Home > Valor (The Faithful and the Fallen #2)(8)

Valor (The Faithful and the Fallen #2)(8)
John Gwynne

Orgull knelt beside Vandil and closed the eyes of their leader’s corpse. There was a gaping wound in his chest where the giant Alcyon had struck him with that black axe.

Maquin strode to where he had seen Kastell fall.

He lay face down, a black pool of blood spread about his waist. Maquin knelt and rolled him over, cradling him in his arms.

‘Oh, Kas,’ he whispered, tears rising up and choking the rest. So many memories. He remembered the day Kastell had been born, when he had been a warrior in the hold of Kastell’s da, remembered his pride when he had been chosen as Kastell’s shieldman, remembered carrying the boy from the flames and wreckage of a Hunen attack, remembered his oath, solemn words to protect unto death.

Tears dripped off his nose, smudging pale tracks in the grime on Kastell’s face.

I have failed you. He had loved Kastell as the son that he had never had, and he had let him die by Jael’s hand. A cold rage ignited in his belly.

Tenderly, Maquin brushed dirt from Kastell’s face, then laid him back down. He found Kastell’s sword and placed it on his body, folding stiffening fingers about its hilt. Then he knelt, whispered a prayer, asked for forgiveness and swore a new oath. And this one I shall not fail, except by death’s intervention. Jael shall die by my hand. He drew a dagger from his belt and cut a red line across his palm, let his blood drip onto Kastell.

Orgull came and stood beside him, head bowed.

‘Jael killed him,’ Maquin mumbled.

Orgull nodded, torchlight gleaming blue in his eyes. ‘Jael seemed overly close to that Calidus. I should have seen it. They have much to answer for.’ He tugged thoughtfully at the warrior braid bound in his blond beard. ‘This ran deeper than some blood-feud between uncle and nephew. I am thinking that Jael has designs on the throne of Isiltir.’

‘The throne?’ said Maquin.

‘Aye. Romar’s boy is, what, ten summers?’ Orgull said. ‘And Jael is blood-kin to Romar, though distant. He would have a claim, if those closer were removed.’

‘Such as Romar,’ Maquin said.

‘And him,’ Orgull added, looking pointedly at Kastell.

Maquin ground his palms into his eyes. ‘Jael will pay for this.’

Orgull gave him an appraising look. ‘If I am right, the best revenge is to deny Jael the throne of Isiltir.’

‘A sword in his heart will do that,’ Maquin said.

‘And if you fail? We do not know how things lie up there, but likely he has shieldmen about him, and Calidus, along with his giant and the Jehar. Chances are you won’t get close to him. Then Jael still gets the throne. Don’t call that much of a revenge.’

Maquin glared at Orgull, part of him recognizing the truth of his words, but the greater part of him not caring.

‘Word must get back to Isiltir of this – of Jael’s treachery. I’ll not see all our sword-brothers dead for nothing.’

Orgull bent besides Romar, recovered the dead king’s sword and wrapped it in a cloak. ‘I did not save you to see you throw your life away the instant we set foot above ground.’

‘My life is not yours to decide,’ Maquin said. ‘I am going to kill Jael.’

Orgull stooped to look Maquin in the eye. ‘I need your help. There is more at stake here than one man’s vengeance. Please, help me to get word back to Isiltir of this slaughter.’ He paused, eyes locked with Maquin, then shook his head. ‘I will make a pact with you. Help me to do this, and then I shall help you. We shall bring about Jael’s death together, or die trying. I swear it on our fallen brothers.’

Maquin sucked in a deep breath, chewing over Orgull’s words. There was sense in them: if he went charging after Jael now he was most likely rushing to a death that accomplished nothing. ‘All right,’ he whispered, glancing at Kastell’s corpse.

They gripped forearms.

‘Course, we’ve got to get out of here first,’ Maquin said.

‘True. Are you injured?’

‘I’ve been better.’ His left arm hung limp at his side, his face was pale, slick with sweat. ‘I blocked a hammer blow with my shoulder.’

Orgull stood behind Maquin, his fingers probing the warrior’s shoulder and arm. ‘Dislocated, not broken. Here, bite on this.’ He gave Maquin a strip of leather, then gripped the warrior’s shoulder in one large fist, placing his other hand between shoulder blade and spine. Then he pushed, hard.

There was a loud crack, Maquin hissed and slumped.

‘Next time, use a shield, not your shoulder,’ Orgull said.

‘I’ll try and remember,’ Maquin mumbled, spitting the leather from his mouth. He sank to one knee.

‘Take what you need,’ Orgull said, reaching down to grab a shield from a fallen warrior. ‘We need to find a way out of here.’

With an effort, Maquin walked away from Kastell’s body and began searching the ground. First he looked to his water skin, drinking deep, then refilled it from others about him. In short time he found a plain wooden shield, iron-rimmed and bossed. Its face showed signs of the battle, but only shallow scratches. He hefted it, checked its straps, then slung it across his back. He also found a broad-bladed spear. Orgull was holding an axe that had belonged to one of the long-dead giant warriors left guarding their king. As Maquin stared at him, Orgull swung the axe at the stone floor, sparks flying as it chipped a chunk out of the rock. Rust fell from the blade. Orgull ran his thumb along its edge and nodded approvingly.

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