“At what point should I start panicking?” asked Arturo. “This isn’t what I intended at all.”

Mercer looked up from his sharpening to look at Arturo. “What did you imagine you’d be doing, lad? Watching from the shade, sipping cool wine while waiting for our enemies to fall on their own spears?” He took another swipe at the carved tree branch he was holding. “Telling stories about how brave everyone else was when the battle came calling your name?”

“I’m not a fighter,” said Arturo, “and I didn’t mean it like that. Just that, look at us. Did you ever think we’d be here? Did you think you’d come back to the island? How are we supposed to make it back? Who will hear our stories when we’ve won?”

Mercer eyed Arturo, searching for the meaning behind the words. He didn’t have much to offer from his own bleak perspective. He scratched his beard without putting his knife down, and nearly scratched himself in the process.

“Nothing turns out the way we plan,” he said, after some thought. “I thought I’d be able to help some people escape the madness, but I tried to act alone, and I saw the fruits of my labor wither on the vine.”

“That’s what you were doing with what’s-her-name?”

“Valare,” said Mercer, “and yeah. I was going to help with some ‘local acts of goodwill’ to help move people out of town, but I had to act quickly, and I didn’t have the right connections. I just couldn’t do it by myself. It’s as Alquis said, we never should have acted alone.”

Mercer’s gaze had drifted to the brush-covered ground where he was crouching. He tried to pick himself up with thoughts of the upcoming battle. He’d have the opportunity, at long last, to redeem himself for some of the many mistakes he’d made since his arrival in Chaika. Glorious death in combat might well be the only path to honor for him now.

“What are you working on anyway?” asked Arturo. “I thought you already had weapons?” He gestured to the growing pile of sharpened poles next to Mercer.

Mercer looked up. “Oh, these? Keeps me busy while we wait. I like my hammer well enough, but I find you can never have too many pointy things to jab in your enemy’s face.”

“Wonderful image,” said Arturo.

Mercer grinned. “It’s too bad there wasn’t room for my armor on the raft, I always find the weight gives me a bit of extra power on the swing.” He mimed a crushing blow using his fist, and supplied his own sounds to represent the impact and his enemy’s wound.