Yserria bristled as she approached the echelon’s tent. The battle had been delayed until they could reach the staging ground; and, after having traveled north for two days, she was supposed to be in the midst of preparing for it. She was, instead, needlessly summoned to speak with the echelon while the woman broke her fast in comfort. Yserria did not wait for an invitation to enter. She had been summoned after all. She was not going to give this woman the power to make her wait. Yserria stalked through the opulent travel accommodations to the small table that held an assortment of preserves, breads, and cream.
Deshari’s smile was affable, while her tone held only contempt. “Would you care to join me? These are some of the finest preserves the Souelian has to offer. This one is from Ferélle, but perhaps you prefer a taste of home? I have an Ashaiian mint-fig. I am not entirely sure what a fig is, but I do enjoy the taste.”
“What do you want?” Yserria said.
Deshari motioned to a chair. “Please, sit down. I do not care to strain my neck looking up at you.”
“No, your neck should feel great as you watch me go into battle.”
Deshari laughed. “I would never watch such barbaric sport. No, I shall enjoy the company of Gemsbrick, while you are dallying in the field, and shall be ready to celebrate our success upon your return.”
“You wish for my return?”
“Of course. I do want to prevail over Orina after all. I have no concerns that you will fare better than my Ifigen. He is a seasoned commander and is familiar with the style of Orina’s champion Carthano.”
“Then what do you want?” said Yserria.
Deshari placed her butter knife on her plate and said, “Very well, to business. I wanted to give you a chance to withdraw the challenge. There is no need to risk your life when we know that you have no intention of staying to rule as echelon. You cannot retain the position from afar. It will be pointless.”
“I will withdraw my challenge for echelon if you withdraw your claim for Lord Malcius.”
She tipped her goblet back and said, “Well, you know I cannot do that. It would appear weak. My adversaries watch closely. Many covet my position.”
“After today, you will no longer have that problem,” said Yserria.
“You fancy yourself a wolf, but we both know you are a mere pup. Without the weight of that torque and support of your master, you and your house would have no standing in this queendom.”
Yserria said, “He is not my master. He is my king and yours as well. He chose me because I can fight for him, not so that he may fight for me. If you have nothing more to say, I must return to my preparations. I go to win a battle today.”
Deshari pursed her lips, so Yserria stood and then stalked out of the tent, heading toward the staging ground. When she arrived, she was surprised to see that her force had grown to nearly double what it had been at dawn. Several dozen men ceased their chatter and stood at attention. As one, they saluted her, not the formal bow given a matrianera, but a one-armed, fisted salute of a soldier. Yserria nodded and said, “Thank you for volunteering for the battle challenge for Third Echelon. I am honored by your gift of service. It is time to solidify our plan of engagement. As you were.” The men relaxed and returned to their preparations as Yserria looked for Balen.
She found him going over plans with Malcius. For Malcius’s sake, she spoke in Ashaiian. “The echelon is worried. She tried to get me to withdraw my challenge.”
“As she should be,” said Balen. “The echelon likes to think her consort a military genius. He is a brutal warrior and a good leader, but he has always depended on his second to devise the plan.”
“How does that help us?” she said.
Balen grinned. “I am his second.”
Yserria smiled. “That is good news. I am unfamiliar with the terrain, my opponent”—she thumbed over her shoulder—“my men—pretty much all of it. I am depending on your experience and guidance.”
“That will make you a good general,” said Balen.
Yserria nodded. “Rezkin says it is important to recognize your followers’ strengths and capitalize on them. He says that I should not believe that I can or should do everything better than everyone else.”
“This Rezkin sounds like a wise man. Is he your trainer?”
“Yes, he is my king—and yours.”
“I had heard rumors, but I did not believe them all. I did not realize you were so close to your king.”
Yserria’s face flushed. “We are not close in the intimate sense, if that is what you are implying.”
“I should say not,” said Malcius. After seeing her frown, he said, “What? I am trying to defend your honor, as you asked.”
She blinked in surprise. “Oh, um, thank you, Lord Malcius.”
Malcius crossed his arms and nodded once, then looked at Balen who seemed utterly confused. Balen shook his head and then withdrew a map. He explained how he thought Ifigen would conduct his battle and then covered his own plan. Since Deshari was defending her claim to the land, she had the privilege of choosing the battle site. She and Ifigen would each be defending their own small hill. The Fourth Echelon’s forces would be attacking from the north, and a small tributary bounded the hills to the south.
