Scent of Magic Page 31

Alarmed, I asked, “Which one?”

“Sergeant Ursan.”

“Where is he now?”

“Don’t know. When I heard you, my priorities shifted.”

“Heard me?”

“You can change your hair, your appearance and your voice, but you can’t change how you move through the forest. You still sound the same.” He smiled. “I didn’t believe it when Prince Ryne told me you’d died. And I suspected earlier today, but this confirmed it. Does Kerrick know? Are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

“Yes, Kerrick knows. I’ll tell you everything later. First we need to find Ursan. He’s been acting...strange.”

We listened. Our conversation had drawn the jacks south toward us with the monkeys close behind. Ryne? I mouthed to Belen.

He used two fingers on his left hand to indicate the monkeys and his right index finger to mark Ryne. Close enough to be within the rules, but too far for my comfort level.

When the forest exploded with the sounds of people running through the bushes, I exchanged an alarmed glance with Belen.

“Part of the exercise?” he asked.


“Another squad training?”

“No.” My mind raced. And I put a few clues together. “It’s a distraction.”

“To help the jacks win?” Belen asked.

“No. Ryne. We have to protect him.”

He broke into a run, and I followed close behind. We needed to get to Ryne before Ursan assassinated him.


Kerrick sat behind his father’s immense desk, trying to make sense of the “deal” his idiot brother had made with Tohon. He glanced at General Zamiel, who refused to sit, and his Great-Aunt Yasmin, who had settled into an armchair with a blanket over her legs despite the heat.

“Tell me exactly what Izak promised Tohon,” he ordered the general.

“Izak could tell you himself, Kerry,” Great-Aunt Yasmin said with a note of disapproval in her voice. “I don’t know why you had him placed under house arrest.”

“It was for his protection,” he said, keeping his temper.

“I don’t under—”

“From me. So I don’t kill him. Understand now?” he asked her.

“Yes.” She adjusted the blanket and played with the tassels. “You shouldn’t fight with him, Kerry. He’s all the family you have left.”

He drew in a breath before replying, “I have you.”

“I don’t count. I have one foot and four toes in the grave.”

“You’ve been saying that since I was seven. You’re going to outlive us all.”

“Only if you keep running off and fighting—”

“Do you know what Tohon’s been doing while I’ve been away? What he has created?” he asked, keeping his voice even.

“She doesn’t, but Izak does,” General Zamiel said. “That’s why he made that deal and why I supported his decision.”

Kerrick met the general’s gaze. The man had been his father’s right-hand man since he could remember. His short black hair had turned white, and wrinkles etched his face. But he still radiated a powerful confidence, and his sword hung within easy reach. Zamiel had taught Kerrick how to fight. And even though he had lost the last two fingers on his right hand in battle, Zamiel was near impossible to beat. Or he had been. Kerrick wondered who would win if they fought now.

“Which is why I need to know everything that happened,” Kerrick said. “Great-Aunt Yasmin, perhaps you’d rather—”

“I’m not moving. I’m old, not frail.” She glared at the general. “I can’t help your brother if I don’t know what’s going on.”

He took another moment to settle his temper before he said or did something he’d regret. Kerrick had impressed his great-aunt by not throttling his brother when he heard the news about Tohon, but there was still time to disappoint her.

“All right, stay,” he said to her. “General, please start from the beginning. How did Tohon’s soldiers get past our sentries in the Nine Mountains?”

“Last summer his troops came barreling through the Orel Pass like an avalanche. The mindless intensity of the attack took us by surprise. Once we rallied, we discovered that nothing stopped them. Arrows and swords had no effect.”

“Decapitation does,” Kerrick said.

“By the time we figured that out, most of my troops were beyond terrified. Frightened men and women make poor fighters.”

“Terrified of what?” Great-Aunt Yasmin asked.

Kerrick told her about Tohon’s dead soldiers.

She scowled. “You knew about them, and didn’t warn Izak?”

“I found out in the winter. Izak should have warned me.”

“And just how was he supposed to do that?” she asked. “We had no idea where you were for three years.”

She was right. So focused on finding a healer, he had neglected his family and duties.

“And the deal?” he asked the general.

“If our army swears allegiance to him and joins his forces, he’d leave the rest of us alone. It was the only way to save the realm. I planned to go with them, but Tohon wouldn’t take me.”

Kerrick considered. Tohon had needed more soldiers to fight Estrid, so he’d raided Alga, knowing Kerrick had left Izak in charge. But why hadn’t he left troops behind? Or taken Izak like he had Cellina? Because Tohon probably figured once he conquered the south, he could easily enter Alga under the guise of bringing back the stolen troops. And once he crossed the Nine Mountains, the rest of the northern realms would be his.

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