Max came running up to Tavi after the last of the ritualists had been slain. The maddened Canim had neither given nor asked for quarter, which Tavi supposed was just as well. He wasn't at all sure that he could have restrained his le-gionares after the losses they'd suffered.
"Calderon," Max demanded. "He tried the lightning on you. Again." Max was sweating from the effort of his crafting and looked pale. "How the crows did you survive it?"
Tavi reached to his belt and drew the Canim knife they'd captured while engaging the raiding parties the day before the battle. He held up the skull-shaped pommel. A bloodstone glimmered wetly in one of the eyes. Wet, red blood dribbled down from the jewel and over the handle. "We had another gem, remember?"
"Oh," Max said. "Right." He frowned. "So how come you can hear me?"
"Opened my mouth and had some lining in my helmet," Tavi said. "Foss said it made a difference. Something about air pressure."
Max scowled at Tavi, and said, "Gave me a heart attack. Thought you were dead, and you just had another gem the whole time." He shook his head. "Why didn't you just give that one to Crassus?"
"Wasn't sure it would work," Tavi said. "I knew the one I gave him would. He was more important than me for this."
The young Knight in question descended wearily from the sky and landed on the bridge to the cheers of the Knights Pisces. Crassus walked slowly over to Tavi and saluted. "Sir."
"Well done, Tribune," Tavi said, his voice warm. "Well done."
Crassus smiled a bit, and Max clapped him roughly on the shoulder. "Not bad."
Ehren, still bearing the standard, also offered his congratulations, though Kitai only gave Crassus a speculative glance.
Tavi looked around him, struggling to order his thoughts. It was more difficult than he had thought it would be. Too many emotions were rushing back and forth through him. Elation that his plan had succeeded. Crushing guilt, that so many had died for that success. Fury at the Canim, at Kalarus, at the treacherous Lady Antillus, and fury, too, for Sari and his like, whose lust for power had killed so many Alerans and Canim alike. Sickness, nauseous sickness at the sight and scent of so much blood, so many corpses, cut down with steel or charred by the savage sunfire he'd had his Knights unleash on the enemy. Giddiness that he had, against difficult odds, survived the past several days. And... realization.
His work was not yet done.
"All right," he said, raising his voice. "Schultz, get the wounded to the healers and fall back to the wall. Tell the First Spear I want him to consolidate units with too many losses into functioning cohorts and take up defensive positions until we're sure the enemy has withdrawn from the town and is on his way back to Founderport. Get everyone a meal, some rest, especially the healers, and tell him..." Tavi paused, took a breath, and shook his head. "He'll know what to do. Tell him to shore up defenses and see to our people."
Schultz gave him a weary salute. "Yes, sir."
"Max," Tavi said. "Go get our horses."
Max lifted his eyebrows. "We going for a ride?"
"Mmmm. Bring one alae of cavalry. We're going to follow the Canim withdrawal and make sure they want to keep moving away."
"Yes, sir," Max said, saluting. He gave a sharp whistle and a hand signal to someone on the wall and marched away.
"Sir Ehren, if you would, find Magnus and make sure he knows what has happened."
"Right," Ehren said. He nodded to Tavi and passed over his standard. "I don't get along very well with horses, anyway."
Tavi issued several more orders to other members of the Legion, but after that he found himself standing over Sari's fallen form. The Cane looked far smaller now, broken like a toy at Tavi's feet. His skinny body and mangy fur were only partly concealed by the scarlet armor, and his yellowed teeth were worn.
Tavi tried to find some sense of satisfaction that he had taken the life of an enemy of the Realm, of a murderous slive whose plans had nearly killed his friends and his patron at Wintersend, years ago. But he couldn't. Sari had been a threat. Now he was dead. There was no rancor in that thought, for Tavi-nor pride. Nor shame. But perhaps a twinge of regret. Sari might have been a murdering traitor, but Tavi doubted that every Cane who had followed him was the same kind of monster. And his orders had slain thousands of them. They, too, had been dangerous, but not in the same, malicious way. Or not entirely in that way. Regardless, he'd had little choice. But he wished he could have found a way that didn't involve so much blood. So much death.
He felt Kitai's presence behind him and glanced over his shoulder at her. They were now alone upon the bridge, though the wall behind them was manned by legionares. Tavi wondered how long he'd been staring at the dead.
Kitai stepped up to stand beside him, also regarding the fallen.
"You had to," she said quietly. "They would have killed you. Killed everyone."
"I know," Tavi said. "But..."
Kitai looked up and regarded him for a moment, a faint frown marring her brow. "You are mad, Aleran," she said, her tone gentle. "You can be strong. Hard." She laid her fingertips on Tavi's breastplate. "But beneath that, you bleed for the fallen. Even those who are not your own folk."
"I doubt there's another Aleran alive who has spent more time talking to Canim than I," Tavi said. "My people usually skip straight to the killing. So do theirs."
"You think this wrong?"
"I think..." Tavi said, frowning. "I think that it's been going on for so long, neither of us can consider the possibility of stopping it. There's too much history. Too much blood."
"In your place, they would not bleed for you."
"Doesn't matter," Tavi said. "It isn't about being fair and equal. It's about the difference between right and wrong." He stared out at the bloody Elinarch. "And this was wrong." His vision blurred with sudden tears, but his voice stayed steady. "Necessary. And wrong."
"You are mad, Aleran," Kitai said quietly. But her fingers found his, and they stood with clasped hands for a time. Rolling storm clouds still lay overhead, but now they were in motion, restless, and between heavy showers, there were frequently breaks in the clouds to let more sunlight in.
Tavi suddenly snorted out a little laugh.
Kitai tilted her head and waited.
"My ludus game with Nasaug. I was giving him a warning. Showing him that he should fear us. Or trying to, at least. But the whole time, he was playing me like one of the pieces. Pushing me where he wished me to be."
"In what way?" Kitai asked.