Home > Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)(9)

Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)(9)
John Gwynne

‘If it is in my power.’

‘My father asks that you take my little brother, here, Veradis, into your warband for a time. To teach him, as you did me.’

For the first time Aquilus’ eyes rested fully on Veradis. He bowed low to the King, a little clumsily.

‘Of course,’ the King said with a smile. ‘It did you little harm. But perhaps not my warband. Peritus is away, and if I remember rightly, he was needed to keep you out of trouble on more than one occasion.’

Krelis grinned.

‘My son is gathering his own warriors. You have need of good men, do you not, Nathair?’

‘Aye, Father.’

‘It is settled then,’ said Aquilus. ‘Good. Welcome, Veradis ben Lamar, to my home. You are now the Prince’s man.’

‘Well met,’ Nathair said, stepping closer, gripping Veradis’ arm. Intelligent, bright blue eyes looked into his, and Veradis had the sense of being measured.

‘It will be an honour to ride with you, my lord,’ Veradis said, inclining his head.

‘Yes, it will,’ said Nathair with a grin. ‘But none of this “my lord” talk. If you are to fight beside me, for me, risk your life for me, then I am just Nathair. Now go and clean the dust of the road from you. I will send for you and we shall talk more, over some meat and wine.’ Krelis and Veradis bowed once more to Aquilus and Fidele, then turned and left the damp room.

‘Farewell, little brother,’ said Krelis as he grabbed Veradis and pulled him into an embrace. Veradis scowled as they parted.

‘I still don’t understand why I have to be here,’ he said as Krelis climbed into the saddle of his stallion.

‘Yes you do. Father wishes you to become a leader of men.’ Krelis smiled.

‘I know, but can’t I do that at Ripa?’

‘No,’ replied Krelis, his smile fading. ‘Here you will not be treated as the Baron’s son. It will be better in the end, you’ll see.’

‘He just wishes to be rid of me,’ Veradis muttered.

‘Probably,’ Krelis grinned. ‘That is what I would do. You cannot blame him.’

Veradis pulled a sour face, scuffed a toe on the stone floor.

‘Come,’ Krelis said, frowning, black bushy eyebrows knitting together. He leaned over in his saddle, speaking quieter. ‘There is value in this. It will make you a better man.’ He straightened, stretching his arms out wide. ‘Look what it did for me.’

‘Huh,’ Veradis grunted, not able to keep a smile twitching the corners of his mouth.

‘Good, that’s better,’ Krelis grinned. Behind them Krelis’ warriors were mounting up. The sun was high in the sky, now, a little past midday, the stables buzzing with activity. Krelis’ horse danced restlessly.

‘I would stay longer, see what this warband you are joining is like, but I must get back to Father. As it is, it will be over a ten-night before I reach the bay.’ He winked at Veradis. ‘We’ll meet again soon enough. Until then, make the most of your time here.’

Veradis stepped back as Krelis pulled his horse in a tight circle and cantered away, his warriors following close behind. The sound of hooves ringing on cobblestones hung in the air.

The young warrior stood there awhile, then turned and entered the large stable block, walking down a row of stalls until he found his grey. His horse whickered and nuzzled him as he entered the stall. Veradis found a brush and iron-toothed comb, began grooming his horse, though a quick glance told him the stablehands had already seen to him. He carried on regardless, finding a peace, a reassurance in the process, losing track of time.

‘Are you all right, lad?’ said a voice behind him. He turned to see a man looking over the partition door at him, the stablemaster who had organized the settling of their horses when they had arrived.

‘Aye. I’m well,’ he answered. ‘Just . . .’ he shrugged, unsure what to say.

‘Never fear, lad, your grey’s in good hands here. I am Valyn.’

‘Veradis.’

‘I saw your brother leave. A good man.’

‘That he is,’ Veradis replied, not trusting his voice to say any more.

‘I remember well his stay with us. He was missed when he left, by more than one lass, if I remember right.’ He grinned. ‘I hear you’re to join Nathair’s warband.’

‘Huh,’ Veradis grunted. ‘I am honoured,’ he added, feeling that he should, although right now he just felt very alone.

The stablemaster looked at him for a long moment. ‘I am about to take my evening meal. I often sit on the outer wall. It’s quite a view – care to join me?’

‘Evening meal?’ Veradis said, ‘but . . .’ His stomach suddenly growled.

‘Sundown is not far off, lad. You’ve been in here a fair while.’

Veradis raised an eyebrow, his belly rumbling again. ‘I’d be happy to join you,’ he said.

Valyn led him to the feast-hall, where they quickly filled plates with bread and cheese and slices of hot meat, Valyn grabbing a jug of wine as well. Climbing a stairwell of wide, black steps, they found a spot on the battlement wall.

Jerolin sat upon a gentle hill overlooking a wide plain and lake, fisher-boats dotting its shimmering surface. Veradis looked to the east, following the line of the river as it curled into the distance, searching for a glimpse of Krelis, but he was long gone. To the north and west the peaks of the Agullas jutted, jagged and white-tipped, glowing bright in the light of the sinking sun.

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