“In the conduct of war offence is commonly preferable to defence; for in attacking a general acts according to their own designs, while in defence they act according to the designs of the enemy.”
– Extract from the ‘Ars Tactica’, famed military treatise of Dread Emperor Terribilis the First
The afternoon sun stared down blearily at our backs, banners flapping in the wind as we watched the soldiers on the field below. These were good flat grounds; my men had had time to set up and there were fewer than five hundred undead facing them: this was as close to a safe skirmish as we’d ever get in a war like this one.
I had no intention of wasting such a rare opportunity even if it’d been tragedy that dropped it into my lap. Hakram himself had handpicked the lines that made up the formation of three hundred legionaries, with an eye to ensuring they were greenhorns – as much as the Army of Callow still had any of those – instead of veterans. We wouldn’t always have the luxury of well-trained soldiers to draw on, and if the assault companies were to be a success on the northern fields then we’d need to plan for the lowest fare of what we’d be able to field and not the finest. Even after only two months of training, though, my countrymen did me proud. Spears were hammered into the ground at a sharp angle, as if a line of long stakes, and behind them the first rank stepped forward in orderly manner: greatshield-bearing soldiers in heavy plate and short swords, a veritable wall on legs. Behind them the second rank set up, soldiers in mail coats handling halberds and the long hammers known as ‘raven beaks’. The third and fourth ranks wielded the same mixture, though with heavier lean towards halberds, and behind them were kept in reserve our specialists.
We might not have the mage numbers the Legions of Terror could boast of, but we more than made up for that in priests. The House Insurgent had absolutely no qualms about using Light as much to burn undead as their more traditional colleagues used it for healing.
The commanding officer of our trial assault formation was a young man from Ankou by the name of Algernon Beesbury, who’d swiftly climbed up the ranks by virtue of having both a solid tactical acumen and a facility with languages. He’d been fluent in Chantant before even enrolling, as it happened, and served as one of General Hune’s favourite vanguards during the Proceran campaign only to make it to tribune rank shortly after the Princes’ Graveyard. Adjutant spoke well of his wits, too, which was even higher praise than Hune’s several official commendations as far as I was concerned. Tribune Beesbury was not disappointing me so far, as he ordered a spreading of the formation when the undead pack began to splinter. The zombies would keep moving swiftly and purposefully so long as the Binds within their number remained unbroken, though compared to the skeleton waves I found the fleshier undead to have a certain… feral way about them. Their bite tended to be poisonous, too. The process that saw zombies rise anew made their gums bleed as they died and keep suppurating blood and pus for weeks after they were dead.
Though it might take a while to kill, foul blood in a wound was poison all the same.
“How many Binds in the lot, do you think?” I said.
“I’d say no more than five, Your Majesty,” Grandmaster Brandon Talbot replied.
Keen-eyed as he watched the unfolding skirmish through his open visor, the commander of the Order of the Broken Bells was careful not to bring his own mount too close to mine. Zombie liked to snap at other horses and given that she smelled like Winter and death it tended to unnerve even Callowan war mounts. Glancing at the man I marvelled that his beard was still so neatly cut: the aristocrat seemed to make it a point of pride to remain nobly groomed even when out on campaign as we’d been for half a month now.
“They are looking pretty sloppy,” I conceded, the two of us eyeing the dead as they closed the last of the distance.
When there were more Binds the necromancy binding the dead together was… tighter according to Masego, though he’d gotten a little lost in a greater metaphor about how the Dead King used necromancy entirely when explaining it. Regardless, in practice the presence of more Binds allowed those same undead more control over their lesser brethren, and finer control as well. Given that the Binds still had soul bound to their dead frames, hence the name, that tended to mean better tactics for the pack than simply rushing at whatever living were closest. Talbot and I kept our eyes on the zombies as they hit the outer line. To my pleasure, just as they’d been meant to they staked themselves on the spears. Not all of them did, for some avoided the jutting steel or simply tumbled forward with great enough speed they either broke the spear or ripped free of the point, but it broke the dead’s momentum across the line.
“It would not work as well against skeletons,” Captain Karolina Leisberg said, her Chantant accented in that attractively sharp Lycaonese way.
