PART TWO: FIRST SURGE
As dawn broke on the morning following Gav’s arrival in Vorti, Guc and his entourage were mounted and ready to ride westward, hoping to make it to Tsab before nightfall, even considering the southern detour necessary to avoid the quatics. Only one of their number remained behind: Caa. Ostensibly, he was staying in Vorti to finalize the wedding plans with Wil. In reality, his task was twofold: watch over Lea and kill her former regent.
Before mounting his black warhorse Vengeance, Guc had a few final words for his Apath advisor. “Remember why you’re here, but don’t take any unnecessary chances. If the opportunity doesn’t arise, don’t force it. And stay close to Lea. With war breaking out across the continent, I want someone I trust near her if she ventures into danger.”
“Understood, Your Majesty. You can rely on me.”
“I know I can. That’s why I entrusted you with this mission.”
Guc’s farewell to his future bride was more restrained than might be expected from an engaged pair being separated by the threat of battle. A chaste kiss and a few words were all that passed between them before Lea retired inside the palace, and the column of mounted Tsabians moved beyond the palace grounds.
As Gav and Wil watched the Westerners’ departure, the chancellor remarked, “Even with relations between Lea and him at such a frosty stage, I can’t say I’m saddened to see him leave. The reasons for his unexpected farewell are another matter, however. I expect you’ll be riding out soon, as well.”
“After I get a good meal in me. When I left Falnora, the quatics weren’t posing a danger, but I dare not be away for long, in case circumstances change.”
“Send a message if you come under attack. A full legion of Vorti’s militia can be at Falnora in less than a day.”
“If it comes down to it, we won’t fight. We can acquit ourselves well against bandits and raiders, but not these creatures. If an attack comes, depending on where it comes from, we’ll flee to either Vorti or Llam. But I think we’re beneath the quatics’ notice, and we’re far enough south of their path of travel that it’s unlikely we’ll face an immediate threat. I’m concerned about Knex, though.”
“The queen sent a messenger last night, but it’s probably too late. Unless by some miracle the quatics spared it, the town is probably in ruins by now, the survivors scattered and fleeing across the Northern Plains.” Wil didn’t believe in mincing words. He and his son both recognized there was almost no chance the small, unfortified community had survived being in the direct path of hundreds upon hundreds of migrating quatics.
“What do you figure their goal is?”
Wil shrugged. “It’s been four centuries since Garvad drove them into the swamps, but I imagine they’ve come out to claim Devforth by force. What the specifics of their plans are, I can only speculate, but Fels seems a likely first target.”
“And Llam after that?”
“Or the Twin Cities. Unless they intend to take Yax’s city and dig in. From the little I’ve seen of their tactics, however, I would wager in favor of a fast, brutal campaign through the south. They seem to relish battle. Depending on their numbers, and the preparedness of the cities, they could take Llam, Merk, and Xert very quickly.”
“That would leave Vorti and Tsab, separated by a continent, and Tsab with only the skeleton of an active militia.”
“Not an encouraging picture, I agree. But we have at least one advantage they can’t match: Apaths.”
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