Home > Valor (The Faithful and the Fallen #2)(4)

Valor (The Faithful and the Fallen #2)(4)
John Gwynne

Where are they?

‘Gone,’ she whispered. A sob bubbled out of her and she swayed, steadying herself against the kitchen table.

All gone. And they’ve left me behind. Rafe’s words rang loud in her memory. How could they just leave me? She looked at Buddai and the hound stared trustingly back at her. An image of her da flooded her mind, crusted blood all over him, those terrible, empty eyes. She wished her mam was there to hold her, comfort her. And Ban, her brother, her best friend. Why had he abandoned her? Another sob burst out of her and she sank to the floor, wrapped her arms about Buddai and began to cry in great, racking waves. The brindle hound licked Cywen’s tear-stained cheek and curled himself protectively about her.

CHAPTER THREE

VERADIS

Veradis drank from a water skin, pouring some over his head and neck. He and his men were spread in a half-circle before the great gates of Haldis, last bastion of the Hunen giants. Only a short while ago Calidus and Alcyon had disappeared inside, with over two hundred warriors at their back.

Survivors of the clash against the giants were trickling into the clearing and Veradis sent half a dozen scouts out to help guide the stragglers in.

‘It’s thirsty work, eh?’ Bos, his comrade-in-arms said, grinning. ‘This giant-killing.’

The big warrior was bleeding from a cut to his ear, blood matting his hair. As Veradis stared he realized it was more than a cut; a large chunk of his friend’s ear missing.

‘Where’s your helmet?’ he asked.

‘Lost it.’ Bos shrugged. He touched his ear and looked at his bloodied fingertips. ‘Better’n losing my head.’

‘That’s debatable,’ Veradis said as he passed his friend the water skin.

Bos drank deep. ‘We have a fine tale to tell Rauca, eh?’

‘For sure,’ Veradis said. ‘If we make it out of here.’ He gazed at the surrounding cairns, each one at least twice as tall as a man and grave to a giant. The sounds of battle still drifted on a cold wind, faint and echoing. Beyond the cairns the trees of Forn Forest rose all about. At Veradis’ back a sheer cliff face reared, covered in huge carvings; an open gateway at its foot led into darkness.

The blood-rush of battle was slowly fading, replaced now by aching muscles, tiredness and a throbbing in Veradis’ face. He reached up and pulled a splinter from his cheek, from where a giant’s axe had carved into his shield, chopped through its iron rim and spat splinters of wood into his face.

Many of his five hundred had fallen in the battle amongst the cairns, but those left stood proudly. They knew they had turned this battle, somehow pulled victory from defeat with their shield wall.

Braster and Romar’s warbands had been decimated, laid low by giants’ magic and giants’ iron. Braster himself had fallen amongst the cairns, carried wounded and unconscious from the field. Romar, King of Isiltir, had led a force in chase of the routed Hunen through the black gates. Despite Calidus seeing him as a thorn in their flesh, opposing Nathair and his servants at almost every turn, Veradis didn’t envy Romar the close-quarters battle he would encounter in the dark tunnels.

Especially as Calidus had hinted that it was time to take drastic measures against the recalcitrant King. That was Calidus’ business. Nathair had made it clear to Veradis that he had no authority over Calidus, that the man could do as he wished. And Calidus had the Jehar to enforce those wishes.

Whatever happens, happens, he thought. Romar meant little to him, but Veradis did have friends in there, inside those tunnels. Kastell and Maquin. They were part of the Gadrai, Romar’s elite warriors. He would not like to see them come to harm. But he had warned them, or tried to. What else could he have done?

Even as Veradis looked into the tunnels, noise filtered out of the darkness – the clash of iron, faint screams.

Bos tapped him and nodded towards the mounds. One of the scouts had returned.

‘I’ve found something,’ the scout breathed, chest heaving.

‘What?’

‘A doorway, hidden. I heard voices, and something else. It was strange.’

Veradis gathered a dozen men, left Bos in charge of the rest, then marched after the scout. He led them on a path through the cairns. All was eerily silent.

The barrows ended, replaced by clustered stone buildings, empty and shadow filled. Their progress slowed as Veradis and his men checked there were no giants lurking in the darkness.

‘There,’ the scout said, pointing at the cliff face.

Vine grew thick across the rock. Veradis stared but could see nothing out of place.

‘No, there,’ the scout urged, walking forwards. He stopped before the escarpment and scraped the soil at his feet with a boot, revealing a handle. It was attached to a trapdoor.

Veradis knelt, putting his ear to the ground. At first he heard nothing, but then, distinctly, he heard a muffled cry, like a child.

He pointed to the handle, whispered orders until two warriors were gripping it, the rest gathered about the trapdoor, weapons drawn.

‘Now,’ Veradis ordered, and the door was heaved open.

Wide stone steps led down, sunlight shafting into the hole, revealing faces staring back up at them. Many faces. Giant faces, though something immediately struck Veradis as strange. Different.

Before he had a chance to do anything, there was a roar and a figure hurtled up the steps, swinging a war-hammer. Voices cried out from behind the giant. Veradis leaped to the side, the hammer missing him, smashing into another warrior. Bones crunched, the man crumpled, the giant surging onwards, sending other men flying.

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