Scent of Magic Page 22

Krakowa was in northern Ivdel near the border with Gubkin Realm.

“What’s the message?” Ryne asked.

“He won’t tell me. Only you.”

It was a bit unusual. Most messages didn’t need to be given directly to the prince.

“All right, let him in,” Ryne said.

Kerrick gave him a questioning look. Ryne motioned for him to stay. He stood behind the prince with his hand resting on the hilt of his sword in case the messenger had been sent by Tohon.

The man hardly glanced at Kerrick. His pale face was drawn, and he looked as if he hadn’t slept in days. Bowing to the prince, he waited for permission to speak.

“Go on, man, don’t keep us in suspense,” Ryne said. “What news do you bring?”

“Terrible news, sire. The northern tribes have invaded Krakowa.”

Kerrick leaned forward. Did he just  say the tribes had invaded? Ryne drilled the man with rapid-fire questions. When? How many? And so on. But Kerrick couldn’t focus on the answers. If the northern tribes were on the warpath, then they had bigger problems than Tohon.


I took the two halves of the metal protector from Ursan and fitted them around my throat. Even at its tightest setting it was a little big, but it covered my neck. “Still don’t believe Tohon has reanimated the dead?” I asked.

“It’s a piece of armor,” Ursan said. “No big deal, we all wear armor in battle.”

“Around your neck?”

“It’s too awkward, but not unheard of.”

“Uh-huh.” I glanced at Major Granvil. Did he understand the danger? Did he understand Tohon could send his well-protected dead soldiers and there’d be nothing we could do to stop them?

“The High Priestess and General Jael have ordered us to stifle all rumors about impossible creatures,” he said. “The creator would never allow such things to exist.”

I looked at Lieutenant Thea. Did she believe this bull? Her expression remained neutral.

Interesting how the army’s belief in the creator was invoked only when convenient. They didn’t act like true advocates. In fact, the soldiers behaved more superstitiously than devout. At least they stayed casual about the religious aspect. I didn’t worry about being turned in for not being spiritual enough. Piety wasn’t a requirement to be a soldier, unlike with the acolytes, whose devotion had to be pure.

“I hope the High Priestess has an explanation prepared.” And a strategy. I pulled the neck protector off and handed it to the major.

He dismissed us. As we walked back to our tents, I considered the situation, trying not to panic. It seemed odd that Estrid hadn’t believed Belen about the dead. From the few times I’d met her, she’d come across as intelligent and practical. Unless she didn’t know. Belen and Jael had been in school together along with Kerrick, Ryne and Tohon. Belen might have told Jael, believing she’d inform the High Priestess.

Why wouldn’t Jael pass along the information? She’d spent six years in boarding school with Tohon, attending magic classes with him and Kerrick. She should know what Tohon was capable of and how his warped mind worked.

Unfortunately, I was also well acquainted with Tohon’s magic. His voice continued to haunt my dreams, his magic tricked my body into desiring his touch. I shuddered. No. I wouldn’t be claimed.

When Ursan rushed off to join his celebrating jacks, Lieutenant Thea turned to me. “Speaking hypothetically, how would you kill a soldier who is already dead?”


“And if they’re wearing a metal collar?”

I searched my memories back to when I’d had the misfortune of encountering them. My skin crawled just thinking about their cold flesh and lifeless gazes. They obeyed simple commands and could be trained, so some intelligence must still exist. “You could try crushing their heads so they can’t follow orders.”

She fingered the handle of her sword. “Hard to do with a metal blade.”

“Mallets and hammers would be better. But would still require some effort and time. You’d have to be pretty strong to break the skull.”

Thea grimaced.

“A crossbow bolt might pierce the bone,” I mused aloud. “But the archer would need excellent aim, and one bolt might not be enough. A knife in the eye might—”

“That’s enough, Sergeant. I get your point.”

“That we’re screwed? Hypothetically, of course.”

“Of course.”

Thea had raised an important question. We needed a counteroffensive to fight the armored dead. Hard to plan when no one believed it would be necessary. Belen needed to know. He could inform Prince Ryne and Kerrick when they arrived.

“Lieutenant, when is Belen’s squad due back?” I asked.

“In a couple days, why?”

“Can you tell him about the neck armor?”

“Why can’t you?”

“Last time I talked to him, he threatened to tear my arms off,” I lied. Belen would never hurt me.

She shook her head. “Did you insult his prince?”

Yes. Many times. “Something like that.”

Thea stared at me so long, I wondered if I was in trouble.

“I hope someday that you’ll tell me who you really are, Sergeant. Ursan doesn’t cover for anyone, so you must be very special.” She strode away.

So much for my disguise. At least she didn’t threaten to expose me. A minor comfort.

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