The Shiori gathered the next morning at the meeting hut and waited anxiously to leave. As the last of the men arrived, the queen stood before her people. “Thank you all for gathering this morning and for volunteering to save our people. We Shiori have a strong past and times of war are no stranger to us. After so many years of peace, we must again defend ourselves against those who seek to dominate and destroy us. A few more people have stepped forward to serve in non-combative roles. We are all thankful for your willingness to help. The Priestess Esperenza has come to pray for our safe return as is customary. Bow now in respect,” the queen said as she went to one knee. The crowd followed her lead as Esperenza came to the queen’s side.
Dressed in red from head to toe, her veils covered any emotion the Priestess wore as she raised her arms high. “Oh, Great Magics, the time has come again for your children to defend themselves and their beliefs against our enemies. You have sent one of your direct descendants to help us and we are grateful. Watch over your children and see them safely home. Guide their swords as they fight in your name. This we pray to thee, oh, Great Magics.” Esperenza lowered her arms and sent Wayette and Aramis a mental message. ’Ceremony does not allow me to come to you now. Keep each other safe and come to me when all is over.’ With that, she turned and left.
Queen Leandra stood and looked to her people once more. “My two best warriors will ride by my side. Mara to my right and Valaska my left, mount your horses,” she gave the order and led her people out of the village.
Leandra halted her horse in the clearing before the pass and dismounted. Mara and Valaska followed her lead and stretched out stiff limbs. Leandra immediately started handing out orders. She sent some to water the horses and ordered others to start building or digging. Valaska was sent to see to the warriors who would fight on horseback. Wayette went to scout trees for the archers, and Drake to oversee the men with Aramis as his interpreter. Mara was appointed as the queen’s second in command and went to speak with the master builder. Leandra saw her daughter already pitching in to water the horses. She watched a moment and was surprised when she realized no one had asked her to do anything. “A word, Brie,” Leandra said quietly, heading away from the group.
Brie followed her mother. “Is there something wrong, my queen?” Brie asked unable to hide her worry.
“No, I just wanted to tell you that I cannot allow you to lead any of the activities over the next few days. You are not yet a warrior.”
“I know, mother. I was not expecting for you to make any special concessions for me. I am simply honored that you allowed me to serve my people,” Brie told her mother. She got worried when her mother stared instead of responding. She wanted to ask if she had done anything wrong, but instead added, “I will not let you down.”
Leandra finally smiled as she looked at her daughter. “I know you won’t.” Brie smiled at her mother. She turned to leave, but stopped and looked back at her. “I don’t know what Mara said to you, but remind me to thank her later.”
Brie nodded, saying, “I already have,” before she turned and went back to the horse she was watering.
Leandra found Mara in the clearing with a hawk on her arm. Mara stroked the bird and it leaned into her hand. “He seems to enjoy that,” Leandra commented to let Mara know she was there.
Mara nodded but kept her attention on the bird. “Storm, fly over the valley and report back with the army’s position,” she said in Shiori to impress the queen. Storm screeched but did not take off until Mara stroked him once more.
“Can he do that?” Leandra asked as the bird flew up and over the pass.
Mara smiled at the queen. “He can. He will show Wayette where they are when he returns.”
“We could have sent a scout.”
“This will be much faster,” Mara said before going back to help other women prepare.
When Storm returned, she scanned his memory quickly before handing him off to Wayette. She wanted to see exactly where the enemy was for herself. She sighed as she gave Storm to Wayette. The army was moving quicker than expected and they needed to slow them down. Wayette suggested a rainstorm.
After setting up a shield over their camp, it took Wayette nearly an hour to create the storm and set it in motion. Everyone paused when the first drops hit the shield and rolled down the sides an hour later. A few people jumped as thunder clashed in the distance and lightning lit the darkened horizon. It was eerie to be working in a storm but not get wet, yet the Shiori adjusted and kept working. Fires were lit to compensate for the loss of light in the forest.
As dusk fell, Mara sent Storm out again to be sure their fires would not give away their position. Even to the hawk’s sharp eyes, it was hard to tell how far away they were. The army would assume it was just the village looming ahead. Preparations for the coming battle were finished as dinner was served. Warriors ate in groups throughout the clearing and forest. Mara walked among them saddened by the thought of bringing such a force down on them. These people did not deserve this. If she believed the army would leave once they had her, Mara would have left that very moment. But she knew an army would not be satisfied with one woman when there were hundreds waiting and more wealth to be had.
