Home > Valor (The Faithful and the Fallen #2)(10)

Valor (The Faithful and the Fallen #2)(10)
John Gwynne

Then Orgull was there, bellowing for Maquin to get back, for Tahir to stay down. He swung his new war-axe, smashed it with all of his prodigious strength into the creature’s head. There was a sickening crack. The thing’s legs jerked, twitching furiously, its mandibles clacking. With a sigh it sank to the floor, spasmed once more and then was still.

‘Get it off me,’ Tahir hissed, a fang still buried in his leg. Maquin heaved and wrenched the fang out. Tahir gasped with pain, blood running down his leg.

Orgull ripped Tahir’s breeches up to the knee, poured water over the wound and tied a strip of the torn breeches above it.

‘How is it?’ Tahir asked, a touch of panic in his voice.

‘As good as it can be down here,’ Orgull muttered, ‘though I’d like something stronger than water to flush it with. Can you stand?’

‘I’ll stand to walk out of this place,’ Tahir breathed, steadying himself with his spear.

Orgull gripped his axe haft and with a wrench pulled the blade free of the creature. He threw one of their torches back down the tunnel, where it wavered but stayed alight. ‘Maquin, best get that stone shifted. Who knows what else we’re sharing these tunnels with.’

Maquin ran up the steps and put his shoulder to the stone. Nothing happened. He tried again, grunting and straining.

‘What’s keeping you?’ Orgull called.

‘It’s heavy,’ Maquin muttered. ‘Could do with you here, chief.’

‘Can’t be in two places at once,’ Orgull said. ‘And you’d best get a move on. Light’s fading.’

Even as he spoke, the torch he had thrown back down the tunnel guttered and then winked out. The darkness surged forwards, held in check by Tahir tightly clutching the last torch.

Maquin renewed his efforts, fear of being trapped in the dark giving him an extra strength; the stone shifted, grinding against rock and earth. Maquin dug his spear butt into the gap, levered and shoved as he strained, veins bulging with the effort, and finally the stone lifted clear. Pale moonlight greeted him.

He reached up through the hole, savouring the sensation of air on his face and grass under his fingertips; he grabbed a tree root and pulled himself up. He could hear the sighing of a breeze amongst branches, the distant murmur of voices, faint song, could see the pinpricks of many campfires.

Back in Forn, then. Must be the survivors of the battle. For a moment the thought of Jael filled his mind, sitting beside a campfire, eating, drinking, celebrating. Without realizing, he stood and took a step forwards, hand reaching for his sword hilt.

‘Could do with some help down here,’ a voice whispered to him. He froze, remembering Orgull’s words to him, their pact in the burial chamber. Soon, Jael.

The moon slipped behind ragged clouds and all was in darkness.

Maquin set to pulling the others out of the tunnel and, as quietly as hunting wolves, the three warriors slipped into the forest, the last surviving remnant of the Gadrai. Maquin looked back once and then followed his sword-brothers into the trees.

CHAPTER FIVE

CORBAN

Corban gripped the boat’s rail as he stared back into the distance. Dun Carreg had long since disappeared and in all directions a grey, foam-flecked sea stretched as far as he could see.

It was late in the day now, well past highsun, and Corban’s stomach was rumbling. He had not eaten since the evening before – nor had anyone else on this boat. No one had given food much thought in their desperate bid to escape.

Dun Carreg, he thought, wishing that he could still see the fortress, still see Ardan, still see his home. Home no more. Everything had changed so quickly. And Thannon and Cywen were both still in Dun Carreg. His da and sister, both dead, both needing a cairn to be raised over them. It wasn’t right. Tears filled his eyes.

His mam lay sleeping upon a heaped pile of nets. She looked older, the lines in her face deeper, dark hollows about her eyes. Gar sat beside her, chin resting on his chest, sleeping too. Most of this band of runaways were in the same state. It had been a long, hard night, in more ways than one.

Footsteps drew Corban’s eyes up to Halion, his weapons-master from the Rowan Field, making his way along the fisher-boat towards him. The warrior nodded grimly as he walked to where Mordwyr, Dath’s da, stood guiding the boat’s steering oar.

‘We need to find land. Somewhere to get food and water.’

‘Uh,’ Mordwyr acknowledged. His eyes were red rimmed, his face lined with grief. He had left Bethan, his daughter, amongst the dead in Dun Carreg.

I was not the only one that lost kin last night, Corban thought.

Mordwyr pointed into the distance, northwards, and Corban saw a dark line on the horizon. Land.

‘We’ll have to risk it,’ Halion said. He patted Mordwyr’s shoulder and made his way back along the boat, to where Edana sat with her head bowed.

The Princess of Ardan, now heir to its throne, had said nothing since they had climbed aboard the fisher-boat. The last sound Corban had heard from her was screaming as she witnessed the death of her father.

She’ lost both her mam and da, now. At least I still have my mam, someone to share my grief with.

Storm’s muzzle touched his hand. Corban tugged on one of her ears, grimacing as the movement sent a ripple of pain through his shoulder. Brina had tended the wound where he had been stabbed during the battle in the feast-hall. Helfach had done it. The man’s life-blood still stained the fur around the wolven’s protruding canines. Brina had assured him the wound was not deep and was clean, but it still hurt.

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