Scent of Magic Page 54

Familiar voices woke me from a light doze. Night had fallen, and Quain carried a lantern. He held it high in one hand and clutched a sword in the other as he entered the tent. I called to him to avoid being skewered.

Quain’s defensive posture didn’t relax. “What are you doing here?”

Equally armed, Loren slid in behind him, followed by Ryne. Of the three, only Ryne appeared happy to see me. And in that moment, it hit me.

“Quain, I’m sorry,” I said.

Caught completely off guard, he just stared at me.

“You’re right. I didn’t trust you. Any of you. Because I’m terrified,” I said.

“Of what?” Ryne asked, stepping closer.

I drew in a deep breath and then the words gushed forth. “Of being captured by Tohon again. Scared of what he’d do to me. Not of being tortured or even being experimented on, but losing myself. Also if he found out about Kerrick and me...” I swallowed. The thought of Tohon’s wrath shook me to my core. “I can’t resist his life magic. The contract I signed was the only reason he didn’t press his advantage before. Next time, there won’t be negotiations. I’d rather die again than be his.”

The three men gaped at me as if uncertain what to make of my confession.

But for me, once I’d said the words aloud, admitting my fears, I felt much better. Odd. And I realized I couldn’t hide forever. I’d let the fear drive me away from Kerrick, and he might be killed fighting the tribes. I vowed, if I got another chance, I wouldn’t let Kerrick out of my sight.

Quain sheathed his sword, handed the lantern to Loren and pulled me into a Belen-sized hug. Loren put the light down and wrapped his arms around us both, making an Avry sandwich.

“Don’t worry about Tohon, Avry,” Loren said. “We’ll protect you.”

“He’s not getting near you,” Quain said. “You’ll be safe with us.”

I let myself believe them as I leaned my forehead against Quain’s shoulder.

“Avry died, too?” Flea asked. “When did that happen?”

In a flash, I was tossed aside as the monkeys whooped and pounced on Flea.

“Why didn’t you tell us? Was he hiding, too?” Quain demanded.

I explained how I found Flea.

“Wait. A Death Lily told you to go there? Is no one else suspicious?” Quain asked.

“I asked it to help me with the Peace Lilys, and it sent me there. I’m not complaining.”

After another round of hugs and slaps on the back, Loren introduced Flea to Ryne since they hadn’t met. The prince shook his hand and thanked him for helping to save him. Flea stammered and gave him one of his lopsided grins.

And then I remembered what else the Lily had given me. I fished them from my pack and held them out.

“What are those?” Ryne asked.

“The Death Lily’s poison sacks.”

Loren and Quain shrank away, but Ryne picked one up and examined it in the lantern light.

“That’s interesting,” Ryne said. “Why would it give them to you?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Maybe it wants us to inject it into Jael,” Quain said.

“I’d second that,” Flea said. “I missed a lot of cool stuff because of her.”

We glanced at each other. Cool wasn’t the word I’d use to describe the past six months.

“What do we know about this?” Ryne asked, holding up a sack.

“It kills people and its own plants if you pour it around the base of the Lily’s stem,” I said.

“But it doesn’t kill everyone,” Ryne said. “Healers survived the poison, and Danny and Zila.”

“Maybe there is another use for the toxin,” I suggested. “Maybe it wants us to figure it out.” I remembered when Tohon had injected the toxin into me. My consciousness had floated above my body, which was similar to being inside a Death Lily, but when Tohon had touched me, I’d merged with his thoughts. I’d wondered if he had used the toxin to create his dead soldiers but had dismissed the theory since he froze the dead bodies in a magical stasis so they didn’t rot. Perhaps I’d been too hasty.

“Here.” Ryne handed it back to me. “I’ll let you figure it out.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Tell me what else you learned while you were gone,” Ryne said.

I filled him in on the disappearing troops.

Ryne stared at the wall for a long moment before declaring, “We have five days to prepare.”

“To prepare for what?” Quain asked.

“For war.”

“Why five days? He could attack tonight,” Loren said.

“That’s midsummer’s day,” Ryne said as if we should all know the significance of that day. When no one commented, he continued. “When we were in school, that was always the last day before our annual break. And the last-year students always crown their elected king on that date, during graduation.”

Now it made sense. Tohon had wanted to be king but hadn’t been elected, and now he was determined to be king of the Fifteen Realms.

“Estrid’s forces have been training for months. Are they strong enough to stop him?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” Ryne said.

“You don’t know?” I asked. “You’re supposed to be a military genius!” My voice turned shrill.

Ryne put his hands on my shoulders and leaned close, capturing my full attention. “Jael commands this army. They are loyal to her and to Estrid. Not me. I have four hundred soldiers and that’s it. I can only give advice. Plus Jael hasn’t confided her real plans to me. She’s been feeding me the same bull she’s been telling her mother-in-law.”

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