Yserria pointed to the river bend on the western flank of her hill. Ifigen’s hill was not adjacent to the river. “Can they use this to flank us?” she said.
Balen shook his head. “That would be difficult. The river flows in the other direction.”
“Could we use it to flank them?”
He rubbed his chin. “It would be a good plan, but we do not have enough men.”
“Orina knows that,” Yserria mused. “She knows that my force is smaller than Ifigen’s. She would not expect us to split the few we have.”
“Because it would be suicide,” said Malcius.
“Maybe not,” she said. “Is this map accurate?”
“Very much so,” said Balen.
“Then, look. Our hill is steeper on the northeastern side. This means that Orina will not be able to attack us from due north. It will force her to move slightly to the west, but there is a rise here. Her troops will be closer to the river, but they will not be able to see our unit in the water until it is too late.”
Balen nodded. “What you say is true, but we still need more men.”
Yserria placed her hands on her hips and said, “How can we get them?”
“Perhaps a demonstration. Some of the men are not convinced that you can fight.”
She huffed. “I made it to the second round in the fifth tier at the King’s Tournament.”
“You would probably have made it to the third if Rezkin had not defeated you,” said Malcius.
She glanced at him, uncertain if he were chiding her. He appeared sincere, so she said, “Thank you.”
He furrowed his brow. “For what?”
Balen said, “It is true, then? You are the female swordmaster who was at the King’s Tournament?”
Yserria paused and then lifted her chin. “Yes, I am the swordmaster.”
“I see. This is why the echelon chose archery instead of the sword.”
Malcius said, “What kind of demonstration did you have in mind?”
“Never mind,” said Yserria. “I know what will do.”
Malcius and many of the warriors who had committed themselves to her cause followed Yserria as she stalked to the center of the encampment. Others stopped what they were doing to investigate the commotion. She turned and faced her men, bowed, then turned to face the gathering crowd of onlookers. She bowed again and drew her father’s sword, holding it in front of her, the tip toward the overcast sky. Then, she began to move. Her form was graceful, but her motions strange to Malcius. After the first few passes, some of the men began to clap. Others joined them, and after a minute, Malcius was surrounded by an intense cadence of long and short claps. Every so often the men would root as one, a barking sound that complimented the patterned claps.
Malcius leaned over to Balen and said, “What is she doing? I have never seen a sword form like that.”
“It is not a sword form. It is a sort of ritual, a dance but with meaning. It is only performed by the royal guard upon a queen’s death or crowning, or when the army goes to war. It is meant to provoke dedication and instill strength. I do not know how she knows the dance, but she must be a swordmaster if she is capable of performing it without killing herself.”
Yserria tossed the sword into the sky, allowing it to flip, end over end, before catching it. She then swept it behind her back and did the same. Each time she caught the sword, she performed some acrobatic that might have even impressed Rezkin. Malcius became more anxious with each turn, and his sense of relief when it was finally finished was surprising.
To Balen, he said, “Her father was a royal guard. He taught her the sword.”
Yserria ended with a flourish, and the crowd erupted in cheers. Men and a few women came to speak with her, and Yserria urged every one of them to join her force. Some of them accepted immediately, while others said they required time for consideration. After she had spoken with the majority, she rejoined Malcius and Balen.
Balen shook his head. “It is a risky move, but we might have enough to pull it off.”
Malcius looked at Yserria and said, “May I speak with you privately?” They walked a short distance to where they could still be seen but not heard. He said, “You do not have to do this. Let me be your champion. I will go to battle in your stead.”
She scoffed. “What are you talking about?”
“Look around you, Yserria. This is a real battle. People will die. You need not risk your life on my account. I will fight the battle for my own freedom as your champion.”
“You cannot be my champion,” she said. “I have claimed you. You could fight as my champion in any challenge except the matter of the claim. For this matter, you would need to accept the claim, and we would be required to consummate the bond before witnesses.”
“I thought that was only for marriages! I thought that anyone could fight as your champion.”
“Anyone can, unless I have claimed him. Then, we must complete the bond. It does not matter if it is for husband or consort, although the requirements for a husband are more—intense.”
