Father Stomald sat down to the supper on the camp table with a groan. He hadn’t expected to be alive to eat it, and he was tired enough to wonder if it was worth the bother. Just organizing the unexpected booty abandoned by the Guard had been exhausting, yet Tibold was right. The dispersal of one army was no guarantee of victory, and those weapons were priceless. Besides, the Guard might regain enough courage to reclaim them if they weren’t collected.
But at least deciding what to do with pikes and muskets was fairly simple. Other problems were less so—like the more than four thousand Guardsmen who’d trickled back and begged to join “the Angels’ Army” as wonder overcame terror. Stomald had welcomed them, but Tibold insisted no newcomer, however welcome, be accepted unquestioningly. It was only a matter of time before the Church attempted to infiltrate spies in the guise of converts, and he preferred to establish the rules now.
Stomald saw his point, but discussing what to do had taken hours. For now, Tibold had four thousand new laborers; as they proved their sincerity, they would be integrated into his units—with, Tibold had observed dryly, non-Guardsmen on either side to help suppress any temptation to treason.
Yet all such questions, while important and real, had been secondary to most of Stomald’s people. God’s own messengers had intervened for them, and if Malagorans were too pragmatic to let joy interfere with tasks they knew must be performed, they went about those tasks with spontaneous hymns. And Stomald, as shepherd of a vaster flock than he’d ever anticipated, had been deeply involved in planning and leading the solemn services of thanksgiving which had both begun and closed this long, exhausting day.
All of which meant he’d had little enough time to breathe, much less eat.
Now he mopped up the last of the shemaq stew and slumped on his camp stool with a sigh. He could hear the noises of the camp, but his tent stood on a small rise, isolated from the others by the traditional privacy of the clergy. That isolation bothered him, yet the ability to think and pray uninterrupted was a priceless treasure whose value to a leader he was coming to appreciate.
He raised his head, gazing past the tied-back flap at the staff-hung lantern just outside. More lanterns and torches twinkled in the narrow valley below him, and he heard the lowing of the hundreds of nioharqs the Guard had abandoned. There were fewer branahlks—the speedy saddle beasts had been in high demand as the Church’s warriors fled—but the nioharqs, more than man-high at the shoulder, would be invaluable when it came to moving their camp. And—
His thoughts chopped off, and he lunged to his feet as the air before him suddenly wavered like heat above a flame. Then it solidified, and he gazed upon the angel who had saved his people.