Where Grandmaster Talbot sat mounted at my right, the Iron Prince’s representative sat the same at my left. Prince Klaus Papenheim had proved very much interested in our attempts to adjust war doctrine to the realities of war against Keter, to the extent that he’d sent one of the captains of his personal guard to have a look at this skirmish after I’d given him advance notice it would be taking place. That and I assumed he’d wanted eyes he trusted assessing how much damage the Dead King’s latest nasty surprise had managed to sow behind our main lines. Gods, we were just lucky Tariq had caught the infiltrators before they made it into Brabant. If the fucking things had made it into one of those cramped refugee camps instead of being forced to prey on the isolated towns and villages of southern Hainaut instead, the damage would have been staggering in scope.
“It’ll still slow them by simple virtue of being in the way,” I reminded Captain Leisberg. “The object is to sap their momentum before the lines hit, not score kills.”
We’d learned the hard way that a wave of armoured skeletons could topple even a proper Legion shield wall by simple virtue of being so damned heavy, if it got enough room for a proper charge.
“And it seems to be working as intended,” Brandon Talbot noted.
Eyes returning to the skirmish, I caught sight of exactly what he meant. I’d missed the first exchange, but the results left in its wake spoke for themselves: a long line of zombies, pulped or hacked down by the polearms and long hammers while the line of greatshields anchored against the ground effortlessly bounced off the few dead that made it close to enough to scrabble at the wall of steel. The dead slowly forced their way behind the line of jutting spears but they were repeatedly butchered as they did until the mangled corpses were tall enough a pile that some of the zombies began using it as a way to leap above. There the halberds proved their worth over the raven beaks, a forest of jutting points that speared the few leapers clean through. Tribune Beesbury barked out an order and whistles were sounded by the sergeants. The mages and priests at the rear lashed out with flame and Light, providing cover to the rank of greatshields as it rose and retreated five paces before setting down again. They were adding depth to the killing floor to avoid further leapers, I noted approvingly. Hune’s man was living up to her commendations.
“A pack is splitting off from the rest,” Captain Leisberg pointed out.
Eyes flicking to the side of the skirmish, I saw the Lycaonese was right. Maybe thirty zombies and what must have been a Bind within the lot were peeling off from the slaughter on the plain, heading southwest. There were villages there, as I recalled, though not large ones – likely the reason they’d not been hit in the initial wave of contamination when two neighbouring small towns had. The infiltrators had aimed for numbers above all else, perhaps understanding that weaponless zombies would require as much to make a dent in a line of proper soldiery.
“Shall I send out one of the Order’s wings, my queen?” Grandmaster Talbot offered.
I mulled on that a moment, even as the assault formation on the plains continued its methodical savaging of the remaining undead. This might be the least of the infantry the Dead King could field, but I was still rather encouraged by the day’s results.
“That village we sent Lord Tanja to, what was it called again?” I asked.
“Pierreplate, I believe,” Brandon Talbot replied.
“About half a bell away,” I said. “And the one Lady Osena was meant to get moving was maybe another half bell further west.”
“The Levantines should be returning, then,” Captain Leisberg said, quickly catching on to my meaning.
Lord Razin Tanja, who was now truly the Lord of Malaga instead of merely the heir designate – his kin back in Levant had found a technicality that allowed him to claim the title without physically returning to the Dominion – should already have been back, truth be told. I rather suspected he’d waited for Lady Aquiline to finish covering the grounds I’d assigned her and catch up to him before heading back together. I was not one to grudge a young man his fancy for a lithe-limbed whirlwind of swagger and knives, especially when said whirlwind had legs like Aquiline Osena’s, but if Tanja was under the impression that he could use our hours on the field to flirt with his betrothed he was in dire need of instructional sparring with Adjutant.
“Send a pair of riders to warn them, just in case they got sloppy with their own scouting,” I ordered Talbot, eyes following the fleeing undead.
The Levantines, particularly the Tartessos foot, were actually better hand at this sort of thing than any of mine save for goblins so it was likely an unnecessary warning. Still, why indulge in a gamble when a sure thing was close at hand?
“By your will, Your Majesty,” the grandmaster said, bowing his head.
He guided his horse away, leaving to pass along my command, but I kept my attention on the undead. They were using the shoddy dirt road headed southwest instead of just running across broken terrain, I noted, so there was definitely a Bind doing their thinking for them. Not that it’d help them much, given the region and season. The borderlands between southern Hainaut and northern Brabant were a strange place, to my eyes: flat stony plains were broken up by valley-like dips in the ground where greenery grew almost aggressively, though the part I’d grown to despise was the damned bogs. They were everywhere, though they always spread like the clap in an army camp after winter snows melted. For a few months every year the entire region became the favourite piss bowl of the Gods, which made campaigning around it deeply unpleasant. The only part that was mildly tolerable about the bogs was the way so many birds flocked to them, which made for good hunting and a change of fare when catches were made. The road southwest was half-flooded by such a bog, which had lapped up at a turn already quite cramped up against a rocky hill.