Malcius’s thoughts were thrown into chaos as his heart raced. Palis had lost his life to save Yserria. He could not just let her walk into a battle and get killed. Why had he never considered that before? He needed to keep her safe. He said, “Would it be so terrible? It is certainly better than dying.”
She slapped him. Malcius raised a hand to his stinging cheek. The shock of it woke him from his panic. “What—”
“You are a horrible person, Malcius Jebai.”
“What I do with my body might be acceptable here in Lon Lerésh, but anywhere else, I would be a ruined woman. Do you hate me so much that you would sentence me to a long life of loneliness?”
“And, you have no faith in my abilities as a warrior. I have trained hard for this, and I am capable. I risk my life to keep you free, and this is how you repay me?”
Yserria stalked away, and Malcius was left wondering what in the world had just happened. Balen strode over as he watched Yserria storm off toward the staging ground. He said, “I know not what you said to her, but I think you are lucky to have gotten away with a slap. She looks furious enough to win the battle on her own.”
Malcius groaned and followed her through the crowd. Some of the men laughed at his misfortune as he passed, while others offered their condolences. He was so preoccupied by the attention that he nearly ran into a hulking man who stepped in front of him. The man grabbed hold of his shirt as he lost his footing, preventing him from further embarrassing himself by falling onto his rear.
The man said, “I am Mage Dolinar. I will fight at your side.”
Malcius looked up at the dark-skinned man, obviously of Pruari descent. He was one of the largest men Malcius had ever seen, and his voice rumbled like a war drum.
Malcius grasped the man’s hand. “I am Malcius of House Jebai. I thank you, but I must ask why? You have only seen me make a fool of myself.”
Dolinar grinned, his broad smile lightening the mood. He slapped Malcius’s shoulder and said, “It looks like you need the help.”
“He is not wrong,” Balen said with a smirk.
Mage Dolinar turned and pushed Malcius toward the staging ground. He waved a hand toward the men and said, “We have all been in similar situations with our matrias. Well, perhaps not exactly yours. Most of our matrias depend on our strength as champions for physical challenges. Your matria is a she-wolf. She readily bares her claws and teeth, but I think she would not be satisfied with a docile man.”
“She is not my matria,” said Malcius.
“No, but she will be once she defeats the echelon’s champion. You are a lucky man.”
“You seem confident that we will prevail.”
“I am a truthseeker.”
“You can see the future?”
Dolinar laughed. “No, that is not a talent I bear. I see things as they truly are. Knight Yserria is worthy of her title. Her confidence is genuine. The echelon fears her.”
“So, you chose the side you think will win?”
“I choose the side that I desire to win. I do not care for the echelon. She is devious, always scheming. It hurts my eyes to see so much deception, but it is most common in women of power in our queendom. The only way to gain power here is to take it, and the support of their peers is crucial. The good are eventually corrupted of necessity. That one, though, she shows her true self. It is most refreshing.”
Malcius followed Dolinar’s gaze. Yserria was standing at the war table speaking with Balen’s sons. A ray of light shined through a crack in the clouds to glint off the torque around her neck. Malcius said, “Perhaps she can afford to be true because she is backed by one more devious than the rest.”
“You speak of your king?”
“And yours,” Malcius said, meeting the man’s dark gaze.
“Hmm, it is not wise to speak of royalty with such disdain.”
“He would not deny it. I think he prides himself in the effort, but he seems to feel no pride—or anything, for that matter.”
“You know him well?”
Malcius glanced at Yserria. “I once called him friend.”
“But no longer?”
“You ask many questions,” Malcius replied.
Dolinar shrugged. “It is my talent. I seek to understand the things I see. I do not believe you reject your king.”
Malcius kicked a rock. “No, I do not reject him as my king. As a friend—it is complicated. I have blamed him for all our troubles, and I depend on him to solve them.” He glanced at Dolinar’s knowing gaze and shook his head. “I guess, inside I know he is not responsible, yet I trust he will make amends, regardless.” He growled in frustration. “I just—I cannot let go of the anger.”
Dolinar nodded. “When I was young, my father was killed in a challenge. I blamed our matrianera for a long time even though she was not responsible for his death. It was easier to blame someone I cared about, someone with whom I felt safe, than the true enemy that frightened me.” Dolinar briefly crossed his wrists and said, “If you will excuse me, Malcius Jebai, I must confer with my comrades.”
