Scent of Magic Page 55

“What about your troops?” I asked.

“When Tohon attacks, they’ll be in the forest divided into small tactical units.”

“Like your elite squads you used to help Kerrick in Alga?”

“Yes. They’ll harry Tohon’s soldiers with quick, short strikes. I wanted to divide all of Estrid’s forces into squads because I don’t think we can win using more traditional warfare methods.”

“But what about the dead soldiers?” Loren asked. “None of your elites returned from scouting missions in Sogra.”

Ryne released me from his piercing gaze to glance at Loren. “We were unaware of Tohon’s abominations then.”

“But they have neck armor now,” I said.

“My troops have been training to deal with that. Estrid still isn’t convinced.”

Alarmed, I asked, “Haven’t Belen and Ursan returned?”

“It’s only been ten days,” Ryne said. He squeezed my shoulders as if consoling me, then let go.

We had five days until Tohon attacked. “Tell me what you’re doing, and I’ll start training my squads.”

Ryne raised an eyebrow. “Your squads?”

“Sergeant Irina’s squads. I’m sure she’ll help.”

He promised to send one of his men over in the morning to demonstrate the technique.

Once again I hesitated before leaving. Flea stood between Loren and Quain. “Do you have an extra cot for him?” I asked.

“Yes,” Ryne said.

“You’ll need to find him some clothes that fit, and—”

“We’ll take care of him,” Ryne said.

I pointed at the monkeys, getting their attention. “Don’t let him out of your sight. Understand?”

“Hey,” Flea said. “I can take care of myself.”

We all ignored him.

“Yes, Sergeant,” Loren said, smiling.

“Good.” I nodded.

As I left, Quain said, “She said I was right, Loren. Did you hear her?”

“I don’t recall.”

“Liar, you just don’t...”

Their bickering faded as I strode through the camp, heading toward my tent. If only Belen and Kerrick were here, it would be perfect. Until Tohon attacked. With that sobering thought, I sought out Thea. She talked to a group of lieutenants, and by their intense gazes I guessed she discussed the disappearing soldiers.

I hovered on the edges, hoping to catch her eye. She noticed me and waved me over.

“Sergeant Irina estimated over two hundred in a squad,” Thea said, including me in the conversation.

The others looked doubtful.

I made a quick decision. “Prince Ryne is pretty confident Tohon will attack on midsummer’s day.” Before they could dismiss the news as hearsay, I continued, “We’ll need special training to counter them. All your squads that are not on patrol are to report to the main training area in the morning.”

The lieutenants gaped at me, then glanced at Thea. She met their outraged expressions with her typical calm. “All my squads will be there, Sergeant,” she said without looking at me.

One by one, they nodded and left to inform their platoons.

She turned to me. “Go tell Liv, and I’ll find Saul and Odd. Wynn’s out on patrol.”

“Thanks,” I said.

A brief smile. “You haven’t led me astray. Besides, nothing wrong with more training.”

We parted to spread the news. It was well past midnight when I crawled into my cot. Exhaustion had one benefit—no nightmares.

Liv shook me awake at dawn. “Come on, Baby Face, wake up.”

I groaned and tried to roll over, but she yanked my sheet off.

“You’re evil,” I mumbled.

“This was your idea, not mine.” She crossed her arms and studied me.

I ran my fingers through tangled hair. Still no lice. “What?”

“Your hair is getting darker, and your lips aren’t as fat.”

There had been no free time for me to reapply Mom’s various dyes. “So?”

“So, there have been rumors about you.”

Oh, no. It had started. “What rumors?” I asked with what I hoped was a mildly curious tone. Getting up, I pulled on my shirt.

“That you’re working for Prince Ryne. You were spotted heading straight to his tent when you returned from your secret mission. And you’ve been in his tent a couple times since he has arrived.”

Thinking fast, I said, “Since the exercise in the forest, he’s been consulting me on a few things. Lieutenant Thea is well aware of my activities.”

“Consulting you? A sergeant? Yeah, right.”

“Okay, I confess.”

Liv waited.

“We’re lovers.”

She burst out in a high-pitched semigasping laughter. So amused by my comment, she doubled over and collapsed onto her cot. I debated between being offended and glad I entertained her as I finished dressing.

After waiting for her to calm, I said, “What’s so funny about that?”

“Come on, Baby Face. First, he’s a prince, and second, everyone knows there is only one man for you.”

That surprised me. “Really? Which man?”

“We’ve no idea. But you’re the prettiest sergeant around and you’ve been so oblivious to the interest from the other guys that we’ve figured you had to be in love with someone else. Did he die from the plague?”

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