Scent of Magic Page 37

“Consider the alternative,” she said.

Kerrick didn’t trust Izak’s ability to imagine how bad it would be. His brother tended to be too optimistic. “Izak, our chances of success are little to none. The smartest thing you could do is to leave now.”


“One more exercise, gentlemen, then you have the afternoon off,” I said to the assembled jumping jacks and the Odd Squad. “Jacks, go west, while the odds go east. Wait fifteen minutes, then begin. First team to find Belen wins.”

Belen had been training Ryne’s troops nearby and agreed to help me with this last drill. The twenty men moved through the forest, disappearing into the thick and wet greenery. It had rained last night but had cleared by morning. The scent of living green, sunshine and moist earth reminded me of Kerrick. Longing and concern for him flared; I hoped I’d see him again.

About five minutes after the men left, Belen turned to me. “Ryne confirmed what you suspected. That neck armor Ursan brought us last night is made of liquid metal and all but impossible to crack.” Poppa Bear looked as worried as I felt.

“Does he have a counteroffensive?” I asked.

“Not yet. At least we have some warning of what Tohon’s up to.”

“But none of Estrid’s soldiers believe us. They’re in for a very nasty surprise.” I shuddered just thinking about those dead soldiers, what would happen when they came... No. I wasn’t going to consider that possibility. I was safe behind Estrid’s lines.

“Ryne’s working on convincing Estrid. He’s sending me and the boys out on a hunting mission tomorrow.”

“To capture one of the dead?” Unease churned in my stomach.

“If we can.”

“Are the monkeys going?” I asked.

“No. They’ve been taking their role as Ryne’s bodyguards seriously.” Belen pretended to be shocked by the idea.

I smiled. “Which boys?”

“Ursan and his jumping jacks.”

“Why them and not your squad?” I shouldn’t have been surprised. Ursan had said Jael would send him out on a dangerous mission as punishment for failing to assassinate Ryne.

“We’re hoping Ursan can sniff out the dead. From a distance, it’s hard to tell them apart from the living soldiers. Estrid and Jael agreed, but we only get one chance.”

Another unexpected development. Ursan had shared his secret with them. I wondered what else he’d told them last night.

After Ursan had taken the neck armor from Major Granvil’s tent, I had chased him down and had demanded to know what he was doing.

“Helping you,” he had said. “You never would have found it. And you shouldn’t be seen entering Prince Ryne’s tent. I’ll take this to him and explain where we found it and your theories about it.”

“I’m going to be revealed anyway,” I’d said. “Why wait?”

“Because I’m being selfish. The longer you are Sergeant Irina, the more soldiers learn a life-saving skill. Once you’re known as Healer Avry, you’ll be stuck in the infirmary.”

“I wouldn’t call it being stuck. I enjoy healing. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”

“You will eventually. Besides, Prince Ryne agreed that you should continue. And he’s a military genius.”

“Gee, that’s not what you called him at the sergeant’s fire.”

“I’ve changed my mind.”

“Super.” I’d considered. “I guess a few more days won’t hurt. But I’m talking to my sister before I’m outed.”

“Fine.” He’d turned to go.

“Ursan.” I’d grabbed his arm and pointed to the bruises on his neck. “Give me your sword or Belen might throttle first and ask questions later.”

“Good idea.” Ursan had taken off his scabbard and handed it to me.

“I’ll leave it in your tent,” I had said, then added, “Thanks.”

He had nodded before heading toward Ryne’s encampment.

“I’d better go, or they’ll accuse me of cheating,” Belen said, pulling me from my memories.

“Don’t make it impossible to find you. The jacks have the afternoon off.”

He grinned. “But I have my reputation to uphold.”

“If you go longer than two hours, I won’t be here.”

“Are you training another squad?”

“Yes.” Eventually.

Belen stepped away but paused. “Almost forgot.” He removed three round stones from his pocket. “There are yours.” Belen dropped Flea’s juggling stones into my hands.

“But you knew Flea longer, and—”

“I told you before. They’re your keepers. So keep them close.”

I pressed my hands to my heart. “I will.”

* * *

After almost two hours of creeping around the forest, one of the jacks discovered Belen. He had fallen asleep, and the young man had literally tripped over him. So much for his reputation.

In high spirits, the jacks left to enjoy their time off. I walked back to camp with Belen and Ursan. They discussed plans for their mission.

Before Belen headed to Ryne’s encampment, he said, “Avry, Ryne wants to talk to you this afternoon about how you survived the plague.”

I glanced at Ursan. He looked shocked.

Belen noticed my concern. “Ryne says we can trust him.”

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