynchpin of the city's safety. Beji, who had followed his master through five years of campaigning had never before seen anything like The Roland. The sharifs claimed he was a demon shifted into the frame of a man, but Beji knew him to be holy. It bothered him that he had such respect for the infidel Roland and he wondered if the stones might not know this, might not cast differently because of it... it was difficult sometimes to tell which came first, the casting or...


"Yes Lord Mandricardo?"

"What do the stones say?"

The pattern suddenly lept off the ground, dispelling the image of Roland prowling the ramparts, staunching the flow of attacker through sheer presence...

"The Roland will not fight on the walls today."

A hesitation.

"He will not?"

Something strange he heard in his master's voice.

"He will not."

This last said with all the surety of the pattern.

Mandricardo let out a long breath. It smelled of lamb stew. Beji saw he had something in his teeth.

A horn sounded. The assault had begun. Beji followed his master out of the tent. They walked to the hill where the couriers and sharifs waited, eager for orders and talk. The first wave bore down on the city.

There was no sign of The Roland during the first hour. They had gained a significant foothold at the gate of pigs and Mandricardo was beginning to believe that it might be true. But if he wasn't in the city, where was he? And where was the sword?

A sudden shout from the left. Then another. In an instant Mandricardo knew what the casting meant. "The Roland will not fight on the walls today." He cast a glance at Beji. It began to rain.

They watched as The Roland and another Paladin, a short man with blonde hair, waded through their armies. The siege was once again turned. Beji marveled at the knight. He fought like a duke of the air. His blade whirled and sang. He and his companion moved almost as one, locked in a mesmerizing dance of parry, thrust, cut, advance.

One by one the sharifs left the hill and intercepted the pair only to be cut down and replaced by another.

Finally, Mandricardo rose, took his helmet in hand, belted on his sword and rode out to meet The Roland.