Howls rose again in the night, but these were deeper, shorter than those of the wolves of the woods.
“Quickly!” Zirchev barked, and the group’s pace doubled. Petra the Younger had to jog to keep up.
“What are you doing?” the queen hissed. “Those howls are getting closer, not further away!”
“They come from the direction of the camp,” the Huntsman said. He held up a closed fist, and the column slowed. The howls were joined by distant cries -- human voices.
“And you motioned for us to slow our pace?” The queen’s voice rose sharply. She made to push past Zirchev, but he would not budge, laying a gloved hand on her shoulder. The glove creaked.
“They are under attack!” the queen hissed.
“And what good do you think a dozen men will do? None, and even less if you should be hurt! We will stay here, and make our way to the south, ahead of Flaghr’s horde.”
“You’re going to leave them?” Jasna asked.
Zirchev glowered down at the girl, and then directed his ire at one of the swordsmen, who ducked his head.
“Apologies, General. She’s a slippery one.”
The guard reached towards the girl, but she slid away from his grasp.
“You can’t just leave them. That isn’t—”
“Isn’t what? Isn’t right?” the Huntsman snapped. “They outnumber us ten to one, and most of those in the camp aren’t soldiers. Flaghr’s warpacks will make a wheat harvest of them. I would like to live to see Achelos again.”
“You aren’t just a dozen men,” Jasna said. She gestured towards the rest of the group. “Did you forget you have us?”
“A dozen men and half again as many children.”
“Don’t underestimate us because we’re small,” Jasna said.
“You’re small,” Brynne said.
“She’s trying to make a point,” Katarin said, poking the taller girl in the side.
“It sounds to me like she’s trying to volunteer us for suicide,” Justin muttered.
“No,” Zirchev said. “We flee south.”
“No,” Petra said, shaking off the Huntsman’s hand.
One of the guards cleared his throat.
“I’ve got family still in that camp, General. And… begging your pardon, but you didn’t see how this one had one o’ them dwarfish mercenaries trying to breathe mud. With her hands bound.”
A mutter rippled through the ranks of the swordsmen. More than a few heads nodded.
Zirchev heaved a sigh, and waved a hand. “Very well. Arm them, for all the good it will do.” He drew up his hood. “A fine lot of good I do as an advisor if you never listen.”
“You are here to tell me what I do not wish to hear,” Petra said. “And it is my right as queen to ignore you.”
“That sounds a lot like what mother says to my father,” Brynne said, with a grin.