Scent of Magic Page 67

Ryne flabbergasted? Fear shot through me. “Need to what?”

He straightened, pulling himself together. “Check my books. I brought a few with me. In school we had learned about the abilities of various magical powers in depth.”

“But I thought they kept that to themselves?”

“As future leaders of the Fifteen Realms, we were privy to more sensitive information than regular students.”

When we reached the edge of the encampment, Ryne rushed off. Loren and Quain hurried after him, leaving me and Flea. The restless energy of the camp pressed against me as we walked through the tents. A buzz filled the air, and the soldiers in the training sessions sparred with a fierce determination.

I found Saul and told him where to meet us. Then Flea and I hustled back to the manor house to change and pack. I informed my staff we were going to collect herbs and I’d return tomorrow, leaving Christina in charge. We cut through Ryne’s army, heading north to the POW camp. Loren waited with Saul on the edge of the woods.

“There’s been a change in plans,” Loren said when we approached. “Since Saul is going with you, Prince Ryne wants me and Flea to stay in camp. The horses are within the forest about a quarter mile straight north of here. Ursan’s body is already secured to one horse, and there are two others for you. Their handler is with them, but he’ll return once you’re under way.”

I exchanged a glance with Flea. Something was wrong. “What’s going on, Loren?”

“I’m not sure. Honest. Whatever you told Prince Ryne earlier has agitated him. He said we needed to concentrate our forces at the border.”

Which meant he believed my theory was possible. A horrified dread churned in my stomach. “Why does he need Flea? He’s been so adamant that I’m protected.” And Flea, as well.

“He knows you’ll be safe with Saul. And he said, ‘Tell Avry to trust me regarding Flea.’”

I might not understand Ryne’s motives, but I trusted him. “All right.”

Loren’s shoulders relaxed, and I almost smiled. The poor guy must have been prepared for a fight.

“Don’t dawdle. Be back early tomorrow. The horses are fast and can be ridden after dark,” Loren said.

“Got it,” I said.

Saul and I said goodbye to Loren and Flea. Despite Ryne’s assurances, I felt a twinge of worry for Flea as we entered the woods. It was probably something I’d have to get used to. Flea couldn’t be by my side all the time after all. I wondered if this was how mothers felt with their children. At least Danny and Zila were safe at Ryne’s castle. Unless the invasion of the tribes wasn’t stopped, which would mean Kerrick... No. I wouldn’t even consider the possibility.

Before we reached the horses, Saul made a noise and called out in a soothing voice so we wouldn’t startle them. When we approached, the three horses had their heads raised with one ear perked forward and the other cocked back. Their handler—a young man—murmured to them and stroked their necks until they relaxed.

Ursan’s body had been wrapped in oilskin and draped over the back of a chestnut-colored mare. Saul talked to the handler. The young man bobbed his head, gestured to the saddlebags and then took off. Saul grabbed the reins of the big brown-and-white horse before swinging into the saddle.

“Hand me the reins of Ursan’s horse,” Saul said. When I hesitated, he shot me a concerned look. “Do you know how to ride?”

“Uh...sort of.” I moved closer. “My mentor, Tara, taught me the basics back when I was an apprentice.” She had insisted, claiming we might be needed in an emergency and would have to travel fast. Horses were expensive, and my family hadn’t been able to afford to own or even hire one.

“How long ago?” Saul asked.

“Five years.”

“Heck of a time to get reacquainted.”

I agreed, but since I’d promised Ursan to do all I could for him, I swallowed my anxiety and untied the reins of Ursan’s horse, handing them to Saul. The last horse was all black except for the white on the bottom half of her legs. She looked as if she wore socks. I secured my pack on my back, freed her reins and hopped up into her saddle. She cocked her head to peer at me as I patted her neck.

“You need to lead,” Saul said. “My hands are full.”

I pulled the map from my pocket and studied it a moment before spurring my horse into motion, which almost unseated me. With her bumpy, jarring gait, it took effort to gain my balance. Once I felt more secure, I urged her into a faster, smoother rhythm along a footpath.

Traveling via horseback might be quicker but it certainly wasn’t quieter. Our passage through the woods could probably be heard miles away. Another drawback was locating paths big enough to accommodate the horses. Our route wouldn’t be direct, but at least we were heading northeast, away from enemy lines.

Soon after we’d set off, the horse broke her stride and stumbled before recovering. Behind me, Saul and Ursan’s horses also shied before settling. I shrugged it off; horses were skittish despite their size.

As we traveled, I consulted the map from time to time and made adjustments. When we reached the clump of Lilys northeast of Zabin, the sun hung low in the sky, casting long shadows.

We dismounted. Taking Ursan’s horse close to the Lilys, I helped Saul untie the body, and we lowered him onto the ground. Now I understood the term deadweight. Saul cut the bindings around the oilskin. Even though I was no stranger to death and cadavers, I braced myself as I peeled the cloth back.

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