This can be read alone, but you can see an earlier short story with the same characters here.
Cato stared down at the map, wishing its contours would change, but knowing they wouldn’t. He wanted Leonora to be lying, to be playing some political game or another, but she wasn’t.
Their king really had sent them to die.
There was no other explanation. Oskelez was much further south than he’d believed, and it would take considerable effort to protect their supply chain in the event of a full siege. That was assuming King Pentus continued to keep them supplied.
If Pentus was smart, he’d wait until they’d marched south then blame storms for ships being delayed. It would seal their fate.
The door to his tent opened, and Sir Octavian ducked through, his strange purple gaze fixing on Cato.
“There are rumors that Miss Leonora was aboard the latest supply ship.”
Cato motioned to the map. “She brought us this.”
Octavian raised a brow then studied the map. “This doesn’t match with what we’d expected to find. Do you think the map’s accurate?”
“Agrees with what little the scouts have brought back.”
“If it’s accurate, our mission is much more difficult than we thought.”
Cato snorted. “Like it wasn’t hard enough already.”
“We should have Lord Brighton study this. If anyone can see how to make the logistics work, it would be him.”
“You trust him?”
“If he accompanies us on the march.” Octavian traced a finger down the long path to Oskelez. “I wonder how King Pentus got such an accurate map so quickly. We left with the spring winds, and autumn has only just begun.”
Cato rolled up the map. He was certain Pentus had the map long before they’d left and had decided to send them to Oskelez because of where it was, not in spite of it. Cato decided not to share that. It was only speculation, and Octavian’s faith in the Holy Trinity was so pure he could channel Their power. That same faith was a liability in politics.
“I don’t know, but Lenora risked a lot bring it to us.”
“To bring it to you.” Octavian studied him then nodded. “We need to show this to Brighton. Depending on what he says, we may need to make winter arrangements.”
Cato planned to make winter arrangements anyway, but he kept that to himself as they went in search of Brighton.
Octavian found Lenora standing on a cliff overlooking the sea. Her brows were furled in concentration and her arms spread wide, oblivious to her cloak that flapped around her.
He didn’t try to mask the sound of his footsteps, and she lowered her arms.
Turning, she faced him. “Shouldn’t you be inspiring the troops or something?”
“Lord Brighton is reviewing the map you brought.”
“Good.” Waves crashed against the cliffs and sprayed water up at her, but the droplets never landed on her.
“What brings you out here?”
“Salt.” She motioned to a wooden barrel nestled on an outcropping.
“I harvest it from the water. And don’t argue with me about magic being forbidden. We’re not in Stardale.”
“You shouldn’t be here alone.”
“What does it matter?”
“You are King Pentus’s only daughter.”
Lenora laughed, a bitter sound against the thrum of the ocean. “But Queen Hestia has no daughters. Only a sickly son who will be lucky to see twenty summers.”
A seagull soared overhead, its cries undulating with the grey waves.
“There are many that want to see you marry the prince. To become the next queen.”
“They assume my half-brother will live long enough for that to happen.”
Octavian frowned. “He has the best healers.”
“And has his whole life. I don’t know what in the seven hells is wrong with him, but I wish they would cure him already.”
“That would knock you out of contention for the throne.”
“Then I could be my father’s spoiled bastard rather than an upstart threatening the queen’s son.”
“Has Queen Hestia treated you that poorly?”
“You know Hestia. What do you think?”
Octavian stared across the sea. “Why did you really bring the map?”
“Because our knights don’t deserve to die, you don’t deserve to die, and that’s exactly what will happen if you charge into that swamp.”
“That is noble. Very unlike you.”
“There wasn’t room for being noble and surviving.”
“I suppose it couldn’t have been easy living in the castle with a queen that hated you.”
“I’m a living symbol of Pentus’s infidelity and her failure to produce a decent heir. Yes, she hates me, but I survived. We all do what he have to do.” Lenora stared out over the rolling water. “But you don’t have to assault Oskelez until spring. Take the time to scout it. See if the map is accurate.”
“Do you doubt it even though you risked so much to bring it to Knight-Lord Dracasan?”
“Either I landed a coup in getting this to you and saving your lives, or I finally fell into one of Hestia’s traps. Make my sacrifice worth it. Scout the area.”
“You are a brave woman, and Cato is a lucky man.”
She swallowed hard, balling her fists. “He has nothing to do with this.”
“You love him, don’t you?”
“Doesn’t matter. Love has no place in Stardale.”
“Good thing we’re not in Stardale.”