Macsen found Seryn in the morning. The sun was barely up, and she hadn’t put her boots on yet, but he strode through the hall to put a firm hand on her shoulder.
“Come with me,” he said.
Ignoring the rest of the guard where they sat on the side of their cots, he turned on his heel to leave again.
Seryn followed him out, footsteps echoing dully in the wide space between the walls. There were few other people moving in the gray light – a few loading breakfast over already healthy fires, and a few more settling their clothes and minds for a new day – and she looked at none of them. Eyes on Macsen’s back she kept stride with him out into the yard, around the corner of the main hall, straight to his office.
He struck a match sharply and lit the lamp on the wall with steady hands. Seryn shut the door to keep out the morning chill. Macsen sat behind his desk and waved for her to take the chair across from him.
“How much did you know?” he asked before she could cross the room.
She took her next step more slowly, sank into the chair holding his eye carefully.
Tiernan held his silence for a long moment rather than respond. Aled was, as usual smiling, and as usual, it seemed slick and honed, likely to cut any uncareful person that tried to slide past him. This morning, however, the edge was more brutal.
It was easy to guess that Gareth and Celyn were not the only ones who were angry.
Tiernan suspected that he had been angry for a very long time, but it was fresh today, raw as a broken blister.
“I’d like to meet them now,” Tiernan said evenly, voice low.
Doersa looked up, fixing him with a narrow look as if he had just asked to take the rest of the day off to pick wildflowers. He returned the look with raised eyebrows, inviting her to join him. When Aled led the way, she stayed behind.
The camp had lines now, even rows of tents and scattered fire pits where the soldiers had moved on from wanting sleep to wanting something warm in their stomachs. The ground wasn’t stamped down yet, too many of the men and women not having laid down and not bothered to move much since, so it still the place still felt wild to Tiernan as he walked through it. He greeted those he recognized, stopped when anyone called his name, and Aled waited a few steps away with something like patience.
Dust clung to a moving army. Every boot step woke it out of the dirt, scattering it over their toes and puffing it up into the air. Soldiers breathed it. Their hands turned powder dry in it. It caught between their teeth and they coughed it up. They blinked it out of their eyes. When they stopped for the night, they poured it out of their boots, beat it out of the creases of their trousers. They stripped out of their coats outside their tents and beat them too.
For a few precious hours every morning, they couldn’t taste it. And then it came back.
Perched at the top of the hill, hidden in the shadow of the trees, Kedda was glad that, for once, she wasn’t down in the march. She could see the plume of dust, a second horizon-haze under the band of gold sky that touched the earth, though she was still too far away to see the army.
Laom shifted beside her, not in the shadow of the tree, and ignorant of the difference. Not that it mattered just now. “Shouldn’t we get closer?” he asked.
Kedda shook her head. “We’re close enough.”
“I can smell your bleeding heart from down the hall.”
Vardan looked up at the sound of the other man’s voice, unsurprised at the half smile on Donnemey’s face. His eyebrows were bent together, examining Vardan as he approached in the stone hall. It was such a familiar expression, this false confusion poorly painted over his amusement, that Vardan hardly registered it anymore. There was so much more to dislike about the man than the vaguely insulting lines of his face.
He met Donnemey’s eye dully. “What does it smell like?”