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SUGAR WOKE to Legs lightly patting her cheek.

“Let me sleep,” she said and rolled over.

“Argoth came by and said you’re going to be moving out soon,” Legs said.

Her weariness was as heavy as a millstone. Despite the candidate’s weave, it felt like she hadn’t rested in weeks. “I’m not getting up.”

Legs picked up her hand and guided it to a wooden cup. “He told me to give you this. I think it’s a strong brew of watchman’s tea. He told me not to take even a sniff.”

Sugar groaned, then rolled over and looked at Legs. A thin crack of light came in through the doors and illuminated a line of his face in the dark cellar. Outside the doors was the din of folks working in the bailey.

Sugar sat up and accepted the cup from him, her eyelids almost refusing to open. She held the brew in the line of light. It was reddish. She sniffed it, then drank. It was warm, sickly sweet with honey, and tasted awful. “That’s more than watchman’s tea,” she said. A bitter aftertaste kicked in that put chokecherry to shame. Her stomach almost revolted, and she groaned.

“He said to get some swamp. It goes better with something in your stomach.”

“Oh, now you tell me,” she said, then forced her legs off the bed to the cold bricks of the floor.

Legs took her hand. “Come on,” he said.

She followed him out and found the sun hanging low in the west. They picked up bowls of swamp with some bread and cheese from the great hall, then retired to the top of a wall to eat.

A breeze blew in from the bay, bringing with it the smell of the sea. Sugar ate the thick, almost pudding-like stew and hard bread and watched the sky in the direction of Potter’s Crossing. She knew Urban was out there at the crossroad. He was probably watching for her with Soddam.

Part of her shouted for her to get up now and run to them. If she and Legs hurried, they just might make it. But she didn’t run. She stayed and ate her swamp and cheese.

The setting sun illuminated the bottoms of the clouds, making them shine like brass. The sun sank lower, and the brass began to change, the whole belly of the rippled clouds beginning to turn to red and pink. A minute later, the whole sky from north to south turned into one splendid scene of brightly colored grandeur, and then the sun dipped below the mountains and the colors began to fade.

The urge to flee the fortress struck her again, but she knew it was too late. Nor was it her lot. She watched the light continue to fade and finished her swamp. Urban would know by now she wasn’t coming.

Below in the bailey, the grooms began to bring a number of horses out of the stables and tie them to the hitching posts. Those would probably be the mounts she and the others would use. “Come on,” she said to Legs. “Time for the ferret to go hunting.”

She looked one last time in the direction of Potter’s Crossing and imagined Urban and Soddam glancing at each other in the lengthening shadows, then turning their mounts and urging them away. Tonight, while she and the others were making their way to Blue Towers, Urban and his crew would sail into the dark sea.

“May the Creators send you fair winds,” she said. Then she turned her back, and, with Legs, descended from the parapet to the bailey below, praying with every step that the ancestors would help this impossible mission succeed.

* * *

Berosus walked down the hall to the grand chamber in Blue Towers fortress. Three of his dreadmen walked in front of him, three behind. They entered the chamber, and all those within stood. There were about twenty men, including his Divines and warlords, the Divines of the other three Glorydoms, and the three leaders of the dogmen.

The chamber was lit by oil lamps set in sconces around the walls, illuminating the room with a soft glow. He motioned for the men to sit. When they were all settled, he said, “The power we came to destroy is not in this Grove.”

The men waited.

“But Shim and his army pose a threat to our sublime masters nevertheless. We are going to harvest a tremendous number of these people starting tomorrow. We mean to cull all of the clans that follow Shim.”

One of the Nilliam Divines spoke. He wore light-colored clothing with tassels. “Shim’s sleth will scatter.”

Berosus smiled. This was one reason why he himself infiltrated the Groves, instead of sitting back like some Divines did and sending another. It was one thing to listen to the assessment of a spy. It was quite another to make that assessment yourself. “No, Shim will not. He is not that type. We’ll herd the people to one place. Shim will come to protect them. And when they are all gathered together, we’ll cut them down.”

“You’re talking tens of thousands of souls,” Loyal, the chief Divine of Nilliam, said.

“A large harvest,” Berosus said, “and your masters will each get their share as agreed on.”

The Divines nodded.

“What about the power that killed Lumen and Rubaloth?” Loyal asked.

Berosus looked at the other Divines. Any one of their Sublimes might have done it; there was no reason to trust any of them. Or maybe the Bone Faces had something to do with it, although he doubted that. Or maybe it was something else entirely; the New Lands presented a vast unexplored wilderness. “That is a separate matter. Our mission was to quell this herd, to quash the uprising. When that is finished, your task is done, and you may return to your Sublimes with your treasure.”

The Divines seemed satisfied. Berosus motioned at one of his dreadmen to unroll a map on the table in the center of the room. Then Berosus explained his strategy. They would go into the Shoka lands and kill all the humans in the villages he identified. They’d make sure word of the massacres traveled. Other villages, seeing the slaughter, would sue for peace. But they’d slaughter them as well. That should put all the clans that allied with Shim into a panic.

But they wouldn’t be able to flee because he’d move ships into the various harbors. And then he’d position the armies of Urz, Cath, and Nilliam to block all the main roads except for those leading to the place he wanted to push them. He wanted a line many miles long, driving the people to one place. The dogmen would work the gaps between the four armies, looking for strays and putting fear into the hearts of those who tried to flee. Shim would come to their aid. And Berosus would leave an escape route open until he had them where he wanted them. Then he would close the trap, just as you closed the gate on a group of cattle you’d herded into a paddock.

When he finished explaining the strategy, Loyal of Nilliam asked, “How can you be sure Shim won’t figure out exactly what you’re doing?” He pointed at the map. “If they get around us here and head south, it will be a chore fetching them out of those woods.”

“Just organize your men. Be ready to march on the morrow.”

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