The concluding novel in this explosive epic fantasy series – perfect for fans of George R. R. Martin and Brandon Sanderson, with action and intrigue on every page
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Adamat was on his way to arrest a general.
He sat in the back of a carriage, the ground bumping away beneath him, and stared out the window at the fields of southern Adro. The fields were golden with fall wheat, the stalks bent by the weight of their fruit and swaying gently in the wind. The peacefulness of it all made him think of his family; both his wife and children at home and the one sold into slavery by the enemy.
This might not go well.
No, Adamat corrected himself. This could not go well.
What kind of a madman goes to arrest a general during wartime? The government was in disarray—practically nonexistent—and it was a miracle that the courts were still operating on a local level. All federal cases had been suspended since Manhouch’s execution, and it had taken bribery and cajoling to get Ricard Tumblar, one of the interim-council elders, to sign a warrant for General Ket’s arrest. They’d strong-armed two local judges into signing the same warrant. Adamat hoped it would be enough.
The driver of the carriage gave a terse command and the carriage suddenly slowed to a stop, lurching Adamat forward in his seat. A glance out one window showed him the wheat fields and rolling hills that gradually gave way to the mountains of the Charwood Pile, their peaks far in the distance, while the other window gave him an unobstructed view of the Adsea stretching off to the southeast.
“Why have we stopped?”
One of Adamat’s traveling companions stirred from her slumber. Nila was a woman of about nineteen with curly auburn hair and a face that could charm its way into a king’s court. Adamat was under the impression that she was a laundress. He still wasn’t quite sure why she had come along on this journey, but Privileged Borbador had insisted.
Adamat opened the door and called up to the driver. “What’s going on?”
“The sergeant ordered a stop.”
He ducked his head back inside. Why would Oldrich call for a stop? They were too far north to have run into the Adran army already. They still had over a day to travel before they reached the front.
The carriage lurched ahead again suddenly, only to pull off to one side of the road in order to let traffic continue past them. A stagecoach rumbled on, and then a trio of wagons filled with supplies for the front.
“Something is wrong,” Adamat said.
Nila rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “Bo,” she said, poking the man sleeping on her shoulder.
Privileged Borbador, only surviving member of King Manhouch’s royal cabal, gave a start and then went back to snoring loudly.
“Bo!” Nila slapped Bo’s cheek.
“I’m here!” Bo sat upright, bare hands dancing in the air in front of him. He blinked the sleep out of his eyes and slowly lowered his hands. “Bloody pit, girl,” he said. “If I had been wearing my gloves, I could have killed both of you.”
“Well, you weren’t,” Nila said. “We’ve stopped.”
Bo ran a hand through his ruddy hair and pulled on a pair of white gloves covered in archaic runes. “Why?”
“Not sure,” Adamat said. “I’ll go check.” He hauled himself out of the carriage, glad to be out of close confines with the Privileged. Bo’s elemental sorcery could kill Adamat, Oldrich, and the entire platoon of Adran soldiers that made up their escort in mere seconds. Adamat had watched Bo snap the neck of Manhouch’s executioner with a flick of his wrist. For all of his charm, Bo was a cold-blooded killer. Adamat glanced back into the carriage once and then trudged up a slight incline toward where Sergeant Oldrich and several of his men conferred beside the road.
“Inspector,” Oldrich said with a nod. “Where is the Privileged?”
“Better start calling him ‘counselor,’ ” Adamat said.
Oldrich snorted. “All right. Where’s the lawyer? We’ve run into something unexpected.”
“There’s an army just over that rise,” Oldrich said.
Adamat felt his heart leap into his throat. An army? Had the Kez finally broken through? Were they marching on Adopest?
“An Adran army,” Oldrich added.
Adamat’s relief was short-lived. “What are they doing here?” he asked. “They’re supposed to be in Surkov’s Alley still. Have they been pushed back this far?”
“What’s going on?” Bo arrived, stretching his arms behind his back. Adamat was reminded again just how young Bo was—not far into his twenties, at a guess. Certainly not yet thirty. Despite his youth, the Privileged had worry lines on his brow and an old man’s eyes.
Adamat looked pointedly at Bo’s gloves. “You’re supposed to be a lawyer,” Adamat said.
“I don’t like going without my gloves,” Bo said, cracking his knuckles. “Besides, no one will see. The army is still a ways off.”
“That’s not quite true,” Oldrich said, jerking his head toward the rise in the road.
Nila had caught up to them. “With me,” Bo said to her. They headed up to look at the army over the rise.
Oldrich watched them go. “I don’t trust them,” he said when they were out of earshot.
“We have to,” Adamat said.
“Why? Field Marshal Tamas has always got on without Privileged to hold his hand.”
