Scent of Magic Page 53

A bone-aching, teeth-chattering chill raced through Kerrick’s body. His muscles stiffened into immobility as his extremities burned with cold. Kerrick’s heartbeat slowed, and taking a breath required an immense effort, as if icicles had formed inside his lungs.

Noak released him, but Kerrick remained frozen.

“Winter’s Curse. You understand?” Noak asked.

“No.” Kerrick forced the word out.

“Slow cold death. So slow winter’ll be here and gone before you. Cold like fire, consuming you as you turn to ice from the inside out. Your magic gone.” Noak poked him in the chest. “Nothing like it.”

Noak gestured to the two men standing next to Kerrick. They removed his bindings, dragged him over to a tree, sat him down and, even though he couldn’t move, they secured his wrists behind the tree’s trunk. The metal pinched his skin. And he noted that the pain felt greater than it should.

Squatting next to him, Noak said, “We hunt what is left of your—” he half smiled “—army. When I return, you will help.”

By the time Kerrick could say the word no, the leader had strode away. A brief spark of worry for his soldiers gave him a momentary distraction, but soon the bite of cold deep in his body made the pain from his other cuts and bruises fade to nonexistence. He would have yelled if he had the breath. Instead he fought the slow suffocation with sips of air.

It didn’t take long for Kerrick to agree with Noak. This was a torture like no other. Being whipped seemed pleasant in comparison. And the thought it would continue for months almost sent him over the edge. But he refused to give in. He concentrated on Avry, recalling her kind sea-green eyes, her stubborn pout that he loved but would never admit to her, and her determination.

He wondered if her touch would break this curse. But would she be dying a slow, cold death in his place? He didn’t know enough about Noak’s magic to answer that question. Either way, he’d never endanger her.

As the hours, days, maybe even weeks passed, Kerrick’s existence shrank to the cold misery feasting on him and the endless effort to draw a breath. When a familiar pair of snufa-skinned boots came into his limited view, Kerrick didn’t know if he could refuse Noak again.

The tribe’s leader knelt next to him. “Ready to cooperate?”

Kerrick’s body screamed in agreement, but he couldn’t betray his people. “No.” Through frozen lips, the word was barely a whisper.

Noak met Kerrick’s gaze. He nodded as if he’d been expecting that answer, then glanced to his right and gestured.

Shuffles of feet and a muffled shout reached Kerrick before two tribesmen carried a squirming bundle into sight. Bound and gagged, Danny’s expression showed more anger than fear.

“How about now?” Noak asked.


The dead soldiers had completely disappeared. We had spent the rest of that day and most of the next searching for them, or for signs of their passage in the forest. Nothing.

When the sun touched the horizon, Thea said, “That’s enough. Time to report back to the major, and let him decide what to make of it.”

As we hiked toward Zabin, Flea stayed by my side, asking questions. Well aware that Thea and Saul could hear, I deflected the ones that I thought Jael shouldn’t know about.

We had been away for six days, and it took us another two days to reach the outskirts of Estrid’s main army. Two days without encountering anyone—friend or foe. But as soon as we heard a patrol around midafternoon on the third day and determined it was one of ours, Thea flagged them down.

They hadn’t seen any of Tohon’s troops in this quadrant, but a couple of his patrols had attacked their lines to the southwest, drawing Estrid’s men to that area. Thea warned them of a possible ambush, then we moved on.

She stopped a couple more patrols before we arrived at the rather tranquil base. Most of the buzz was over the skirmishes to the southwest. The soldiers thought Tohon was testing their response since the clashes hadn’t lasted long before Tohon’s soldiers retreated. While Thea and Saul reported to Major Granvil, I headed straight for Ryne’s tent with Flea in tow.

I burst through the tent flaps with a huge smile on my face, but the place was empty. Flea yawned—it had been a long day.

“Stay here, and I’ll see where everyone’s at,” I said.

Flea plopped onto Ryne’s cot near the back of the tent and was soon fast asleep. I hesitated at the tent’s entrance, afraid to leave him alone. I wondered if it was just my nurturing instinct or something deeper. Examining my feelings, I felt this odd attachment to Flea that went beyond friendship. Like that of a mother bear—fiercely protective. Was it due to his death or because we shared a bond since we’d both been revived by a Peace Lily?

Had Kerrick felt this way when we parted? He’d seen me without life. And then I’d walked away, claiming it was for the best. Not nice—almost cruel. Had he suspected the real reason I’d ran? Did I?

I glanced at Flea. He looked so young and peaceful. No nightmares disturbed his sleep, unlike with me. Most nights Tohon visited my dreams. Most nights Tohon’s kiss lingered long after I woke breathless with desire. His touch so vivid, I worried my dreams of him would erase my memories of lying with Kerrick.

Pulling the sheet over Flea, I tucked him in. Even though I knew he was safe, I just couldn’t leave.

I settled in one of the chairs and waited. My thoughts returned to past decisions and mistakes. Had Tohon claimed me? Is that why I dreamed of him every night?

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