Mara wandered past a fire and stopped when she heard a familiar voice. “It’s not all your fault, Mara,” Aramis told her. He got up from his seat beside Sagre’ and a couple other men she did not know. In two strides, he was right next to her. “Wayette showed me the men who ride toward us. Some of them are foreign soldiers but others are a neighboring clan, one that has tried to rule the Shiori and take our lands for generations. They would have come no matter what.”
“But it was I that provided them an excuse,” Mara replied.
“They never need an excuse,” Sagre’ interjected. There was a round of curses about the other clan and she then felt a little better. She nodded before leaving to find the queen.
Mara woke the next morning before dawn as usual. The guards were the only other people awake at such an early hour. She sent Storm out again and he returned very quickly as she expected. Mara woke Wayette, ordering her to cast a fog over the enemy camp in hopes of buying a little extra time. She woke Leandra next and allowed her to take over from there. Leandra sent Brie and Tristan to wake the camp.
As soon as the Shiori woke, they moved into action. Fire rings were torn apart and the stones were carried into the woods. Ashes and half burnt pieces of logs were taken to a pit and buried. Buckets of fresh dirt were spread over the scorched earth to cover any evidence that fires had been lit recently. Once the clearing was emptied, several men spread a fresh layer of leaves and forest litter over the top. The same process was used on the trails and it made the whole area appear as if no one had been there in weeks. At the same time, horses were being fed, watered and saddled. Manure was buried in another pit to hide the smell. Archers climbed into trees and placed arrows into dirt filled logs for easy fletching. All traps were double checked before being armed and manned.
Wayette went to Mara, sure to bring Storm. The hawk showed her scouts near the end of the pass. Mara then told the queen and everyone hurried to their position. The scouts appeared ten minutes later. They took a good look around and headed back to give their report. From her roost in the tree, Mara had a clear view of the mouth of the pass. She bent her head in silent prayer as she had so many times before.
Mara jerked her head up as dry leaves crunched under a boot. A scout was in the clearing once again moving slowly. Shiny helmets followed. Soon, helmets became men and men became archers entering the clearing. Most of them didn’t have their bows strung. They talked and laughed as they marched unaware of what lie in wait. When the bulk of the archers entered the clearing, Mara shot the man in the lead. His bow fell off his shoulder as he hit the ground. In the blink of an eye, the sky was thick with arrows and men were falling with loud screams. Those with strung bows began firing blindly into the trees but died first because they were the biggest threat. Those who were bending bows were the next to fall. By now, the enemy cavalry was entering the clearing at a run, trying to get past the hidden archers slaying their comrades.
Mara whistled loudly for Bishop and the other riders to join her. She waited for Bishop to pass below her as he ran down the trail and jumped onto his back. Leandra and Valaska led the riders. Drawing her sword, Mara saw the enemy directly ahead. Their lines broke allowing enough room for the Shiori riders to slip among them. At first sight of women, the men were undeterred, but after Leandra and Valaska got away unscathed after killing a man each, they began to turn their horses and fight.
Valaska took off a man’s head in one clean swing. The horse continued to run out of fear adding to the chaos. Mara whistled twice to halt the reign of arrows as Valaska neared the archer’s range. Many of the enemy cavalry still remained. Those who had not scattered into the woods, herded into a tight circle for safety using their small shields to block the arrows.
Mara entered the clearing, veering right to pick off stray men leaving the mass of horses for the Shiori to attack as a unit. An enemy soldier charged at her raising his sword to strike. She ducked and held her sword low to her side. Bone cracked as it hit its mark nearly slicing the man in half. Rushing ahead, she swung in a wide arc catching another man in the neck. He fell off his horse grasping his neck in a futile effort to stop the blood. An arrow whizzed past Mara’s left shoulder killing the soldier ahead. Effortlessly, she veered right for another man. He saw her, though, and swung wide. He missed her, but she took his arm. Closer to the pass she saw the end of cavalry and beginning of the infantry. Still, there was no sign of the mage.
Mara glanced at the clearing to watch the mass of horses and people in its center. They had to break apart the enemy without risking their own warriors. “Wayette, fire into the center!” she yelled, pointing with her sword. Somehow Wayette heard her over the noise and four arrows caught enemy soldiers off guard. Those men did not break until four more men fell trying to defend themselves from Shiori blades. Mara rushed a few stray men and killed them easily. Storm’s cry overhead signaled the mage’s arrival.
