Chapter Eleven

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Clay the Hunter sat in his throne of stone listening dispassionately to the messenger's report, his features still, his eyes narrowed. Mad Words stood behind his own throne, arms folded on its back, head to the side, seeming to both watch the messenger and Clay's reaction. The Shepherd's throne was empty; as was her habit, Dawn Spring was off seeing to the city's sick and wounded.


"How many men did you say you saw?" Mad Words asked.

"Many," the young man said, nervously twisting his fingers. "Many many."

Mad Words turned to Clay. "That's quite a few manys."

Clay did not respond.

"Thank you," Mad Words said to the boy. "You may go."

The messenger took a last look towards Clay, then nodded, turning and walking swiftly from the tower's audience chamber.

Broad stepped out of the alcove he'd been waiting in. "Clay, that's–"

"I know." Clay's voice, while curt, was barely audible.

"We should tell the council," Mad Words said.

"The council has all but ignored us this past season," Clay said.

"They sulk like jealous children, but an army headed towards their walls is the sort of thing they'd care to know."

"Tell them what you will," Clay said. "I need to find my wife."

Neither his brother nor his fellow Champion sought to stop him.

"This is a mood I've not seen him in," Mad Words said once the Hunter had left. "Not in some time."

"The army that draws near is the tribe that killed our clan," Broad said quietly.

Mad Words straightened and drew his brows together. "Oh."

Broad nodded, then looked after his brother.

"Are you alright?"

"I worry for my brother." Broad walked to the door. "His heart burns for revenge. I fear that fire may consume him."

"And yours does not?"

Broad shook his head. "Revenge is for children. I have let go of my pain, and the dead rest within my heart. Clay has not made his peace with what has happened. I worry he may act foolishly."

"You worry he may seek out this army on his own."

Broad turned towards Mad Words. "This foreign tribe preys upon Champions. Clay has grown stronger, more skilled... but they will expect him. They will be ready for one powerful man."

"Then we will make sure they face an army."

***

The councilmen were not happy to see Mad Words. People usually weren't. He usually pretended not to notice, which only served to make them more uncomfortable.

"Why did this herdsman bring this news to you?" One-Eye asked.

"I don't know." Mad Words considered it impolite to remind others of their obsolescence. "But the Hunter believes this to be the tribe that destroyed his clan. We need to rally the people to arms, prepare them for invasion."

"There's no need for haste," Snakespit made a pacifying gesture. "No need to rush to war when diplomacy is an option."

Darkbeard stroked his chin. "Calling the people to arms would disrupt brewer productivity. It's a last resort."

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