The Crimson Campaign(The Powder Mage Trilogy)(9)
Author:Brian McClellan

    Mihali turned to Tamas and waved across the myriad of assistants, flour going up in a cloud around him.

    “Field Marshal,” the chef called. “Come over here.”

    Tamas stifled the annoyance at being summoned like a common soldier and made his way through the tables of bread.

    “Mihali —”

    The god-chef cut him off. “Field Marshal, I’m so glad you’re here. I have a matter of great importance to discuss with you.”

    Great importance? Tamas had never seen Mihali so distressed. He leaned forward. What could possibly worry a god? “What is it?”

    “I can’t decide what to make for lunch tomorrow.”

    “You git!” Tamas exclaimed, taking a step back. His heart thundered in his ears, as if he’d expected Mihali to announce that the world would end on the morrow.

    Mihali didn’t seem to notice the insult. “I haven’t not known what to cook for decades. I normally have it all planned out but… I’m sorry, are you mad about something?”

    “I’m trying to fight a war here, Mihali! The Kez are knocking at Budwiel’s front door.”

    “And hunger is knocking at mine!”

    Mihali seemed so out of sorts that Tamas forced himself to calm down. He put a hand on Mihali’s arm. “The men will love whatever you make.”

    “I’d planned poached eggs with asparagus tips, filet of salmon, lamb chops glazed with honey, and a selection of fruit.”

    “That’s three meals you just named there,” Tamas said.

    “Three meals? Three meals? That’s four courses, barely enough for a proper lunch, and I did the same thing five days ago. What kind of a chef serves the same meal more than once a week?” Mihali tapped flour-covered fingers against his chin. “How could I have messed up? Maybe it’s a leap year.”

    Tamas counted to ten silently to keep his temper contained – something he’d not done since Taniel was a boy. “Mihali, we’re going into battle the day after tomorrow. Will you help me?”

    The god appeared nervous. “I’m not going to kill anyone, if that’s what you’re asking,” Mihali said.

    “Can you do anything for us? We’re outnumbered ten to one out there.”

    “What is your plan?”

    “I’m going to take the Seventh and the Ninth through the catacombs and flank the Kez position. When they try to attack Budwiel, we’ll smash them against the gates and route them.”

    “That sounds very military.”

    “Mihali, please focus!”

    Mihali finally stopped casting about the mess tent as if searching for tomorrow’s menu and gave Tamas a level stare. “Kresimir was a commander. Brude was a commander. I am a chef. But since you ask: The strategy sounds very high-risk with an equally high payoff. It suits you perfectly.”

    “Can you do anything to help?” Tamas asked gently.

    Mihali seemed to think on this. “I can make sure that your men remain unnoticed until the moment you charge.”

    Tamas felt a wave of relief. “That would be perfect.” He waited for a few moments. “Mihali, you appear agitated.”

    Mihali took Tamas by the elbow and pulled him into one corner of the tent. In a low voice, he said, “Kresimir is gone.”

    “That’s right,” Tamas said. “Taniel killed him.”

    “No, no. Kresimir is gone, but I didn’t feel him die.”

    “But the whole of the Nine felt it. Privileged Borbador told me that every Knacked and Privileged in the world felt it when he died.”

    “That wasn’t him dying,” Mihali said, waving the lump of bread dough still in one hand. “That was his counterstroke against Taniel for shooting him in the head.”

    Tamas’s mouth was suddenly dry. “You mean Kresimir is still alive?” Privileged Borbador had warned Tamas that a god couldn’t be killed. Tamas had hoped that Borbador was wrong.

    “I don’t know,” Mihali said, “and that’s what worries me. I’ve always been able to sense him, even when half the cosmos separated us.”

    “Is he with the Kez army?” Tamas would have to cancel all his plans. Rethink every strategy. If Kresimir was with the Kez army, they might all be swept away.

    “No, he’s not,” Mihali said. “I would know.”

    “But you said that…”

    “I assure you,” Mihali said. “I would know if he was that close. Besides, he wouldn’t risk an open confrontation between us.”

    Tamas balled his fists. The uncertainties were the worst part of planning for a battle. It always put him on edge, knowing he couldn’t plan for everything, and this was a god-sized uncertainty. He’d have to go forward with his plans and hope that Mihali’s help in concealing the troops would be enough.

    “Now,” Mihali said, “if we’re quite through with that, I need help with tomorrow’s menu.”

    Tamas poked the god in the chest. “You are the chef,” he said. “I am the commander, and I have a battle to plan.”

    He left the mess hall and was halfway to his command tent when he cursed himself for not snagging a bowl of Mihali’s squash soup.

    Less than twenty-four hours after Ricard sent him looking for Taniel Two-Shot, Adamat found himself sitting back in Ricard’s office near the docks.

    Ricard chewed on the end of a rough-cut pencil and stared across at Adamat. What little hair he had left stuck up from the top of his head like a wind-blown haystack, and Adamat wondered if he’d slept at all in the time between their meetings. At least he was wearing a different shirt and jacket. The room smelled of incense, burned paper, and foul meat. Adamat wondered if there was an uneaten sandwich beneath one of the stacks of records.

    “You didn’t go home last night, did you?” Adamat asked.

    “How could you tell?”

    “Besides the fact that you look like the pit? You didn’t change your boots. I haven’t seen you wear the same pair of boots two days in a row since I met you.”

    Ricard looked down at his feet. “You would notice that, wouldn’t you?” He wiped fatigue from his eyes. “Don’t tell me you’ve already found Two-Shot?”

    Adamat held up a piece of paper. On it, he’d written the address of the mala den where he’d found the hero of the Adran army wallowing in his own self-pity. He held the note out to Ricard. When Ricard reached for it, he pulled it back at the last second, as if suddenly changing his mind.

    “I read something interesting in the newspaper this morning,” Adamat said. When Ricard didn’t respond, he took the newspaper in question from under his arm and threw it on the desk. “‘Ricard Tumblar to Run for First Minister of the Republic of Adro,’” he said, reading the headline out loud.

    “Oh,” Ricard said blandly. “That.”

    “Why didn’t you tell me?”

    “You seemed to have a lot on your plate.”

    “And you’re vying to become leader of our new government. What the pit are you doing business down at the docks for?”

    Ricard perked up. “I’ve built a new place. Moving into it tomorrow, actually. Still in the factory district, but it’ll be fantastic for entertaining dignitaries. Would you like to see it?”

    “I’m a little busy now,” Adamat said. When Ricard’s face fell, he added, “Some other time, I’m sure.”

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