68 THE ARMY
They were nearly to the portal when the spider, toward the rear, turned around with its pedipalps waving.
“What is it?” Christian asked, standing beside it. Narodnaya’s nostrils flared as she turned around, too, with her wild hair drifting behind her.
Someone is coming after us.
The accountant stroked the spider’s abdomen nervously. “Someone bad?”
I do not think so. Listen. They want us to wait for them.
At first he heard nothing. Then shouts reached him from the direction of the clearing, someone—several someones—hallooing and crashing through the undergrowth, cursing as they tripped over each other, fell, scrambled to their feet, and kept running.
The spider skittered away as Tirion and Morrow squeezed their way to the back of the group. Liza appeared in the wagon doorway with folded arms. “Please tell me we’re stopping for a good reason this time.”
“Someone’s trying to catch up with us,” Christian told her. “Narodnaya thinks they’re alright.”
The wood-elf and the Rover king looked at each other.
“We’re only a few minutes from the portal,” Tirion said. “It won’t hurt us to wait.”
“You say,” Liza muttered, but she remained in the doorway, chewing on her tongue and staring into the forest.
They listened as the distant shouts and crashes grew louder and nearer, until an assortment of perhaps twenty circus-folk and animals burst through the trees. Their leader was disheveled but familiar to everyone.
“Why, it’s Finn!” Rowan cried.
Her sister’s blue coat was missing, her white shirt and blue tights muddy, her brassy curls, like Rowan’s, lank for want of brushing. Even so, she bowed to the group as beautifully as if they had come to see her show.
“My dear Morrow,” Finn said. Her monocle swung by its chain like a pendulum; she caught it and put it in her eye. “How wonderful to see you. Absolutely smashing. And Liza and Mr. Abernathy as well.”
She strode up to the wagon, grasped Liza’s hand, and pumped it up and down, coaxing a smile from the balloon-artist’s wife.
“We unfortunately did not hear your speeches, being more the sort to sleep in than to waken early and buckle down, but the whole camp was laughing about it when we did get up—I don’t mean laughing, of course, but they were certainly talking about it, and when I heard it was dear Morrow asking for help—well, naturally I gathered my people as quick as I could and ran the whole way here,” she finished. “We’re coming with you. All of us.”
Christian looked past her to the ragtag bunch of lions, tigers, dancing bears, and circus-freaks that had joined Rowan’s troupe. Among them were a bearded lady and a hunchback, a strong man and three people clad in the leotards of trapeze artists. They were armed with pots and pans, tent poles, iron chains, and sticks. It was not what he had been hoping for.
Tirion looked the circus-folk up and down with an eyebrow raised.
“This is our army?” he muttered to Morrow. The Rover shrugged and walked up to one of the tigers, which shrank back from him with its hackles raised. Finn put a hand on the animal’s head.
“Don’t mind her,” she said. “They’re all a bit skittish since the attack, that’s all.”
Morrow crouched in front of the tiger and let it smell his hand. When it was satisfied he stood up again.
“Let me ask,” he said to the circus-folk. “Are you prepared to fight for us, knowing we may be struck down on the field of battle, to the last man?”
“Or bear,” one of the dancing bears’ trainers called.
“Or bear,” Morrow agreed. “It’s not that I doubt your sincerity, but if you haven’t seen battle before then you may not realize what you’re getting yourselves into.”
“Who do you think followed your father into battle the last time this happened?” Finn asked. “It may have been a century or two, but we’ve seen battle before, haven’t we, lads?”
There was a resounding cheer from the circus-folk. Morrow turned back to Tirion with a grim smile.
“This is our army,” he said.
Liza crossed her arms. “Good. Then let’s get a move-on already.”
Rowan and Finn chortled to themselves as she disappeared into the wagon, but each stopped when she noticed the other laughing too. Morrow shook his head with a chuckle of his own.
“Come on,” he said, and the group took off running again.