It was half-expectantly that I watched that narrow passage as the dead neared it. If I’d been trying to lay an ambush around here, that was where I would have done it. Painted faces crested the hill and a heartbeat later a volley of javelins scythed through the flank of the zombie pack. Wouldn’t be enough to put any of those down for good, but it’d pin and tumble quite a few as well as disrupt their ‘formation’. I was not the only one looking, though, I noted.
“That’d be the Tartessos foot,” I told Captain Leisberg. “Those call themselves slayers in honour of the Silent Slayer, the heroine that founded the ruling line of the city.”
Lady Aquiline herself claimed direct descent from the woman, and for all I knew it might even be true. I’d never seen any people half so obsessed with Blood as the Levantines, save for actual Praesi blood mages.
“They are wearing almost as much paint as armour, and most of that leather,” Karolina Leisberg skeptically said.
Lycaonese, I had found, held what I could only deem a very reasonable sort of respect for the virtues of putting on good steel armour whenever it was even remotely possible to get away with it. The way some of the Levantines disdained it was utterly baffling to them, and unfortunately that was one of the least contentious ways their cultures seemed to rub each other wrong. The way the Dominion held single combat as a glorious thing, in particular, had a way of earning aggressive contempt from the northerners. It was, I’d come to believe, the difference between a people that held war as an honourable duty and one that held war as honourable, period. There were no frills to Lycaonese ways: if it worked, it did not matter how ugly or unfair or harsh the way of getting it done was. Captain Leisberg hadn’t come across an honour duel, at least. Those always made the Lycaonese fall into black temper. There was a reason I’d ensured they were encamped at opposite ends whenever I could even though it was a headache to organize. These days I sometimes felt more like a juggler than a general or a queen. And the moment I drop a single ball, I thought, people will die.
It was a sobering thought, and the source of much of my patience these days.
“Slayers are monster-killers by training, not line infantry,” I told her. “They’re used to fighting things that consider plate little more than the crunchy part of the meal. I expect that when we finally get the Unravellers they’ll be the ones fielding them for our front.”
The woman’s eyes brightened, for I’d said the magic word: Unravellers. The sheer intensity of the lust the Lycaonese held for those artefacts surprised me almost every time, though perhaps it shouldn’t. We’d been fighting the alchemical monstrosities of the Dead King for not even two years while their kind had been the proverbial rock in Keter’s boot for centuries.
“I’d heard the Workshop deemed them unfeasible,” Captain Leisberg said.
Unfeasible wasn’t exactly the right word. The first few attempts at making artefacts that disrupted necromancy had either been violently explosive failures or run into what Masego deemed a ‘proportioning’ problem, namely that those first attempts simply didn’t have enough sorcery or Light in them to successfully unravel something like a wyrm or a beorn. Our people had eventually succeeded at making an artefact that could hold that much power, but it’d been a material solution. As in, the materials used in the making of that thing were about as expensive as arming two cohorts in full Legion standard. That’d been bad enough, but they’d also been quite rare: in particular, the kind of eldritch lumber they’d used grew only in the southern stretches of the Waning Woods. Which meant importing it in large quantifies was a half-baked daydream. The Belfry had since claimed a breakthrough in figuring out a structural workaround, though, and fresh plans had been passed along to the Workshop a month past. We’d learn if they were truly functional soon enough, at least in principle.
I’d only venture to call it a true success after shoving a spear inside one of those fucking undead dragons collapsed the whole thing, instead of requiring three Named and a full mage contingent to get that job done.
“Might not be, after all,” I said. “Though I’ll not count the chickens before they’re ha- Razin Tanja, you shit.”
It’d been a beautiful little ambush, pretty as a pearl: javelins first, then a dozen Malaga foot had emerged to block the road, raising a shield wall the zombies promptly threw themselves against. The slayers had leapt into the chaotic melee and scythed through the lesser undead with almost laughable ease, Lady Aquiline Osena among them. Quick enough all that was left from the massacre was the Bind that’d led the pack. They should have killed it first, by my reckoning, since the zombies would regress to almost animal thoughtlessness after it was broken, but the reason why they hadn’t had became rather clear when Razin Tanja stepped forward in chainmail and leather, a hooked sword in hand. The Levantines formed a circle around the two, those with shields in front, and took to shoving the undead back into the middle of the makeshift battle circle when it strayed too far from the Lord of Malaga.
