Philomena slipped around the side of the infirmary tent. Inside, she could hear Tauber shouting instructions to his assistants, and under that the mumbling and groaning of the men afflicted with war fever. Ever since she had reached into Briga's mind to soothe the injured hound, she had been wondering whether she could help a man in the same way. Tauber would never let her inside the tent, she knew that. But she thought that even outside the tent she might be close enough to try.
One side of the infirmary was close against a copse of trees. Philomena sat down cross-legged, leaned her back against a tree, and closed her eyes. She slipped into the still place and felt the world expanding around her, an endless night filled with stars. In the infirmary tent she felt the inarticulate pain of the sufferers. She drifted close to the man in the pallet nearest the canvas well. Shh, she thought, slipping into his mind. You can fight this enemy. I will help you.
When she stood, dusted herself down and began the walk back towards her own tent, she was almost immediately accosted by Cervin. "Where by all the Blessed few have you been, my lady?" he said. Then, without waiting for an answer: "Valdon has called for a parley. He asks to meet King Tancred in the field below Traumwald in an hour. Ten men, and no more."
"Does Tancred intend to honour this command?"
Cervin's lips thinned. "Ten men will be all that Valdon sees," he said. "The rest will be behind the cover of trees. His majesty wishes you to be one of the ten."
"Me?" said Philomena.
"Yes, you, my lady," said Cervin dryly. "Attendants are waiting to robe and armour you."
* * *
Tancred gathered his horse's reins in one hand and looked around the clearing. There were ten people, armoured and mounted, and beyond that a hundred in brown leathers, blending into the forest. "My good men, my life is in your hands," he said, nodding at Cervin, then around the clearing. "I trust you will guard it well."
Cervin smiled, and bowed deeply. "It is my honour and privilege, your majesty," he said.
"Long live King Tancred," shouted one of the men, then others.
Tancred nodded once, then turned to face the front. "Are we all ready?" he said. There was a murmur of assent. "Then let us go and see what the bastard wants this time."
Philomena looked around her as the riders fell into place around Tancred. There were Rainhart, Konrad and Lord Cassius. There was a Jovani captain in his deep blue cloak and plumed helmet. There were the leaders of Leutz, Mittelwalde and Lilienthal. There were others Philomena couldn't name, but who projected their determination through their upright posture and the glittering of their gilded armour. And then there was her. She wondered whether it would ever stop being strange to her that kings and princes wanted her nearby.
The chiming of horse tack and armour accompanied them through the forest. Nobody spoke. Philomena rode half-in the still place, surveying the forest from the darkness of her mind. Forest animals darted into her consciousness. She saw the folk riding around her and the blankness that Tancred and Rainhart occupied.
When they reached the field below Traumwald, there were many such blanknesses. Valdon had given his entire entourage darkwood. Philomena opened her eyes. Valdon had given his entire entourage darkwood, except Holle, who didn't need it. Holle's attention was on Tancred, and there was a sharp smile playing at the corners of her mouth. Beside Holle were Maldwyn and the Queen Dowager.
"What a lovely family picture," said Rainhart.
"Do you wish you were with them, cousin?" said Tancred.
YOU ARE READING
Philomena is a child of the empire, traded to faraway Deusetats to seal an alliance and marry a prince: the handsome but arrogant Prince Rainhart. However, politics is never simple. On the eve of Philomena's wedding, the king is brutally assassinat...