As Dolinar walked away, Balen said, “He is a wise man. You would do well to heed his words.”
Yserria shaded her eyes with her hand. The clouds had dissipated by late morning, and the sun shone bright over the battle field. Echelon Orina’s troops were scattered around the base of the hill to the north, the largest group toward the west, as she had predicted. She did not look to the south where Balen led the second unit down the river.
“Are you sure we can trust them?” said Malcius.
“We have no choice,” she replied.
“Balen seems a decent fellow, but these people are conniving. He admitted that he is Ifigen’s second. What better way to sabotage us?”
“What does it matter?” she said. “If he betrays us, then we lose. If he were not with us, we would have no troops, and we would still lose. If he is with us, at least we have a chance at winning.”
“You should have let me lead the second unit.”
“He is more familiar with the terrain and the men.”
She saw his frustration in his dark glare and clenched jaw. He said, “Where do you want me then, matria?”
She scowled at him. “Go wherever you want.”
He lifted his chin and said, “Then, I shall stand beside you.”
The first horn blared, and the troops on both sides began to move into position. Yserria found that her men were well accustomed to the challenge of battle and required little encouragement or direction. She spied Ifigen on the far hill. He was pacing back and forth in front of his men, presumably delivering some inspiring speech. Yserria had no such speech. These men did not know her, nor did they care much for her cause. Most of them probably fought because they relished the battle.
She walked along the front line, then turned and raised her voice. “You do not know me, so to ask you to fight for me would be less than inspiring; but, you do know Echelon Deshari. If we win, you need no longer concern yourself with her.” Her gaze roved over their faces. None cheered, probably out of fear of what might happen to them should they lose, but a fire lit within their hungry gazes. She grinned. “We fight to secure our survival, and we fight to destroy our common enemy. We fight as one, as a pack. We fight as wolves.”
This time, the men rooted. It was the same cadence they had chanted during the dance, and it was inspiring. Their chant grew louder, and even those on the adjacent fields turned to stare. The second horn blared, and the battle began.
The front line of Orina’s troops pushed forward, ascending Yserria’s hill. They hid behind large shields attached to logs on wheels, each pushed by half a dozen men up the slope. Ifigen’s archers cast the first volley of arrows at the men climbing his hill, but Yserria waited. After two volleys on the adjacent hill, the frontline infantry rushed from behind the shields to attack Ifigen’s forces.
Yserria returned her attention to her own battle. When Orina’s front line was nearly to the top, she raised a signal flag. Her men abruptly shifted into a grid with large gaps between the files. Dolinar cast his spell, and dozens of boulders from the other side of the hill began rolling forward between the columns. Yserria gave the signal to the archers, who aimed high so that their arrows would drop behind the shields to strike the men pushing the logs. The arrows struck just as the boulders tumbled down the front slope, crashing into the shields. With no one to hold them, the logs plummeted backward, rolling over and dragging the men behind them. Some of the men were able to escape the shields before they were crushed, and Yserria’s infantry met them with force.
Just as Yserria was beginning to feel confident, a fierce wind began swirling atop the hill, capturing shields and shoving her troops into one another. Dozens of small fireballs, none large enough to kill but certainly large enough to cause damage, were cast toward the crest where they were whipped up by the wind. The fire spread, and the fireballs struck at random. During the commotion, Orina’s forces gained ground. They began to swarm the hill.
Yserria could hear the pounding of hooves, but she could not find their source. Suddenly, the illusion dropped, as if a curtain were drawn back, and a small cavalry unit plowed through their lines. She called to one of her mages, a life mage who was already in the midst of casting a spell. The horses suddenly reared and began thrashing against nonexistent restraints. As the confused horses ran amuck, her archers and pike men took down their riders.
After striking down an infantryman who had been unlucky enough to top the hill, she turned to Malcius. She grabbed him by the collar and pulled him away from the man with whom he was engaged. After running her sword through the man’s ribs, she turned to him.
She held the signal flare out for him and said, “Lead the charge!”
“What? Me? Now?”
“Yes, now! Go!”
