The Warden and the Wolf King
The Slog of War
What happens next?” Kalmar asked.
“How am I supposed to know? I’ve never been in a war,” Janner said.
“But we’ve been here for three hours at least. And we haven’t eaten a thing.”
“Look, all I know is we’re supposed to sit here and be quiet until the tribes are finished pledging—or whatever it’s called. And we’re all hungry, but at least you
don’t get cold.”
“How many tribes are left?”
“You can count.”
“Wait, how many tribes did we start with?”
“Kal, can you just find some way to be interested in what’s going on? Mama said this hasn’t happened in decades. And they’re here for you,
after all. The least you can do is show some interest. Shh! Here comes a tribesman.”
Janner and Kalmar sat on a wooden platform overlooking the Field of Finley, now covered with snow. These were the fields, Janner remembered, where many years ago Podo Helmer had won the heart of Wendolyn Igiby by competing in the games of the Banick Durga against the roughest and rowdiest of the Hollowsfolk. But there were no games today. Today was about war. Which meant boredom.
That morning, Nia had woken the brothers in their bedroom at Chimney Hill with the reminder that the day of tribute had come, and that as High King and Throne Warden of Anniera, their presence was required. After a quick breakfast prepared by Podo and Freva, Nia presented the brothers and their sister, Leeli, with formal attire.
Leeli got a white dress lined with burble fur and a gray-speckled coat that fell about her like a blanket. It was held around her shoulders by a silver brooch in the shape of a beaming star. When Leeli emerged from her bedroom with the dress and robe on, her hair draped over one shoulder and her cheeks burning with the hope of her own beauty, the boys were speechless. Podo, who was wearing an apron and clopping one-legged around the table collecting dirty dishes, looked up and whispered, “Mother moonlight, she’s pretty.”
The brothers got no such compliments, but they felt handsome in their royal clothes. Kalmar needed no coat since he was already covered with silvery brown fur. Instead he wore a black leather vest lined with bloodred fabric, fastened down the front with shiny silver buttons, each of which bore the Annieran dragon—the same insignia Janner had seen on Uncle Artham’s journals back in Glipwood. Nia draped a black cloak over his shoulders and fastened it at the neck with a silver sun. She tried to put a crown on Kal’s head, not an official Annieran crown, she told them, but something she had commissioned from a smith in Ban Rona, a circlet that would at least make him look kingly enough for the ceremony. But after several failed attempts to secure it over his wolf ears, which constantly twitched, Nia decided to forgo the crown, much to Kalmar’s relief.
Finally, Janner was given a black coat of polished leather, with boots and gloves to match. When he pulled the gloves on and wiggled his fingers, he noticed on the back of each hand the same Annieran dragon stitched into the leather with crimson thread.
“Here,” Nia said as she draped a black cloak over Janner’s shoulders. He noticed when she drew near to fasten his brooch—which was in the shape of a crescent moon—that instead of looking up at her, they were eye to eye.
“When did you get so tall?” Nia asked quietly. She adjusted his cloak and her hands lingered on his shoulders.
“You look like a Throne Warden. Tall and handsome and humble. Keep an eye on Kalmar today. This ceremony is exactly the kind of thing he loathes.”
Janner glanced at Kal, who was hunched over the table, brushing crumbs from breakfast into a little pile, then licking them up.
“Kalmar!” Nia snapped, and he jerked upright and wiped his hands on his cloak. “Kalmar!” Nia said again, and he grabbed a napkin from the table and cleaned his hands and cloak with a nervous laugh. “Kalmar!” Nia said, snatching the napkin from him. He hadn’t noticed that it was soiled with sweetberry jam—jam that was now smeared all over his new cloak and his hands, which he absentmindedly wiped on his vest.
“Out!” Nia ordered.
Janner bustled Kalmar and Leeli through the door, where Oskar N. Reteep waited with the sled hitched and ready. Kal bounded into the wagon.
“In the words of Chancho Phanor, ‘You three look magnificent!’ Is that sweetberry jam?” Oskar pointed at Kalmar’s cloak.
Somehow, even though his face was covered in fur, Kal’s cheeks seemed to flush as he reached down and lifted Leeli in behind him. Janner clambered up the other side.
“It’s going to be a fine day, Jewels!” Oskar clicked the horse into motion and pulled his scarf over his mouth. He was already a big fellow, but the many layers of coats, cloaks, and blankets made him look enormous. All Janner could see of the old man was his bright red nose and spectacles peeking out from between the scarf and his cowl; the rest of him was a mountainous pile of blankets.