Home > Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)(5)

Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)(5)
John Gwynne

‘Recompense?’

‘Aye. Blood, flesh, bone. Maybe your arm, something like that.’

Corban swallowed and the trader laughed, bending over, one hand braced on his knee. Dath sniggered behind him.

‘I am Ventos,’ the trader offered when he recovered, ‘and this is my faithful, though sometimes grumpy friend, Talar.’ Ventos clicked his fingers and the large hound padded over to his side, nuzzling the trader’s palm.

‘Never fear, he’s already eaten this morning, so you are both quite safe.’

‘I’m Dath,’ blurted the fisherman’s son, ‘and this is Ban – I mean, Corban. I’ve never seen a hound so big,’ he continued breathlessly, ‘not even your da’s, eh, Ban?’

Corban nodded, eyes still fixed on the mountain of fur at the trader’s side. He was used to hounds, had grown up with them, but this beast before him was considerably bigger. As he looked at it the hound growled again, a low rumble deep in its belly.

‘Don’t look so worried, boy.’

‘I don’t think he likes me,’ Corban said. ‘He doesn’t sound happy.’

‘If you heard him when he’s not happy you’d know the difference. I’ve heard it enough on my travels between here and Helveth.’

‘Isn’t Helveth where Gar’s from, Ban?’ asked Dath.

‘Aye,’ Corban muttered.

‘Who’s Gar?’ the trader asked.

‘Friend of my mam and da,’ Corban said.

‘He’s a long way from home, too, then,’ Ventos said. ‘Whereabouts in Helveth is he from?’

Corban shrugged. ‘Don’t know.’

‘A man should always know where he’s from,’ the trader said, ‘we all need our roots.’

‘Uhh,’ grunted Corban. He usually asked a lot of questions – too many, so his mam told him – but he didn’t like being on the receiving end so much.

A shadow fell across Corban, a firm hand gripping his shoulder.

‘Hello, Ban,’ said Gar, the stablemaster.

‘We were just talking about you,’ Dath said. ‘About where you’re from.’

‘What?’ said the stablemaster, frowning.

‘This man is from Helveth,’ Corban said, gesturing at Ventos.

Gar blinked.

‘I’m Ventos,’ said the trader. ‘Where in Helveth?’

Gar looked at the merchandise hung about the tent. ‘I’m looking for harness and a saddle. Fifteen-span mare, wide back.’ He ignored the trader’s question.

‘Fifteen spans? Aye, I’m sure I’ve got something for you back here,’ replied Ventos. ‘I have some harness I traded with the Sirak. There’s none finer.’

‘I’d like to see that.’ Gar followed Ventos into the tent, limping slightly as always.

With that the boys began browsing through Ventos’ tent. In no time Corban had an armful of things. He picked out a wide iron-studded collar for his da’s hound, Buddai, a brooch of pewter with a galloping horse embossed on it for his sister, a dress-pin of silver with a red enamel inset for his mother and two sturdy practice swords for Dath and himself. Dath had picked out two clay tankards, waves of blue coral decorating them.

Corban raised an eyebrow.

‘Might as well get something my da’ll actually use.’

‘Why two?’ asked Corban.

‘If you cannot vanquish a foe,’ he said sagely, ‘then ally yourself to him.’ He winked.

‘No tankard for Bethan, then?’ said Corban.

‘My sister does not approve of drinking,’ replied Dath.

Just then Gar emerged from the inner tent with a bundle of leather slung over his back, iron buckles clinking as he walked. The stablemaster grunted at Corban and walked into the crowd.

‘Looks like you’ve picked up a fine collection for yourselves,’ the trader said to them.

‘Why are these wooden swords so heavy?’ asked Dath.

‘Because they are practice swords. They have been hollowed out and filled with lead, good for building up the strength of your sword arm, get you used to the weight and balance of a real blade, and they don’t kill you when you lose or slip.’

‘How much for all of these,’ Corban asked.

Ventos whistled. ‘Two and a half silvers.’

‘Would you take this if we leave the two swords?’ Corban showed the trader his silver piece and three coppers.

‘And these?’ said Dath, quickly adding his two coppers.

‘Deal.’

Corban gave him their coin, put the items into a leather bag that Dath had been keeping a slab of dry cheese and a skin of water in.

‘Maybe I’ll see you lads tonight, at the feast.’

‘We’ll be there,’ said Corban. As they reached the crowd beyond the tent Ventos called out to them and threw the practice swords. Instinctively Corban caught one, hearing Dath yelp in pain. Ventos raised a finger to his lips and winked. Corban grinned in return. A practice sword, a proper one, not fashioned out of a stick from his back garden. Just a step away from a real sword. He almost shivered at the excitement of that thought.

They wandered aimlessly for a while, Corban marvelling at the sheer numbers of the crowd, at the entertainments clamouring for his attention: tale-tellers, puppet-masters, fire-breathers, sword-jugglers, many, many more. He squeezed through a growing crowd, Dath in his wake, and watched as a piglet was released squealing from its cage, a score or more of men chasing it, falling over each other as the piglet dodged this way and that. They laughed as a tall gangly warrior from the fortress finally managed to throw himself onto the animal and raise it squeaking over his head. The crowd roared and laughed as he was awarded a skin of mead for his efforts.

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