He grabbed the flare, and Yserria watched his back as he cut his way to the front line. He activated the purple orb that propelled itself into the sky, setting phase two of their plan into motion. Yserria’s troops descended the hill, leaving a gap in the line to the west. She was depending on Deshari’s duplicity, certain the echelon had been feeding her opponent information. Orina would know that Yserria had little experience and would expect her to make novice mistakes. Sacrificing the high ground enticed Orina’s troops, and the poorly placed line gave them an opening. Orina’s champion took the advantage, his troops filing into the gap, segregating Yserria’s men and acquiring a pathway to summit.
Balen’s men did not appear. No charge from the rear, no final rout. He had abandoned her. Yserria’s heart plummeted into her stomach, and she looked for Malcius. He was there in the fray, deep in the thick of it, determined to drive the enemy into the rear forces that were not coming. She hurried to the crest of the hill and scanned the other hill to see how Ifigen’s troops fared and was shocked. His hill had been overrun, and Orina’s forces had been diverted to her field.
Dolinar ran up to her, breathing heavily as he leaned on his knees. He was bleeding from several gashes, and his armor was hanging from one shoulder.
“Echelon Orina has broken the terms of the challenge. She was not satisfied to wait and see if you would fail. She seeks to overthrow Echelon Deshari.”
“I see that. Where is Balen?”
He pointed toward the base of the rise along the river. “There, Echelon Orina’s troops are now nearly double, and he was forced to engage much farther back. If he had not been there, though, we would already have been overrun.”
Yserria had to think fast. What would Rezkin do? Something unimaginable, she was sure. “Gather the mages,” she said. “Move the river.”
He looked at her as if she were mad. “You wish for us to do what? That is impossible.”
“No,” she said, pointing to the gentle slope of the ridge along the hill’s elongated western flank. “The saddle there is low, and the rock beds dip away. You can see where they have already slumped. With a bit of power, you can force them to slide on their own. It will dam the river and open a passage through here. The field below will be flooded. Orina’s troops will be decimated.”
“And some of our own,” said Dolinar.
“We will sound a retreat right before you act. We will save as many as we can, but if we do nothing, all of them will die.”
“I am an earth mage. I know this land. What you ask—I do not believe it can be done.”
“We cannot know until we try; and, if we do not try, we will never have another chance.”
Dolinar nodded and then sprinted off to gather the few mages at their disposal. Yserria gripped her sword, whispered a prayer to the Maker, and then descended into the turmoil, fighting her way toward Malcius. The grass on the slope had been ripped and churned, and the topsoil had become loose. With every precarious step, Yserria slashed and ducked. She used her body weight to send more than one enemy tumbling down the hill and tried to catch a few of her own men who might have shared the same fate. She finally caught up with Malcius, and without discussion, the two fell into the partnered combat they had been taught. Guarding each other’s backs, they fought until those in their immediate vicinity were dead, then moved farther along the line.
After what felt like years, Yserria heard a resounding crack followed by a massive rumble. The ground shook beneath their feet, and soldiers on both sides paused in fear of what was to come. She looked for the signal, but there was no sign for retreat, so she kept fighting. Several minutes later, there was another blast, this one louder. This time, the ground’s trembling was accompanied by the roar of rushing water.
Yserria screamed, “Retreat! Retreat!”
She grabbed Malcius and began dragging him up the hill as they swatted away those in pursuit. The water blasted past, only paces below their position. As it tore through the hill, it took with it chunks of soil. The slope on which they sought refuge began to fall into the churning muck. With masses of earth eroding beneath them, Yserria and Malcius ran for the steeper high ground of the eastern flank. As they gripped an outcrop for support, Yserria looked over the battleground. Most, but not all, of her troops had made it to higher ground. The lowland was a swath of churning, grey water seeking its way back toward the riverbed. Across the river, on the other side of what had been the western flank of her hill, Balen and his men fought the last of their enemies on a low rise over the empty tract where the river had previously flowed.
Yserria breathed heavily and motioned for Malcius to follow. They crested the hill and found the mages lying in the grass in varying states of well-being. Yserria slid down the slope that had once been slight and came to a stop next to Dolinar, who lay back staring at the sky. She looked up at the life mage whose name she could not remember. “Good job with the horses.”
The woman waved her hand in dismissal. “It was nothing compared to this,” she said with a wave toward the cliff that fell into the new path of the river.
Looking down at Dolinar, Yserria said, “What is wrong with him?”
The woman said, “He overextended his power. He will be ill and disoriented for some time, but he will be fine once he regains his power—if he regains his power.”