“Foolish,” the Lycaonese captain said at the sight, and I grunted in agreement.
Not that Aquiline was any better when it came to this sort of stuff: if anything she was much, much worse. The Grey Pilgrim had made clear that the two lordlings were to listen to my orders, so at least they usually obeyed when I was there to keep an eye on them, but when I wasn’t this sort of inanity still cropped up with depressing regularity. It was like someone had chopped out the part of their brains where common sense was and replaced it with glorious single combat instead. Gods, I supposed I should be glad at least they weren’t stabbing each other. Apparently the sole Dominion aristocrat killed at the Graveyard – Razin’s own father – had not been slain by one of mine or the Tyrant’s but instead by the Lord of Alava. I was rather glad that one had ended up on Malanza’s front, even if he’d been somewhat easy on the eyes. On the plains the assault company under Tribune Beesbury was cleaning up the last of the zombies with admirable thoroughness and without much trouble, so I decided the Levantines were due the first visit. I could personally praise Beesbury and his three hundred for their work later.
“Grandmaster Talbot,” I called out.
Zombie moved under the pressure of my knees almost eagerly, and I could tell she was itching for a flight. I patted her mane fondly.
“Later,” I told her.
The leader of the Broken Bells was not long in attending me after the summons, and as a sign that he was getting used to my ways he’d come riding with twenty knights and my banner instead of a courtier’s manners.
“Good man,” I smiled at him, then turned to my knights. “Lord Tanja seems intent on putting on a spectacle. Wouldn’t it be poor manners to fail to indulge him?”
There were a few smiles, and even a laugh. Though Levant’s soldiery was not hated among my people, neither was it liked. It had not been forgot that a campaign had been fought against them in Iserre, or that they’d been part of the Grand Alliance back when it was still just a pack of hounds baying for fresh meat. Callowan meat, at least in part. I flicked a questioning glance at Captain Leisberg, to see if she wanted to accompany us, but she shook her head. With a courteous dip of mine I took my leave, staff of yew laid across Zombie’s back as we took the lead on our ride down the hill. I kept a brisk pace and made no pretence of hiding my approach, so the Levantines saw us long before we came. Tanja finished his opponent before I got close enough to hail him, a clean blow that carved through the Bind’s spine under the throat. The head, still wrapped in leathery but seemingly living flesh, tumbled to the ground. The Levantines let out a cheer. Hiding my irritation, I spurred Zombie onwards quicker, not slowing as I came upon the ring of soldiers surrounding the victorious young Lord of Malaga.
The warriors had to hastily scatter out of my way and instead of pulling on my reins I let Zombie enter the ring at a trot, circling Tanja. So maybe I wasn’t hiding my irritation that much, all things considered. By the time Zombie had slowed to a halt, there was only silence surrounding me.
“Hail, Black Queen,” Lady Aquiline called out.
“We’ll get to you in a moment, Lady Osena,” I flatly replied.
Lord Razin Tanja looked up at me with defiant eyes, his tanned skin and coal-black hair framed tight by his helm. It wouldn’t do to upbraid him like a child in front of his own men and his betrothed, I reminded myself, even though it was tempting to allow myself to spit out a few scathing lines that’d cut him down to size. On the other hand, it wouldn’t do to simply let this go either. He and Osena had been testing me more often lately, as if pushing to see how much I’d take from them. If I gave them an inch now, they’d be reaching for another before day’s end. I stared down the Lord of Malaga without blinking until, reluctantly, he opened his mouth.
“Hail, Black Queen,” Razin Tanja greeted me.
“And to you, Lord Razin,” I calmly replied. “Now, would you care to explain to me why you were tormenting what is most likely the soul of an ancient crusader bound by dark sorcery into unwilling service to the Hidden Horror?”
Ah, the embarrassed silence of someone who’d not quite considered the implications of what they were doing. How nostalgic. I could see why people had done this to me so often, if it was always this darkly satisfying to be standing on this side of the exercise.
“Well?” I prompted amicably. “Do go on. I’m sure your reasons will be… enlightening.”
