He heard Fionna let out a sigh of relief. The night was still enough that he could hear it despite her distance from him.
“Th’ Ilidi beasts are retreatin’,” she announced.
Everyone remained at the wall, as the Gireid beasts were still out there. The Orosjoese and Fionna all had the same posture, on one knee, rifles trained outward. But they were spaced widely, with Yordj and Agst facing the flanks while he, Fionna and Koursh watched in the directions of the known enemies.
“Any idea why?” he asked.
“None, Granduncle. By th’ look o’ it, th’ Gireid hae stopped as well. Ah, there’s one still comin’ our way.”
“It’s coming for us, then?” His tension rose back to where it had been before she spoke.
She took a long time to answer. “It doesn’t seem a battle type. A scoot, I reckon. Perhaps it’s comin’ t’ parley?”
It would be a welcome development, if they could meet the Gireid side and get them to grant safe passage. Tomorrows last leg of the journey home would become much easier.
“I c’n only see Lady Tatoan, Hemme and Rillte. Perhaps Simkit and the Earther are too far oot?”
He scowled. “She said she spotted Jack though. He’s not with her?”
“I cannae see ‘im, Granduncle.”
With a frown, he stared out into the forest.
The habitually silent Althem spoke in his mind. <Jack is with Nam. They’re less than a quarter league from the forest edge.>
“Truth?” he asked back quietly. “Fionna can’t see him though?”
<We’ve differing strengths, Rogan. And I have better means to penetrate stealth.>
“He’s stealthed?” he retorted in surprise. Off to his right, Fionna glanced over at him, puzzled.
In a lower voice, he asked, “Could he have learned such a thing?”
<It’s Simkit’s work. I recognize her style,> the old ghost replied with confidence.
“Then she’s with him?”
<No. That worries me.>
Long, nervous time passed, until Fionna reported Nam’s approach. He felt a non-verbal concurrence from his ghostly partner.
A moment later, a greyish ‘dove’ of flux matter flew across their field of view, reversing course and flying back.
“That’s Ooe, Nam’s specter,” he stated loud enough for everyone to hear. “She’s signaling Nam’s arriving.”
Her bird call came next. He called, “It’s clear. Come out.”
With a wince, he realized his words had sounded like Fionna: ‘Come oot’. He’d worked long and hard in the Navy to learn the General Trinan dialect that other English speakers could follow, but when he was around his niece, his country roots came right back.
He blamed the girl’s thick dialect on the girl’s mother; Fionna’s father, his brother’s boy, spoke like a proper Parhan aristocrat.
Nam emerged from the woods with Jack by her side. The absence of a certain Thamadin woman immediately alarmed him.
“Where’s Simkit?” he asked as they came into normal speaking distance.
“Wounded,” Jack answered. “She says she’s controlling the bleeding with her training, but I don’t think she can make it here on her own.”
Probably in response to the instant worry on his face, Nam said, “I’m going out to look for her. If she can’t walk, I’ll have to treat her.”
“You stay here until we’ve spoken to the Gireid side,” he countermanded, bitter about the decision. His first impulse was to head out there himself. “The Gireid side is currently sending someone in.”
“Oh, that could be a problem…” she said as she arrived at the gate. Rogan had the position next to it. He lifted off the board that was barring it so they wouldn’t have to climb over the wall.
“Why?” he asked.
“I parleyed with the Ilidi. They think I’m one of the them.”
“What did you say, precisely, My Lady?” Koursh immediately inquired. He was still at his position, but it was near enough to hear their conversation.
“We’re peaceful travelers. I tried to tell the beastie that the war is over, but they insisted they had to wait for official orders.”
Rogan snorted. Ridiculous Ilidi pigheadedness. Even their warbeasts were infected with it…
Nam gave his reaction a disapproving glance though. “Duty is more important than life, for them. We shouldn’t presume to know the heart of a different species.”
“Aye, Truth,” he grudged. He had to accept it was so. She was the Ilidi expert, after all.
Koursh judged, “It’s one beast, of scout size. It could be coming to negotiate. It wouldn’t be strange for both sides to recognize us as a peaceful third party.”
Jack’s uniform had picked up some additional dirt. “So you made it back on your own, Lad?”
“I could see the camp from where we were. And Simkit did a thing on me, to keep them from seeing me.”
He noticed Nam nodding in response to that.
Fionna called out, “Th’ scoot is arrivin’, Granduncle.”
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