Mara rode hard back to the tree line to retrieve Wayette. The mage was already on the ground running to meet her. Mara pulled Wayette onto the horse behind her and headed back to the pass. Mara killed three men as they rode past and Wayette knocked another two away with her staff. When they reached the pass, Wayette sent up a large light spell to signal their own infantry. Within moments, heated shouts erupted from the woods as Shiori warriors rushed onto the battlefield. Mara and Wayette jumped off Bishop’s back and sent him to the woods. “I’ve got your back until help arrives. Go on,” Mara told Wayette nodding to the mage.
The mage raised his hands to cast but Wayette was ahead of him. She unleashed a large ball of flame. He raised a hasty shield but was knocked on his back by the impact. “Can you take out his shield?” Wayette asked Mara as soon as Valaska arrived to protect Wayette.
“No, I’m too far away,” Mara replied, pulling her sword from the man she’d been fighting.
Wayette hurled another spell before looking to Mara and saying, “I’ll keep him busy while you get closer.” Mara signaled to Leandra that they needed to get closer to the mage. The queen left her sister and another warrior to guard Wayette and followed Mara.
Wayette looked back to the mage she had faced several times already. He was in the center of the clearing now forming another spell. It was not aimed at her but at a group of Shiori infantry cutting into his lines. A flash of light left the mage’s hand. She’d never erect a shield in time, so she gathered a mass of air and pushed it forward. A large thunder clash erupted as the two spells collided. The mage’s spell was knocked off course and crashed into the right edge of the forest, bowling over several trees in its path. The mage looked at her in surprise and she managed to keep the satisfied grin from her face. This duel would be very different from the others.
This battle, though, was far from over. Mara and Leandra were stuck in a knot of men and were very slowly fighting their way out. As the mage sent an eerie green fog towards Wayette, their eyes met briefly. She threw a reflective shield around her and her guards. The fast flowing fog slammed into it then instantly rolled back towards the mage. She hadn’t known that spell up until a few days ago and was glad she’d gone to Esperenza for help. The mage pushed the fog away with a large gust of wind and didn’t flinch when one of his men was caught in the failed spell. The man fell to his knees screaming in pain as his flesh began to melt.
As Mara and the queen headed for the mage, Mara looked for an opening in the men swarming around her. Mara could feel the magic in his shield but could not absorb it from so far away. She had to get closer. The hair on her arms stood up as magic filled the air. It was invigorating, like a cool breeze on a steamy day. All she could think about was getting close to the mage and her body ached with hunger for magic.
When she and Leandra pressed their backs together, Mara was back in the battle, the feeling gone for the moment. They were killing men left and right but the enemy kept coming. Three men rushed her at once but were distracted by a man’s screams. Mara knew the cause without looking and pressed her advantage. She took a wide swing and managed to slice all three of their stomachs open. Another soldier waited behind those three then stepped over them with a lunge forward to get to Mara. She blocked his thrust with her sword and kicked him in the knee. The man winced in pain but still managed to swing at her. She quickly ducked and stabbed upward under his guard. He let out a surprised gasp as he fell. Mara looked up and was happy to finally see another Shiori warrior. A group of them had seen their situation and rushed in to help.
Kess looked up from a fresh kill as a trap sprung. A tree trunk suspended in the trees was now hurtling down on the row of five men that had triggered it. One man was decapitated as he tried to duck below it. Two Shiori men swooped in with daggers and stabbed the other four to be sure they were dead. Kess moved forward slowly, sure to be careful of any other traps that were near. Drake was just ahead of him and was fighting off three men as he pushed forward. Kess noticed a Shiori man to his right preparing to fight two enemy soldiers so he ran to help. Kess threw his momentum into a downward blow. The soldier deflected Kess’ blade to the right. Kess sliced at his mid section, but the soldier parried trying to disarm Kess. It was Mara’s favorite and he learned the counter long ago. Kess moved his blade quickly in the opposite direction and caught the man just under the rib cage. The Shiori man Kess had come to help was holding a cut in his side but there was also a dead soldier at his feet. Kess gave him a nod sending him to the healers.
