Home > Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)(3)

Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)(3)
John Gwynne

I dream now, and in those dreams are glimpses, perhaps, of what may come to be, a voice whispering. Of Asroth’s return, the deceiver made flesh, of the Ben-Elim’s last great stand, and of the avatars waging the God-War once more . . .

I shall stay and tell my tale, hope that it may serve some purpose, that eyes shall see it and learn, that the future will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That is my prayer, but what use is prayer to a god that has abandoned all things . . .

CHAPTER ONE

CORBAN

The Year 1140 of the Age of Exiles, Birth Moon

Corban watched the spider spinning its web in the grass between his feet, legs working tirelessly as it wove its thread between a small rock and a clump of grass. Dewdrops suddenly sparkled. Corban looked up and blinked as sunlight spilt across the meadow.

The morning had been a colourless grey when his attention first wandered. His mother was deep in conversation with a friend, and so he’d judged it safe for a while to crouch down and study the spider at his feet. He considered it far more interesting than the couple preparing to say their vows in front of him, even if one of them was blood kin to Queen Alona, wife of King Brenin. I’ll stand when I hear old Heb start the handbinding, or when Mam sees me, he thought.

‘Hello, Ban,’ a voice said, as something solid collided with his shoulder. Crouched and balancing on the balls of his feet as he was, he could do little other than fall on his side in the wet grass.

‘Corban, what are you doing down there?’ his mam cried, reaching down and hoisting him to his feet. He glimpsed a grinning face behind her as he was roughly brushed down.

‘How long, I asked myself this morning,’ his mam muttered as she vigorously swatted at him. ‘How long before he gets his new cloak dirty? Well, here’s my answer: before sun-up.’

‘It’s past sun-up, Mam,’ Corban corrected, pointing at the sun on the horizon.

‘None of your cheek,’ she replied, swiping harder at his cloak. ‘Nearly fourteen summers old and you still can’t stop yourself rolling in the mud. Now, pay attention, the ceremony is about to start.’

‘Gwenith,’ her friend said, leaning over and whispering in his mam’s ear. She released Corban and looked over her shoulder.

‘Thanks a lot, Dath,’ Corban muttered to the grinning face shuffling closer to him.

‘Don’t mention it,’ said Dath, his smile vanishing when Corban punched his arm.

His mam was still looking over her shoulder, up at Dun Carreg. The ancient fortress sat high above the bay, perched on its hulking outcrop of rock. He could hear the dull roar of the sea as waves crashed against sheer cliffs, curtains of sea-spray leaping up the crag’s pitted surface. A column of riders wound their way down the twisting road from the fortress’ gates and cantered into the meadow. Their horses’ hooves drummed on the turf, rumbling like distant thunder.

At the head of the column rode Brenin, Lord of Dun Carreg and King of all Ardan, his royal torc and chainmail coat glowing red in the first rays of morning. On one side of him rode Alona, his wife, on the other Edana, their daughter. Close behind them cantered Brenin’s grey-cloaked shieldmen.

The column of riders skirted the crowd, hooves spraying clods of turf as they pulled to a halt. Gar, stablemaster of Dun Carreg, along with a dozen stablehands, took their mounts towards huge paddocks in the meadow. Corban saw his sister Cywen amongst them, dark hair blowing in the breeze. She was smiling as if it was her nameday, and he smiled too as he watched her.

Brenin and his queen walked to the front of the crowd, followed closely by Edana. Their shieldmen’s spear-tips glinted like flame in the rising sun.

Heb the loremaster raised his arms.

‘Fionn ap Torin, Marrock ben Rhagor, why do you come here on this first day of the Birth Moon. Before your kin, before sea and land, before your king?’

Marrock looked at the silent crowd. Corban caught a glimpse of the scars that raked one side of the young man’s face, testament of his fight to the death with a wolven from the Darkwood, the forest that marked the northern border of Ardan. He smiled at the woman beside him, his scarred skin wrinkling, and raised his voice.

‘To declare for all what has long been in our hearts. To pledge and bind ourselves, one to the other.’

‘Then make your pledge,’ Heb cried.

The couple joined hands, turned to face the crowd and sang the traditional vows in loud clear voices.

When they were finished, Heb clasped their hands in his. He pulled out a piece of embroidered cloth from his robe, then wrapped and tied it around the couple’s joined hands.

‘So be it,’ he cried, ‘and may Elyon look kindly on you both.’

Strange, thought Corban, that we still pray to the All-Father, when he has abandoned us.

‘Why do we pray to Elyon?’ he asked his mam.

‘Because the loremasters tell us he will return, one day. Those that stay faithful will be rewarded. And the Ben-Elim may be listening.’ She lowered her voice. ‘Better safe than sorry,’ she added with a wink.

The crowd broke out in cheers as the couple raised their bound hands in the air.

‘Let’s see if you’re both still smiling tonight,’ said Heb, laughter rippling amongst the crowd.

Queen Alona strode forward and embraced the couple, King Brenin just behind, giving Marrock such a slap on the back that he nearly sent his nephew over the bay’s edge.

Dath nudged Corban in the ribs. ‘Let’s go,’ he whispered. They edged into the crowd, Gwenith calling them just before they disappeared.

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