George Napon stretched out. He wasn’t as spry as he used to be, that much was certain.
He made note of the mound of freshly dug up and returned soil. The battle had begun and there was already a mass grave.
The twins were taking in the scene as well. Roderick nudged Frederick and whispered something to him, gesturing towards the mound.
Alexander was letting his mind wander. Glancing furtively to the clouds and then quickly back to the road ahead.
Janice was watching the trees. Undoubtedly looking for any signs of Amazons.
George couldn’t help but morbidly wonder, out of all these promising youths, how many would return?
Maybe he was getting old and losing his taste for battle.
The group was greeted by Miranda at the gates. She looked upset.
“How goes the battle?” George asked.
“Not great,” Miranda answered. “I’m afraid we’ve lost Geoff.”
“Geoff?” Alexander snapped to attention and hurried over. “How… how did he…”
“Francis led him to pursue some fleeing Amazons and they fell into an ambush,” Miranda answered. “For the time being, I’ve removed Francis from command.”
George glanced behind her. Francis was staring figurative daggers into her back.
“An appropriate decision,” George said. “Have you distributed his and Geoff’s troops among other units?”
Miranda shook her head. “I merged them into a single unit and I’ve put a promising soldier in charge.”
“And which noble family are they from?” Alex pressed.
“She’s not from a noble family,” Miranda answered.
“But she is a worthy leader, I trust,” George pressed, trying to cut off the protest he saw coming.
“She is,” Miranda answered. “I’ve fought by her side against the Amazonian queen herself. She’s completely reliable.”
“then it’s fine,” George stated, glancing knowingly back at the other unit leaders. “Why don’t all of you meet with Dame Pienta to iron out the details for watches and such. I’m afraid the long road has tired me somewhat. So, I’m going to take a brief respite.”
Miranda glanced at him with an upraised eyebrow. She knew that he was up to something. He was certain of that much. He gave her a reassuring smile and she nodded, leading the others away.
George sighed, dismounted his horse and moved over to Francis.
“So, you’ve been disgraced,” George said.
“Not the time for your nonsense, Old man,” Francis said.
“Age can bring wisdom,” George said. “And I know full well the kind of man you are.” He glared at the larger, younger man. “So, what are you planning to do to her?”
Francis looked away. “Nothing. We’re on the same side.”
“A good answer if true,” George said. “See to it that you don’t deviate from that. Because if you do,” George partially removed his blade from it’s sheathe. “You’ll have to deal with me.”
“Like I’m afraid of some geezer,” Francis muttered. George heard it, but chose to take solace in the fact that Francis was looking away from him and trying to say it so he wouldn’t hear.
Cassandra greeted the morning by scanning her forest and making note of every bird, rodent and even insect. Artura was on the encampment wall beside her.
“Artura, tell me, as a friend, how is my daughter doing?”
“She’s capable,” Artura answered.
“I have concerns,” Cassandra confided. “I don’t know if she can fight against Miranda. Perhaps it’s better if I withdraw her, but I don’t want to place the welfare of my own daughter above any other soldier.”
“You would be challenged,” Artura stated.
“By you?” Cassandra asked.
Artura shook her head. “Rachel, Ivy maybe Petunia.”
“Then let me ask you directly,” Cassandra said. “Are my fears unwarranted?”
“Your daughter is stricken by Aphrodite’s spell,” Artura answered. “If Miranda is as well, she won’t harm her either. If she’s not…” Artura reached into her quiver and produced a single, barbed arrow “I’ll handle it.”
“It truly is a pity that our peoples needs must be enemies,” Cassandra mused. “I’d love to encourage Courtney’s feelings, discuss the relationship with Hector and prepare a grand feast for Hera’s ceremony. But that’s simply not possible.”
“Maybe after the war,” Artura stated. “If they both survive.”
Cassandra thought about it. For Courtney’s sake, she kind of hoped that happened. But she also knew they couldn’t afford to go easy against a warrior like Miranda. Alas, a happy ending seemed far away.
Caroline met with Ida in private. She still couldn’t believe how beautiful the centaur was. But she knew she had to push such fantasies from her mind. She was too old and this was a professional scenario.
“You wished to speak?” Ida asked.
“Yes, I did,” Caroline said. “Please, sit.” Ida obliged her, kneeling on her equine legs.
“I don’t know exactly what your grandfather told you about me and my guile, but one thing I can tell you is that I never lied to him. As an Amazonian ambassador, I have always been honest in my dealings with other races.” She studied Ida’s face to judge her response.
“He has told me that you don’t speak false,” Ida granted. “However, he also said that you don’t always speak the whole truth.”
She looked up at Caroline. It was an intense gaze.
“Then let me speak very clearly,” Caroline said. “The Torlans want to raze the forest between our kingdoms for its mineral resources. Something they vowed to us they would not do. Now, they’ve vowed to you that your area of the wood has nothing to fear.”
“And you believe they will break their vow to us as well,” Ida stated. “You have made that much clear. I do believe them untrustworthy, but I don’t know if we should rush into battle”
“Let me make it clearer,” Caroline said. “The mineral wealth of that land is not abundant. They’ll have enough for a decade, maybe twelve years at most. And if they win their battle against us, they won’t have as difficult a time against all of you.”
She took Ida’s hand and looked into her eyes. “Will you stand with us now, while our combined forces are at their highest or wait until they’ve gained more power and ours is diminished?”
Ida pulled away, turning from Caroline’s gaze. “Leave me to think on this,” she pleaded. “I will answer after an hour.”