The further south their great procession had traveled, the more things had changed. Some of that was purely geographical, of course. They'd left the mountains and the great pine forests long behind them, trading them in for fields and rivers made mighty by the runoff from the mountains that only stopped when the weather turned water to ice. They had not yet hit Glacia's true agricultural region--that lay in the wealthier and more settled south--but small hills and dales were dotted with sheep and brightly-colored cottages in large and prosperous villages.
The weather had also changed as they'd ridden and marched and trained. They had started off in high summer, but even that had been cool and pleasant beneath the vast trees up north, the brightest days dimmed by the dark and heavy pines. Now they were in the fall, almost time for the harvest, and yet still the days grew hotter and more stifling as they traveled. The frequent rivers were cool and refreshing to ride through, but they lent mugginess to the air and the Black Widows and Healers that traveled with Karla's army were hard-pressed to keep up with the demands for salves to prevent mosquito bites and unguents to soothe the inevitable itches away.
But what had changed most dramatically during the course of their procession were the people. Oh yes, they all still had the Glacian stamp on them: pale skin, pale blond hair, pale blue eyes, but the further south they rode, expressions of the people had grown harder, more distrusting, or even just duller, as if their spirits had been all but snuffed. In the north, people had flocked to her banner (and she had one now, a literal banner, carried out in the front of her army, whose idea was
that?) by the hundreds; Jono, Julian, and Momoko had been forced to turn people away just to keep the size of her army manageable. That flood had slowed to a trickle and had practically dried up by the time they'd crossed into the Province directly north of Glacia. Lord Mallory, her Steward, had suggested that everyone who had wanted to join had already done so. But Karla knew the truth: it wasn't just potential recruits that had dwindled here, but also her support. These were the in-betweeners, not close enough to be cowed by Hobart, nor far enough to be independent of him, either. At best, they were indifferent to political maneuvering, wanting only to be left alone. At worst, they were willing to play both sides, looking for whichever one offered the best advantage at the time.( Karla looked at the woman in front of her and wished she knew where on that scale the other woman fell. )
In answer, Karla pointed at the table. The light from the setting sun was pouring in through a window to their side. In the air, Marva appeared to have five fingers on her right hand, just like any other woman.
On the table, her shadow had only four. Her right ring finger had been cut off.
"You pledged yourself to Hobart," Karla snarled. "You're
the rat your sister should fear." Behind her, Morton drew his sword. [NFB. Omg, this is incredibly long, much love to anyone who reads it all the way through!]