Scent of Magic Page 69

As we neared the camp, we crossed the area that had spooked the horses. This time, the horses broke into a panicked run, bolting as if chased. I took the hint and kept going.

When we rode into the camp, the horses automatically headed to their barn behind Estrid’s manor house. Something seemed odd, but it wasn’t until after we dismounted and left the horses in the care of their handler that we discovered the reason.

We rounded the corner of the house and stopped in our tracks. A section of the camp appeared...different. Tents remained, but some of them had toppled and others had rips in their fabric. Trash littered the ground, and the fire pits had been doused. The abandoned area appeared as if a strong storm had swept a path right through it. After a moment, I realized the section was where Ryne’s army was bivouacked.

I rushed over to Ryne’s tent and entered. It was empty.


Midsummer’s day used to be special. It had been the last day of school, and after the graduation ceremonies the students returned home for a two-month break. For Kerrick, it had been a bittersweet day for a number of years—the ones where he’d been in love with Jael. It had meant sixty days without her, but it had been balanced with being home with Belen and his father. His father... Kerrick wondered what King Neil would think of his son’s present circumstances—captured and cooperating with the northern tribes on this glorious midsummer’s day.

King Neil had always shown Kerrick how to lead by his own example. His father had him attend as many meetings, rulings and visits to the other realms as possible. Kerrick would observe the proceedings. After the session, his father would sit with him and they’d discuss the day’s events, and he would answer questions. That time together had been Kerrick’s favorite. He had his father all to himself, and even when Kerrick disagreed with his father, King Neil had never raised his voice in anger. Kerrick had gotten his temper from his mother.

The warriors escorting Kerrick and Danny relaxed once they exited the forest and entered the farm fields surrounding Krakowa. Kerrick felt his connection to the living green weaken with every step. When they reached the outskirts of the town, their progress slowed. The tribes had set up tents, and their passage drew a crowd. They stared at Kerrick and Danny with both hostile and curious expressions. Blond-haired children ran alongside them.

When they reached the edge of the town proper, a warrior waited. He was a head taller and thicker than Noak. He wore a necklace made from jagged snufa teeth, and his long, pure white hair had been braided into two ropes. Despite the age difference, there was no mistaking the resemblance between the two. Father and son.

Without a word, the older warrior pulled his dadao, strode toward Kerrick and swung the sharp blade. Kerrick braced for the blow, but Noak grabbed his father’s arm, stopping the weapon from slicing into Kerrick’s neck.

“No prisoners,” the older man said.

“Come.” Noak led his father away from the others.

Unable to hear them argue, Kerrick watched their expressions. Noak had saved his life, if only for the moment. His and Danny’s continued existence would depend on who won the discussion.

Danny wrapped his fingers around Kerrick’s arm. “He’s scarier than Noak.”

Kerrick glanced down at him. “Hard to believe, isn’t it?”

A brief grin, then it was gone. “But he’s not scarier than Tohon.”


The boy nodded. “The tribesmen are straightforward. They kill their enemies, not turn them into an army of dead soldiers.”

“True. But if you surrender to Tohon, he won’t kill you.”

“I’d rather be dead than help Tohon.”

“Me, too. But what if he threatened to harm Zila?”

Danny shot him a surprised look.

“It complicates things, doesn’t it?” Kerrick asked.

“Yes.” Danny swallowed. “I’m sorry, Kerrick. I shouldn’t—”

“Stop. Don’t apologize. It’s my fault you’re here. I made the mistake of not sending you back to Orel right away. Do you understand?”

“Yes, but—”

“And I want you to promise me something.” He didn’t add if we live through the next hour.

Danny let go of his arm and turned to him with a wary suspicion mixed with fear. “What?”

Kerrick lowered his voice. “While I gave my word to cooperate, you didn’t. At some point there will be an opportunity for you to escape. I want you to promise me you’ll take it.”

The boy’s eyes were as wide as an ufa’s just before it pounced. “Where would I go?”

“South. Cross the Nine Mountains and find Prince Ryne. He needs to know what’s going on.” Kerrick waited a few heartbeats. “Will you do that for me?”

Danny met his gaze. “Yes.”

“Good.” Another knot in his chest eased just a bit. However, it didn’t last.

Their conversation finished, Noak’s father approached Kerrick with his dadao still in hand. He pointed the dangerous weapon at Danny. “You betrayed your people for this boy. Why?”

Just the same question Kerrick had asked himself a week ago.

“What you learn from me won’t make a difference in the end. My people have already been warned of your arrival. I failed to stop you from invading my land, but if I can save one boy...then I will.”

Noak’s father relaxed his arm. The dadao’s tip no longer threatened Danny. He glanced at Noak. “All right. The boy lives.”

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