Chapter 21: Choices
A horse flew towards Guinira’s tent, stopping barely in time. The woman in the saddle almost fell out in her haste to bow to her Queen. “My lady, I bring a message.” “What is it?”
“Druoth is in Ra-Diavere.” The Armandan woman spit when she said Makret’s name. “But it’s worse than that. He declared himself, gambling that you hadn’t sent out word that he was a traitor. The Caladean General in charge of Ra-Diavere is dead now, as is Governor Dieith.” Guinira stood and slammed her fist against one of the poles of her tent. “Nyjeta!” When she pulled her fist away, there was a charred imprint of her fingers in the wood.
“Yes, my lady.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Me, my lady?”
“Yes. You. Now, The Kindler has ordered me to march on Braldish. But Makret Druoth is a far greater threat, especially that close to An-Aniath.” The messenger didn’t waste any time. “We should march on Ra-Diavere.”
“That’s what I’m thinking. Give the order. We break camp in one hour, not more.”
“My fellow councillors, I have news.”
“What is it, Verdrick?”
“I know, on good authority, that Guinira’s army is marching on Ra-Diavere. It seems that she intends to deal with Makret Druoth.” “Why would she take so many? Makret can’t have more than five thousand soldiers in the city.”
“Does it matter, Comni? She’s not coming here. That’s what matters.”
“It matters to me, Ren. She was marching north, now she’s marching east. She doesn’t know where she’s going, so how do we know she’s marching on Caladea. Ra-Diavere is almost as deep into the Seven’s territory as it’s possible to get. Makret, though I’ve said the opposite, is not so large a threat that she needs over two hundred thousand Deshika to deal with him. She has too big of an army with her to bother about regrouping, not that she’s lost whatever battle she was going to start yet. There has to be another reason. And I want to know what it is.” Comni’s face hardened noticeably with her last statement, and her eyes cut into Verdrick.
“What makes you think that I know why she’s marching east?”
“Because you know that she’s marching east. Now tell me, or I start my own war. The Tribes are eager for blood. It’s high time they had it.” “Who would the Tribes march on?”
“Who says they would be the ones marching?”
Garva spoke, but quietly, trying to diffuse the tension in the room. “You did, Comni.”
“If the Tribes rise, Garva, all the Deshika in Anaria will be running, either towards Morieden or away from it. The Whip Crackers have gone north to hunt down King Dalrey, Vorteez is pulling what’s left of his armies together along the coast, and now Guinira is marching on Ra-Diavere. Now is the perfect time for the Tribes to raise the Mordak Banner.” “You mean the Warship.”
“The Tribes used to be the only ones allowed to tame and ride the Mordak. The Warship is Drogoda’s symbol. The Tribes are older than the Morschcoda. The Morschcoda are gone, and the Tribes are still here. I am loyal to the throne of Taren Garrenin the Second, for reasons that no one here is old enough to understand, but not to the vacant Flowing Throne of Drogoda. If Edya Reeshnar were here, I would wait for her to say fight or hold. She is not, so someone must for her. I choose to fight. But I need to know why Guinira is marching east, and not north, so that I know the Tribes can be gathered before she turns around.” It was Ren who answered. “Druoth has decided that he has finished playing every side and is now on his own. I believe that he intends for the Deshika and the Burning Sun to become an army, and for Ra-Diavere to be his own throne. Vorteez will be coming for him. So will Guinira. Possibly, Nasheem will send his armies after Druoth as well.” “I have time, then.”
“Druoth has a few thousand men. Guinira has a few hundred thousand, not to mention Vorteez’s army. The battle will last days, if not less.” “Guinira still has to march there. That’s three hundred leagues, and then back is further. And then she will still have to siege the city, enter the city, and take the city. In all three stages, she has to beat Makret Druoth, the man who hasn’t lost a real battle in six hundred years. If she wins, it will be because she has the men to lose and Druoth doesn’t.” “Are you saying that you trust Makret Druoth?” Garva sounded scandalized.
Comni had no such repugnance to Makret. “I respect him. I reluctantly fear him. And yes Garva, in my way, I trust Makret Druoth.” “He killed Taren Garrenin!”
“You hated Taren, Verdrick.”
“That has nothing to do with this, Elshay.”
“If Taren has nothing to do with this, why did you bring him up?” Elshay was confused.
“Who is your source, Verdrick?” Comni turned on him. This time, she seemed angry.
Verdrick snarled and bared his teeth. His hand inched closer to the sword on his belt. “A very reliable and informed young woman. That is all you need to know.” “By the gods. You spoke to Guinira …” Elshay’s voice was low.
“Now, Comni, be reasonable—”
There was no reason left for Comni to find. She was a True-Born Drog, like the Garrenins, and like the Garrenins, her bloodlust was disturbed quickly. She had stood and drawn her sword before Verdrick had even said her name. She had removed his head before any of the others had realized she was standing up.
“I am going to Morieden. If Makret Druoth comes to Alquendiro, tell him he still has friends in the Halls of Chaos. You won’t need to say more.”