Home > Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)(4)

Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)(4)
John Gwynne

‘Where are you two off to?’

‘Just going to have a look round, Mam,’ Corban replied. Traders had gathered from far and wide for the spring festival, along with many of Brenin’s barons come to witness Marrock’s handbinding. The meadow was dotted with scores of tents, cattle-pens and roped-off areas for various contests and games, and people: hundreds, it must be, more than Corban had ever seen gathered in one place before. Corban and Dath’s excitement had been growing daily, to the point where time had seemed to crawl by, and now finally the day was here.

‘All right,’ Gwenith said. ‘You both be careful.’ She reached into her shawl and pressed something into Corban’s hand: a silver piece.

‘Go and have a good time,’ she said, cupping his cheek in her hand. ‘Be back before sunset. I’ll be here with your da, if he’s still standing.’

‘’Course he will be, Mam,’ Corban said. His da, Thannon, would be competing in the pugil-ring today. He had been fist champion for as long as Corban could remember.

Corban leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. ‘Thank you, Mam,’ he grinned, then turned and bolted into the crowd, Dath close behind him.

‘Look after your new cloak,’ she called out, smiling.

The two boys soon stopped running and walked along the meadow’s edge that skirted the beach and the bay, seals sunning themselves on the shore. Gulls circled and called above them, lured by the smell of food wafting from the fires and tents in the meadow.

‘A silver coin,’ said Dath. ‘Let me see it.’

Corban opened his palm, the coin damp now with sweat where he had been clutching it so tightly.

‘Your mam’s soft on you, eh, Ban?’

‘I know,’ replied Corban, feeling awkward. He knew Dath only had a couple of coppers, and it had taken him moons to earn that, working for his father on their fishing boat. ‘Here,’ he said, delving into a leather pouch hanging at his belt, ‘have these.’ He held out three coppers that he had earned from his da, sweating in his forge.

‘No thanks,’ Dath said with a frown. ‘You’re my friend, not my master.’

‘I didn’t mean it like that, Dath. I just thought – I’ve got plenty now, and friends share, don’t they?’

The frown hovered a moment, then passed. ‘I know, Ban.’ Dath looked away, out to the boats bobbing on the swell of the bay. ‘Just wish my mam was still here to go soft on me.’

Corban grimaced, not knowing what to say. The silence grew. ‘Maybe your da’s got more coin for you, Dath,’ he said, to break the silence as much as anything.

‘No chance of that,’ Dath snorted. ‘I was surprised to see this coin – most of it fills his cups these days. Come on, let’s go and find something to spend it on.’

The sun had risen high above the horizon now, bathing the meadow in warmth, banishing the last remnants of the dawn cold as the boys made their way amongst the crowd and traders’ tents.

‘I didn’t think there were this many people in all the village and Dun Carreg put together,’ said Dath, grunting as someone jostled past him.

‘People have come much further than the village and fortress, Dath,’ murmured Corban. They strolled on for a while, just enjoying the sun and the atmosphere. Soon they found themselves near the centre of the meadow, where men were beginning to gather around an area of roped-off grass. The sword-crossing ring.

‘Shall we stay, get a good spot?’ Corban said.

‘Nah, they won’t be starting for an age. Besides, everyone knows Tull is going to win.’

‘Think so?’

‘’Course,’ Dath sniffed. ‘He’s not the King’s first-sword for nothing. I’ve heard he cut a man in two with one blow.’

‘I’ve heard that too,’ said Corban. ‘But he’s not as young as he was. Some say he’s slowing down.’

Dath shrugged. ‘Maybe. We can come back later and see how long it takes him to crack someone’s head, but let’s wait till the competition’s warmed up a bit, eh?’

‘All right,’ said Corban, then cuffed his friend across the back of the head and ran, Dath shouting as he gave chase. Corban dodged this way and that around people. He looked over his shoulder to check where Dath was, then suddenly tripped and sprawled forwards, landing on a large skin that had been spread on the floor. It was covered with torcs, bone combs, arm-bands, brooches, all manner of items. Corban heard a low rumbling growl as he scrambled back to his feet, Dath skidding to a halt behind him.

Corban looked around at the scattered merchandise and began gathering up all that he could see, but in his urgency he fumbled and dropped most of it again.

‘Whoa, boy, less haste, more speed.’

Corban looked up and saw a tall wiry man staring down at him. He had long dark hair tied tight at his neck. Behind the man were all sorts of goods spread about an open-fronted tent: hides, swords, daggers, horns, jugs, tankards, horse harness, all hanging from the framework of the tent or laid out neatly on tables and skins.

‘You have nothing to worry about from me, boy, there’s no harm done,’ the trader said as he gathered up his merchandise. ‘Talar, however, is a different matter.’ He gestured to an enormous, grey-streaked hound that had risen to its feet behind Corban. It growled. ‘He doesn’t take kindly to being trodden on or tripped over; he may well want some recompense.’

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