Home > Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #3)(4)

Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #3)(4)
John Gwynne

A cold breeze made his skin tingle as he stood before his mam’s cairn. How can she be gone? He felt her absence like a physical thing, as if a limb had been severed. The events of yesterday seemed like a dream. A nightmare. His mam’s death, so many others, men and giants and great wyrms. And he had seen the cauldron: one of the Seven Treasures, remnant from an age of faery tales. He had seen a bubbling wave of demon-spirits from the Otherworld pouring from it, Asroth’s Kadoshim, filling the bodies of transfixed Jehar warriors like empty vessels. He knew the group who had attacked them had only been a small part of those remaining a dozen leagues to the north; Nathair and his demon-warriors camped within the walls of Murias.

What are we going to do?

He watched as the rest of his followers started to break camp. He searched for Meical but could not see him. Brina stood close to the fire-pit, Craf and Fech fluttering about her. He glimpsed Coralen moving quietly to the camp’s fringe, checking on the paddocked horses. Her wolven claws were slung across her shoulders. Corban remembered their words before the battle at Murias, when they had heard of Domhain’s fall, of her father King Eremon’s death. She’d fled into the trees and he’d followed her, wanted to comfort her but not known how. They’d shared a handful of words and for a moment he’d seen through the cold hard walls she’d set about her. He wished he could go back to that moment and say more to her. He saw her head turn, her gaze touching him for a moment, then turning sharply away. Beyond her, a huddle of figures stood – the giants who had fled Murias, clustered together like an outcrop of rock. Closer by, the Jehar were gathering beside the stream, making ready to begin their sword dance. He felt the pull of habit drawing him to join them. Without thinking he approached them, seeking comfort in the act of something familiar amidst the whirl of fear, death and grief that threatened to consume him.

They were gathered about their leader, Tukul, Gar beside him; a few score stood further behind the old warrior – the ones who had saved Corban in Rhin’s fortress. Others were grouped before Tukul, at least twice their number. As Corban approached Tukul raised his voice, saying something in a language Corban did not recognize. The mass of Jehar before him dropped to their knees and bowed their heads. There was one who did not – Corban recognized him as one of the Jehar who had been with Nathair before realizing they had been betrayed. It seemed he was angry about something. Gar stepped forward. From years of knowing him Corban could tell he was furious, a straightness in his back, a tension in the set of his shoulders.

For a moment the two men stood staring at one another, a sense of imminent violence emanating from both of them, then Tukul snapped an order and they stepped apart, the other man stalking away.

Gar saw Corban and walked towards him. His eyes looked raw, red-rimmed. Corban remembered him weeping before his mam’s cairn. The first time he’d seen him display such emotion.

He has always seemed so strong, so in control. Something about seeing Gar weep had made him seem more human, somehow. Corban felt a sudden surge of emotion for the man, his teacher and protector. His friend.

‘What’s happening?’ Corban asked him.

‘The Jehar that followed Sumur and Nathair,’ Gar said with a nod towards the Jehar, who had risen and all started forming the lines for the sword dance practice. ‘They have recognized my father as their captain.’

‘Good. And him?’ Corban said, looking at the one who had spoken with Tukul.

‘Akar. He was Sumur’s captain. He is ashamed that they followed the Black Sun, that they were fooled by Nathair. That he was fooled. And he is proud. It is making him say foolish things.’ Gar shrugged, the emotion of a few moments ago gone or well hidden.

‘He looked like he wanted to fight you.’

‘It may come to that.’ Gar looked at the warrior, mingling now in the line of the sword dance. ‘And we have a history.’

Corban waited but Gar said nothing more.

‘Where’s Meical?’ Corban asked.

‘Scouting. He set off soon after the attack – took a giant and a few of my sword-brothers and left.’

‘Shouldn’t we go and find him?’

‘I think Meical can look after himself. He’ll be back soon. Best use our time.’ Gar ushered him forward amongst the ranks of Jehar warriors. Corban drew his sword and slipped into the first position of the dance, his mind sinking into the rhythm of it, muscle memory automatically taking over from conscious thought. Time passed, merging into a fusion of contraction and extension, of focus and sweat, of pumping blood and his beating heart and the weight of his sword. Then he was finished, Tukul stepping from the line and ordering the Jehar to break camp.

Corban stood there a moment, savouring the ache in his wrists and shoulders, clinging to the familiarity. He looked around and saw his friends were nearby, watching him – Farrell and Coralen, standing with Dath. A figure walked towards him – Cywen, their mam’s knife-belt strapped diagonally across her torso.

‘Happy nameday, Ban,’ Cywen said.

‘What?’

‘It’s your nameday. Seventeen summers.’

Is it? He shook his head. It’s been over a year since we fled Dun Carreg, since I last saw Cywen. A year of running and fighting, of blood and fear. But at least I have spent it amongst my kin and friends. What has she been through? A year by herself, surviving who knows what. And only to come back and be reunited with us and help bury our mam. He took a long look at her – thinner, grime on her cheeks highlighted by tear tracks. The bones in her face were starkly defined, and her eyes were haunted. They hadn’t spoken much last night before sleeping. There’d been too much happen to all of them that day for them to relive anything else. Instead they’d sat by the fire for hours, just comfortable in each other’s company, Dath teasing Cywen and trying to make her smile, Farrell quietly watching and Coralen pacing as if she couldn’t quite settle.

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