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Petronus

Petronus skirted the ruined city and followed the river south. Three or four leagues downriver from the shattered and blackened stubs that had once anchored Windwirs piers, Petronus remembered a small town. Once he reached it, hed recruit what men-or even women-that he could and return to begin his work.


It would be months, he realized, and the rains would be upon them sooner than that. Not far on its heels, the wind and the snow of a northern winter. With the Androfrancines gone, thered be no one to magick the river. Some years it froze. Some years it didnt. But with the Androfrancines gone, thered be no need to go upriver with any frequency.


Petronus rode his horse along the bank, careful to keep from the forest. The first battle of the war had gone late into the night-hed heard bits of it as hed ridden south-and from time to time, during the

day, he saw the birds lifting and speeding off carrying whatever word they carried. Hed also listened to it as he lay in his fireless camp and tried to sleep, before rising early to silence and morning fog.


As he rode in the quiet of the day, Petronus wondered about this new war and what had started it.


The Entrolusians would easily outnumber the Wandering Army, but if Rudolfo was his fathers son, hed be fierce and swift and ruthless.


He was less clear why they were fighting, but wasnt willing to stop and ask, either. It had to do with Windwir, but just what eluded him. Neither of those two armies had anything to do with the citys destruction-that was something the Androfrancines had done to themselves, meddling with what they had no business meddling with.


Still, Rudolfo and Sethbert would have their piss together and see who could go the farthest.


His horse started, jerking its head and frisking. Petronus felt a hand on his thigh, and realized that invisible hands held his horse by the bit. Where are you going, old man?


A face stretched up and the light hit it in a way that Petronus could barely see its outline. Magicked scouts. But which?


South to Kendrick Town, he said, nodding in that direction. Ive business there.


Where do you come from?


Petronus wasnt sure how to answer. Caldus Bay was too far for any citizen to have reasonable business so far away. He glanced back over his shoulder, taking in the black expanse of Windwir. I was bound for Windwir on Androfrancine business, he said. But when I arrived, there wasnt anything left of it. I just thought any survivors would have headed south.


Weve been instructed to bring any survivors before Lord Sethbert, Overseer of the United City States of the Entrolusian Delta.


Petronus squinted, trying to see the line of the mans face. So there were survivors?


Its not our place to say, the scout said. We will bring you before Lord Sethbert. Petronus felt his horse being pulled. At first the roan resisted, and Petronus considered doing the same. Hed known Sethbert when the Overseer was a pimple-faced teenager. The young son of Aubert had been in the Academy around the time of Petronuss death by assassins poison. They certainly hadnt seen much of each other.


But what if he recognizes me? He chuckled. Thirty years had changed him. He was twice the size hed been and his hair had gone white. He was an old man now, moving a bit slow. Dressed in ratty fishermans robes. It had been three decades since hed worn the blue cloak or the white robe. The man that he had been in those days wouldnt even recognize the man he had become.


Very well, Petronus said with a laugh, take me to Lord Sethbert.


They moved quickly through the wood. Those places where the sunlight lanced in, Petronus caught shadows of the dark clothing and the drawn battle knives of the Delta scouts. They reminded him of the Gray Guard, and he thought about Grymlis again and the Marsher village.


A black field littered with bones as far as the eye could see.


Petronus shook off the memories. I heard fighting in the night, he said.


No quick reply and no boasting. These men were defeated, he realized. Hed not press the question to them again.


In silence, they made their way to Sethbert and the Entrolusian camp.


The camp was alive with activity, a small city of tents blended into a forested hillside, invisible until you were within it. He saw servants, war-whores, cooks and medicos all busy about their trade. For the whore, his escort even paused for a moment, laughing and pointing at the young lieutenant she was riding.


Finally, they stopped outside the most lavish array of connected tents Petronus had seen. It even

out-glamoured the silk Papal Suites that the Gray Guard accompanied around the Named Lands during the Year of the Falling Moon, that time each century when the Pope wandered the Named Lands to honor the settlers who homesteaded the New World.


They walked Petronus to the side of a large open canopy, and whispered for him to dismount.


Wait here. When Lord Sethbert is finished, hell send for you. Then, taking his horse, they left him there. He couldnt help but hear the one-sided conversation.


I just hope youll be able to speak soon, the voice said. Im running out of patience, boy. You are the only witness and I must hear your story.


Petronus looked for the voice, and saw an obese man sitting upon a folding throne that creaked beneath his weight. He was chastising a boy in robes not dissimilar to his own. With Sethberts tone, he wouldve thought the boy would hang his head, but instead, he was looking all around.


Hes counting the guards, Petronus realized, and with no subtlety. But Sethbert wasnt noticing as the boy cased the open air court.


Whats he up to? Perhaps a spy from the other camp. But Jakob wouldve certainly never used a boy in such a hapless way. Surely Rudolfo could not be so very different from his father? Then he saw the line

of his face.


Hed had a professor of human studies at the Francine School named Gath. Show me the line of a mans face, Gath would say to his classroom, spanning the students with his finger, and I will tell you the intentions of his heart. Petronus stayed late after class three afternoons per week and asked that old professor every question he could think of.


It had never failed him, and he knew exactly what the line of the boys face meant.


The intention of his heart was to kill Sethbert, and as careless as he was studying Sethberts circumstances, Petronus was fairly certain that his intentions wouldnt matter once the guards saw what he was doing.


Petronus shouted and raced beneath the canopy.


Rudolfo | Psalms of Isaak 01 Lamentation | Jin Li Tam