Home > Valor (The Faithful and the Fallen #2)(7)

Valor (The Faithful and the Fallen #2)(7)
John Gwynne

‘Huh,’ Veradis muttered, not sure if he wanted to know how Calidus would manage that. He liked the thought of leaving this forest behind, but part of him still prickled with suspicion at the mention of the Vin Thalun. Some distrust burrowed deep.

‘So we leave on the morrow?’ Veradis asked.

‘At first light. We will travel east with Jael to Isiltir, then carry on to Ardan.’

‘Jael?’ Veradis said. He had disliked Kastell’s cousin the first moment he set eyes on him. He was a very different man from Kastell or Maquin, both of whom Veradis had considered friends and who now lay dead in the tunnels beneath Haldis. By whose hand Veradis did not know, and some part of him did not want to. Another part of him could think of nothing else. Let it go, a voice whispered in his head.

‘Yes. Jael,’ Calidus said. ‘Is there any problem with that?’

‘No,’ said Veradis. He thought of saying more but held his tongue.

‘Good. Jael has a strong claim to the throne of Isiltir, now that Romar is gone. And Nathair will support him in that claim.’

‘It is strange,’ Veradis said, the words spilling out, ‘how Romar and all his shieldmen died in the tunnels. Yet Jael survived.’ He raised his head and stared hard at Calidus.

The counsellor gave a thin-lipped smile. ‘It is war. These things happen.’

Calidus was right, men did fall in battle. Veradis had lost more shield-brothers than he cared to think about in battle, many of them friends, and he knew that in life things were not always clear cut. But this? What had happened in the tunnels felt like betrayal. ‘Did you see Romar die?’ Veradis pressed. ‘And the one that slew him?’

‘Oh yes,’ Calidus said, his face as expressionless as stone. ‘A giant slew Romar. Think more on the living than the dead, Veradis. We are all serving Nathair here. What we do is for the greater good, for Nathair’s good.’ His eyes narrowed. ‘I hope that you have the conviction to serve your king fully.’

‘Of course I do,’ Veradis said. ‘Never doubt my loyalty to Nathair.’

‘Good.’ Calidus gave a faint smile. ‘Well, I am for my rest. We have an early start and a long journey ahead of us.’

Alcyon rose and followed Calidus into the darkness, Akar making to do the same.

‘Akar. Did you see Romar fall?’

‘Aye.’

‘And . . .’

‘Calidus spoke true,’ Akar said. ‘A giant did slay Romar.’

‘Oh,’ said Veradis, both surprised and relieved. He had been so certain that Calidus had been involved.

‘A giant wielding a black-bladed battle-axe,’ Akar said, then turned and strode into the darkness.

CHAPTER FOUR

MAQUIN

‘I’m going to let you go, now. Don’t do anything stupid.’

The words filtered into Maquin’s mind as if from a great distance.

Where am I?

He opened his eyes, though at first it seemed to make little difference. It was pitch dark, his face was pressed hard against cold stone and a pain bloomed in his shoulder.

‘Careful. They’ve been gone a while, but sound carries in these tunnels,’ the same voice said.

Tunnels? Then it came back, an avalanche of memory. Haldis, the battle in the tunnels, Romar arguing with Calidus over that axe. Betrayal. Death. Kastell . . .

‘Kas . . .’ he breathed.

There was a long silence, then. ‘He’s dead. They’re all dead.’

Kastell.

He had seen Jael stab him, knew instantly that it was a killing blow. He had tried to get to him, but Orgull, captain of the Gadrai, had grabbed him, dragged him into the darkness while battle still raged nearby, though the end had been in no doubt. Romar, King of Isiltir, had been betrayed by Calidus of Tenebral. And by Jael.

And Kastell had been slain.

At first Maquin had fought, trying to break Orgull’s grip on him, but the man’s strength was immense, and then . . . nothing.

‘I can’t remember it all. What happened?’ he croaked.

‘You were fighting like a draig to run off and get yourself killed. Had to crack you one on the head.’ Orgull’s voice drifted down to him. He felt the big man shrug, a ripple of pain through his back. ‘Sorry.’

He became aware of a pressure on him, a great weight pressing down. ‘Are you sitting on me?’

‘Had to be sure you wouldn’t jump up and run off the moment you woke up.’

‘No chance of that,’ Maquin grunted. ‘Get off.’

He felt Orgull’s weight shift from his back. Maquin rolled onto one knee, groaning as he stood, a hand reaching instinctively for his sword.

Orgull frowned. ‘You thinking straight?’

‘Aye.’ Maquin scowled. He rolled his shoulders, cramped muscles stretching. And there was a greater pain shouting for his attention. He remembered catching the wrong end of a giant’s war-hammer. Waves of pain pulsed from his shoulder. He gritted his teeth and looked about the chamber.

Torches still burned, blue light flickering from some kind of oil held high in iron bowls that marked an aisle to the dead giant-king, his cadaver still sitting in its stone chair upon its dais. Bodies lay strewn before it.

Maquin and Orgull shared a look, without a word walked back to the battle scene, treading carefully amongst the dead.

We’re all that’s left of the Gadrai, a voice whispered inside his head. The rest are gone. All dead. He closed his eyes, saw again Jael’s sword punch into Kastell’s belly.

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