“Demhlei says news has reached his camp that Laschdarvi is destroyed. The long patrols found the doctors and the rest of the soldiers slaughtered.”
Rainwater slithered down Alan’s bare back as he wrung out his braid, listening as Ridiath continued, “The word is that it was a revenge massacre by one of the beasts. The stories seem to suggest it was only one.” Ridiath slid her gaze to Efeddre, who stared at the map table, mouth tight, as if it was the sole source of his constant anger. The final phase in his plan had been to move through Laschdarvi and maul the bodies, disguising as much as he could that there had been multiple attackers. To make it look like the vengeance of a single, particular Lridrisy.
Of the others who had gone on the raid, Ridiath had called only Idishe and Ibleton. Idishe had been on shift with Alan when the storm rolled in, and still wore nothing but a breech clout, his head oddly bare. Ibleton kept peering over his shoulder to make sure he stood out of the range of the shemmeye who had claimed the lip of the open crate near the plugged porthole, spreading her wings occasionally for balance. Alan glanced at Ashur in the hammock, long arms crossed. He had replaced his usual irritation at Ridiath with the noncommittal interest he saved for Demhlei’s reports, his one concession to respect.
Efeddre managed to pull himself out of his fugue enough to ask, “Any news of the rethor?”
“He mentioned nothing.” She wouldn’t have asked, wouldn’t have risked that it could be tortured out of him.
The din of the rain pounding the deck intensified, filling up all the space the air had for sound, and no one tried to speak as the ship pitched, making the hide map fwap rhythmically against the wall.
When the drumming of the rain had faded as much as it was going to, Ridiath raised her voice and continued, “He has heard of two hunts against Lrindrinsy groups, one hidden in Lum, another ambushed in the plains.” Alan watched her force herself not to hesitate— “Those who weren’t killed in the fight they skinned alive. The Limdri, too. They displayed the bodies at crossroads.” Efeddre’s expression didn’t change, but something in him tightened to splitting. Alan thought he would leave, but he stayed.
“The drive into Serg has begun.” Everyone in the cabin stilled, lamplight swaying, all the serreptitious attention on Efeddre moving back to Ridiath. “At least fifty foot units, and twenty on limbihte have left north from the camps, Demhlei says. Thirty units of breeders and children, all in five caravans, with enough soldiers mounted on limbihte to guard them. He says none of his oinne —the family of units he is a part of— has been called. He thinks they will be kept together.”
“What about in his yäoenne?” Ashur asked, the liquid vowels slipping off his tongue.
Ridiath gave him a faintly strange, sidelong look, but replied, “No other oinne in his yäoenne either. But the catalyst,” and she fanned her gaze among the other men, “for the drive was a message from a new [Tip:olane=death] moving down from the north. They mean to meet him in Serg.”
Alan caught the movement as Ashur looked up from the hammock, his interest suddenly more than noncommittal.
“What was his name?”
“No one will speak it. Demhlei says it is taboo to speak their names unless you are marked by the death idol. They say only that he was a soldier promised to the idol of discipline before he was transformed.”
“There are only three surviving olane,” Ashur said. “We’re close enough to the mainland that I would feel if one of them died.”
Alan switched his study to Ridiath, forming no opinion, her face suddenly neutral.
“Demhlei says they have called him the fourth, that he did not replace one of the others.”
Ashur was straightening in the hammock.
“The Drifalcand aren’t organized enough to force another ritual. And I would have felt that. He can’t be new.”
“I can only pass on what is reported to me.”
“Find out his name.”
“What is the effect of this news on the camps?” Alan asked. Ridiath paused before answering, turning inward.
“Anticipation,” she said finally, “but quiet. They see it as a sign of favor from the idols, a further insurance of their victory. Serg has been their greatest challenge.”
“Everything is a sign of the favor from the [Tip:mihiiva=gods],” Ashur said, thumbing his lip.
“Where is Demhlei’s camp?” Ibleton asked, speaking for the first time. Ridiath gave him a lengthy look of considering hesitation, then crossed the cabin to the limbihte hide on the wall. Alan stepped closer to the map table to give her room between him and the preening shemmeye. At the map she studied the burned lines representing the amorphous border between Serg and Secled. She pressed two fingers beside the curve of the plateau, tracing the line of a minor river. Between them she pressed her thumb, well within Secled’s acknowledged territory.
“Here. At least a third of the army is in this area.”
Ibleton scratched the blonde stubble on the back of his neck. “How likely his unit gets sent into Serg?”
“He acknowledges the possibility. He has skills that would be useful against the Sergilé, but his unit and his family of units could just as easily be used to keep the Third Thocas from interfering.” The Third Thocas was the only commander of the five to manage to keep his army intact after Secled had granted the Drifalcand range through their lands.
“I would like to ask if he has heard news that the Drifalcand are extending their ocean ventures because of the attack on Laschdarvi.” Alan glanced around at Ibleton, Ashur, and Idishe to note any disagreement, but they offered nothing, and he returned his attention to Ridiath. “Please pass on our requests to Demhlei as soon as you can.”
He phrased it carefully, not ‘How soon can you get another report from Demhlei?’ No one ever asked how she communicated with Demhlei. Even Ashur never asked. That was the agreement, spoken once, and never again.
Behind Idishe the shemmeye preened a silvery tail feather in the deadly curve of her beak, her very presence raising the question. Ridiath had no messenger like her. They could not have missed that in two years. Everyone there knew it raised the question, and it was politely ignored.
“Else?” she asked, looking around. Ibleton grinned, blocky Secled features brightening.
“Share my love.” Surprise blanked her features, before Ridiath grinned back, almost shy.
But she replied, dryly, “I’ll let him know his efforts are appreciated.”
“This is boring. She’s not doing anything.”
“Come on, wait. Maybe she’ll slap someone again.”
Megars watched the woman intently, squatting with his arms propped on his knees. Back against the hull of the galley, Odul lounged with his elbows braced on the curve of the hull, hands dangling.
She had stopped in the middle of the deck, using the backs of her wrists to put her hands on her hips. A clump of her tangled hair stuck out from her head.
“C’you tell what she’s looking at?” Megars asked.
She crouched, and carefully laid down on her stomach. Odul shifted forward slightly, suddenly paying more attention. Mystified, they followed her progress as she proceeded to shuffle across the deck on her belly. Directly in her path, Lamdek was napping in the shade of the mainsail, his head pillowed on a coil of spare line, hands laced over his stomach.
“Is she… trying to sneak up on him?”
“… She’s out in the open.”
They watched her edge closer, until she was right behind his head, and said something.
Lamdek jumped and jerked around
Propping herself up on her arms, she said something else, and he stared at her wide-eyed.
Slowly, Megars said, “She’s really crazy.”