That was just twisting the knife but then I wasn’t Razin’s mother. I had absolutely no interest in caring for his bruises, be they on his skin or his pride.
“The Volignac companies are already back at camp, last I heard,” I casually said. “Because they saw no need to play around with corpses, they’re having first crack at the ale rations that just got shipped in from Brabant.”
I’d ordered some set aside for the assault formation too, as either reward or comfort for the way the skirmish went, but I saw no pressing need to mention that. Knowledge they’d be laying claim only to what the Procerans saw fit to leave behind went over with the Levantines about as well as I’d figured it would. There wasn’t an army on the continent that didn’t run on drink and brothels, save perhaps the one we were pitted against.
“It was a good kill,” Lady Aquiline said, rallying to the defence of her betrothed.
Gallantly, some might have argued. Some but not me. My eyes flicked to her painted face, hardening.
“Made by a man half a bell late on his march back to camp,” I said. “I don’t suppose you have anything to say about that, Lady Osena?”
Embarrassment once more, and matching silence. And she should be damn well be embarrassed: they’d been sent out to ensure none of the zombie-makers had gotten or could get at villages, not to mess about. And considering they’d gone out with two hundred warriors each and there couldn’t be more than fifty here with them right now, they couldn’t even pretend with the parchment-thin claim they’d linked up for safety in numbers. For now, I’d generously assume the other warriors were left behind to be thorough in ensuring the safety of the evacuating Proceran civilians, though I’d be sure to ask pointed questions about this later. I was making no friends among the Levantines here by asserting my authority so bluntly, but then I didn’t need to be liked by these people. Only obeyed, and they’d been growing lax about that lately.
“Return to camp,” I said, eyes sweeping across the ranks. “I’ll expect a distinct lack of detours, this time.”
It felt like I was spanking unruly children, which was all the more galling for not being entirely untrue. Neither of them were all that far from me in age, though sometimes I felt more like tired old Klaus Papenheim than the woman of twenty-three I truly was. I could understand why Tariq wanted me to keep an eye on them, too, to both meanings of that. For all their sloppy habits and general recklessness, the two Levantine nobles made for a very charismatic pair when they weren’t straining my patience. Both brave and skilled at arms, and while Aquiline was a finer blade and the most popular of the two it was Razin I’d found had the firmer grasp on politics. If the Grey Pilgrim was in the market for successors to keep the Dominion stable after he died, then these two were by far his best bet from the current crop of the Blood.
Sadly, this did not in any way make them less of a trial to deal with.
I didn’t linger around the Levantines any longer, guiding Zombie out of the battle circle as my knightly escort and Grandmaster Talbot fell in. The man who’d once been the heir to Marchford rode up to my side as we returned to the hill that’d served as our earlier vantage point.
“The Levantine fondness for duels truly is a tawdry habit,” Brandon Talbot said. “It has no place in proper war-making.”
“Duels are useful when they can be used to demoralize the enemy,” I disagreed.
I’d myself duelled in the past, after all, and sent others to do the same on my behalf. Usually I’d done it to kill a Named foe before they could inflict great losses on my soldiers, or eliminate a titled fae before they could unleash a large working, but there was a reason I didn’t use that method unless there was no other choice. Fighting on the front bound your soldiers to you in ways that could be hard to explain – it’d been my willingness to fight on the frontlines that’d first won me loyalty in the Fifteenth – but there was a difference between that and seeking out every duel there was to be had out there. One was sharing risk, the other courting death. Even the Lady of the Lake picked her fights and fled when they turned south on her.
“The dead have no morale,” the Grandmaster said, and I didn’t disagree. “Which makes all this posturing rather puerile.”
“Lord Tanja is young and in need of proving himself to his warriors,” I said. “Lady Osena’s bloodline is famous for such duels, so there is a reputation to uphold.”
“Facts which did not seem to hinder you in the slightest from disciplining them,” the older man said, sounding faintly amused.
“Because if they pull something like that against a Revenant after these little victories let them think they’re champions, they’ll get themselves slaughtered like lambs,” I grimly said. “And while it might be a fool’s errand to expect Levantines to discard centuries of customs, I’ll expect them to at least bend those to accommodate the realities of the war for survival we’re fighting.”
