Peering through a tangle of hawthorn, Petra could just make out Ola Jarrow-Brok. The enemy scout had come part way down Dragon’s Tooth to conceal herself during daylight. Ola was fourteen and as tough as a billygoat. This would be hard to do silently.
Ola lowered her spyglass and muttered a curse.
Petra froze, not daring to breathe, wishing Railan, just behind her, would stop breathing too. Unless Ola had the glass to her eye, they wouldn’t reach her unseen.
Not long before, when despairing for the match, Petra had looked down from her observation point to see Railan, Senna, and Briar looking expectantly up at her. A thought had struck: the Broks were each alone, but she had kin with her.
Use what you have, Ward had counseled. Everything you know, every kinsman, every foe, every sunbeam, every shade—can be a weapon. Use them.
Petra knew every sight-line of the Clash ground and the virtues of each god’s shade. And from the profile, she thought she recognized Ola on the Tooth. There was one chance, one narrow path.
So, she and Railan had wormed their way in daylight to the Tooth, while the others had gone to find Tegan and the third flight team.
Ola raised her spyglass.
Petra cat-footed around the bush, pinned Ola’s arms, and bore her down onto the moss. Ola loosed a yell of surprise before Railan jammed a round of travel cheese into her open mouth. She bucked and kicked, issuing stifled shrieks around the cheese. Petra wrapped her legs around the younger girl’s, rolled her onto her front, then twisted an arm until Ola gave a mewing sob and stopped struggling.
“Okay, take it out,” Petra told Railan. Into Ola’s ear, she hissed, “One sound, spy …”
Ola spat out bits of chewed wax and cheese. “I’m not a spy. I’m a scout.” Leaves were getting stuck in the charcoal grease on her face.
“Quiet,” warned Petra, twitching the arm.
“Torture me if you want. I’ll tell you nothing,” croaked Ola. She had a husky voice that mean girls mimicked and boys liked.
“I just want cooperation,” said Petra.
“The fuck you do!” She also swore a lot.
The light was yellowing with the onset of godshade.
With her free hand, Petra pulled a tin box from a coat pocket, then showed it to Ola. “Bloodbeet in resin, to smear in your hair—if you don’t cooperate.” She ran her fingernails across Ola’s scalp.
The sun winked out.
She and Railan hustled a gagged and cooperative Ola down the side of the Tooth that was out of sight of the other spotters. Taking a breath for courage, Petra squeezed between the stone and prickly foliage, into a hollow just big enough for a human ‘draken’, her egg, and a few defenders to hide in. Or a spider.
She lit a match. No spider. From the match, she lit a spider light—a dim candle that made a smell spiders disliked. They removed Ola’s coat and boots and bound her wrists.
While Railan stood watch outside, Petra turned to her prisoner. “Sorry, Ola—Clash is war.” Then she yanked down Ola’s trousers.
By the time Tegan, Senna, Briar, the third flight team, and their dogs had slunk up the path to the nest, Petra was wearing Ola’s trousers and coat, had re-plaited her own hair into twin braids like Ola’s, and coated her face with charcoal grease. Ola’s trousers were short on her, and her own braids were shorter than Ola’s, but the disguise would have to do.
“You look every inch a Brok,” said Tegan, grinning.
Petra grinned back. “If you want a Bug’s trust, better look like one.”
“See who we found,” said Tegan.
Dale and Danna, two Drakhorn scouts, had come with the defenders. They must have been far from their assigned search area.
“Well?” said Petra, frowning at them.
Dale said, defensively, “Skat got a good whiff of their egg. You should’a seen him go.”
“He’s loopy.” muttered Danna.
“The dog or your brother?” asked Petra.
Petra knelt and felt Skat’s muzzle, then touched noses with him. “Butter! Someone’s rubbed his nose in rancid butter. The bloody Bugs have banjaxed our dogs. Who checked the kennels?”
Petra cursed herself inwardly. No one had. The smart-ass was outsmarting her at every turn. Without the older boys, her team had lost its claws. Without scouts and dogs, it was blind.
Even weakness can be a weapon, Ward had said. If your opponent thinks the fight is over before it is.
She looked up at the clashers who stood around her. “The only way we’ll find Otger’s nest is to get the Bugs to show us. And they won’t do that unless we give them what they want.”
Tense as a bow-string, Petra waited in shadow for Borak Brok. Her raiders, assembled from the remnants of her team, hid nearby.
This had to happen at the onset of godshade. She’d counted the minutes they’d have of sunlight and of shade, and of near-dark when the moon was eclipsed. Not enough. It couldn’t work. But it had to.
Borak was late. If he’d kept pace with the line of scouts working their way across the Clash ground, he should be here already.
Petra closed her eyes, willing him to appear.
There he was! Ambling toward them, Borak was big, cocksure, and mean. Petra made the sign: go.
But Dale didn’t go. He stood gaping, his face gone pale.
Petra pointed vigorously: go!
Borak was moving past them now.
With a scream, Danna went for him. Her blood flail made a turn around his torso, spraying drak blood and pinning his arms. As she hauled on the rope, Borak stepped back and sat down heavily. Senna, Railan, and Dale lobbed blood bombs and mobbed him.
Bellows, yells, and excited dog barks reverberated among the boulders. Petra watched, delighted. The way it was going, they might even subdue Borak. But that wasn’t the plan. She blew a blast on her horn.
Railan and the girls retreated to join the other raiders, leaving Dale to occupy Borak.
The valley fell into the umber dimness of godshade. Seconds later, two Brok scouts appeared, drawn by Borak’s yells.
The time and the light were right. Petra raced alone into the bloody arena.
Borak was on his feet, bellowing and shaking Dale by his coat front. The younger boy was limp.
“Borak, shut up and listen,” rasped Petra. She let tiredness into her voice. It wasn’t hard to sound husky.
“Ola! What are you doing out of position?” roared Borak.
“I know where the fucking nest is!”
Borak let Dale fall to a heap at his feet. “Why the hell didn’t you signal?”
“I’ve been signaling, you gorp. With all your racket, they’ll clear out the egg—come on!” She tore up the sheep path that led to the base of the Tooth, with the boots of the three Broks drumming behind her.
The Drakhorns’ defense of their nest was valiant but futile. The Broks had their blood up, and gave no quarter. The few defenders were younger—three of them under ten.
Petra plunged after Tegan into the nest.
There, in the stench of the egg and the glow of the spider light, three pairs of eyes looked into hers: Briar’s and Liam’s, shocked and frightened; Tegan’s, beautiful and sad.
“In here,” shouted Petra, “they’re in here!” As Borak bulled his way in, she punched Tegan in the stomach, dropping her to her knees.
Borak protested. “Ola, that’s Tegan—no call to be hitting her!”
They found the tarp-wrapped egg hidden under leaves and sticks.
“Pfew-ee! That’s the baby,” hooted Borak.
With breathless anxiety, Petra croaked, “Quick, Borak, take it to the gate. And you,”—she pointed at a Brok scout—”run and tell his royal henness.”
Borak guffawed. It was no secret he resented Otger. “Look who’s giving orders. We can take our sweet time letting the draken laddy know.”
“Don’t you get it?” shouted Petra. “There’s only babies here. Petra must be leading a goddam raid. If she gets ours …”
Broak’s eyes went wide. “Bloody Hell!”
Petra started for the entrance. “I can go alone, but—”
Borak roared, “You two, bloody move—what’re you waiting for?”
The Brok scout raced away with Petra close behind. Her attention on the fickle, moonlit path, she had no time to dwell on what she’d just done.