Home > Valor (The Faithful and the Fallen #2)(11)

Valor (The Faithful and the Fallen #2)(11)
John Gwynne

He looked for the healer and she caught his eye, beckoning him over. Craf, the healer’s unkempt crow, clung to the boat’s rail above Brina’s head.

‘Cor-ban,’ it squawked as he squatted down before Brina.

‘What was that about?’ she asked. ‘Between Halion and Mordwyr?’

‘Time to find some land. For food and water.’

‘Ah. Out of the cook-pot and into the flames,’ Brina muttered.

‘What do you mean?’

She looked over the boat’s side at the growing line of land. ‘That’s not Ardan. Not that Ardan’s the safest place to be right now. Still, that’s Cambren. Rhin rules there.’

‘Oh.’ Corban frowned, remembering the kidnapping of Edana’s mother, Queen Alona, back in the Darkwood, where Alona and so many others had died. All because of Rhin. ‘But what choice do we have?’

‘None, I suppose.’ Brina sighed, wiping rain from the tip of her pointed nose.

‘Wet,’ muttered Craf.

‘Why should you care?’ Brina snapped at the bedraggled bird. ‘You’re a crow.’

‘Cold,’ it grumbled. ‘Fire.’

‘I’ve spoilt you,’ Brina said.

The rain was falling heavier now, a cold wind throwing it stinging into Corban’s face. In the distance the black smudge of land had grown closer, blurred by rain. The sea was an impenetrable iron grey, the waves about the boat higher, white-flecked with foam, whipped by the wind. Corban grabbed the rail and steadied himself as the fisher-boat rode a huge swell then sped down the other side. The boat’s only sail was straining, thick ropes creaking. Corban felt a flutter of panic in his gut, then he saw Dath climbing amidst the ropes and sailcloth. His friend flashed him a weak smile.

He doesn’t look so worried, thought Corban.

The sun was sinking, only a diffuse glow behind thick cloud, when they reached the coastline. Mordwyr steered the small skiff into a narrow steep-cliffed cove sheltering a strip of empty beach. Craf exploded into the air with a noisy squawk. Everyone disembarked – Storm needing a little encouragement from Corban – and the skiff was beached safely.

Marrock, Camlin and Dath set off to scout the area and to try and hunt something to eat.

Brina and Heb, King Brenin’s old loremaster, led Edana off the narrow beach and settled her in a sheltered dell under a dense stand of rowan and yew, an icy stream bubbling through its middle.

Storm lapped at the stream, then padded off into the deepening gloom.

Halion set two men on watch. The rest of the small band set to chopping wood, clearing space for sleeping, digging out a small pit for a fire. Soon flames were crackling greedily in the dell and the rain-soaked band crowded round for some heat, even the crow.

It was dark when Marrock and the others returned, Dath carrying two hares over his shoulder. In short time the animals were skinned, gutted and boned, chopped into little pieces and dropped into a pot of boiling water.

Craf made disgusting noises as he helped himself to the hare’s entrails.

That bird makes me feel sick.

It didn’t stop Corban eating, though. The stew tasted like the finest meal to him, even as his mind told him it was watery, the meat stringy.

Two men were sent to relieve those on watch, Vonn being one of them. Dath glowered at his back as Vonn trudged into the gloom.

‘His da betrayed us all. Can he be trusted to guard us?’ he muttered to Corban.

‘None of that,’ Halion said, overhearing. ‘He’s suffered, lost people, same as the rest of us.’

‘She was my sister,’ Dath grumbled.

‘And my daughter,’ Mordwyr said. ‘He loved her. Leave him be.’

Dath’s mouth became a hard line but he said nothing more.

The small group sat around the fire, full dark settling about them, the trees sheltering them from the worst of the rain. Grief hovered amongst them like a heavy mist. Corban sat in silence, just listening, feeling exhausted, numb. His da and sister’s faces danced in his memory every time he closed his eyes.

‘So, Halion. Tell us of this plan to take Edana to Domhain.’ It was Marrock who spoke. All other conversation stopped as everyone waited Halion’s answer. ‘Domhain is a long, dangerous journey,’ Marrock continued. ‘We could still sail from here to Dun Crin and the marshlands in the south of Ardan.’

‘We could,’ Halion said, glancing at Edana. She sat staring at the fire, giving no sign of interest in the conversation.

Edana should be leading us, but she can’t. Marrock is her kin, so has the right, but Halion is her guardian, was given the task to protect her with Brenin’s dying words, as most of us here heard.

‘Eremon rules in Domhain, and he is distant kin to Edana. I know him, and he will not turn her away, or betray her.’

‘He turned you away,’ Marrock said.

Halion stared at Marrock a long, silent moment.

Heb spoke up now. ‘Tell us of your father. Will he give aid against Owain?’

Halion grimaced. ‘My father is old, beyond his seventieth year now. When I last saw him he was still sharp of mind. I am his bastard son, you understand, not his heir, but he always treated me well enough.’

‘Then why did you leave Domhain?’ Marrock asked.

Halion looked about them all, then took a deep breath. ‘Conall, my brother, he has, had . . .’ He paused a moment. ‘He had a temper, and a lot of pride. It got him into trouble more than once. Growing up, we were fine; my mam was looked after by my da – she was his mistress, one of many. But in his old age he took a wife because he had no heir. Roisin. She was young, beautiful, and she treated us and my mam well enough, when we saw her, which was rare. Then she fell with child, birthed a boy – Lorcan. Things changed then. She became jealous, fearful that Conall and I had eyes for the throne of Domhain. And not just us – we were not Eremon’s only bastards. Accidents began to happen; people died. My mam was one.’ He threw a twig on the fire. ‘Of course, Conall didn’t take that well: he thought that our mam had been murdered. He confronted Roisin, said things he shouldn’t have. Soon after that my da came to see us, told us he would arrange sanctuary with King Brenin of Ardan.’ He shrugged. ‘We left.’

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