“This could be permanent?”
The woman shrugged. “Sometimes. At least he is not dead.”
Malcius said, “Death might be preferable to this.”
The woman smiled faintly and stroked the braid at Dolinar’s temple. “I am sure he will recover. Dolinar is strong.”
“You are his matria?”
With a nod, the woman said, “We are members of the echelon’s household. She will not be pleased that we fought for you.”
Yserria stood and said, “You need not worry about that. Deshari is no longer echelon. I have won the challenge. Now, I must issue another.”
She mounted the rise and then stalked down the hill with determination, skirting the water to the east. As she marched, those of her troops who could stand gathered in her wake. Malcius hurried beside her.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“I must challenge Orina.”
“For what? We have won. We can go now!”
“She broke the terms of the challenge against the Third Echelon, which is now me. If I do not challenge her, I will appear weak and lose standing.”
“What do you care?” said Malcius. “We. Can. Leave.”
Yserria stopped to face him and pointed back to the men and woman who had followed her into combat. “They fought for nothing more than a respect for my motives and the promise of a better echelon. Orina has proven to be without honor. If I leave the echelon in disarray, she will claim it and place one of her ilk in the position. If I abandon these people now, they will have fought for nothing.” Yserria began walking again toward Orina’s encampment on the other side of the valley. “Right now, Orina is weak. Her forces are destroyed. She cannot defend herself against a challenge.”
When they arrived, Orina’s servants were rushing to pack her belongings. Yserria stopped outside the echelon’s tent and called to her. “Orina Goldren of the Fourth Echelon, I am Yserria Rey of the Third Echelon. You have violated the covenant of challenge against the Third Echelon. On behalf of my people, I challenge you for your seat!”
A blonde woman in a slinky green dress and beige sandals stepped out of the tent. She carried a folding fan that she used to cool herself as she stood nonchalantly looking at the crowd.
“I am Echelon Orina Goldren. You cannot challenge me. My arrangement was made with Echelon Deshari Brigalsi.”
Yserria raised her sword toward the woman. “I have won her seat in challenge. I am now Third Echelon, and I am here to hold you accountable.”
Orina’s eyes widened. “Deshari said nothing of a challenge for her seat. She said the challenge was for a claim on a foreigner.”
Yserria grinned. “Then, she lied. She tried to take my man, and I challenged her for her seat in return. That is irrelevant, though, as it has no bearing on your actions.”
Orina straightened. “Her forces were split, and there was unrest in her camp. I would have been remiss not to take advantage of the situation.”
“I do not believe you were unaware of the challenge for her seat. It was no secret. You thought to destroy us both and claim the echelon.”
A scream emanated from the tent, and a woman came running out, nearly colliding with Orina. Orina turned and screamed at her retainers. “You were supposed to keep her quiet, you idiots!”
“She kidnapped me!” screamed Deshari. “In the middle of a challenge. It is not permitted! The challenge is void.”
Yserria said, “No, Deshari. I completed the challenge. I prevailed against her forces—both units, whereas your champion fell.”
Deshari’s face paled. “Ifigen is dead?” She looked at Orina in horror. “You said nothing! You would not even permit me to mourn my consort?”
Yserria said, “You plotted against me, Deshari, and Orina plotted against you. Now, I will take both your echelons.” Yserria met Deshari’s stricken gaze and said, “You nipped at the wolf’s heels, and the wolf bit back.”
Orina glanced around as if searching for something—or someone. “I need a champion,” she shouted. She looked to one of her sodden men who had been lucky enough to survive the flood. He was a hard-looking man with scars across his bare chest. He shook his head. She looked to another, and he too refused. She called out, “Whosoever serves as my champion will become first consort to the echelon.” No one stepped forward.
Yserria sheathed her sword. “You have failed to produce a champion. Your seat is forfeit.”
“On behalf of what house do you claim the echelons?” said the man with the scars.
Yserria paused. She could not claim the echelons under House Rey or the power would go to her aunt. She had to claim them for herself.
“What is it?” Malcius whispered.
“They wish to know the name of my house.”
He stared at her for a moment and then said, “Palis.”
She glanced at him to see if he was serious. He motioned for her to proceed. She looked at him again, uncertainly, then turned back to the crowd, “I claim the Third and Fourth Echelons under House Palis.”