We waited, perhaps, for the space of thirty breaths. Then Jerem Cozak stepped forward, apart from the lines. He motioned the Never-born to remain, but they unsheathed their swords. He walked on alone across the grass.
First the whitened tips of tusks appeared flashing in the darkness at the edge of the trees. Then came trunks hung low to the ground, then great broad heads as long as any man standing. Then their shoulder humps emerged, and finally all of them, the great and singular shapes of a dozen adult mastodons, doubtless all the warriors of whatever herd that had approached us from that side.
One in particular stood taller and broader than the others, with heavier tusks and longer trunk than all the rest. It came forward toward Jerem Cozak, sniffing the air. Behind it, the other mastodons intensified their trumpeting, and now and then gave bellows I had not heard before.
“The matriarch,” said Julius, who stood beside me. “The leaders of a herd are female.”
She herself now bellowed and trotted across the clearing. She reached Jerem Cozak in a breath. I shuddered to think of the whole herd following. We would be destroyed. The Never-born had shown with the smilodon their resolve and their solidarity. But Cratyus and Meno had also shown their mortality. Even they, living memories of humanity’s time amidst the gods, men grown for the purpose of this war, could die. Two had fallen to one smilodon. What could be said of me, a seller of seeds against these great beasts?
The matriarch flared her ears and bellowed at Jerem Cozak from three paces away. He did not flinch. She reared her head back and tossed her trunks from side to side. All the mastodons grew more agitated. They came trotting forward across the clearing.
Jerem Cozak held out his hand. For the first time since we had left the city, the White Swarm thickened around him. Indeed, it grew more solid around all of us. For a moment, I laughed to think that the mastodon now smelt a summer storm.