“Wait!” Jasna hissed, grabbing Zirchev’s cloak.
“Every moment we waste, another Traladaran perishes,” the queen said.
The shrike looked up from where she’d been kneeling at the edge of the game trail, and then stood, brushing leaves and twigs from her white gown. She succeeded in smearing the mud around a bit.
“Goldy says that we will waste a few more moments,” Jasna said, translating as the shrike spoke, “‘or we will be the ones to perish.’”
The shrike held several small stones in one hand. She worked one between her thumb and forefinger, touching it to the dimly glowing blue gem on the back of her bracer, then manipulated the rest of the stones — six in all — until she’d touched each of them to the dragonstone. Then she wound her arm back, and threw the handful of pebbles into a high arc.
She waited a span of several breaths, then glanced down at the flickering gem adorning her golden bracer. She passed her fingers over it a few times, then nodded, as if to herself. She snapped a sturdy twig from a low-hanging branch and began to scratch at an undisturbed part of the muddy path.
“This is not the time for art lessons,” Petra huffed.
“No, look. This could be the river,” Zirchev said, pointing towards a trio of wavy lines. “And here — these dots indicate the tents?”
The shrike glanced up at the Huntsman, gave a quick nod. She reached into a pouch at her waist and drew out a handful of stones.
Gleaming stones. Gems, they all saw, as she started scattering them here and there around the muddy representation of the riverside camp.
The soldiers gasped. Zirchev’s eyes widened, and even the queen drew in a sharp breath.
“‘Here is the approaching horde,’” Brynne said, before Jasna could start translating.
“Her Old Traladaran is better than yours,” Katarin whispered. “You told the Huntsman to ‘halt,’ not ‘wait.’ You can’t speak like that to an elder.”
“I’m older than he is right now,” Jasna whispered back. “I’ve got two thousand years on him.”
“Years that have yet to happen don’t count,” Morana said. “Now hush, I’m trying to listen.”
“‘…. Will keep up a cover fire from these points while the swordsmen form a line down to the river’s edge.’”
“And how do you propose we do that with barely a dozen arrows apiece?” the queen asked, folding her arms.
The shrike held up the twig with which she’d been indicating points on her hastily scrawled and bejeweled map. She spoke three short words.
“She says you’d better start scrounging for sticks,” Jasna supplied.
The queen’s back straightened, and she rose from where she’d been squatting beside the Huntsman.
“You will school your tone, you—“
The shrike clapped her hands.
“Well, go on,” Jasna said, making ‘shooing’ motions with her hands. “Every moment you waste, the more blood those gnolls are going to spill.”
The queen turned, and stalked away as the bowmen sprang into motion, the swordsmen quick to follow.
“You curry no favor with the queen with your tone, little one,” Zirchev warned, as he, too, went in search of arrow-length branches amidst the winter-bare woods.
“What?” Jasna asked, glancing around at the other Handmaidens. “I never asked for her grace when she was Immortal, why should I start now?”