Home > Valor (The Faithful and the Fallen #2)(5)

Valor (The Faithful and the Fallen #2)(5)
John Gwynne

Veradis and his men circled their foe, who snarled curses at them, turning defiantly. Veradis darted forwards, stabbed, retreated. The giant roared and spun around, only for Veradis’ warriors to move in, all stabbing. The giant bellowed his rage, charged the circle, smashed one warrior to the ground. Swords slashed. The giant stumbled on a few steps, collapsed, blood staining the grass.

Veradis stood still a moment, breathing hard, then strode forward and nudged the fallen body with his boot. He would not be getting back up.

‘Come out,’ Veradis spoke into the trapdoor. The only answer was silence. He peered in, saw shadowed figures beyond the sun’s reach. ‘I’m not fool enough to come down there. If you stay, you will all burn,’ he said, louder. Still no answer. He shrugged and turned away.

‘They are only bairns,’ a voice grated from the darkness. ‘We will come up. Please, do not kill them.’

Giant bairns. What a day this is. ‘Come up. If it is as you say we will not shed the first blood.’ Veradis stepped back, holding a warning hand up to his men.

A figure emerged from the hole in the ground, a giant, tall and broad. A female, no drooping moustache, though she was as muscled as any male. Black strips of leather crisscrossed her breasts and she held a war-hammer loosely in her hands. Her dark eyes darted from Veradis to the giant lying face down on the grass. Grief swept her face.

Veradis ushered her forwards. She took hesitant steps, said something unintelligible and others appeared behind her.

Veradis blinked. There were between twenty and thirty of them. They were a mixture of heights, ranging from shorter than him to taller, and many in between. They were muscled, though leaner than full-grown giants, their limbs longer, almost gangly, like newborn colts. Tufts of hair grew on some faces, though most were hairless, appearing softer, somehow, lacking the stark angles of the adult giants that Veradis had seen. Some held weapons, daggers as long as a sword to Veradis, one or two – the larger ones – hefting hammers or axes. All looked terrified, on the edge of fight or flight. Veradis felt the tension, knew this could turn into a bloodbath at the slightest misstep. Their guardian said something; the ones with hammer and axe lowered their weapons slightly.

She feels it too.

‘They are only bairns,’ the giant repeated, pride and pleading mingling in her voice.

Children. ‘Most of them are bigger than me,’ Veradis snorted. He ran a hand through his hair. ‘I shall not harm them, or you. As long as you show no aggression.’

The giant’s eyes darted between him and his men. ‘The battle is lost, then,’ she said. It was not a question.

‘Aye. You will need to lay your weapons down. All of them.’ And then I can figure out what I am going to do with you all. Veradis glanced at the small host gathered at her back, uncomfortably aware that they outnumbered him and his men.

She snapped something over her shoulder and iron clattered to the ground. A few hesitated and she spoke more loudly at them, at the same time dropping her own hammer. As she did so, something behind Veradis caught her attention, a frown creasing her thick brows.

Alcyon was striding towards them, Calidus and the Jehar behind him, spread like a dark cloak.

‘What have we here?’ Calidus said.

‘They were hiding,’ Veradis said. ‘And they have surrendered.’ He did not like the hard look in Calidus’ eyes, the way the man’s hand was resting on his sword hilt.

‘Dia duit,’ Alcyon said, stepping forwards. He touched a hand to his forehead.

The giantess eyed him suspiciously, but returned the gesture. She lifted her head, sniffing the air like a hound catching a scent. Her eyes narrowed, focusing on Calidus. ‘Cen fath coisir tu racan ar dubh aingeal.’

Alcyon shrugged. ‘I have made my choice,’ he rumbled, some emotion sweeping his face.

Is that shame? Veradis thought.

‘They cannot live,’ Calidus said behind Alcyon.

The giant raised a hand, scowling. ‘They are only bairns.’

‘They will not be bairns forever. They will seek revenge for their kin. And for what you have taken.’

‘Taken what?’ the giantess demanded, pronouncing the words slowly, grimacing as if they left a bad taste in her mouth.

‘The starstone axe,’ Calidus said.

The giantess’ eyes whipped to Alcyon, and Veradis saw the axe slung across his back. It was a dull black from blade to hilt. As Veradis stared at it, a sound fluttered in his mind – a faint wind, the whisper of voices – just for a heartbeat, then it was gone. He blinked.

The giantess snarled something, snatched her hammer up and flung herself at Alcyon. He reeled backwards, shrugging the axe into his hands and blocking a strike that would have taken his head from his shoulders.

Behind her a handful of the giant bairns grabbed their discarded weapons and followed their guardian. With a sound like a wave breaking, the Jehar drew their swords.

Veradis stumbled back, sword and shield ready, but something held him from entering the battle. He did not want to shed the blood of these giants. They were only children. They are your enemy, a voice said in his head.

And what of mercy, even to an enemy? he thought.

Alcyon was blocking the female giant’s attack, using his new axe like a staff. There was a flurry of blows, Alcyon retreating before the onslaught. He too seemed reluctant to draw blood. About him the Jehar fought with the adolescents, who threw themselves at the black-clad warriors with more passion than skill. Many were dead already.

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