“Tamas is a powder mage,” Adamat said. “Neither you nor I have that benefit. And Bo is our backup. If this doesn’t work—if General Ket won’t come along quietly to face the law in Adopest—then we’ll need Bo to get us out of whatever mess we make.”
Oldrich rubbed his temples with both hands. “Pit. I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”
“You want justice, don’t you? You want us to win this war?”
“Then we need to arrest General Ket.”
Bo and Nila returned. Nila frowned to herself, while Bo seemed thoughtful.
“What do you think is going on over there?” Bo asked Oldrich. “That camp should be dozens of miles to our south.”
“Could be anything,” Oldrich said. “Could be the wounded from the front. Could be reinforcements. Could be that our boys were routed and they’re retreating.”
Bo scratched his chin. He had removed his Privileged gloves. “It’s afternoon. If our boys were routed, then they’d be marching toward Adopest right now. I don’t know what it is, but something is wrong. There’s no more than six brigades in that camp. Too many for reinforcements, too few to be the whole army.”
“We should find out what’s going on,” Adamat said.
“How?” Bo demanded. “We will only know what’s happening by riding into that camp. Which we have to do, by the way. If I want to save Taniel—pit, if he’s even still alive—and if you want my help saving your son, then we’re heading down there.”
Bo strode off toward the waiting carriage.
Nila remained, looking between Oldrich and Adamat.
“If this thing goes bad,” Oldrich said to Nila, “will he back us up?”
Nila turned to watch Bo. “I think so.”
Nila shrugged. “He might also burn his way through a few companies of soldiers and leave us in the wreckage.”
Oldrich asked, “What did you say you do?”
“I’m Bo’s—the counselor’s—secretary,” Nila said.
“And before that?”
“I was a laundress.”
They returned to the carriage and were soon moving again, heading over the hill, where the sight took Adamat’s breath away. The Adran camp spread out across the plain in a sea of white tents. It seemed to move and wriggle, like an anthill viewed from above, thousands of soldiers and camp followers going about their day.
The carriage came to a stop once more a mile later as they reached the camp’s pickets. Adamat heard one of the guards call out to Oldrich.
“Reinforcements?” a woman’s voice asked.
“Eh? No, escorting a lawyer down here on the orders of the interim council.”
“A lawyer? What for?”
“No idea. I’m supposed to bring the lawyer down here and convene a meeting of the General Staff.”
Bo had his head near the window, listening intently to the conversation. He had pulled his Privileged gloves back on, though he held them below the window, and his fingers twitched ever so slightly.
“Well,” the guard said, her voice bored, “that’s going to be harder than you think.”
Oldrich groaned. “What’s happened this time?”
“Uh, well…” The guard cleared her throat, and what she said next was too low for Adamat to hear. Across from him, Nila had a look of concentration on her face.
Oldrich whistled in return. “Thanks for the warning.” A moment later and the carriage rumbled on. Adamat cursed under his breath.
“What’s happening?” he asked Bo. “Did you hear that?”
Instead of answering, Bo looked at Nila. “Did you listen like I showed you?”
“Yes,” Nila said. She ran her hands over her skirt and stared hard out the window. “It seems,” she said to Adamat, “that General Ket has been accused of being a traitor. She has taken three brigades with her and split off from the main army. The army is now in a state of civil war.”
The General Staff command post was a commandeered farmhouse about a mile from the main highway. It sat at the center of the army, some six brigades strong, white soldiers’ tents spiraling outward in an organized but ultimately loose formation of a camp.
Adamat and Bo were left waiting, confined to their carriage, for almost three hours before they were finally led inside. Their guards made it clear that the General Staff were all very busy and that their appointment would take up no more than five minutes of the general’s time.
The farmhouse consisted of just one large room with stone walls, a squat fireplace at one end and two neatly made sleeping pallets in the corner. The table in the center of the room had one leg too short, and there were no chairs to be seen. Several maps lay on the table, their corners weighted by pistols. Adamat glanced over the maps briefly, committing them to his perfect memory, where he could study them later at his leisure.
Adamat recognized General Hilanska from a portrait he’d seen once in the royal gallery. He was not a tall man, and significantly overweight due to complications resulting from the loss of his arm when he was a young soldier. Well into his forties, Hilanska was a celebrated hero who had made his name as an artillery commander in the Gurlish Wars. Rumor had it he was one of Tamas’s most trusted generals.
Adamat nodded to the general and stepped forward to clasp his remaining hand. “This is Counselor Mattias,” he said, introducing Bo. “We’ve come on urgent business from Adopest.”
Bo swept off his hat and gave the general a deep bow, but Hilanska barely graced him with a glance.
