Scent of Magic Page 107

Loren and Quain glanced at each other. Quain made a go-on gesture to his friend.

“Avry, we’re sorry we had deceive you,” Loren said. “But no matter which angle we looked at the problem, Tohon would have torn the encampment apart, searching for you. It would have ruined our entire strategy, and all of Estrid’s and our soldiers would have died. ’Cause you know as well as we did that Tohon wasn’t going to ‘incorporate’ the armies.”

Ryne’s tactics made sense. I hadn’t doubted that.

“Plus, you were needed,” Flea said. “You healed lots of people while we couldn’t help anyone.”

Another valid point.

“And we were worried you might let our...surprise slip.”

Perfectly reasonable.

“And you figured it out. Which really impressed Prince Ryne,” Quain said.

Which made me ask, “How did you plan to get past the encirclement before I sent the toxin?”

“We sent a bunch of our people out as the POWs to help on the outside,” Loren said.

“That wouldn’t have been enough.”

“You’re right.” Quain’s eyes lit up. “We had axes.”

I waited.

“Made from liquid metal,” Loren said. “ Zabin’s arms merchant’s supply of liquid metal axes. They cleave right through those collars Tohon put on his dead. But we didn’t have many, and it would have been an outright, dragged-out fight with many casualties. Your way was much better.”

“Glad I could help.” Again with the sarcasm—what was wrong with me?

“Avry, we’ve explained and apologized,” Loren said. “You let us believe you were dead for months, and we forgave you. What more do you need?”

“I don’t need—” And then it clicked. “What bothered me wasn’t that you left, but that you left without asking me to come along.” I held up a hand. “All those points you made were excellent reasons for me to stay behind. But you didn’t think I would have made them, too. That I would have said, no, go on without me and don’t tell me anything. You assumed I’d want to run and hide with you.”

“But you admitted to being terrified of Tohon,” Quain said.

“I did. But I wouldn’t have compromised you guys because of my fear. I guess I’m upset because you think I would.”

“I understand now,” Loren said. “Okay, so we’ve made a mistake and so have, we’re even?”

I smiled. “We’re even.”

“And you escaped from Tohon,” Flea said. “Does that mean you’re not afraid of him anymore?”

“I’d be an idiot not to be, but I’m not terrified that he’ll claim me any longer.”

“Why not?”

“Because he can’t.”

“Woo hoo! Score one for the healer!” Quain pumped his fist in the air.

“Oh, grow up, Quain,” Loren said.

“Lighten up, Loren. You make an acolyte seem fun in comparison.”

“I do not. You’re like an overeager puppy—all drool and unable to hold your bow—”

“Boys,” I said. “That’s enough. Besides, we should be encouraging Quain in his efforts to be housebroken, not—”

“Hey!” Quain rushed me.

I held up my hands and wiggled my fingers. “Beware the touch of death!”

He tackled me anyway. We rolled on the ground together, laughing.

“Great. Just great,” Loren said. “Now the entire realm knows exactly where we are.”

Quain jumped to his feet. “Bring them on! I’m ready for a fight.”

The rest of us groaned. I stood and brushed dirt from my clothes.

Enric pulled a leaf from my hair. “Is this...?”

“Typical behavior?”

He nodded.

“Yes. Now you know why they’re called the monkeys.”

“Lovely,” he deadpanned.

“That’s what I thought as first. Don’t worry, they’ll grow on you.”

“Or I’ll kill them?”

“Pretty much. It’s either a love or hate type of thing.”


* * *

We arrived at the cave without encountering another unit or any Death Lilys. The outer guards led us inside. A large cavern had been converted into an infirmary. There were cots instead of beds, but it was better than the patients lying on the cool, hard floor. Medical supplies had been stacked along the right wall, and there were other, smaller caverns being used by the four caregivers who had been helping the wounded.

I quickly assessed the patients. Battle wounds and broken bones. Nothing dire or infected yet. The caregivers had done a good job. After setting up an examination area, I added the herbs I had gathered on our way to the pile of supplies. Then I unrolled my bedroll, smoothing it out near the monkeys’, Flea’s and Enric’s in an otherwise empty area.

The boys were added to the guard duty rotation, but they had the first night off. We sat around a fire, eating dinner and talking about nothing in particular. It felt like old times.

When Quain started to complain about babysitting again, I offered him a new job.

“Anything would be better,” he said.

“Okay, then that nice young caregiver...Valorie...can patrol and you can clean bedpans.”


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