1.

‘We’re in trouble,’ Croki said.

Mock agreed with a grim smile. It was an army all right. He didn’t need to have hawk-like vision to know what that shifting glimmer in the distance meant: horses and armoured men. Lots of them.

The Paleskins were coming.

And they were moving swiftly.

‘You want to tell them or should I?’ Croki said.

Mock sat back against the trunk of the tree. Its thick branch pressed hard against his arse. The rough bark scratched against his back. They had climbed high enough that the tree swayed gently, its leaves rustling in the warm wind. Somewhere in its highest branches an eagle shrieked.

The back of his neck prickled. He couldn’t shake the feeling that this was it. That the time of the Quarthi was over. For the past sixteen years his people had been keeping a close eye on the invaders as they moved across the land like a tide, swallowing up everything in their wake. Only this tide wouldn’t recede.

‘Mock?’

Mock looked over at his brother warrior who was watching him grimly.

‘I’ll do it,’ Mock said. Nobody wanted to deal with the shamri at the best of times, much less bring them news like this. But he would tell Grinda first.

Croki nodded in relief. ‘What’s goin’ to happen, do you think?’

‘Do you really need to ask me that, brother?’

Croki grunted. ‘The Mother protect us.’

‘The Mother protect us.’ But the words were like sand in Mock’s mouth.

 

2.