Neshamah could afford toss fifty thousand Binds in a pit and forget about them until Last Dusk, if he felt like it. If half the visions the Sisters shared with me of the drow front in the deep north were accurate, then that was the kind of force he was willing to throw away on a fucking distraction. On the other hand, if either of the Dominion nobles got themselves killed the Grand Alliance had a damned mess on its hands. Whether it was about succession, command of their armies or even the casting of blame that’d no doubt follow there would be no part of it that wouldn’t end up a nasty turn. So when I saw them playing duellist with undead, you might say my temper rose just a tad at the sight. Even in the wildest streaks of my days as Squire I’d never been reckless for recklessness’ sake, much less acted so blithely unaware of the stakes at play.
“Doesn’t matter,” I finally sighed. “They’re only in my charge until we’ve swept the region clean. We’ll be moving on to other things afterwards, and the Pilgrim can shepherd his own cats.”
“Another day’s march south and we’ll have reached into Brabantine lands proper,” the bearded knight said. “We ought to be encountering the first of Prince Étienne’s forward patrols come morning, and soon after our duty will be discharged.”
“Looking forward to a stay in a proper city?” I teased.
“A warm bath,” Brandon Talbot reverently said, “and food not cooked in a cauldron. The Heavens smile upon us indeed.”
I chuckled. It was funny, the way months in the field could turn the simplest of things into luxuries. I was, myself, looking forward to finally getting a decent drink as well as a full night’s sleep: wherever lay diplomacy also lay quality wine and wards good enough I wouldn’t need to sleep with one eye open. Hanno was due back from out west, too, which would be nice. It was always easier when he was there to foist off chores o– share the burdens with, I’d of course meant, in an absolutely equal and unbiased manner.
“Let’s get this business over with, then,” I said. “I’ve had about as much as I can stomach of spring in these parts and the walking dead do nothing to improve the scenery.”
“I’d hardly noticed a difference,” Brandon Talbot drily said.
Let it not be said that one of my people had ever willingly let an occasion to rag on Procer pass them by. We returned to the hilltop only to learn that Captain Leisberg had already taken her leave and headed back to camp, from where she’d be changing mounts and riding straight for Prince Klaus’ forces further north by the main roads. While I was somewhat irked she’d not stayed around long enough to discuss her impressions of the day’s skirmish and the performance of the assault formation, she was not under my command and owed me nothing save perhaps the occasional courtesy. Odds were I’d need to have that talk with the Iron Prince himself, which truth be told I hardly minded. The First Prince’s uncle was an old soldier of a breed that was deeply familiar to me: I’d spent most of my life either serving them drinks, fighting them or leading them in battle. If the man had known a few rebel songs and told a story about some wound he took during the Conquest, it might have been enough to make me homesick.
It was brisk business after my return, organizing the return of our soldiers to camp and sending out riders to check on the forces we’d sent further out. While we’d be keeping a force of knights here in case an undead force had slipped our notice and reinforcements were needed by one of our detachments, there was no real need for me to stay here to supervise in person. Grandmaster Talbot was perfectly capable of handling this without my breathing down his neck. Consequently, I’d been preparing to ride away with an escort when Zombie suddenly shivered in discomfort. She’d only ever done that around a single man, which meant it was no deep mystery as to who had finally emerged from the wilds again. It was hard to tell how old the man was, or where he came from, though Indrani had once told me he was only a few years older than her.
Between the tan and the filth, though he could have been from anywhere from twenty to forty and passed as anything but Soninke. I’d expected a Named of his bent to be athletic, but instead he was built like a bear: tall and broad-framed but undeniably heavyset. His clothes were thick leather, save for the fur boots and the beautiful hood he always kept up: lined in ermine and made of fox, it was beautifully sown and it seemed a waste it would be pressed up against long matted brown hair. A long knife and a hatchet at his side, the man might have passed for a warrior of some sort if not for the most eye-catching thing about him: the two great falcons seated on his shoulders, watching me with unnatural poise.
“Beastmaster,” I greeted him, turning and betraying no hint of surprise at his sudden presence.
“Black Queen,” the man rasped out. “I have found you a quarry.”
My eyes narrowed. I’d not expected there to truly be one born from this crisis, as we’d been swift in crushing it. It was worrying it had anyway, even though I’d known the possibility was there. Events were quickening at brisker a pace than even our worst predictions.
“Where are they?” I asked.
“He,” the Beastmaster said. “East.”
“Where east?” I impatiently said.
“It will be easy to find,” the Beastmaster replied, hacking out a laugh. “It is the only village on fire.”
Shit, I thought. Couldn’t I, just the once, get an easy Named to bring into the fold?