Scent of Magic Page 12

Thea raised a finger. “That’s one of the three things against you. The others are that you’re a young female and that you haven’t earned your place here. All of my sergeants have been promoted up through the ranks. Not  assigned a rank.”

I understood two of the three. “Female? General Jael’s in charge, and the last time I checked, she’s a young female.”

“She’s also the High Priestess’s daughter-in-law and an air magician.”

“And I’m not.”

“Correct. Plus we need to rebuild our population. Women of childbearing years are already in short supply, and my lady sergeants are older.”

I caught on. “They don’t want us getting killed in battle.”

“Yep. It’s all about our future survival.”

“But if we don’t stop Tohon, we won’t have a future.”

“These guys are quite confident we’ll win.” Thea stopped at the edge and watched the men practice. “They have to be, in order to do their jobs.”

I studied the fighters. Most had stripped off their shirts in deference to the afternoon heat. Some of them held wooden swords while others fought with knives. The clangs of metal blades sounded as a few used real weapons. Sweat coated muscles and stained their sleeveless undershirts.

After a few minutes, Thea whistled and three men and two women broke from the knots of fighters and headed toward us.

As they approached, I wondered if the male sergeants in Estrid’s army had to be over six feet tall and solid muscle, because these guys made Kerrick seem small—something I’d thought only Belen could do. I glanced at Thea.

“Don’t let them intimidate you,” she said under her breath.

Too late.

When they reached us, they saluted the lieutenant.

“At ease, Sergeants,” she said.

They dropped their hands, but their tight postures were far from relaxed. All wore their hair buzzed short, even the women. All glared at me. And their nonverbal message was clear. Go away,  stranger. You don’t belong here.

I fought my desire to step back, reminding myself that I’d faced down Kerrick. But there were five of them. Kill. Me. Now.

Thea introduced me. “Sergeant Irina, this is Sergeants Liv, Ursan, Odd, Saul and Wynn.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said.

They remained silent and unfriendly.

Thea’s voice took on her no-nonsense tone. “Major Granvil has assigned Sergeant Irina to our platoon to help with our special operations training.”

“We don’t need help,” Sergeant Ursan said.

His named sounded familiar—something about jumping jacks.

“That’s not your decision, Sergeant. It’s the major’s,” Thea said. “Your squad will be the first to start the training.”

Wrong move. Yes, she was his commanding officer, and he’d obey her orders, but his whole demeanor shouted I’d get more cooperation from Tohon’s dead. I had to get all the sergeants on board or the lessons with their squads would be a frustrating and fruitless waste of everyone’s time.

“Sergeant Ursan, you said your squad doesn’t need help. Is that correct?” I asked.


“Then how about we work out a deal?”

A flash of interest sparked in his brown eyes.

“How about you give me the opportunity to prove to the five of you that I know something worth learning?”

“And in exchange?”

“Full cooperation.”

He glanced at the other sergeants. They nodded.

“Agreed,” Ursan said.

We shook hands.

“When would be a good time?” I asked Thea.

“Now. And I’ll be observing.”

“Great.” I scanned the area. “Is there a section of the forest reserved for training and free of Death Lilys?”

“Yes,” Ursan said. “Do we need any weapons?”

“No. But you’ll need your shirts.”

He paused for a moment and shot me a look. I wasn’t sure what he thought, but I knew he was intrigued despite himself. Good.

They collected their uniforms. Instead of strapping on their swords, they just tucked their utility knives into their belts. Thea pulled Ursan aside and said something to him. He nodded but kept his gaze on me.

We headed to the woods north of Zabin. Familiar territory for me as I had bypassed the city through this area a few weeks ago.

When we reached the edge of the forest, I turned to the five sergeants. “We’re going to play a game of hide-and-seek. You hide and I’ll seek. Standard rules apply.”

I pressed my lips together to keep from smiling at their outraged expressions that clearly said, grown-ups don’t  play kids’ games.

Thea’s voice remained emotionless when she said, “Sergeant Irina, please go over the rules with them. I’m sure it’s been...a while since they’ve engaged in this activity.”

“Of course. I count to a hundred while you go hide in the woods. You can only stay in one hiding spot for thirty minutes before you need to find another. You can move at any time and, if you hear me approach, feel free to change positions. If I find you all, I win. If I don’t find you all by sunset, you win. Any questions?”

Everyone glanced at the sky. We had about two hours until sunset.

“Sounds pretty straightforward,” Thea said. “Let the game begin.”

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