Home > The Invasion of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #2)

The Invasion of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #2)
Erika Johansen

Chapter 1


The Second Mort Invasion had all the makings of a slaughter. On one side was the vastly superior Mort army, armed with the best weapons available in the New World and commanded by a man who would balk at nothing. On the other was the Tear army, one-fourth the size and bearing weapons of cheaply forged iron that would break under the impact of good steel. The odds were not so much lopsided as catastrophic. There seemed no way for the Tearling to escape disaster.

—The Tearling as a Military Nation, CALLOW THE MARTYR

Dawn came quickly on the Mort border. One minute there was nothing but a hazy line of blue against the horizon, and the next, bright streaks stretched upward from eastern Mortmesne, drenching the sky. The luminous reflection spread across Lake Karczmar until the surface was nothing but a glowing sheet of fire, an effect only broken when a light breeze lapped at the shores and the smooth surface divided into waves.

The Mort border was a tricky business in this region. No one knew precisely where the dividing line was drawn. The Mort asserted that the lake was in Mort territory, but the Tear staked its own claim to the water, since a noted Tear explorer named Martin Karczmar had discovered the lake in the first place. Karczmar had been laid in his grave nearly three centuries since, but the Tearling had never quite relinquished its shaky claim to the lake. The water itself was of little value, filled with predatory fish that were no good to eat, but the lake was an important spot, the only concrete geographical landmark on the border for miles to the north or south. Both kingdoms had always been anxious to establish a definitive claim. At one point, long ago, there had been some talk of negotiating a specific treaty, but nothing had ever come of it. The eastern and southern edges of the lake were salt flats, the territory alternating between silt and marshland. These flats stretched eastward for miles before they ran into a forest of Mort pine. But on the western edge of Lake Karczmar, the salt flats continued for only a few hundred feet before they climbed abruptly into the Border Hills, steep slopes covered with a thick layer of pine trees. The trees wrapped up and over the Hills, descending on the other side into the Tearling proper and flattening out into the northern Almont Plain.

Although the steep eastern slopes of the Border Hills were uninhabited forest, the hilltops and western slopes were dotted with small Tear villages. These villages did some foraging in the Almont, but they mostly bred livestock—sheep and goats—and dealt in wool and milk and mutton, trading primarily with each other. Occasionally they would pool their resources and send a heavily guarded shipment to New London, where goods—particularly wool—fetched a greater price, and the payment was not in barter but in coin. The villages stretched across the hillside: Woodend, Idyllwild, Devin’s Slope, Griffen . . . easy pickings, their inhabitants armed with wooden weapons and burdened with animals they were unwilling to leave behind.

Colonel Hall wondered how it was possible to love a stretch of land so much and yet thank great God for the fate that had taken you away. Hall had grown up the son of a sheep farmer in the village of Idyllwild, and the smell of those villages—wet wool caked with a generous helping of manure—was such a fixed part of his memory that he could smell it even now, though the nearest village was on the western side of the Border Hills, several miles away and well out of sight.

Fortune had taken Hall away from Idyllwild, not good fortune, but the backhanded sort that gave with one hand while it stabbed with the other. Their village was too far north to have suffered badly in the first Mort invasion; a party of raiders had come one night and taken some of the sheep from an unguarded paddock, but that was all. When the Mort Treaty was signed, Idyllwild and its neighbor villages had thrown a festival. Hall and his twin brother, Simon, had gotten roaring drunk and woken up in a pigpen in Devin’s Slope. Father said their village had gotten off easy, and Hall thought so too, until eight months later, when Simon’s name was pulled in the second public lottery.

Hall and Simon were fifteen, already men by border lights, but their parents forgot that fact over the next three weeks. Mum made Simon’s favorite foods; Pa relieved both boys from work. Near the end of the month they made the journey to New London, just as so many families had made since, with Pa weeping in the front of the wagon, Mum grim and silent, and Hall and Simon working hard to produce a forced gaiety on the way.

His parents hadn’t wanted Hall to see the shipment. They’d left him in a pub on the Great Boulevard, with three pounds and instructions to stay there until they returned. But Hall wasn’t a child, and he left the pub and followed them to the Keep Lawn. Pa had collapsed shortly before the shipment departed, leaving Mum to try to revive him, so in the end it was only Hall who saw the shipment leave, only Hall who saw Simon disappear into the city and out of their lives forever.

Their family stayed in New London that night, in one of the filthiest inns the Gut had to offer. The horrendous smell finally drove Hall outside, and he wandered the Gut, looking for a horse to steal, determined to follow the cages down the Mort Road, break Simon out or die trying. He found a horse tied outside one of the pubs and was working on the complicated knot when a hand fell on his shoulder.

“What do you think you’re doing, country rat?”

The man was big, taller than Hall’s father, and covered in armor and weapons. Hall thought he would likely die within moments, and part of him was glad. “I need a horse.”

The man looked at him shrewdly. “Someone in the shipment?”

“None of your business.”

“It certainly is my business. It’s my horse.”

Hall drew his knife. It was a sheep-shearing knife, but he hoped the stranger wouldn’t know. “I don’t have time to argue with you. I need your horse.”

“Put that away, boy, and stop being a fool. The shipment is guarded by eight Caden. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Caden, even out in whatever shithole town you come from. They could break your puny little knife with their teeth.”

The stranger made to grab the horse’s bridle, but Hall held the knife up higher, blocking his path. “I am sorry to be a thief, but that’s the way it is. I have to go.”

The stranger gazed at him for a long moment, assessing. “You’ve got stones, boy, I’ll give you that. What are you, farmer?”


The stranger considered him for another moment and then said, “All right, boy. Here’s how it plays out. I will lend you my horse. His name, appropriately enough, is Favor. You ride him down the Mort Road and take a look at that shipment. If you’re smart, you’ll realize that it’s a no-win proposition, and then you have two choices. You can die senselessly, achieving nothing. Or you can turn around and ride to the army barracks in the Wells, so we can talk about your future.”

“What future?”

“As a soldier, boy. Unless you want to spend the rest of your life stinking of sheep shit.”

Hall eyed him uncertainly, wondering if his words were a trick. “What if I just ride off with your horse?”

“You won’t. You’ve a sense of obligation in you, or you’d never be off on this fool’s errand in the first place. Besides, I have an entire army’s worth of horses if I need to come after you.”

The stranger turned and headed back into the pub, leaving Hall standing there at the hitching post.

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