The Silvered Online - Tanya Huff

Chapter One

SENSES NEARLY OVERPOWERED by the scent of sweat and gunpowder and onions, tomas followed his nose through the 1st Aydori Volunteers, searching for his greatcoat. When his uncle, Lord Stovin, had ordered the Hunt Pack out before dawn, Tomas had left his coat folded on lieutenant Harry Kyncade’s saddle, up out of the dew. His cousins might think it funny to hide his uniform, mask the scent, force him to hunt it out, to go naked or stay in fur, but not Harry. Since their first days at school, they’d been as inseparable as duties and responsibilities allowed, and Tomas trusted Harry to keep safe the only clothing he had with him.

Unfortunately, the 1st—along with the remains of the armies from the overrun Duchies of Pyrahn and Traiton—had moved into battle formation while he was gone and Tomas had only a vague idea where Harry was.

He felt the soldiers’ attention on him as he passed. They might not know for certain who he was, but, given that he currently looked like a black wolf, they knew what. For many of them, this had to be the first time they’d seen a member of the Pack so close. Because they couldn’t know how acute his hearing was, he chose to ignore comments on his size, his color, and the unfortunate fact he had burrs in his tail.

“Finally decided to join us, Lord Hagen?” Harry’s voice cut through the ambient noise.

Tomas raised his head. Harry stood by his pony, a little apart from his men, holding the missing greatcoat.

Two quick steps and a leap over the head of a sitting soldier, too startled to do anything but swear, put him at Harry’s side. He changed and turned at Harry’s gesture, allowing the other man to slide the sleeves up over his arms, grimacing as the fabric came in contact with filthy skin. He needed a long bath and the vigorous application of a scrub brush.

“If you mean did I decide to spend the remainder of the day sitting around with you doing nothing,” he replied, tightening the belt and turning, “then, yes.”

“Then I’m thrilled to give the pleasure of my company.” Reins looped over the crook of his elbow, Harry straightened Tomas’ collar. “Where were you? Off chasing rabbits?”

“I wish.” Not that he’d have objected to a rabbit; the duckling he’d grabbed on the riverbank hadn’t been much of a meal. “Scouts got sent out just before dawn.”

Harry’s eyebrows rose until they almost disappeared under the edge of his plumed shako. “And?”

“And nothing,” Tomas admitted. He nodded across the river at the Imperial army lined up and waiting, helmets gleaming in the afternoon sun. “They had sharpshooters with those new rifled muskets stationed along both flanks. Shitheads were shooting anything that moved. No one could get close.”

“They shot at you?” Eyes, flecked with Fire-mage red, gleamed as Harry ruffled Tomas’ hair. “But you’re so adorable.”

“Shut up.” At eighteen, he remained slight enough he could pas particularly lSs in low light as a very large black dog, but he drew the line at adorable. Leaning against the shoulder of Harry’s pony, he scratched at the mud drying on his left foot. The Imperial army would have expected scouts from upstream, so he’d crossed downstream where the banks were marshy and found himself expected anyway. “They’re waiting for something.”

“Really?” Harry snorted, and gestured expansively at the surrounding Volunteers, who pointedly ignored both young men. “I wouldn’t have guessed, given that we’ve been waiting for them. This is no way to run a war.”

Straightening, Tomas rolled his eyes. “Next time I talk to my uncle, I’ll tell him you think you could do things better.”

“Ass.”

“Idiot.”

They turned together to stare at the command post. Harry’s men had taken up a position close enough to Command that Tomas could see Lord Stovin, one bare foot up on a stump, talking with General Krystopher, military commander of the Duchy of Pyrahn. General Lamin, leader of the Traitonian army, was conspicuously absent.

General Lamin had a problem with the Pack and had been heard to refer to them as no more than vicious animals.

Lord Stovin had been forced to show teeth to prevent the younger members of the Hunt Pack from provoking an incident. As it was, Tomas knew for a fact that after the no more than vicious animals comment made the rounds, his cousin Jared had honored the Traitonian Lancers with a visit, panicking their horses. The sturdy mountain ponies used in Aydori were exposed to the Pack