Now, please enjoy the next story.
“That’s Maralen,” Margaret said. “She’s a servant in the palace kitchens.”
Rina looked across the busy tavern to where the young woman sat, her fingers toying with the handle of her mug. “Did she come to you or did you find her?”
“She came to me.”
“How did she know how to find you? How do we know she can be trusted?”
“She is the daughter of a man named Oliver in your camp.”
Rina nodded. “I know Oliver. Troy helped him escape when the king’s men were coming for him.”
Rina made her way through the crowd and sat opposite Maralen. Margaret followed and stood near, half listening, half watching for those who might try to eavesdrop on Rina and Maralen.
“I understand you have information for me,” Rina said.
The woman nodded. “I serve the sorcerers, and I overheard them talking about the next supply train that will be coming into Evintide.”
Rina leaned forward. “You know when it is coming?”
Maralen nodded. “A convoy of sorcerers is to meet it in two days time on the other side of the forest to escort it back through.”
“Thank you, Maralen. You will be rewarded for your help. Do you have any other news to tell me?”
“Not yet. I’ll contact her when I have anything else.” Maralen nodded toward Margaret.
“Good. And what of the sorcerers who will be coming for the supply train. Will Jarok be with them?” Rina hoped Maralen didn’t hear the slight hitch to her voice when she said Jarok’s name.
If she did, she made no show of it. “No. He’s too important. The king wouldn’t risk him for a supply train.”
Rina’s heart stuttered. Good. She didn’t want to worry about facing him. She couldn’t focus on her mission if he were there. “Thank you, Maralen. You have been very helpful.”
Rina waited by the side of the road, just inside the line of the trees. Her arm stung from the open wound that ran up it, but she needed the fresh scent of her blood to repel the creatures.
A small group of her followers stood close by her, within the protective aura of the scent of her blood. They all held knives ready.
Down the road, the sound of hooves echoed. “Get ready,” Rina whispered. “The more of them we kill now, the fewer will be able to protect the supply train.”
A few moments later, a troop of sorcerers rounded the bend, riding hard.
“Now!” Rina shouted. She threw a knife, then a second, and a third before the sorcerers huddled together and formed a protective barrier around themselves. The air glowed with an eerie red light, a wall as strong as stone to keep any knives from touching them. However, neither could any spells travel out, and the sorcerers had to travel very slowly, concentrating all their energy on keeping the barrier up around them.
Six of the ten sorcerers had fallen from their horses. Two were dead and the other four badly wounded. One managed to get to his feet and hobble toward the circle of sorcerers that walked on down the road. He bounced against the barrier. “Let me in!” he shrieked.
Rina readied her knife, waiting to kill more of them, but when it became clear the sorcerers would not lower their barrier to let him in, she threw it at the limping sorcerer. “Help me pull their bodies into the forest,” she ordered. Let the creatures get a taste for sorcerer blood.
She retrieved her knives and began dragging the first body toward the forest. One of the still-living sorcerers feebly attempted to cast a spell her direction, but before he finished, a knife lodged in his throat and he collapsed to the ground.
Rina looked up.
She smiled at him as he helped her drag the body into the forest.
As soon as Rina was a few feet away, two creatures emerged and began devouring the corpses. The rest of Rina’s group stayed in the center of the road, out of range of the monsters, their knives trained on the slowly-departing remaining sorcerers, in case they let the barrier fall while Rina was occupied disposing of the bodies.
She and Troy had almost finished depositing the last of the dead and wounded soldiers in the forest when Rina stopped. “Sh!”
She stood and looked down the road.
Hooves. Lots of them. Coming fast.
It was a trap. They’d been betrayed.
“Retreat!” she screamed. She grabbed Troy’s hand and ran toward the edge of the forest.
Too late. An army, both soldiers and sorcerers, thundered around the bend. Sorcerers hurled spells and soldiers hurled spears.
In moments, half of Rina’s force lay writhing on the ground. She urged the survivors toward her, toward the safety of the forest and her protective blood.
She looked back toward the army one last time before disappearing into the forest.
The leader of the king’s forces, the one who led the charge, sat still atop his horse, staring after her. Their eyes locked.
And a glimpse ahead at what will be: