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Authors: Jim Butcher

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BOOK: Cursor's Fury
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“He isn’t ready,” Max said.

“He’ll fit right in around here,” Tavi said. “I don’t want to break up century structures and surround the fish with new faces now.”

Max nodded. “I’ll get my horse.”
“Get me one, too,” Tavi said. “I’m coming.”
Foss and Max traded a look. “Um,” Max said. “Captain . . .”

Tavi held up a hand. “I’ve got to get a look at what we’re up against, Max. I don’t know a damned thing about the terrain out there, and I need to see it if we’re going to be fighting in it. I want to see the Canim for the same reason.”

“They’re big, sir,” Max said. “They have teeth. They’re strong as bulls and they run real fast. Pretty much all you need to know.”

p. 244
“Or maybe it isn’t,” Tavi said, voice harder. “Get me a horse, Tribune.”

Max’s objection was clear in his expression, but he saluted, and said, “Yes, sir.” Then spun cleanly on a heel and marched off.

“Thank you, Foss,” Tavi said. “I think we can assume our first healing station should be on the south side of the bridge. We’ll need a second one on this side, in case we get pushed back. Set them up, centurion.”

“Understood, Captain,” Foss said, saluting.

Tavi lifted a hand, and said, “No, wait. Set them up, Tribune Medica.”

Foss grimaced, though there was a defiant light in his eyes as he saluted again. “A fight with Canim and a promotion. Today isn’t going to get much worse.”

Ehren drifted in on soundless feet as Foss left. The young Cursor sat down cross-legged next to Tavi and watched the camp activity with a weary expression. A moment later, a squat, bulky-looking centurion rolled up at a quick march and saluted Tavi. “Captain.”

“Centurion Erasmus, “ Tavi said. “This is Sir Ehren ex Cursori, the agent who brought us word of the Canim incursion.”
Erasmus stiffened. “The man Eighth Spear is accused of assaulting.”
“The charges are dereliction of duty in time of war, attempted murder, and treason,” Tavi said quietly.

Erasmus’s face reddened. And well it should, Tavi thought. Those crimes carried lethal consequences. No centurion wanted to see his own men tried and executed, for all kinds of reasons.

“Frankly, centurion,” Tavi said, “I have no intention of killing any legionare, especially veterans, whatever the reason, so long as I have any alternative. If this incursion is as large as it would seem to be, we’ll need every sword.”

Erasmus frowned at Tavi, and said, cautiously, “Yes, sir.”

“I’m assigning Sir Ehren to question your legionares. Frankly, I suspect they’re more stupid than treasonous, but . . .” He gestured at the ruined ground around them. “We obviously can’t afford to take any chances with our security.
Someone
told the Canim where to strike. Sir Ehren, find out what the prisoners know.” He paused, fighting down a sick little feeling in his stomach, then said, “Use whatever means necessary.”

Ehren didn’t even blink. He nodded calmly to Tavi, as if he tortured prisoners often enough to expect the order to do so.

“Centurion Erasmus,” Tavi said. “Go with him. I’ll give you a chance to convince your men to cooperate, but we don’t have much time, and I
will
know if there are any more turncloaks waiting to stab us in the back. Understood?”

p. 245
Erasmus saluted. “Yes, sir.”

“Good,” Tavi said. “Go.”

They did, and Magnus appeared from the darkness. He passed Tavi a cup of tea in a plain tin mug. Tavi accepted it gratefully. “You heard everything?”

“Yes,” Magnus said quietly. “I don’t think you should leave the town.”
“Cyril would have,” Tavi said.
Magnus said nothing, though Tavi fancied he could hear disapproval in his silence.

Tavi took a sip of bitter, bracing tea. “Foss says Valiar Marcus will be on his feet soon. He’s acting Tribune Tactica. Make sure he knows I want him to take charge of the town’s defenses and get any unarmed civilians over the bridge and onto the north side of the river.”

“Yes, sir,” Magnus said quietly.

Tavi frowned and looked at him. “I’m still not sure we shouldn’t hand the Legion to Marcus.”

“You’re the next in the chain of command,” Magnus replied quietly. “The First Spear is the senior centurion, and career soldier, but he isn’t an officer.”

“Neither am I,” Tavi said wryly.
Magnus paused for a reflective moment, then said, “I’m not sure I trust him.”
Tavi paused with the cup near his lips. “Why not?”
Magnus shrugged. “All those officers, many of them powerful furycrafters, dead. He just happened to live through it?”
“He happened to be outside the tent at the time.”
“Quite fortunate,” Magnus said. “Don’t you think?”
Tavi glanced at his torn knuckles. He hadn’t had time to clean them or bandage them properly. “So was I.”
Magnus shook his head. “Luck isn’t usually so common. Valiar Marcus was meant to die at that meeting. But he survived.”
“So did I,” Tavi said quietly. And after a moment, he added, in a neutral voice, “And so did you.”
Magnus blinked at him. “I was still talking to the town’s militia tribune.”
“Quite fortunate,” Tavi said. “Don’t you think?”

Magnus stared for a second, then gave Tavi an approving smile. “That’s a smart way to think, sir. It’s what you need in this business.”

Tavi grunted. “I’m still not sure I’m ready.”

“You’re as ready as any Third Subtribune Logistica would be,” Magnus said. “And better able than most, believe me. The Legion has enough veterans to
p. 246
know its business. You just need to look calm, confident, and intelligent and try not to lead anyone into any ambushes.”

Tavi glanced around him, at the ruins of the tent. His mouth twisted bitterly. It was just then that the crows flooded by overhead, a raucously cawing mass of the carrion birds, thousands of them, sweeping over the Tiber and the Elinarch toward the southwest. They flew by for a solid two minutes, at least, and when a ripple of scarlet lightning went through the clouds overhead, Tavi could see them, wings and beaks and tail feathers of solid black against the red, moving together in a nearly solid mass that almost seemed to be a creature in its own right.

Then they were gone, and neither one of the Cursors on the storm-wracked ground spoke. The crows always knew when a battle was brewing. They knew how to find and feast upon those who would fall.

Magnus sighed after a few seconds more. “You need to shave, sir.”

“I’m busy,” Tavi said.

“Did you ever see Captain Miles unshaven?” Magnus asked quietly. “Or Cyril? It’s what legionares will expect. It’s reassuring. You need to give them that. Take care of your hands, too.”

Tavi stared at him for a second, then let out a slow breath. “All right.”

“For the record, I strongly disagree with your decision regarding Antillus Crassus. He should be imprisoned with the other suspects.”

“You weren’t there,” Tavi said. “You didn’t see his eyes.”

“Everyone can be lied to. Even you.”

“Yes,” Tavi said. “But he wasn’t lying to me tonight.” Tavi shook his head. “Had he been into some kind of plot with his mother, he’d have left with her. He stayed. Confronted me directly. I’m not sure how intelligent he is, but he isn’t a traitor, Magnus.”

“All the same, until we know what further damage his mother might wreak—”

“We don’t know for certain she was involved,” Tavi said quietly. “Until we do, we should be careful with our words.” Magnus didn’t look happy about it, but he nodded. “Besides. Crassus is likely the most powerful furycrafter we have left in the Legion, apart from Maximus, and he’s the one who has been training with the Knights Pisces. He’s the only choice to lead them.”

“He’ll be in a position to ruin anything this Legion attempts to accomplish if you’re wrong, sir.”

“I’m not.”

Magnus pressed his lips together, then shook his head and sighed. He drew a small case out from behind a mound of lightning-tortured earth, and opened it,
p. 247
revealing a small shaving kit and a covered bowl. He opened it to reveal steaming water. “Maximus should be back shortly. You clean up,” he said. “I’ll find you a proper cavalry weapon.”

“I’m going to look, not fight,” Tavi said.
“Of course, sir,” Magnus said, handing him the kit. “I assume you prefer a sword to a mace.”
“Yes,” Tavi said, taking the kit.

Magnus paused, and said, “Sir. I think you should consider appointing a small number of
singulares
.”

“Captain Cyril didn’t use any bodyguards.”
“No,” Magnus said, his tone pointed. “He didn’t.”
 

 

Chapter 31

 

 

Tavi knew that the enemy was near when he saw the first massive, wheeling flights of crows, circling and swooping around columns of black smoke.

The sun rose behind them as they followed the Tiber toward the harbor town of Founderport, almost twenty miles from the Elinarch. Tavi rode with Max at the head of an alae of cavalry, two hundred strong, while the second alae, mostly made up of the more experienced troops, had been broken into eight-man divisions that moved in a loose line through the hills south of the Tiber, marking terrain and, together with the swift-moving scouts, searching for the enemy.

As the sun rose, it lit the gloomy and unnatural cloud cover overhead, and as the ruddy light finally fell through the low, undulating hills around the river, it revealed points of black smoke rolling up in the broad river valley. Tavi nodded to Max, who ordered the column to a halt. He and Tavi walked forward, to the crest of the next hill, and looked down. Max lifted his hands, bending the air between them, and let out a low, pained grunt.

BOOK: Cursor's Fury
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