Aramis watched a Shiori man approach at a slow jog holding his side with one hand and a sword in the other. Aramis let him pass through the row of guards he was assigned to. Not many enemy soldiers had made it this far back but if they did, he and the other men were ready. Aramis knew he was capable of fighting further ahead with Kess but he didn’t want Wayette to worry about him so he didn’t argue when they placed him as the last defense. He desperately wanted to know what was going on in the clearing but didn’t dare contact her, fearing the consequences of distracting her even for a second. Movement ahead drew him back to the matter at hand.
Wayette watched the mage intensely to predict his next move. The duel was going nowhere. He blocked or countered everything she threw at him and she did the same to him. Mara had to get the shield down before they could take him out. Wayette glanced in Mara’s direction and saw her slowly making her way to the mage. He saw her, too, and began casting a spell. Wayette hastily threw a shield up in front of her friend and the queen unsure what he was up to. A cold chill ran down her spine as the mage stretched his arms towards them. All she managed to do was call Mara’s name as she strengthened the shield. Hot, white light erupted from the mage’s outstretched fingers and thundered towards its target.
Mara heard Wayette scream her name with a panic that she’d never heard before. Now that she was free of enemy soldiers, she was exposed and the mage was using the opportunity to attack. She could see the shield Wayette was erecting to protect her and the queen but she could also feel a flaw in its structure that would leave Leandra exposed. The air hummed around her as the thunderous bolt streamed toward her. She stepped directly in front of the queen protecting her from any magic that would seep through the crack.
Leandra was barely able to stay on her feet as she caught Mara. Her eyes were closed and she didn’t seem to be breathing. Wayette focused all her rage and magic on the mage. He smiled at her proud of his handiwork. She began forming the one spell that just might break down his shield. It was a new spell and she wasn’t even sure she’d be able to cast it but she had to try. She had to stop the mage long enough to help Mara. Firestorm was a series of three smaller spells woven together and would take a little longer to cast than others. Luckily, the mage seemed distracted by the activity around Mara. Wayette couldn’t look to see what was going on as she poured her energy into the spell. As the spell began to take form, the sky darkened slightly and the air around her began to glow. It gained the mage’s attention but whatever he did it would be too late.
Gasping for air, Mara opened her eyes. Now that the sky was getting darker, Mara wondered how long she had been out. She lay on the ground with Leandra kneeling beside her. The noises of battle flooded in around her and she realized she was out less than a minute. She caught sight of the mage; his hands moved frantically as he cast. Glancing at Wayette, she saw the glow around her and felt the hum of magic, even from that distance. She was weaving a powerful spell. Jumping to her feet, all she could think about was absorbing whatever spell he would cast to counter Wayette’s. With her sword tight in her grip, she dodged men that stepped in her path so she wouldn’t slow her pace.
The mage cast waves of ice to counter the fire Wayette set in motion. She feared the consequences of two such powerful spells colliding. Quickly, she fixed the shield around the queen but could do nothing for the other Shiori in the area. As ice and fire raced toward one another, the ice suddenly disappeared and the fire moved forward uninhibited. The confused mage threw his hands up to strengthen his weakened shield. Fire engulfed the shield in rage as wind whipped it back and forth in waves, gaining strength with every pass. Flames flew straight up, building momentum as they fell back down like balls of hail beating the already weakened shields. Wayette began forming a lightning spell to finish off the shields or even the mage if the firestorm spell had worked. The smoke cleared to reveal the mage who was crouched low with his arms covering his face, afraid his shield would fail.
Mara pulled down the remnants of the mage’s shield as he uncovering his head. He turned from side to side looking for a shield that was no longer there. Mara plunged a sword into his belly. Cruelly twisting the blade, she jerked it upwards. His eyes widened as he looked down at the sword. “Don’t worry, your master will join you soon enough,” Mara assured him as she pulled the blade free. He fell to his knees before tipping forward with a gurgle.
Wayette knew the mage’s fate as soon as Mara appeared out of the smoke. She turned her lightning spell on the enemy soldiers instead. Men went flying as the spell hit its mark. The rest of the battle would be less taxing on her magic and she could use easier spells. She sighed in relief as she formed another spell.
Drake and some of the other men finally fought their way into the clearing. Bodies were scattered everywhere and seemed to be mostly soldiers. Wayette was in the center with Valaska and another warrior at her side. She took out enemy soldiers with spells at every opportunity. Mara and Leandra were already moving towards her.
All four women nodded in acknowledgment when he arrived. “How do our men fare?” Wayette translated for the queen.
