Home > Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #3)(5)

Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #3)(5)
John Gwynne

Before he could respond to Cywen’s greeting there was a drum of hooves as a handful of riders crested the dell. Meical led, with the hulking forms of giants following behind. Corban could barely believe that what had once been mankind’s fiercest enemy was now their ally. Meical rode into the camp, dismounted smoothly and strode to Corban. Balur and another giant, a female, accompanied him, with Tukul following behind.

‘Only one of the Kadoshim survived last night’s attack. We tracked him halfway back to Murias before we gave up the chase. The land between us and the fortress is clear, for now,’ Meical said. ‘My guess is that the Kadoshim will stay within the fortress walls a while and become accustomed to their new bodies.’

‘Fech is watching them for us,’ the female giant said. ‘We will not have another surprise like the one last night.’

‘Good,’ Corban nodded, then looked at Meical. ‘What next?’

‘That is what we have come to ask you,’ Tukul said, staring at Corban.

‘Me?’

‘Of course you. You are the Seren Disglair. We follow you.’

Corban felt a shift around him and looked about to see the whole camp still and silent, all watching him. He gulped.

CHAPTER THREE

UTHAS

Uthas of the Benothi stared down at the dead. He was standing just within the great doors of Murias, the sun warming his back. The bodies of his kin were laid out before him, scores of them, the might of the Benothi laid to waste. Here and there survivors of his clan moved, a handful remaining of those who had joined him – little more than two score – pulling fallen Benothi from the mass of the dead. The whole chamber was clogged with corpses, giants, men, horses¸ the stench of blood and excrement underlying all else.

Other figures lurked in the shadows, the Kadoshim. They moved awkwardly, not yet fully accustomed to their new bodies of flesh and bone. Uthas suppressed a shudder and looked away; the sight was unsettling now the chaos and rush of battle had passed.

Most of his surviving kin were gathered around a large ink pot, dipping bone needles as they inscribed the tale of thorns on their bodies. All had killed during yesterday’s battle; all would have fresh thorns to tattoo into their flesh. He saw Salach, his shieldman, bent close over Eisa as he tattooed her shoulder. Uthas’ eyes strayed back to the corpses lined at his feet, searching the faces of the dead. One that he had hoped he would find was not there. Balur. I should have known he would not have the good grace to die. He felt a flutter of fear at the knowledge that the old warrior was still alive, knew what Balur would wish to do to him. He will carry this blood-feud until the end of days. He needs to die. His gaze came to rest upon the corpse of Nemain, once his queen, now so much food for carrion.

What have I done? Fear and doubt gnawed at him. He cursed the events that had led to this. Cursed Fech, the damn bird that had warned Nemain of his betrayal. He put a hand to his face, felt the claw marks that Fech’s talons had raked into his forehead and cheeks.

Things could have been different if I’d had time to reason with Nemain . . . He gritted his teeth. No. It is done, no going back. I must salvage from this what I can, protect and rebuild my clan. I am King of the Benothi now.

Voices drew his attention and he looked up to see Nathair’s adviser, Calidus, emerge from a hall, the giant Alcyon looming behind him. After the battle they had set a makeshift camp in the chamber of the cauldron, deep in the belly of the mountain, but Uthas could not stand it in there; the stench of so many dead wyrms was making him retch. Besides, it was foolish to leave the great gates unguarded, the only entrance and exit to the fortress of Murias. Their enemies had seemingly fled, but who knew what they were capable of? Meical and his followers had already stormed their way into Murias once and shattered the ceremony, preventing many of the Kadoshim from passing through the cauldron into the world of flesh.

Calidus saw him and strode over.

‘How many of the Benothi live?’ Calidus asked. A cut across his forehead was scabbing, the skin puckering as he spoke. After the battle he had appeared weary to Uthas, face drawn, his silver hair dull. For the first time he had looked frail, like an old man. Now that was gone. He stood straight, his body alive with new energy, his yellow eyes appearing feral, radiating power.

‘Forty-five, fifty maybe of those who stood with me. Others still live who fought against us, or at least, their bodies have not been found. Balur is one of them.’

‘Balur has the starstone axe. He took it from Alcyon.’ Calidus flickered a withering stare at the giant beside him who stood with head downcast, his face stained with a purple bruise. Uthas noticed Alcyon had a war-hammer slung across his back, replacing the black axe that had been there. Taken from a fallen Benothi, no doubt. That stirred anger in his belly and he scowled at Alcyon, a member of a rival giant clan, the Kurgan.

No, he told himself, if my dream is to become reality I cannot think like that. We were one clan once, before the Sundering. It can be so again. Looking at Alcyon, though, he realized just how deep the old grudges ran.

‘You have something to say?’ Alcyon growled at him, standing straighter, returning his dark look.

Control your temper, build bridges, he told himself.

‘I see you carry a Benothi weapon. There is much honour in that.’

‘Honour, in the Benothi?’ Alcyon sniffed.

‘Aye,’ Uthas growled, anger rising. ‘As there is in all of the clans. Even the Kurgan.’

Alcyon looked slowly around, his gaze lingering on the fallen Benothi. ‘I see little evidence of Benothi honour here.’

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