Home > Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)(8)

Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)(8)
John Gwynne

Veradis shuddered. When the Vin Thalun raided they took people for plunder as well as food and wealth. Veradis had heard tales that the boys and men taken were forced to fight for the Vin Thalun’s pleasure, the fiercest being given a chance to earn their way out of the pits, and a spot pulling an oar on a Vin Thalun ship. This man had done well to graduate to warrior.

‘And is what Krelis says true? That you were part of a corsair galley, raiding my lands?’

‘Aye.’

‘I see. But you raided too close to Ripa, and Krelis caught you. And now here you are.’

‘Huh,’ grunted the corsair.

‘And you know the sentence for what you have done is death? But you have some information that I may wish to hear?’

‘Aye,’ the man muttered.

‘Well?’

‘My information in return for my life. That is what he told me.’ The Vin Thalun nodded at Krelis.

‘That would depend on the information. And if it is truth.’

The prisoner dipped his head, licking his lips. ‘Lykos has a meeting planned, here in Tenebral.’

‘Lykos,’ Aquilus said, frowning.

Years ago, when Veradis was a child, the Vin Thalun had been a scourge along the coasts of Tenebral, even raiding deep into the realm, travelling up the rivers that flowed like arteries through the land, striking at Tenebral’s heartland, stealing, burning. But something had happened. There had been a great raid on Jerolin itself, beaten off with many casualties on both sides. After that things had gone quiet, the inland raids stopping, even the coastal ones becoming rarer. Around the same time the name of a man amongst the Vin Thalun had begun to be heard: Lykos, a young warlord. Over the years he had risen high in their ranks, one by one subduing the three islands, Panos, Nerin and Pelset, defeating their warlords, uniting the Vin Thalun for the first time in their history. The last great sea-battle amongst them had been less than a year ago. Since then the raiding had begun to grow again, although mostly still along the coast.

‘Tell me of this Lykos,’ Aquilus said.

‘He is our king,’ the corsair shrugged. ‘A great man.’

‘And he is the sole leader of the Vin Thalun, now?’ Aquilus pressed.

‘Our king; he is more than a leader. Much more.’

Aquilus frowned, mouth a tight line. ‘So, why is he planning to set foot on my land.’

‘A meeting with one of your barons. I know not who, but the meeting is south of here, close to Navus.’

Veradis heard gasps around the room.

‘How do you know this?’ Aquilus snapped.

Deinon shrugged. ‘I hear things. My brother, he’s Lykos’ shieldman. His tongue flaps after a jug of wine.’

‘When?’

‘Soon. The last night of the Wolf Moon. If I saw a map I could show you where.’

Aquilus stared long moments at the prisoner. ‘How can I trust you, a corsair who would turn on his own?’

‘Loyalty doesn’t seem so important, when you’re faced with that walk across the bridge of swords,’ the corsair muttered.

‘Aye, mayhaps,’ Aquilus said quietly. ‘And if you lie, you would only have delayed your journey. Your head would soon be parted from your shoulders.’

‘I know it,’ Deinon mumbled.

‘We must send a warband, Father,’ a voice said from the shadows behind Aquilus and Fidele; a figure stepping forward. It was a man, young, little older than Veradis. He was tall, weathered by the sun, a shock of dark curly hair framing a handsome face. Veradis had seen him once before. Nathair, the Prince of Tenebral.

‘Aye. I know,’ Aquilus muttered.

‘Send me,’ Nathair said.

‘No,’ snapped Fidele, taking a step closer to her son. ‘We do not know the risk,’ she said, more softly.

Nathair scowled, moving away from her. ‘Send me, Father,’ he said again.

‘Perhaps,’ the King muttered.

‘You cannot allow this meeting to take place,’ Nathair said, ‘and Peritus is off chasing giants in the Agullas Mountains. The last night of the Wolf Moon is less than a ten-night away: barely time enough to get to Navus if I left on the morrow.’ Nathair glanced at his mother, who was frowning. ‘And this Lykos will hardly be riding at the head of a great warband. Not to a secret meeting in his enemy’s land.’

Aquilus rubbed his stubbly chin, skin rasping. ‘Perhaps,’ he said again, with more conviction this time, though his eyes flickered to his wife. ‘I will think on this, make my decision later. First, though, I shall send for someone to question our guest a little more thoroughly.’ He looked at Armatus, his first-sword. The grizzled warrior nodded and left the room.

‘I tell no lies,’ the prisoner said, a hint of panic in his voice.

‘We shall see. Krelis, I am indebted to you, and to your father.’

‘We are glad to serve you, my lord,’ Krelis said, dipping his head. ‘We cannot guarantee the truth of what he says, but we thought it too important to ignore.’

‘Aye, right enough. I will have rooms prepared for you and your men. You must have ridden hard to reach us.’

‘That we have,’ Krelis said. ‘But my father has bid me return as soon as my task is done.’

Aquilus nodded. ‘We must all obey our fathers. Give Lamar my thanks. I shall make sure your packs and water skins are full, at least.’

‘There was one other matter,’ Krelis said, glancing at Veradis. ‘A request.’

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