“Few casualties, but many are wounded. They could use your help, Wayette.” Before telling Drake her horse was on its way, Wayette spoke with the queen for a moment. Wayette translated again, “Mara, you and Valaska need to keep pushing the enemy into the woods. Drake, get back to the men and prepare them for the soldiers. I have to pay my respects to the mage.”
“But he was the enemy,” Mara protested.
“He was still a mage and deserves our respect for that alone,” Leandra said, heading off. Mara looked to Valaska and they moved on as well.
“Need a ride?” Wayette asked Drake as she climbed on to her horse.
Aramis’ heart lept for joy when he saw his wife approach. Her hair was wildly whipping behind her where a braid or two had come loose. The black leather tunic clung tightly to her chest and her leg showed above her knee-high boots to her cloth and leather skirts. Her staff was clutched tightly in one hand and the reigns in the other. She looked like a warrior mage out of a child’s worst nightmare; something feared and loved at the same time. Aramis knew, though, she was not as cruel as mages from the Great War.
When Wayette was closer, a thread of worry crept through his joy. The horrors of battle and the stress on her powers were etched on her face. Wayette slowed her horse as she approached the line of men. Stopping abruptly, she jumped off to run into her husband’s arms. They embraced and kissed fiercely before parting. “Are you all right? I was worried. Did you kill the mage?” His thoughts came in a jumble. He heard a definite ‘no’ and looked at her in confusion.
“He’s dead but Mara killed him”
“As long as he’s no longer a threat and you’re safe. But what are you doing here?”
“I need to start attending to the wounded,” Wayette said wearily.
“The battle is over then?” Aramis asked Drake as he climbed off Abigail’s back.
“No, the remaining soldiers are being herded into the woods. Take Wayette to the wounded, I’ll see to things here,” Drake told them.
Kess and Drake hid behind a large bank of trees with the other men waiting for enemy soldiers. Everyone tensed when traps began to spring. Men screamed in pain as pikes or arrows impaled them. A series of snaps and cracks were followed by loud thuds as men fell into pits. The holes weren’t deep but they were lined with pikes. The intensity of the noise grew as more and more traps killed enemy men. Drake signaled for the men to fan out and prepare to ambush the enemy. A twig snap ten paces ahead made everyone look to Drake. He threw his arm forward and the men rushed ahead. Thirteen men stood before them, wide-eyed and extremely outnumbered. A few fought but most surrendered by throwing down their swords. Drake noticed several other bands of men being led through the forest at Shiori sword point. The fighting was over. Mara and Valaska were on horseback supervising the prisoner movement. Drake had his men lead their captives in the same direction.
A total of thirty men surrendered; the rest either fled or died fighting. The men kneeled with their heads bowed in defeat awaiting their fate. Queen Leandra arrived on horseback as the last group of prisoners knelt. She sent two Shiori men with a horse and cart to collect their dead and the mage for funeral rights. As soon as they left to perform their task, she trotted her horse down the line of prisoners, quickly inspecting each one. When she reached the end, she turned her horse and went down the line again. She pointed out a man here or there as she rode past. She then turned to the prisoners and addressed them. “The men I pointed to will now step forward.” She waited patiently as the men reluctantly stood and stepped forward. “Which of you are from the Mastaff clan?” Only two of the ten men she pointed out stepped forward. She pointed her sword at them exclaiming, “You are both brave and wise men. For your honesty, you will be shown mercy. As for the rest of you Mastaff dogs, your tribe is our sworn enemy. Did you not think you would be recognized? You march against us in the midst of a larger army hoping to kill us and yet you don’t have the courage to admit you are Mastaff slime. Pray to your gods with your last breath. Ask them for mercy, for I will show you none.” She turned to Valaska and Mara ordering them to tie the men.
Mara was unsure exactly what the queen wanted her to do so she waited for Valaska to move first. Valaska got off her horse and waited for Mara to do the same. Playing the part of the lower warrior, Valaska pointed to a group of trees and suggested, “Those trees may suit our purposes.” Mara nodded. When five lower ranking warriors stepped up behind the prisoners with swords drawn, Mara gave the order to tie the men to the trees. A few of the Mastaff men looked around for an escape route but swords glinted in every direction.
