Scent of Magic Page 10

I arrived in Zabin around midmorning a week after I’d left Mom’s. The town was completely overrun with Estrid’s acolytes and soldiers. When I’d been here with Kerrick, there had been only a few red robes. Now, it appeared as if the streets were covered with blood. A bad omen.

And the feel of the town had changed. Before, unease rippled just under the surface of the populace. Now, outright fear fogged the air.

My dark gray cloak no longer helped me to blend in. Plus, the day would be too warm for my fur-lined garment. Summer was only three weeks away. I removed my cloak and packed it into my knapsack, put my glasses on, then strode through town as if I belonged. But it wasn’t long before a group of five soldiers stopped to question me.

Showing them Chane’s letter, I asked where I might find Major Granvil. They glanced at each other with suspicion creasing their collective foreheads.

“This letter could be a forgery,” the female lieutenant said, passing around the paper to her team again.

I suspected this could take all day. To speed it up, I asked, “Why don’t we ask the High Priestess? I’m sure she’ll recognize her own nephew’s signature,” I bluffed. The last thing I wanted was an audience with Estrid.

But my comment had the desired effect. At the mere mention of her name, they blanched. I offered them a more palatable suggestion. “Or we can all find Major Granvil and let him decide on the authenticity of the letter.” Plus it would give me an escort so I didn’t have to do this song and dance all over again.

The lieutenant agreed. I suppressed a laugh as they surrounded me. What did they think I’d do? We walked through the center of town. While the market appeared crowded, I noticed there were fewer stands selling goods than before. I wondered if the nice lady who sold me my cloak and boots remained in business.

We left the town proper. The buildings thinned, and soon farm fields stretched into the distance to the north and east. Except no crops had been planted. Tents, campfires and training areas filled the landscape. It appeared to be the bulk of Estrid’s army. She had a few training camps throughout Pomyt, but it seemed she had concentrated her forces here.

I spotted the grand manor house east of the city’s heart. It had been built on a hill and overlooked Zabin and the surrounding lands. When I’d been a...guest of Estrid’s, I’d stayed there while I’d cared for her wounded. A decent-sized infirmary occupied the ground floor and the caregivers had been quick learners.

A pang of remorse touched my heart. I should be saving lives right now and not playing dead. I did promise Estrid I would return to help with the injured after I healed Ryne. Not the best decision, but I’d thought I’d be dead. Actually, I wouldn’t mind working for her. Despite her strict rules regarding having fun—as in, not having any—she really cared about her soldiers and acolytes. Unlike Tohon, who only cared for himself.

I planned to honor my promise to her eventually. Noelle first. Glancing at the manor, I wondered if Estrid was still living there with her granddaughter and Jael. Did Noelle have a room there, as well?

The lieutenant’s voice jerked me from my musings. “Major Granvil’s company is just ahead. His tent is the big one with the battle-ax painted on it.”

Leaving her companions outside, we entered. Major Granvil, a captain and a female lieutenant had gathered around a table with maps spread out before them. A few had fallen to the dirt floor. The major leaned back in his chair. His long, lanky legs stretched out in front of him. Concentrating on his companions, he stroked his bushy unregulation mustache.

While the lieutenant waited for the major to acknowledge our presence, I listened to the discussion.

“...two squads from Dagger Company disappeared in Vyg’s sector five.”

“Something big is going on over there.”

“We can’t risk any more scouts.”

“Send Ursan and his jumping jacks, they’ll find out what’s going on.”

“Too dangerous. The only squad that’s been successful on the other side of the border has been Belen’s.”

“And why is that?” Major Granvil asked his officers.

No one answered.

“I know why,” I said into the silence.

The lieutenant sucked in her breath at my audacity. And the major turned his full attention on me. Most people would have been intimidated by the force of his gaze, but after facing Kerrick’s wrath and Tohon’s ire, the major didn’t scare me at all. Unimpressed, I stared right back at him.

“And who the hell are you?” Major Granvil demanded.

“She’s...uh...High Here, sir.” The lieutenant thrust the letter into his hands.

The major scanned the document and then tossed it onto the table. His officers bent their heads to read it.

“Um...sir, is the signature authentic?”

“Yes, Lieutenant. You’re dismissed.”

She snapped a salute and bolted from the tent.

Once again the major studied me. White streaked his short black hair and peppered his mustache.

“Now, why would Chane send you to me?” he asked.

“Perhaps because I know the answer to your question,” I said.

“Please, enlighten us.”

I ignored the hint of sarcasm in his tone. “Belen’s successful because he knows how to move through Vyg’s forest without making a sound. I’m sure he taught his squad how to, as well.”

“And you know”

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