Scent of Magic Page 25

After waiting a few more minutes, I headed back. When I reached my tent, Ursan stepped from the shadows.

“That’s the third time I’ve covered for you,” he said. “You owe me some answers.”

I glanced at his hands, checking for weapons. None. Relaxing slightly, I crossed my arms. “For what questions?”

“Why did you hide from Belen?”

“Didn’t Lieutenant Thea tell you?” I couldn’t keep the surprise from my voice.

“She doesn’t confide everything.”

Interesting. I’d thought he was her go-to guy for advice. Was this a test? “I had a run-in with Belen a few years ago and would like to avoid another encounter.”

“But he knows your name.” Understanding lit his expression. “You used another name then.”

I gave him a tight smile.

“I’m tired of guessing. Tell me who you are. You owe me,” he said.

That was the second time he’d said I owed him, and this time it pissed me off. “Two squads disappeared without a trace in sector five, Sergeant. Yet you and all your jumping jacks returned alive and well from that very sector. I’d say we’re even.”

He opened his mouth, but I said, “Think about it.”

“I have. It was too easy getting there and back. It could have been all a ploy to get us to trust you.”

“And look at how well it worked.” I didn’t bother to suppress my sarcasm. I continued before he could reply. “Are you going to arrest me?”

Ursan frowned but didn’t reply.

I pushed past him and entered my tent. Not much I could do if he decided to expose me. I had bigger worries. Like how I would stop Belen from leaving the camp.

Except a couple days later, my problem had been solved. A messenger on horseback arrived, announcing that Prince Ryne’s troops would be here in about a week. The gossip zipped through the camp, igniting a variety of emotions.

A majority thought we didn’t need Prince Ryne and his elite troops, others welcomed the additional soldiers, while two of us—me and, I was sure, Belen—were ecstatic to hear the news.

Ten days later, Ryne rode into camp. He sat on a huge chestnut-colored horse. Quain and Loren rode just behind him on two piebald mares. They led a small battalion.

I scanned every single one of those faces—approximately four hundred soldiers. My heart thumped up my throat. Just to be certain, I looked a second time, but the results were the same.

Kerrick wasn’t among them.


“No. Absolutely not. You can’t have them,” Izak said.

Kerrick kept his temper...barely. “I’m not asking for your permission—”

“Good, because you won’t get it.”

Izak’s stubbornness matched his own. It was about the only thing the brothers had in common. While dark-haired Kerrick had grown over six feet tall, Izak was five feet ten inches with white-blond hair. Izak’s icy blue eyes stayed the same color all year. Kerrick had been the only family member to be gifted with magic, which had always been a source of conflict between them.

“Let me rephrase,” Kerrick said in an even tone. “I don’t need your permission. I—”

“You haven’t been here in three years. What you need is to reacquaint yourself with what’s going on in Alga Realm.”

He gave Izak a cold stare. “Just what has been going on?”

Izak gestured to the windows. They were in the sitting area of their father’s royal suite. When King Neil died from the plague five years ago, Kerrick had inherited the position. However, he had stayed in his own rooms and refused to allow anyone to call him king. But Izak had moved into the expansive suite of rooms right away. He also had no qualms about being called king.

“Peace and prosperity,” Izak said. “Alga is a safe haven for the plague survivors.”

“Because of Prince Ryne, you idiot. Without his help, Alga Realm wouldn’t exist.”

“And I’m grateful, but I can’t let you take my soldiers because of some crazy rumor.”

By pure force of will, Kerrick did not strangle his brother. Avry would be proud of him, provided she’d speak to him after he failed to show up with Ryne and half his army. The other half was bivouacking in the fields north of Orel, Kerrick’s hometown. Ryne had asked him to gather more troops and address the threat from the northern wildlands. He couldn’t refuse. It was too important. But he had insisted Quain and Loren go with Ryne, despite their protests. Kerrick knew they would protect Avry once her secret was out.

“They are not yours, Izak. I did not abdicate the throne.” He held up a hand, stopping his younger brother’s outburst. “It isn’t a rumor. If the northern tribes reach Alga, then the peace and prosperity you’re so proud of will be gone.”

Izak pished. “We can defend against the tribes. The message could have been from one of Tohon’s spies. What a great tactic. Lure all our soldiers north while he sneaks in over the Nine Mountains.”

“Ryne already ruled that out. The source of the message is reliable, and he detailed hundreds of warriors. The tribal people are ruthless, they—”

“Probably have been decimated by the plague, as well.”

Kerrick ceased arguing. It was a waste of time. He strode to the door, yanked it open and ordered one of the guards standing outside to fetch General Zamiel.

“You can’t...”

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