Tension spread through the camp in the returning scout’s wake. She’d passed the challenges, and the guards at the edge of camp knew the cat and her mission; none sought to impede her. One of the skirmishers brought her a waterskin, which she drank from as she hustled; other than that, everybody stayed out of her way.

She reached the command tent without a word spoken since answering the sentries’ challenges, and the duty guard lifted the flap for her the moment she came into view. So it was that she ducked through and was still panting from her run when she found herself under the scrutiny of four very different people, no two of the same race, never mind the same insignia – the commanders of four different mercenary companies in joint council. Her salute wasn’t entirely regulation-crisp, but nobody in the tent much minded