Every day a hawk spirals up from the warming cliffs and ranges out to peer at the nine duchies. Each night, Master Grocta climbs to his tower room and draws a map of their shifting borders. Tired eyes and tallow; vellum and black ink. Place the pages atop one another and you see the Bruenwald creep south and west, bulging like the stomach of a corpse.
“Once they ford the Oen,” he tells his Duchess, “they’ll be at your doorstep.”
“You look tired, Grocta,” she says gently.
Grocta shakes his head, and waits to be hooded and jessed and led away.