Scent of Magic Page 11

“Because I’ve been through those woods recently, and all the other squads made so much noise, I easily avoided them, which I’m sure Tohon’s soldiers did, as well.”

“You know Belen?”

“I met him once.”

“So why didn’t Chane send you to him?”

“Belen already has those skills, he doesn’t need my help. You do. I can train your scouts and special squads. Actually, I’m surprised no one has asked Belen to teach more of you.”

“He’s been busy.” The major fiddled with his mustache. “Why should we trust you?”

I pointed to the letter.

“Chane’s a good kid, but he can be tricked.”

“I’ve seen the other side, Major.” I shuddered as the memory of the dead filled me with horror. “You need all the help you can get or Tohon’s going to decimate you.”

“And I’m thinking you’re not the type to scare easily.”

“No, sir.”

He gestured to the female lieutenant. “This is Lieutenant Thea. Her platoon includes the special squads for our company. You can coordinate with her. Now...” He drummed his fingers on his leg. “What do we call you?”

It was a rhetorical question, but I answered it anyway. “General Irina has a nice ring to it.”

He laughed and stood. “There’s only one general in this whole outfit, sweetheart.”

“And who is he?”

“She is General Jael. Not only does she command the army, but the very air. And she has a nasty temper. I’d suggest you stay far away from her.”

Worry for my sister swirled. Jael had taken her on as a page. They were together every day.

The major extended his hand. “Welcome to Axe Company, Sergeant Irina.”

“How about Lieutenant Irina?”

“Let’s see what you can do first, and then we’ll talk.”

I shook his hand. “Deal.”

* * *

Lieutenant Thea eyed me critically. She matched my height, which was a bit of a surprise since, at five feet eight inches, I was on the tall side for a woman. Her no-nonsense demeanor hid her opinion about me. I had the feeling she wasn’t the type to make a quick judgment.

“First stop, the supply tent.” She led me to a huge canvas structure that was more like a building than a tent.

I was given two sets of the daily uniform—basic green camouflage fatigues—they were very smart to change from red—with the sergeant stripes stitched onto the upper sleeves, a thick leather weapon’s belt, a pair of brown boots manufactured for rough terrain, a backpack also camouflaged, underclothes and a dress uniform, which consisted of a button-down collared shirt, jacket and a skirt all in the same bland khaki color. The dress shoes had a two-inch heel.

“Heels and a skirt?” I asked Thea.

Humor sparked in her blue eyes, but it didn’t reach her face. “The dress uniform must be worn when meeting with high-ranking officers, priests and priestesses. I doubt you’ll have need of it.”

“Thank the creator!”

This time she smiled, but it only lasted a second. Back to business, she asked, “Weapon of choice?”

I glanced at her belt. She wore a sword on her right hip and a dagger on her left.

“I don’t need anything.”

She gestured to me. “That stiletto won’t be enough to defend yourself.”

I brandished a couple of my throwing knives. “How about these?”

Thea shrugged. “They’re only good if you know how to use them.”

Aiming for the center post, I buried four in a neat row.

“That’s handy.”

“Keeps the gentleman callers away.”

Another fleeting smile. I considered it a minor victory.

“I’ll show you to your quarters.”

I grabbed my knives and followed her. We walked past tents and around training areas. At first the camp looked as if it had been haphazardly planned, but as Thea pointed out the various platoons, a pattern emerged. Each company had been grouped together.

My quarters ended up being a tent occupied by two other female sergeants.

“Your roommates are also assigned to my platoon.”

“How many soldiers do you command?”

“I have fifty-six. Five squads of ten soldiers with one sergeant commanding each squad.” She cocked her head. “And you.”

I dumped my uniforms onto the empty cot.

“Bed linens can be found in the storage locker.” She pointed to the large trunk at the foot of the cot. “Get dressed and I’ll introduce you to the other sergeants.” She left.

As I changed into the fatigues, I wondered how the other sergeants would react to my sudden...assignment. Stuffing all my things into the trunk, I locked it, then tucked the key into my pocket.

Lieutenant Thea waited for me outside. “My platoon is in training right now. We’re not on patrol duty for another two days. Will that be enough time to teach them?” She led me to one of the open areas used for practice.

“Not all of them.” I considered. Since I’d never taught anyone the skill, I wasn’t sure how long it would take. Or if I could. I suppressed the doubts. Too late to worry about them now. “I might be able to train one squad if they’re quick learners.”

“And if they cooperate.” Thea gave me a tight smile that almost resembled a grimace.

“Because I’m new?”

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