“That’s what I’ve been told,” Hilanska said. “You should know that we are still at war. I’ve turned away dozens of messengers from Adro because I simply don’t have time to deal with domestic issues. You’re only here now because I know you were on special assignment from Field Marshal Tamas before he died. I certainly hope you have something important to tell me. Sergeant Oldrich was rather sparse on the details, I’m afraid, so if you could—”
Bo moved forward quickly, cutting Adamat off. “Of course, General,” he said, drawing a sheaf of documents from the case hanging from his shoulder. He flipped through several papers before producing one signed and stamped by Ricard Tumblar and the judges in Adopest. “I’m sorry we couldn’t provide your men with more details, but this is a delicate matter. You’ll see here that we have a warrant for the arrest of General Ket and her sister, Major Doravir.”
Hilanska took the paper from Bo and looked it over for several moments. He handed it back. “Adopest has not been apprised of the situation here?” he asked.
“What situation?” Adamat said.
“I have sent several messengers over the course of the last two weeks. Surely you’ve been informed…”
“We have not, sir,” Adamat said.
“The army has gone to war with itself. General Ket has taken three brigades under her command and split with the main army.”
Though Nila had told Adamat exactly that, he still didn’t have to fake the shock on his face. “How? Why?”
“Ket has accused me of treason,” Hilanska said. “She called me a traitor. Said that I was in league with the enemy, and when the rest of the General Staff stood behind me, she took her men and broke with us.”
Bo stiffened at Hilanska’s words and his hands twitched toward his pockets—to his gloves, no doubt. “And there is no basis for this accusation? No evidence?”
“Of course not!” Hilanska snatched his cane and climbed to his feet. “She based her claim on the report of an infantryman who said he saw me conspiring with enemy messengers.”
“And were you?” Bo asked. Adamat shot him a look, but the damage had been done.
Hilanska snapped back, “Of course not. It was one of her Dredgers, a convict from the Mountainwatch. The worst kind of scum. To think she believed him over me…” He shook his head sadly. “Ket and I have known one another for decades. We’ve never been friends, but we certainly haven’t been enemies. I never thought she would make such a baseless accusation. Unless…” He held his hand out for the arrest warrant and Bo obliged him. His eyes skimmed the page. “Unless she’s trying to cover her tracks.”
Adamat exchanged a glance with Bo. “We came to a similar conclusion ourselves, but in regard to the court-martial of Taniel Two-shot. Taniel sent Ricard Tumblar a message asking him to look into Ket’s accounts, and it was what put us onto her track.”
“Tamas’s boy did that? He’s twice as clever as Ket thought him. Incredibly sad, that.”
Bo slipped to one side of Hilanska, moving casually, a hand dipping into his pocket. “What’s sad about it?”
“Taniel was captured by the Kez,” Hilanska said. “Raised above their army like a trophy.”
“No.” Bo swallowed hard, his hand coming out of his pocket without his gloves.
“The whole army saw it. Rumor has it he tried to go after Kresimir himself.” Hilanska shook his head. “I watched that boy grow from a lad. I’m just glad Tamas wasn’t alive to see it.”
Adamat tried to focus on Hilanska’s tics—the way his left hand fiddled with the empty right sleeve of his jacket, the way his eyes moved around the room. The general was working his way around the truth. He’d told him some of it, but not all.
Unfortunately Adamat had no way of discovering what Hilanska was leaving out.
“And he’s dead?” Bo asked.
“They took his body down quickly after his capture. He was only displayed one day, but he was certainly dead.”
Adamat shot Bo a glance. The Privileged’s face had gone deathly pale. He blinked as if there were something in his eyes, and his breath grew short. Adamat stepped toward him and offered him his arm, but Bo waved him off before suddenly rushing from the room.
Hilanska watched him go. “Strange man. Did he know Two-shot?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” Adamat said smoothly. “I was told he’s very sensitive to talk of death.”
“I see.” Hilanska chewed on this a moment, a frown crossing his weathered face.
“Sir,” Adamat went on so as not to give Hilanska time to consider Bo’s behavior, “do you have a plan to close this schism and face the Kez?” If Two-shot was truly dead, Adamat would have to salvage the situation. Would Bo still help Adamat recover his son? Or was Adamat now on his own? Regardless, Adamat felt some duty to country that he should do what he could to reunite the army.
Hilanska headed to the table, where he swept his hand to clear the brigade markers and began to awkwardly roll up one of the maps with his one hand. “I don’t think I should talk of tactics with you, Inspector.”
“Tactics? Will there be a battle?” Adran fighting Adran? The Kez greatly outnumbered the Adran army, and infighting would be sure to doom them all. It was a miracle that the Kez had not yet taken advantage of the infighting to attack. Adamat’s thoughts whirled as he tried to reorganize his priorities.
