FIRE AND EARTH is on track for publication on the 21st–next Sunday. In honor of that, here’s another deleted scene from what used to be the first chapter.
Casora made her way back to her new desk at the back of the command tent and found an envelope on top addressed to her. News from home was always welcome. Normally, looking for and opening that letter would have been the first thing she did. She’d been distracted by the change of command and then by taking leave of Marcian and Varana. She sat back in the big chair and tore open the seal.
You are probably cursing me for calling back so many of the experienced Deathless just as you take command. It’s not an easy task I’ve left you, I know, but you are equal to it.
The battle experience of those I have called is needed here. The mountain scouts brought word of an army of Yriri raiders on the march from out of the north. If they climb the mountains, they will be here before winter closes the passes. We need more young men and women to defend Astraea.
I am confident you will be able to pull the band together and train them over the winter.
Keep scouts to the north, in case the Yriri skirt the mountains and slip past us.
Your mother and brothers send their love. Grita sends hers, too. She’s glaring at me as I write this because you won’t be home for her wedding. She’s marrying the farmer’s son from up the road on Star Night.
Lead with Honor,
Casora’s throat constricted with worry. Marcian, Varana and the others weren’t returning home; they were riding into battle without her. And they didn’t even know it. Her father’d probably expected her to read the letter before they left and relay the information. She’d have to send a rider after them, to warn them. And set a scout to the north to safeguard the camp. “Ravan, send me two scouts.”
The young man twisted around in his chair. “Two scouts, Captain?”
She did her best to imitate Ledan’s command tone. “Did I stutter?”
“No, Captain. Right away, Captain.”
Casora sat back and read through the letter again. It didn’t make sense. If Astraea was under attack, why not send for all the Deathless? There was only going to be maybe one more skirmish here until spring. This border dispute wasn’t even Astraea’s war. The Deathless were only here to support their ally, Feloria. Well, that, and to get actual battle experience for the Deathless. If there was going to be a real war back home, surely that’s where they belonged.
She could almost hear her father’s voice, “Think like a commander, Casora.”
Well, then. Strategically, the reason a general would leave a fresh unit on his flank–potentially on the enemy’s flank–was as a reserve. Such units could turn the tide of a battle. Was that what Pa had planned for the Deathless? But winter was coming on and the passes would close soon. They wouldn’t be able to get back to Astraea until spring. It was to be not a single battle but a long-run war, then. And the Deathless were not only held in reserve, they were sitting right at the border with Astraea’s closest allies.
Remembering how young some of the new replacements had been, Casora realized one more purpose. Some of the youngest and least prepared had been gotten out before the battle started. All right then, it was her job to see that they were all trained and ready come spring. She was good at training and she’d have all winter to work on them. She could have all the Deathless in tip top shape by then, ready when they were called into the battle.