Previously on Seven Stones: Soldiers ride out from the palisade, but, instead of searching for Anessa and the others, pile fresh meat on the ground. After beating a bronze shield, the riders return to the palisade. Hoping to find a better hiding place, Anessa leads the way into the nearby forest. Deeper in, she sees another group of soldiers ambushed. Before she can withdraw, Elvar, on of Inductor Anserth’s unit, captures her.
Anessa considered her surroundings out of the corners of her eyes as she eased her sword belt off. The ground to the left seemed least cluttered. Resisting the urge to tense up, she pitched her weapon away.
And cursed inwardly when Elvar’s gaze didn’t even flicker from her.
“Good try, Worthy.” Elvar rose to his feet. “Ease yourself up and move a couple of paces back. I’ll not insult either of us by asking you to call the Reverend over.”
Anessa frowned. Why would that—? He must assume they’d arranged some sort of warning. Like she would’ve—if she’d been any good as a scout. She had sneaked in where Anserth’s soldiers couldn’t, though, and then almost escaped Anserth without detection. No wonder they mistook her for someone important. Shoulders rounded she backed away.
Keeping his eyes on her, Elvar hooked her belt up, and slung it across his shoulder. When the end of one of her bolts tinked on the buckle of his baldric, Anessa sagged further; she hadn’t even considered keeping the bolts. Just wanting it to be over, she watched him lift the bolt from her crossbow and tuck it through a belt loop.
“Turn around. Walk five paces along the path.” Elvar twitched the end of his weapon toward the felled tree.
The dull tunk of an empty crossbow sounded behind Anessa as she shuffled away. She stiffened as she realised what Elvar’d said. Call the Reverend. Haelen hadn’t gone to the ruins. They wouldn’t expect him. She tried to round her shoulders again; hopefully, Elvar’d been too busy with her crossbow to notice. If they thought she was up to something, they’d take more care; maybe even question her first.
She risked a glance along the path. Several figures in brown leather, crossbows angled down but not slung, directed the still-chained line of prisoners into the treeline, while another two bent over the fallen soldiers. Anserth was nowhere to be seen.
A thrush trilled behind her. Anessa scanned the shadows. It wasn’t—
A young woman, face familiar from the ruins, jogged up.
Elvar stepped around Anessa, crossbow resting across one arm. “There’s a Reverend Militant west of here. Take your unit, find him, and invite him to join us. Make sure you tell him his friend’s already accepted.”
The woman nodded once, and ducked into the trees. She wasn’t good enough that Anessa couldn’t see her move; but Kobb and Haelen didn’t have her skills. Haelen probably wouldn’t be the advantage she’d wanted. Maybe she should shout?
But then Elvar’d shoot her. And, if Anserth’s soldiers could sneak up on Kobb, they could do it while he was running. Best plan was still hoping Kobb rescued her somehow. Like he had last time.
A gentle drumming grew above. Water splashed off the top of her head. Pigshitting Anserth, and her schemes. Why’d she have to turn up again? And now it was pigshitting raining too.
Walking ahead of Elvar, she wended her way deeper into the damp gloom. Soon after, she made out the sound of muttering and a dull clink behind the hiss of the rain. Another ten yards revealed a cluster of soggy prisoners, two of them holding the chain that linked their arms across a boulder while one of Anserth’s men hit it with the back of an axe. Beyond, a large tent sagged, the trees too close to put it up fully. Closer now, she realised some of the prisoners were children.
The more she knew, the better chance she had. From what she’d seen, Elvar wasn’t a cruel man. Maybe, he’d tell her something. “What’s going on? Why’re you here?”
“That lost waif trick won’t fool me again, Worthy. Not after seeing the stone-cold murderer you are.”
Anessa whirled round. “I’m a murderer? Anserth’s the one who tried to kill Kobb and all those people!”
“Only killing I remember is good soldiers dead cos of you. Still don’t know how to tell Orlin’s family.” Elvar raised his crossbow. “Just get in the tent. You try this muck on the Inductor, I’ll put a bolt in you.”
Rain oozed down her neck as she walked through the camp. Orlin had a family? Kobb’d done the right thing, but… Thoughts swirling, she pushed the flap aside and stepped in.
Anserth looked up as she entered. Despite having removed her helmet, she seemed more threatening now. Anessa suspected she’d keep the rest of her armour on for this conversation.
Which’d be totally fine.
“Didn’t expect to see you again.” Anserth stared into Anessa’s eyes, brow furrowed. “Suppose I shouldn’t be surprised you’re here, though. Answer my questions, and it’ll be easier for you.”
“Help you!?” Anessa stepped forward, chin jutting. “You almost killed Kobb! You were going to murder Karak and his family! Why would I help you? I wish I’d never met you! Pretending to be my—!”
“On your knees!” Elvar pressed a sword to her back. “I won’t—?”
“Pretending?” Anserth raised a hand. “Step off, Elvar. I’m sure Worthy Tanton will see sense. This is the second atrocity I’ve found you at, girl. Do you really expect me to believe you’re not involved? Is it the whole Order or just a few of them? Tell me who’s behind this, what they plan. I can protect you.”
“You think I’m—?”
Anserth leant closer. “Should have seen it straight away. Hero of Raveth turning up’s unlikely enough. But him wandering around with some ordinary girl—?”
“Ordinary girl? Least I’m not a heartless hag with a lopsided nose!”
“Heartless hag?” Anserth’s shoulders stiffened for a moment, then she stepped back. “Fury, you’re good. If I didn’t know what you were already, I’d mistake you for an innocent. And trying to rile an Inductor?”
“She sounds innocent because she is.” Kobb moved aside to let Haelen enter. “About the only person here who is.”
Anserth snorted. “And I suppose you two and your friend turning up again is just a coincidence?”
“We’re hunting evil, followed it here.” Kobb raised his palms. “Could be we share a goal.”
Elvar spat on the floor.
“Not the most eloquent of arguments, but Elvar makes a point.” Anserth quirked an eyebrow. “Why should I believe you?”