“Of course not. We are doing everything within our power to settle this amicably. In fact, with this new evidence I may be able to sway Ket’s allies away from her. If that lawyer can get his stomach back, have him bring me every bit of paperwork he has. We can show the officers that Ket is just trying to cover up her own crimes. At the very least it will reassure the men that we are on the side of the right.”
“Certainly,” Adamat said. “But the Kez—”
“We have this in hand,” Hilanska cut him off. “Don’t worry yourself any further. I trust that you will return to Adopest and assure the council we will heal this fracture and turn back the Kez threat, and then we will return to deal with the Brudanians.”
It was the first time Hilanska had mentioned the foreign army that held Adopest. Adamat opened his mouth to ask him what he meant, but the general waved his hand to signal an end to their meeting and turned his back.
Adamat found Bo sitting outside the farmhouse, his back to the stone wall and the tails of his jacket in the mud. Adamat grabbed him under the elbow. “Come on.”
“Leave me be.”
“Come on,” Adamat insisted, pulling him up. He spoke in a fierce whisper to get Bo’s attention, leading him away from Hilanska’s guards. “We still have work to do.”
“Bugger it all. You heard him. Taniel’s dead.” Bo jerked away from Adamat.
“Quiet down! He may not be dead.”
Bo looked as if he’d been slapped. “What do you mean?”
Adamat felt instant guilt at giving Bo any false sense of hope. “Well, let’s at least confirm Hilanska’s story before you go into mourning. Taniel may be a Kez captive, or he may have escaped, or…” He trailed off. Bo regarded him with suspicious skepticism.
“Why the optimism?” Bo asked. “Shouldn’t you be hoping that Taniel’s dead so we can go about finding your boy? Or are you just afraid that I’ll go back on my word?”
Adamat was afraid that Bo would go back on his word. “Something is bothering me about Hilanska. The maps on his table.” Adamat pictured them in his mind, turned them around, and considered them before speaking. “The only experience I have with battle planning is from my time at the academy, but I’d bet my pension that Hilanska is planning on sandwiching Ket’s force between his own and the Kez.”
“It would be sound reasoning on his part,” Bo said.
“Not if he’s trying to reunite the brigades, as he claims.”
Bo shrugged and looked off into the distance, his face sullen.
“Bo,” Adamat said. “Bo!” He reached around and grabbed Bo by the front of his jacket, turning them face-to-face. Bo jerked his jacket out of Adamat’s hands and stepped back. Adamat followed him forward and slapped Bo across the face.
A thrill of fear went up his spine. He’d just slapped a Privileged. Holy pit. What had he done? “Pull yourself together,” he said, trying not to let his voice quake.
Bo’s mouth hung open, one Privileged glove in his hand ready to be pulled over his fingers. “I’ve killed men for less.”
“Well. I’ve thought about it. I’m sure other Privileged have. You have seconds to tell me why you thought that necessary.”
“Because we have a duty here. This is bigger than one man. This is the fate of our family and our friends and our country.”
“You don’t understand why I’m here, do you, Inspector?” Bo said. “I’m here because Taniel Two-shot is my only friend. He’s my only family. Privileged normally do not have the luxury of either, and I’ll be damned if you think this country means more to me than that.”
Adamat took a deep breath, relieved that Bo didn’t try to kill him then and there. He whispered, “If Hilanska butchers these proceedings, my children will wind up as slaves to the Kez. I have to try and make sure that doesn’t happen. If the best way to do that is to help you find your friend, then so be it. You need to get a hold of yourself and discreetly ask around about Taniel. I’m going to look into Hilanska.”
Bo blinked several times, taking shaky breaths, and seemed to regain some of his composure. “We’re forgetting the mercenaries.”
The turn of conversation was so quick it took Adamat a moment to catch up. Of course. The Wings of Adom, the mercenary company in the employ of Adro. They should have had several brigades on the front. Adamat pictured Hilanska’s map once more, looking for the flags: a saint’s halo with gold wings. There they were, up in the corner. “They’re camped about ten miles from here. Probably trying to keep out of this internal spat.”
“Smart of them.”
Bo flexed his jaw and stuffed his Privileged glove back into his pocket. “Start asking around. Find something out, and do it quickly. Or I’m going to go back in there and question Hilanska my way.”
“Are you all right?”
“My cheek is a little sore.”
“I meant about Taniel.”
Bo looked as if he’d swallowed something sour. “A moment of weakness, that’s all. I’ll be fine. And Adamat…?”
“If you lay your hands on me again, I’ll turn you inside out.”