Scent of Magic Page 106

“Ryne, what did you tell Noelle?”

“What do you mean?”

“When you tried to get her to come with you before midsummer’s day. You said something to her about me?”

“Oh. Well, you might not like this.”

“Why not? It made her stop hating me.”

“I told her those letters she wrote to you when your family was sick hadn’t been delivered.”

“How do you know that?”

“That’s the part you’re not going to like.”

“Spit it out.”

“Remember, this was before we knew what was going on with the plague and I had just lost my sister.” He paused as if summoning the courage. “In my quest for information, I stole a bunch of papers from your mentor Tara’s office. I grabbed what I could and left. When I went through them, I found a stack of opened letters addressed to you.” He cringed with guilt. “I read through them, but since they didn’t have any relevance to me, I threw them away.”

“You’re right.”

“About what?”

“I don’t like it.” Not that my irritation could change anything. Tara had hidden the letters from me, so I should be mad at her. Except if I hadn’t been so self-absorbed, I would have noticed that I hadn’t gotten a letter from home in a while. “Thanks for telling Noelle. Bad enough she’s gone, but it would have been torture if she’d died without forgiving me.”

* * *

“Babysitting duty,” Quain muttered with disgust for the third time in the last hour.

“That’s enough,” Loren snapped. “This is just as important as fighting. Besides, it’s Avry. Trouble follows her.”

“Hey,” I said, acting indignant. Acting, because...well, it was true.

Unmollified, Quain huffed.

We ignored him. He’d been bellyaching since we’d left the Healer’s Guild cave. Ryne had assigned the monkeys and Flea as promised. He’d also sent Enric along. We’d left in the morning, and it would take us all day to reach the “infirmary.” We didn’t expect any trouble as the route to the cave didn’t have any red Xs on Ryne’s map.

Sunlight shone through the trees, heating the air to an almost uncomfortable level, despite being twenty days away from the end of summer. In the fall, Kerrick’s eyes had been a lovely russet color with flecks of orange, gold and red.

To keep from crying and to stop Quain from whining, I asked Loren about the skirmishes. “You’re a small unit, how have you been faring against Tohon’s larger army?”

He flashed me a grateful smile. “We rely on ambushes mostly, drawing the enemy into the kill zone before attacking. Then we don’t linger. By the time the enemy unit changes from pure reaction to action, we’re already leaving.”

“How about the dead soldiers?” I asked.

“We’ve been using blow guns and darts filled with the toxin until our supply ran out.” Loren grinned. “So we are really really really glad to see you, Avry.”

Now it was my turn to mutter. “I guess if you’d have known about the Death Lily toxin before, you wouldn’t have left me to deal with Tohon alone.” I rubbed my cheek. Even when compared to Belen’s stab wounds, Kerrick’s whipping and Noelle’s knife to the gut, that onslaught remained the most pain I’d ever experienced.

Loren and Quain wouldn’t meet my hard gaze. Guess I wasn’t as fine with them leaving me as I’d claimed.

“The one thing I won’t miss about the attacks is the smell,” Flea said. “Those dead reek so bad I about throw up every time I get a whiff.”

“They don’t reek as much as your socks,” Quain said.

“My socks are sweet compared to your sh—”

“Gentlemen,” Loren warned.

And just like that, the mood returned to normal. As we hiked, I mulled over Loren’s comments.

“What happens if something goes wrong when you’re engaging the enemy?” I asked Loren.

“Prince Ryne has given us contingencies for every possible outcome. If our primary attack runs foul, we switch to another tactic, and if that doesn’t work, then we have three more options to try before we retreat.”

“Every possible outcome? I find that hard to believe,” I said.

“I’ve been leading our small unit for the last ten days and haven’t used more than two options. Kerrick was right. Prince Ryne has a gift for strategy.” Loren glanced at me in concern. Probably worried that mentioning Kerrick’s name would upset me.

It did, but I kept control of my emotions.

“What about communication between units and with Prince Ryne?” Enric asked. “His map had Xs all over the place. You don’t have any magicians, so how do you know you’re not ambushing yourselves?”

Loren studied Enric as if impressed with his questions. “Prince Ryne assigns each unit a series of tasks. When those tasks are complete, we return for another set of directives. He knows which unit is doing what at any given time. He has loads more maps with diagrams.”

“Where did he get them?” I asked.

“He drew them when we were in Estrid’s camp.”

“And when we were in hiding. He had plenty of time then,” Flea added completely unaware of Loren’s signal to shut up.

“Good to know he was putting that time to good use. I’d hate to think he was relaxing while Estrid’s soldiers were dying as they tried to break the encirclement.” The bitterness in my voice surprised even me.

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