Scent of Magic Page 32

A good strategy, except the tribes had invaded. Instead of following Ryne to the south, Kerrick had come here and discovered Tohon’s plan. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the resources to do anything about it. All he could do was send a message to Ryne, warning him that Tohon had more troops than they’d estimated.

“Did Tohon sign an agreement?” Kerrick asked.

“No. Just gave us his word.”

Which meant nothing. “What exactly did he say?”

“That Alga Realm would remain safe as long as he was king of all the realms.”

“Did Izak acknowledge him as king?”


Kerrick suppressed a curse. “Does Tohon know I didn’t abdicate?”

General Zamiel smiled. “No. We failed to mention that to him.”

“See?” Great-Aunt Yasmin tapped her temple. “Your brother did the best he could in a horrible situation. And he even gave you a way out. You owe him an apology.”

Kerrick wouldn’t go that far. “How many soldiers did we lose?”

“Fourteen hundred,” Zamiel said.

“That’s double what we had.”

“We combined with Gubkin Realm. Their survivors wouldn’t last another winter, so we welcomed them here, along with all the Algan survivors. We figured it was safer for everybody to live and work together in one town. It felt like the days before the plague. Laughter, music, babies being born. At least until Tohon arrived.”

“Is Gubkin deserted?” Kerrick asked.

“There are a few gangs still up there, but not enough of them to worry about.”

But that meant there was no one left for Kerrick to recruit to help him against the tribes. And with their army gone, Alga would be an easy target if the tribes got past Kerrick. If. With only four hundred soldiers, it was more likely when.


Loud footfalls, panicked yells and curses filled the forest. The noise of the unexpected intruders covered any sounds that might have helped us find Prince Ryne. Belen headed in the direction of Ryne’s last known position. I stayed close, listening to the chaos around us.

“...over there...go left...”

“...two more. Move it!”

Someone crossed right behind us. I glanced back in time to see a person dive into the underbrush. His bright yellow jumpsuit clashed against the greenery. Yellow meant took me a moment to make the connection. And then more flashes of yellow confirmed my suspicions. Estrid’s prisoners of war had escaped, and their guards were in noisy pursuit. I smelled smoke. Was the POW camp on fire? Breathing in deep, I detected the unmistakable aroma of burning wood.

Belen stopped. “He was here. Should I call out for him?”

“No. His response might tip off Ursan. Plus we don’t want the sergeant to know we’re on to him.” My mind raced. “Wouldn’t Quain and Loren stay with him?”


Just then Loren and Quain appeared.

“What’s going on?” Loren asked Belen. “Where’s Ryne?”

“I’d hoped with you.”

“We lost him in the confusion. Guess Sergeant Irina’s men needed to cheat to win.” Quain scowled at me.

I ignored him. “Your prince’s been targeted for assassination. We need to find Ursan and stop him.”

“Where are they?” Quain asked, pulling his dagger.

“If we knew that, we wouldn’t be standing here,” Belen growled.

An idea clicked. “We’ll each take a compass point. Belen south, Quain north, Loren west, and I’ll take east. Watch the trees, Ursan likes to ambush from above.”

The monkeys glanced at Belen, clearly confused as to why I was giving the orders. I hadn’t seen a spark of recognition in their eyes, and I didn’t have time to educate them.

“Go,” he said, turning south.

Quain snapped his mouth shut. He’d have time later to ask questions. As I headed east, worry for Ryne grew. I should have guessed this earlier. After all, Jael had tried to kill me to stop me from healing Ryne. If we stopped Ursan, I planned to assign the monkeys as his permanent bodyguards.

The sounds of the fleeing POWs and guards quieted as the chase moved farther west. I concentrated. A slight rustle came from my right. Scanning the trees, I quickened my pace as another small shuffle sounded. Ryne.

I strained, listening for any movement from Ursan. Nothing. Again I glanced up, searching the lower branches.

Ryne turned in my direction when I drew close. Relief at finding him alive was immediately replaced with fear as Ursan dropped from the tree above the prince’s head.

“Watch out,” I yelled, pointing.

But Ryne was too slow to react. Ursan landed on him. I raced to them. Sitting on top of Ryne, Ursan held the blade of his knife against Ryne’s throat.

“Ursan, don’t do it,” I said.

“Don’t come any closer,” Ursan said to me, but he kept his gaze on Ryne.

Ryne peered back at him, looking rather calm for a man in his position.

I stopped and held my hands out. “Ursan, we’re on the same side.”

“Are we?”

“Yes, we are.”

“I have my orders,” he said.

Yet Ryne still breathed. “Those orders don’t make sense. And you know it. What about the prince’s army? When they find out you— Oh. You plan to blame the POWs. Right?”

No response.

“How do you plan on silencing me?” I asked. A few sour notes sounded to my right. I lowered my hands.

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