“How soon will they get here?”

Talikan, spring 1323

“How soon will they get here?” the sheik said.

The first scout exchanged a glance with his peers. “An hour, my lord,” he said. “Perhaps two. No more.”

They stood on the wall next to the great eastern gate, watching Ogodei’s army spill from the hills onto the verdant plain between the hills and the city. Columns of smoke rose from farm buildings and villages.

Johanna wasn’t supposed to be there at all, but she had taken advantage of the panic and confusion of the first moments of discovery to follow Farhad to his father’s side. So far, everyone had been too busy to notice, or if they had, too distracted to order her back to the harem. “Look!” she said now, pointing. The Mongol army seemed to move forward like lightning, in horizontal bolts that covered terrifying amounts of ground in thrusts and forays. “They will be on the city in minutes!”

Farhad cast a casual glance over his shoulder and gave her an indulgent smile. “Calm yourself, Nazirah. Remember, we have seen this Ogodei. A bully, merely, who like all bullies backs down at the first challenge.”

“A bully with a hundred thousand men, Farhad,” she said. “And they are Mongols. It hasn’t been that long since Genghis Khan laid waste to the Persian empire. You must have heard the stories.” She thought of Halim the dyer, and of Alma and Hayat, and of Ishan the stable master. What Ogodei’s men would do to them and their families would make death seem like a blessing. She tried to speak in conciliatory tones that would reach beyond the pride that formed such a strong barrier between Farhad and any reasonable viewpoint. “A bully, perhaps, as you say, but a bully with siege engines, and poisoned arrows, and fire bombs, and Ogodei alone knows what other horrors.”

“I would match our walls against a hundred hundred thousand such men. We have withstood sieges before, Nazirah. There is nothing to fear.”

Dana here — Yeah, this won’t end well.

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