Not for the first time, Masen wished he had a stronger talent for hailing. He’d gathered all the Song he could hold, strained for Barin’s colours until his temples throbbed, but hadn’t been able to discern so much as a glimmer. Exactly the same result as every day since he’d left Saardost, in other words. He simply couldn’t reach far enough.

Swearing under his breath, he let the power go.

‘Still nothing?’ asked Sorchal, handing him a mug of steaming tea.

‘Still nothing.’

Masen took the cup and sipped. The clansmen brewed their tea exactly the way he liked it, hot and strong, with just a dab of honey.

‘It’s been four days, Masen.’

‘And we still don’t know what we’re riding into, yes. No need to remind me.’

His apprentice sat down next to him, cradling his own mug. ‘I don’t want to be the one to say this, but shouldn’t we have found something by now? If there was something to find, I mean?’

‘Not necessarily,’ Masen said. ‘They won’t be travelling fast with injured men, so there’s still a chance we’ll catch them.’

He tried to sound confident, but in his heart he was afraid that Barin and the others might well be dead. Since that brief, exhausted hail to say that Eavin had been injured and the fortress was lost there’d been no further word, and Duncan’s rangers had found no sign that anyone had come within a mile of this road.

Sorchal peered into his tea. ‘Or maybe there’s another reason.’

Masen held up a hand. ‘Don’t say it.’

‘Someone has to. We don’t know where the Nimrothi are, Masen. They won’t have stayed at King’s Gate – we could be riding straight for them.’

‘You think I don’t know that? That it doesn’t bother me I can’t tell who’s out there, or how many of them there are? Trust me, I’m bothered.’ Masen took a swig from his mug. ‘Anyway. How’s your head?’

Sorchal fingered his scalp. His hair had begun to grow back in around the long, curved scar, but was short as the grass on a bowling green compared to the sleek waves on the other side.

‘It itches. And I still can’t hold the Song worth a damn. It feels like my skull’s about to explode.’ He made a face, rubbing at the scabs. ‘What I wouldn’t give for one of Tanith’s potions right about now.’

‘Well, she’s not here, so you’re going to have to lump it.’

‘Is she really gone?’

‘As good as,’ Masen said, without looking up from his mug. ‘Gair’s got some fool idea that he can save her by folding her away in the Veil, but I saw her, after the infirmary collapsed. I lifted the stones off her. There’s no coming back from that.’

He gulped half of his tea, but it wasn’t enough to wash the bitterness out of his mouth.

‘And so you blame Gair.’

‘Who else should I hold responsible? It was his plan, his weaving. It was his will that rang the mountain like a damn cymbal.’

‘But Gair’s as straight as a saint,’ Sorchal protested. ‘He’s a Church Knight! Defence for the defenceless and all that – there’s no way he would have deliberately put the whole keep in danger.’

Masen spread his hands. ‘And yet here we are.’

‘Something must have gone wrong. Goddess knows, Gair’s got his faults, but—’

‘Just stop it, Sorchal! What’s done is done.’

Across the clearing, a couple of clansmen looked up from their gear at the sound of Masen’s raised voice. He glared at them until they remembered what they were supposed to be doing. Before long, the rest of the camp was yawning and scratching themselves awake and pointedly not looking his way.

Sorchal, though, was still staring at him. Masen took another gulp of his tea and swallowed it slow to give his temper a chance to cool.

‘Look,’ he said at last. ‘I know Gair’s your friend and you want to defend him, but Tanith was like a daughter to me. Now she’s dead. I’m having a hard time forgiving him for that.’ He stood up, hurling the dregs from his cup into the underbrush. ‘Come on. The only way we’ll find anything around here is if we keep looking.’