Home > Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)(11)

Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)(11)
John Gwynne

‘Come on, blacksmith’s boy,’ snarled Rafe, fists raised. Corban just looked at him. He wanted to answer, wanted to raise his fists, but just – didn’t. His guts churned with a cold weightlessness. When he tried to speak, only a croak came out. He retched, feeling sick, and shook his head.

Rafe hit him again and he staggered, blood spurting from his lip. Fight back! a voice screamed in his head, but he only reached out an arm, steadied himself against the wall, feeling weak, scared. He looked at Dath, saw his friend launch himself forwards, punching and kicking, but Crain was older, stronger and Dath was small-framed even for his age. Crain clubbed him to the ground.

‘Nothing like your da, are you,’ spat Rafe.

Corban wiped blood from his lip. ‘What?’ he mumbled.

‘Your da would put up a fight, make it more interesting. You’re just a coward.’

For the briefest moment Corban felt something hot flicker within him, a spark of fire deep in the pit of his stomach, like when his da opened the door to his forge and the flames flared. He felt his fists clench and arms begin to rise, but then Rafe’s fist slammed into his jaw and the sensation disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Then he was falling, crashing to the ground with a thud.

‘Get up,’ jeered Rafe, but Corban just lay there, hoping it would all end soon, the metallic taste of blood filling his mouth.

Rafe kicked Corban in the ribs, then a voice shouted. A figure rounded the building and was moving quickly towards them.

‘I think I’ll have this,’ said Rafe, grinning fiercely as he bent and picked up Corban’s practice sword. Then he was running, his companion following quickly down an alley.

Dath knelt by Corban, trying to help him rise as the man who had shouted reached them. It was Gar.

‘What happened here?’ the stablemaster demanded as Corban pushed himself to his knees. He spat blood and stood, swaying slightly.

Dath reached out to steady his friend but Corban pushed his arm away. ‘Leave me alone,’ he whispered, tears spilling down his cheeks, smearing dust and blood. ‘Leave me alone,’ he said again, louder this time, turning away and rubbing furiously at his eyes, shame and anger filling him in equal measure.

‘Walk with me, boy,’ said Gar, and turned to Dath. ‘Best leave us for a while, lad.’

‘But he’s my friend,’ protested Dath.

‘Aye, but I would speak to Corban. Alone.’ He gave a look that sent Dath walking hesitantly away, though he looked back over his shoulder.

Corban turned quickly and strode in the other direction, not wanting anyone’s company, but in moments the stablemaster was walking beside him. For a while they walked in silence, Corban feeling too ashamed to talk, so he concentrated on controlling his rapid breathing. Slowly the sound of his blood pounding in his head quietened.

‘What happened back there?’ asked Gar eventually. Corban did not answer, not trusting his voice to remain steady. After another long silence Gar pulled him to a halt and turned him so that they were facing each other.

‘What happened?’ Gar repeated.

‘You trying to shame me even more, making me say it?’ snapped Corban. ‘You saw what happened. Rafe hit me and I – I did nothing.’

Gar pursed his lips. ‘He’s older, and bigger than you. You were intimidated.’

Corban snorted. ‘Even Dath fought. Would you have let someone hit you like that?’ When Gar did not answer, he tried to walk away, but the stablemaster gripped Corban’s shoulder, holding him still.

‘What caused the argument?’

Corban shrugged. ‘He needs little reason to hit people younger or smaller than he is.’

‘Huh,’ Gar grunted. ‘Did you want to hit him back?’

‘Of course,’ snorted Corban.

‘So why didn’t you?’

Corban looked at the ground. ‘Because I was scared. I wanted to fight back, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t move. I tried; it was as if my arms had turned to stone, my feet stuck in one of Baglun’s bogs.’

Gar nodded slowly. ‘We all fear, Ban. Even Tull. It’s what we do about it – that’s the important thing. That’s what’ll make you the man you grow into. You must learn to control your emotions, boy. Those that don’t do that often end up dead: anger, fear, pride, whatever. If your emotions control you, sooner or later you’re a dead man.’

Corban looked up at him, his throbbing lip fading for a moment. He had never heard Gar say so many words strung together.

The stablemaster leaned forward and poked Corban in the chest. ‘Learn to control them and they can be a tool that makes you stronger.’

‘Easy for you to say,’ Corban mumbled. ‘How?’

Gar looked at Corban a long while. ‘I will teach you if you wish,’ he said quietly.

Corban raised an eyebrow. Gar never trained in the Rowan Field or rode with a warband on account of an old leg wound – he’d walked with a limp as long as Corban could remember – so what the stablemaster could teach him, he didn’t know.

‘What?’ said Gar. ‘A wounded leg does not mean I’ve forgotten what it’s like to wield a sword, or to face a man in battle.’

Wield a sword. ‘All right,’ Corban shrugged. ‘Though Da is teaching me my weapons until I’m old enough for the Field.’

Gar snorted. ‘There is much Thannon can teach you, but how to hold your temper is not one of them.’

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