Home > Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)(7)

Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)(7)
John Gwynne

‘Do you really think he’s going to tell the King anything?’ asked Veradis.

His brother shrugged. ‘Father thinks so. And so does our precious brother, although he was too unwell to make this journey.’

‘Ektor is always unwell.’

Krelis smiled again. ‘Aye, little brother, he is a sickly thing. But his mind is sharp, as Father always reminds me. He will be my counsellor one day, when I am Baron of Ripa.’

Veradis looked up at his older brother, towering above him on his great black warhorse. You will make a good lord, he thought. Krelis, Lamar’s firstborn, had always been larger than life, leading men with an unconscious ease.

‘And you,’ said Krelis with a grin. ‘You will become my battlechief, no doubt. Why, if you were a few handspans taller and wider I might be scared of you myself.’ He clapped Veradis across the shoulder, nearly knocking him from his horse.

Veradis smiled. ‘You don’t have to resemble a mountain to wield a sword, you know.’

‘Maybe not that little pin you like to call a sword,’ Krelis laughed, ‘but anyway, battlechief of Ripa is for another day. Let us see what our King Aquilus makes of you first, and what he turns you into.’

Veradis walked into the great hall of Jerolin, huge black stone columns rising up and disappearing into the shadowed darkness of the vaulted ceiling. Great tapestries hung along the walls of the chamber, sunlight pouring through narrow windows dissecting the hall. Warriors lined either side of the room, wearing gleaming silver helms, hooked nose-bars giving them a raptor-like appearance. Silver eagles were embossed on black leather breastplates; even the leather strips of their kilts shone, polished and gleaming. They gripped tall spears, longswords hanging at their hips.

His steps faltered and the warrior behind trod on his heel. He balanced himself and quickened his pace to keep up with Krelis, who was striding purposefully towards the far end of the hall, his iron-shod sandals cracking out a quick rhythm on the stone floor. People were gathered in clumps about the hall, waiting on their king – servants tending to those in the court, barons come to petition Aquilus on border disputes, no doubt, crofters, all manner of people seeking the King’s justice on a host of matters.

People parted before Krelis and the warrior leading them. ‘Armatus,’ Krelis had whispered to him, a grizzled, knobbly-armed man, his skin looking like the bark of an ancient tree. He was weapons-master of Jerolin, King Aquilus’ first-sword, a man whose reputation with a blade was known to all.

They made their way quickly through the hall, a handful of Aquilus’ eagle-guard striding behind Veradis, the Vin Thalun prisoner somewhere amongst them. Veradis passed through an open doorway, a spiral staircase before him. Without pause, Armatus led them down wide stone steps, then the floor levelled and they were marching along a narrow corridor.

Armatus turned off the corridor and stepped through a doorway into a large, bare room: no furniture, no windows, flickering torches the only light. Iron rings were sunk into the stone of the walls and floor, rusted chains and manacles hanging from them.

Three figures stood at the far end of the room, a man and woman standing in the light, the vague form of someone else shrouded in the shadows behind them.

Aquilus and Fidele, King and Queen of Tenebral. Veradis recognized them vaguely from the last time they had visited Ripa, half a dozen years gone, attending the barons’ council. Fidele looked much the same, pale and perfectly beautiful, though Aquilus looked older, more creases around his eyes and mouth, more silver in his close-cropped hair and stubbly beard.

‘Krelis,’ King Aquilus said with a nod. ‘Where is this man?’

Krelis had been ushered into Aquilus and Fidele’s presence as soon as they had arrived at the black-stoned fortress, leaving Veradis and their warriors to guard the prisoner. Krelis had not been gone long, though, returning with orders to present the prisoner immediately.

‘Here, my King,’ Krelis said, stepping aside so that the eagle-guard could herd the captive forward. He stood before Aquilus with head bowed, hands shackled. In the flickering torchlight his many battle-scars stood out like dark tattoos. One of the eagle-guards grabbed a chain fixed to the floor and locked it to the man’s bonds.

‘I have not seen your kind for many a year,’ the King said. ‘How is it that a Vin Thalun raider is in my realm, in my keep?’

‘He was part of a raiding galley, lord, looking for plunder. They burned more than one village along the coast, but they sailed too close to Ripa . . .’

Aquilus nodded, starring thoughtfully at the man, whose head was still lowered, eyes fixed on the iron ring sunk into the floor that he was chained to.

‘And I am told that you have information for me. Is this so?’

The man did not respond, stayed perfectly still.

With a snort, Krelis leaned over and cuffed the prisoner, bringing his head up with a snap, eyes flashing, teeth bared for an instant. The iron rings woven into braids in his beard chinked together, one for each life he had taken.

‘Let us start with something easier,’ Aquilus said. ‘What is your name?’

‘Deinon,’ the Vin Thalun muttered.

‘Where did you come by so many scars, Deinon?’

‘The Pits,’ said the warrior with a shrug.

‘The Pits?’

‘The fighting pits. There’s one on each of the islands,’ Deinon said, glancing at the scars on his arms. ‘Long time ago,’ he said dismissively.

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