Home > Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)(10)

Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)(10)
John Gwynne

They sat there in silence awhile, watching the sun dip behind the mountains, and then Valyn began to speak, telling tales of Aquilus and the fortress. In return, Veradis told of his home, his father and brothers, and of life in Ripa, the fortress on the bay.

‘Do you have a wife, children?’ Veradis asked suddenly. Valyn was silent a long time.

‘I had a wife and son, once,’ he eventually said. ‘It feels like another lifetime now. They died. The Vin Thalun raided the fortress, many years ago. You have probably heard the tale, though you would have been clinging to your mother’s skirts at the time.’

Veradis coughed. He had never clung to his mother’s skirts; she had died birthing him. He blinked, putting the thought quickly away. ‘I have heard tell of that,’ he said. ‘They were bolder in those days.’

Valyn suddenly jumped to his feet and stared out over the plain below.

‘What’s wrong?’ asked Veradis, coming to stand beside him, following the stablemaster’s gaze out over the battlements. Approaching the fortress was a lone horseman, riding a large dapple-grey horse. Veradis could make little out from this distance, other than that the rider’s mount moved with a rare elegance.

Valyn passed a hand over his eyes. He stood there in silence a while, watching the rider draw nearer to the fortress.

‘Do you know him?’ Veradis asked.

‘Aye,’ Valyn muttered. ‘His name is Meical. He is counsellor to our King, and the last time I saw him was the night my wife and son died.’

CHAPTER THREE

CORBAN

‘Oh no,’ muttered Dath as the two boys scrambled to their feet.

A group of lads were watching them. Vonn stood at their head. He was son of Evnis, who was counsellor to the King, and so considered himself of some importance in and around Dun Carreg. He was a few years older than Corban, had recently passed his warrior trial and sat the Long Night, so had passed from boy to man. By all accounts he was an exceptional swordsman.

Another lad stepped forward, tall and blond haired. ‘Well?’ he repeated. ‘What are you doing?’

Not Rafe, thought Corban. Rafe was part of Evnis’ hold, a year or so older than Corban, son of Helfach the huntsman. He was cruel, boastful and someone that Corban made a point of avoiding.

‘Nothing, Rafe,’ said Corban.

‘Didn’t look like nothing to me.’ Rafe took another step closer. ‘Looked like you two were having a good time, rolling in the mud together.’ Some of his companions sniggered. ‘What have you got there?’

‘Practice swords,’ answered Dath. ‘We just saw Tull fight, did you see him . . .?’

Rafe held up his hand. ‘I see him every day in the Rowan Field,’ he said, ‘where real warriors use real swords, not sticks.’

‘We’ll be there soon,’ blurted Corban. ‘My fourteenth nameday is this Eagle Moon, and Dath’s is not long after. Besides, you do use practice swords in the Rowan Field, my da told me . . .’ he trailed off, realizing that all eyes were on him.

‘Tull won’t let you two take the warrior trial,’ Rafe said. ‘Not once he knows you were rutting in the mud together like hogs.’

‘We weren’t “rutting”, we were practising our sword skills,’ said Corban slowly, as if explaining to a child. There was a moment of silence, then the group of lads erupted in laughter.

‘Come on, Rafe,’ said Vonn when they had all recovered, ‘the stone-throwing starts at high-sun and I want to see it.’

Rafe looked at Corban and Dath. ‘I’m not finished with these two yet.’

‘They’re just bairns, I’d rather spend my time in other company,’ Vonn said, pulling Rafe’s arm.

‘C’mon, Dath,’ Corban whispered, turning and walking quickly away. ‘Come on,’ he repeated with a hiss. Dath stood there a moment, then snatched up his leather bag and followed.

They walked in a straight line, their route taking them out of the meadow towards the village, trying to put as much distance between themselves and Rafe as possible.

‘Are they following?’ muttered Corban.

‘Don’t think so,’ replied Dath, but moments later they heard the thud of running feet. Rafe sped past them and pulled up in front of Corban.

‘You didn’t ask permission to leave,’ he said, jabbing a finger in Corban’s chest.

Corban took a deep breath, his heart beginning to pulse in his ears. He looked up at Rafe, who was a head taller and considerably broader than him. ‘Leave us alone Rafe. Please. It’s the Spring Fair.’

‘Don’t you have anything better to do?’ added Dath.

‘Leave us alone,’ mimicked Crain, who accompanied Rafe. Vonn and the others were nowhere to be seen. ‘Listen to him. Don’t let him talk to you like that, Rafe.’

‘Shut up, Crain,’ said Rafe. ‘I think these bairns need a lesson in courtesy.’ He grabbed Corban’s arm and half steered, half pulled him towards the first buildings of the village. Frantically Corban looked around, but they were quite a distance from the crowds now, and he saw Dath had been grabbed by Crain and was being herded along after him.

Within seconds the two boys were bustled behind a building, Corban thrown against a wall, knocking the wind out of him. His fingers went limp and he dropped his wooden practice sword.

Rafe slammed a fist into Corban’s stomach, doubling him over. Slowly he straightened.

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