WHILE AVJAKAR LEGIONS marched along the Wealth River, the Sovereignty sailed for Illusion Bay. Avestine didn’t have the forces to meet both at the same time, so she decided to deal with the Sovereignty first and hope the walls of Ureth Mourning held off the legions long enough for her to return. Gerard commanded the defense of the city.
She had taken two legions to Trader Bay and blockaded Illusion Bay at Salus Tribute. That forced the Sovereignty ships to collect either in open water or near the peninsula. After a few weeks, they made a landing at Trader Bay, thinking to meet a mere two legions of Avestine’s men, with Avjakar approaching from the rear.
Fortunately, the Sovereignty had no idea what awaited them on the beach. Dispatching them was a perfunctory affair. With the bulk of their forces already ashore and setting up camps, crabs overran their positions. Sand flies arrived after the wolves had taken their fill. Seagulls flocked to the ships anchored in the bay, tearing at the ropes and sails. Sharks cracked oars, and whales pounded holes.
Avestine sat on a silver chair under a canopy surrounded by staff, servants, and guards as rain grayed the landscape and blurred the events in the sea below. To her right stood Rook. Wald remained beside Kami who stood at Avestine’s left shoulder, and dozens of busy servants scurried about the tent amid armored guards. Pockets of archers stood ready around the royal tent, as well as along the entire ridge. Two legions braced in the valley behind the beach cliffs, but Avestine didn’t think she would need them for anything but burying the bodies.
Avestine occasionally glanced up at Kami, whose eyes rolled around beneath closed lids. She wore a blue and black tunic, the military style Avestine and her officers wore, but hers had no insignia. Her mouth made a hard, thin line, and her jaws flexed, and when Avestine turned back to the sea, she thought she could time Kami’s movements with those of the beasts she commanded.
Rook and Wald made every effort not to watch the events below, and Avestine admitted to herself what a great deal of pity she felt for the soldiers. This was neither a noble death nor a noble victory, but it was a necessary one. With this behind her, she would have time to build her army and finish reconfiguring the administration. She would never have to rely on such methods again.
A servant offered a platter of meats, but she waved it away. Wald took something from the tray and Rook flashed him a look of irritation.
Avestine sent Rook with an order to the commander of archers. When they unleashed a volley from the cliff, the soldiers who had survived the ravages of wild animals fell beneath black arrows. By the end of the day, one Sovereignty ship made it out of harbor, and Arrowreign had seven-hundred prisoners for the city work gangs. At least two-thousand soldiers’ bodies littered the beach.
Sitting in her seat far past sunset, Avestine watched the activity around her. Servants stripped and piled the dead for burning. The legion built a stockade to hold the prisoners and set up several camps, lighting so many torches, it seemed like evensun. Rook directed the work on the beach below, occasionally glancing up the cliff to confirm Avestine’s safety. Her royal guard had not left her side, nor had Wald.
Kami had disappeared into the forest of The Breakland, leaving Avestine to wrestle with her anxiety.
Avestine peered into the line of trees that rose on the rocky cliff behind her. The mist had finally broken, and a warm rain cleansed the land. She wished she could tell where Kami was, what she was doing, seeing, feeling. She knew Kami liked the rain, and she would have enjoyed watching it with her.
She hoped Kami would return to Ureth Mourning. Her independence was a sword with two edges: she was the only person Avestine could ever recall who didn’t eventually bend to her will, but that meant she was the only person who would tell her the truth. And still, her sense of destiny told her of Kami’s enmity, as well. Like all Essanti, there was a kernel of hatred at the center of her love. If she were truly the Avatar, too, that hatred would only grow.
She rose from her chair and stretched, then turned around to Wald. “Tell me, what do you make of the battle today?”
“It was too easy, Your Grace.”
Wald gazed out at the sea. “The contradictions involved in violence disturb me, but nothing I say seems to make anyone understand. Those who justify it remain unmoved by reason.”
Avestine’s neck hair prickled. “You mean me? Or maybe you’re talking about my warmaster?”
Wald glanced at her, pressing his lips together once before he continued, “That the regeneration of the heart might come through the lives of the weak and wretched is a truth few believe. Your warmaster doesn’t agree with me any more than you do. There’s nothing appealing to you or him about the humble, but for me, mercy is interwoven in everything that is truly of life and not death.”
“Are you telling me you believe Mon loves the weak?”
“She does. When are we weaker than when dying?”
“Those soldiers we killed would have killed every one of us. We would be dead. Then I suppose Mon would love us, but what use is a god’s pity when you’re a ghost?” She waited, but Wald offered no comment, and she decided not to chastise him. She changed the subject. “I’m sorry we couldn’t bring Gerard with us.” She watched his cheeks heat slightly. “I need you at my side, and the city needs his guidance when I’m away.” She stepped closer to him. “Why are you embarrassed when I mention him?”
“You’re a generous mistress, Your Grace.”
She looked away. “I don’t think that has ever been said of me before.” She looked back. “What else do you think of me?”
His eyes widened slightly, though he made an effort to control his reaction. “Wise, brave, honorable.”
She nodded. “Now tell me what you truly think.”
Published in Darklaw |
Copyright © 2017 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved. |