Mara watched as the men’s hands were tied together. The ends of the ropes were thrown over low-hanging branches and secured. Their feet were then tied to the man on either side to prevent them from kicking. Once the men were prepared, Queen Leandra dismounted her horse and drew her sword. “Bring the other two to watch.” Leandra approached the men with a practiced calm, clarity, and purpose. Brie followed her mother, moving the other two prisoners with her. Leandra stepped up to the first man and placed the tip of her sword on the left side of his stomach. With a swift, graceful motion she pulled the razor sharp blade from left to right keeping the cut slightly shallow. The stomach cavity opened slowly, spilling the man’s intestines. Some of the Shiori men and younger warriors began choking, holding back vomit as they watched in horror. Leandra stepped away and motioned for Mara to execute the next man.
Mara stepped forward numbly, not wanting to execute this man in such a cruel way. She pushed all personal feelings to the back of her mind. She was part of the tribe now and must perform her duties as such. She stared at the man blankly as she moved through the motions of his death. She stepped aside allowing Valaska the next man. When Valaska finished, she waved her niece forward.
Mara watched in shock as the queen’s daughter was bid to kill a man in cold blood. Brie was almost fourteen but hardly old enough to justify such an action with herself. This was a far cry from killing in the heat of battle. Mara made no effort to stop the girl or her aunt but refused to watch. She stared off blankly into the trees. When the princess finished, four of the women that had tied the men finished off the remainder.
Queen Leandra looked to her people and the remaining prisoners. “This is what we do to Shiori enemies who are too cowardly to admit their wrongs. These men would have killed us like animals as we slept. They would have burned our village and pillaged our land. Death to those who would defile us. Death to the Mastaff clan.” Her voice rose at the end, sending a chill down Mara’s spine. The queen turned and focused on the two men behind her before continuing, “I promised you mercy. If you accept it, kneel before me now or you will be tied to the tree like your clansmen there.” The two men knelt at the queen’s feet and waited. “Wise choice,” she said with a glance at the undead men who hung by their arms in the trees. Some writhed with agony, others tried to curl up to prevent any other organs from spilling out, while the rest merely hung there. Her gaze settled on Mara and Valaska before declaring with finality. “Take their heads.” As the two warriors approached, one man began to blabber about how unmerciful the queen was. The other seemed grateful as he looked to his dying clansmen. With one swift, fluid motion, each warrior beheaded a prisoner.
A lower ranking warrior brought Mara and Valaska each a cloth to wipe their blades clean before sheathing them. Mara accepted it gratefully hoping that meant killing was over for the day. She sheathed her sword and looked to the sky wondering what part of the day it was. It was still not yet midday; her best guess was two hours before. The battle seemed very quick. She would not have guessed that it actually took nearly four hours. Many had been killed that day but it was a major victory for the tribe. The queen’s voice drew her attention. “My people, these men have paid a heavy price for their crimes against us. The rest of the prisoners will bury their friends before being released.”
“Released?” Mara thought to herself. The question pounded through her head; she could not figure it out. The Mastaff were killed, yet Laran’s men, the bigger of the two threats, would be let go. Mara waited until the warriors escorted the prisoners back to the clearing to speak with the queen. “My queen, I am sorry to question you, but these men are a serious threat. When they rejoin Laran’s army they will attack again and this time with a vengeance.”
The queen smiled, assuring, “Ah, but you do not know your enemy as well as you think. Laran hates failure. If these men return to the army, they will be severely punished. If they survive, they will be demoted to errand boy or a cook, something trivial. Most do not survive, though, and most will not return to the army.”
“How do you know so much about Laran?”
“Many years ago, Laran’s army wished to lay waste to this entire valley in search of the legendary bow. The Mastaff clan and the Shiori joined forces and defeated his army. We captured many of his men and they all begged to die rather than face him. Some were killed, some remained among our tribe and others joined the Mastaff.” Leandra explained.
“You and the Mastaff fought together?”
Leandra looked away a moment hiding a tear. “Yes, we did, but as soon as they found out my mother was killed in battle they turned on us hoping to subjugate us. They were defeated and I became queen.”
“And that’s why they are your sworn enemies,” Mara said in understanding.
The queen nodded before looking back to her warriors. “I need a detachment to stay behind and supervise the burial.”
A young woman stepped forward. “My queen, my warriors saw little battle and are less fatigued. We will stay behind.”
“Thank you, Sierra. We will await your arrival this evening. Tristan, please accompany our fallen warriors on their final trip home,” Leandra said, suddenly sounding very tired.
Tristan bowed his head and told Leandra, “We will leave as soon as the wounded are ready to be moved.”