All of the quísah in their squad were assembled in the courtyard. Îra stood before them. “Quísah,” she said, “we are leaving in an hour. The marquísah and I shall take you to the division at Bethindrê where you will stay until the two of us return from some mission unknown to us. But before I dismiss you, I have your forgiveness to ask. I was wrong to bring up my personal grievances yesterday during our battle against Pôtheem and his squad. I put myself over your safety and well-being, an inexcusable trespass. I apologize also to the marquísah for attacking him when I should have waited till afterwards to deal with my disapproval. I repent of my actions towards all of you.”
The quísah Gondacîh raised his hand tentatively. Îra nodded at him to speak. “Marquísa Îra,” he said hesitantly, “I think I speak for the rest of the squad when I say we forgive you. You will always be our leader, and we respect you for that. You have our forgiveness.”
She smiled weakly at him. “Thank you, Gondacîh, but even the best leader acts unwisely at times, and I am not the best leader by any means.”
She was about to dismiss them when Aichan stepped up. “I, too, ask forgiveness for my behavior yesterday. I undermined the marquísa’s authority to you all and flaunted her orders. It was inexcusable. I am sorry.”
This time, a quísa named Forna spoke. “We forgive you, too, marquísah Aichan.”
“I thank you sincerely,” Aichan said. “Now, we dismiss you to pack. Meet back here in an hour promptly, or you will be left behind.”
Îra stood, arms crossed, next to Aichan when the squad disbursed to obey. “Did you mean it?” she asked quietly.
“Are you truly sorry for undermining my authority and flaunting my orders?”
He hesitated for a second. “Yes.”
“Then I forgive you.”
After a pause, “Did you mean it?” Aichan asked her.
She looked into his grey eyes, daring him to doubt her word. “I do.”
Again, a pause. “Then I forgive you, too.”
How does one transport a squad of quísah quietly and safely on a day’s worth of travel along the boundary of Rai and the fallen Maraiah? The question hovered at the front of Îra’s mind and made her brow pucker as they trudged through the underbrush after leaving Îderie Lacon. Normally, she would have gone far out of her way to avoid the border, but Commander Çawl’s instructions to take as short a time as possible ruled out that option.
“Turn north-west for an hour,” Aichan’s voice instructing the squad broke through her meditation.
“No,” she protested. “That will take us far out of our way. We’ll hardly reach Bethindrê by tomorrow night, rather than definitely by tomorrow midday.”
He looked coolly at her with his grey eyes. “Look, marquísa, it’s much safer if we go farther from the boundary.”
Her jaw tightened. “The Commander said to use as much speed as possible. We cannot spare the precious hours that would take.”
“It would take less time if you would just stop arguing and go along with it,” he retorted. He raised his voice and, still holding her eyes, ordered the quísah, “Go north-west for an hour.”
Îra opened her mouth to say, “Raising your voice was probably not the wisest decision here,” but a cry from one of the quísah cut her short.
All eyes turned and saw a brown-shafted arrow with three red circles stuck in his upper arm. Broquans, she identified from the arrow.
“Quísah, ready your weapons!” Aichan shouted.
“We’re not here to fight. Retreat!” Îra countered.
Chaos ensued. Some of the quísah obeyed Îra; some fitted arrows to their bows or drew swords; some stood where they were, confused. An arrow struck Charnekk in the chest, but blessedly hit the buckle on the strap holding his quiver on and was turned aside. Another hit a quísa in the leg. She grasped her leg with a cry. Seeing that, Îra changed her mind. “Stay!” she yelled at those retreating. “Prepare to fight.” With a yell, she drew her sword and charged into the trees. She heard the squad yell and their pounding feet coming behind her.
Abruptly, the ground rose in a sheer cliff in front of them. Îra just managed to keep from running into it. Her eyes flew to the sky. At the top of the cliff crouched dozens of Broquan quísah, bows trained at the ground below.
Aichan skidded to a stop next to her. “Fall back,” he shouted with a touch of panic.
“Fall back! Fall back!” Îra echoed at the top of her lungs. She turned around, already running. In front of her half a dozen yards away rose up Broquans with drawn swords. “It’s an ambush!” one of the quísa cried.
“Fight, quísah, fight!” she and Aichan yelled simultaneously.
What followed was a desperate struggle. Afterwards, Îra remembered little except for swords and arrows all around. An arrow struck her back and would have killed her were she not wearing a coat of fordue[i] under her tunic. It stuck in her tunic and dangled.
Finally, they cleared a hole in the ambush. Aichan’s voice called for retreat. They sprinted through the gap even as it closed, along with all of their squad who were still standing.
They did not stop running until they had covered more than two miles. Only ten of the quísah were still with them.
 Forna: “Strong One”
[i] Fordue: a very strong yet light metal which was blue-grey but took on or reflected the colors around it, this is the most precious metal on Orrök.