Home > Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #3)(10)

Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #3)(10)
John Gwynne

‘In the fighting-pits?’ He paused, the silence stretching, thinking back to before his enslavement, to the life he had led, the friends he had known, pulling at memories buried deep within, of the events that had preceded his life as a slave. ‘Jael has usurped King Romar’s throne – murdered the King, crushed the resistance in Isiltir. I fought him as part of that resistance, but Lykos and his Vin Thalun came, allied to Jael . . .’ He shrugged, his voice was a croak, unused to conversations of more than a few words.

Her hands touched his shoulder, hovering, tracing a swirling design, sending an involuntary shiver through him.

‘Lykos gave me that one,’ he said. ‘Branded me as his slave, his property.’

‘Do you think he’s dead?’

Maquin remembered the last time he’d seen the man, fallen to one knee in the arena, a knife hilt protruding from beneath his ribs, blood pulsing. Combat had swept Maquin away, and when he had looked back Lykos was gone.

‘Doubt it. He’s a tough one.’

‘I want him dead,’ Fidele hissed, a flash of rage contorting her face.

He looked at her a long moment, taken aback by the vehemence in her. He had always thought of her as unapproachably beautiful, calm, serene. ‘Bit strange to marry him, then.’

She stepped away, eyes downcast. ‘I was under a foul magic – he had an effigy, a small clay doll, with a lock of my hair cast within it. You crushed it when you fought him. That set me free.’

Fidele shuddered, her eyes closed. Then she straightened and looked him in the eye.

‘I have not thanked you, for protecting me in the riot, for getting me away to safety.’

Maquin looked about. ‘This is not exactly what I would call safe.’

‘It is safer, by far, than the arena.’

‘True enough.’

All had been chaos back in the arena before Jerolin, and Maquin had taken advantage of it, using the mayhem and confusion to rush Fidele out of the arena. The closest cover had been woodland to the south; Maquin led Fidele in a mad dash across open meadow towards the trees, all the while his heart thudding in his head as he waited for the expected cries of pursuit. None had come as they reached the treeline and so they continued to run deeper into the woodland, Maquin’s only thought to put distance between him and the Vin Thalun. Something had sparked the riot. Maquin’s duel with Orgull had played a part in it, but Maquin had also seen warriors amongst the crowd, urging them on. They had been wearing the white eagle crest of Tenebral. There was some kind of resistance forming against the Vin Thalun, that was clear. But how strong was it? Had they managed to crush the Vin Thalun? To drive them from Jerolin and Tenebral? Maquin doubted it – the Vin Thalun had numbered in their thousands; it would take a lot of manpower to finish them. ‘And what would you do now, my lady?’ Maquin asked her.

She frowned and sat upon a rock. ‘I don’t know is the short answer. I would find out if the Vin Thalun have been defeated –’ she paused, a tremor touching her lips – ‘but I am scared to go back. The thought of being caught is more than I can bear.’

Maquin nodded. I can understand that. For himself, he wanted to leave. To point himself north-west instead of south and aim straight for Jael. What about her, though? He could not just abandon her in the woods.

‘Will you help me?’ she asked. ‘I have seen that you are no friend to Lykos or the Vin Thalun. We have a common enemy.’

‘I’ve had enough of fighting other people’s battles,’ he said. ‘I’ve got my own to fight. I need to go home. I have something to do,’ he muttered quietly, almost to himself. He looked at her face and saw a determination of purpose there, battling with the fear of her circumstances. ‘But I will see you safe first, my lady. If I can.’

She breathed a relieved sigh. ‘My thanks. I will do all in my power to repay you, and to speed you on your way.’

‘First, we must survive the night and the cold.’

‘Wait here,’ Maquin whispered to Fidele.

They were crouched behind a ridge, looking out upon a wide stretch of land covered in tree stumps. On the far side was a row of timber cabins, piles of felled trunks surrounding them. It was dusk; the forest was grey and silent.

‘Do not come after me for anything. Nothing, you understand?’

She nodded and he slipped away, staying low to the ground,

keeping to the outskirts of the manmade clearing, stalking within

the shadows amongst the trees. Eventually he was behind the row of cabins. Gripping his knife he slipped to the front and entered. Grey light filtered through gaps in the shutters and he paused to let his eyes adjust to the gloom.

Cots lined the walls, covered by rough woollen blankets, boots, breeches, and cloaks. A long table ran down the centre of the room, cups and plates scattered upon it. Axes and great two-man saws were all about, and there were racks of water skins, gloves, other work tools. Men live here. Woodcutters. Question is, where are they now?

It came to him quickly – Jerolin and the arena. It’s a big day – celebrations and games to mark Lykos being wed to Fidele.

He quickly grabbed cloaks from pegs, woollen shirts, breeches, some cheese and mutton, water skins and a roll of twine, stuffing them all into an empty bag he’d found.

There was a groan; a blanket shifted on a cot in the corner of the room. A figure sat up – a man, rubbing his eyes.

In heartbeats Maquin had crossed the room and had his knife held to the stranger’s throat, his eyes drawn to the man’s beard, the iron rings binding it.

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