“I think I’m getting the hang of this!” Morana said. The long, thin branch she held across her knees creaked, twisted, and then burst into a shower of splinters.
The shrike sighed, and handed the Darine girl another branch from the stack.
“Karot!” she admonished, brushing a finger over Morana’s forehead.
The golden veins within the green dragonstone about the girl’s neck flickered, glints of light racing from the heart of the stone towards the faceted surface. The branch shivered, then jolted straight, feathers sprouting from one end as if they were leaves, the other end blossoming a pointed, iron tip.
“Zobh!” the shrike nodded. She handed the girl yet another branch. “Aparahm, ca.”
The camp was abuzz with activity, watchfires stoked as high as they would burn. Soldiers ran among groups of men, barking orders, herding the men into ragged lines. A child ran past the approaching queen, remembering to bob a quick bow, scrambling to keep the armload of cloth from falling into the mud.
“Wait,” Petra said, squatting down to the boy’s eye level. “Where are you going with that?”
“B-bandages, Your Highness,” the boy stammered. “General Halav has said—” His voice cut off as the queen stood, scowling as she scanned the bustling activity of the camp.
“Find your family,” she said. “Take only what you can carry. Make for the rafts. Spread the word.”
“B-but the general….”
“He is a fool,” Petra snapped. “Go,” she said, her voice a bit gentler as she glanced down at the boy. The she looked back up. “Archers, take up your positions. Zirchev—”
The Huntsman was already loping through a thin spot in the nearest line of soldiers. “I know,” he called over his shoulder. He bent closer to one of the men, pointing towards the river.
“Shouldn’t we go with her?” Jasna asked, as the queen stalked off through the camp, towards the large, red tent.
“Do you want to be between the two of them when she starts to skewer Red-Nose?” Brynne asked.
The shorter girl blew hair from her eyes. “We should be doing something,” Jasna said.
“We will go to the river, like we’re supposed to,” Katarin said.
“You will go,” Justin said. He adjusted his sword belt. “I’m going to—”
Jasna stepped in his way as he tried to pass. She poked a finger into his mailed chest.
“You are coming with us,” she said.
He moved to sidestep, and she danced into his way again.
“If they’re going to fight, they need my sword.”
“There isn’t supposed to be any fighting,” Jasna said. “We’re going to slip away on the rafts. Did you not hear Goldie’s plan?”
The young man’s grip tightened on the hilt of his sword.
“We’ll take the last raft,” he muttered.