Home > Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #3)(9)

Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #3)(9)
John Gwynne

‘Help me,’ the Kadoshim whispered.

‘Swear to obey me in all things,’ Calidus said, voice cold as winter-forged iron.

‘I swear it. Please . . .’

‘Bind his arm,’ Calidus snapped at Alcyon, kneeling to put an arm about the injured Kadoshim. ‘You must look after your new body, Bune. Like a weapon, it must be cared for. You have lost much blood, but if we treat your wound and feed you, all will be well.’

‘My thanks,’ the creature croaked. ‘I would not return to the Otherworld so soon.’

‘Then no more of this foolish charging off to fight unwinnable battles. Danjal? The others?’

‘All gone, back to the Otherworld. There were too many against us, and these bodies . . .’ Bune held up his uninjured arm. ‘It is taking me some time to adjust to it.’

‘It will. Come, back to our kin where we can tend you better.’ Calidus glanced at Alcyon, who finished binding the wrist and then lifted Bune in his arms. Calidus led them back towards the gates of Murias, Nathair and his draig following slowly behind. Birds circled lazily above, the remnants of Nemain’s ravens lured by the stench of carrion. Uthas glared at them with something akin to hatred, thinking of Fech. As they stepped within the shadow of the fortress, Uthas saw a raven perched on a ledge in the cliff face. It stared back at him. For a moment he was convinced it was Fech and he raised a hand involuntarily to his scarred face.

Surely not. Fech is not brave or stupid enough to return here.

Calidus looked back to Nathair.

‘Think on my words, King of Tenebral. I would have you fight beside me in the coming war. No more deceptions.’

Nathair paused before the gates and put a hand upon his draig’s neck. Together the King and beast watched Calidus and his companions enter Murias.

‘Watch him closely,’ Calidus whispered to Uthas. ‘If he tries to leave, stop him. Whatever it takes.’

CHAPTER FOUR

MAQUIN

Maquin ran through the undergrowth, trees thick about him. With one hand he pushed aside branches, with the other he held onto Fidele, the Queen Regent of Tenebral, recently married to Lykos, Lord of the Vin Thalun. Until she tried to murder him. I’m guessing that’s the end of their happy nuptials.

She stumbled and he snatched a glance back at her, saw she was breathing heavily, her bridal gown snagged and torn, stained with blood. She needs to rest. The sounds of combat drifted behind him, faint and distant, but still too close for his liking.

It will not be long before Lykos and his Vin Thalun have put down the rioters. Then he’ll be looking for his absent bride. Still, if we run much more she’ll be finished anyway. With a frown he slowed, heard the sound of a stream and changed direction.

Maquin caught his breath as he splashed his face and naked chest with the icy cold water, washing away the blood and grime of the fighting-pit. A hundred different cuts began to sting as the adrenalin of his escape faded, his skin goose-fleshing. He shivered. Should have grabbed a cloak as we fled. He was still dressed for the heat of the pit: boots and breeches, a curved knife in his belt, nothing on his torso except blood and dirt and scars.

I’m free. He sucked in a deep breath, savouring the earthy scents of the forest, reminding him of Forn. Of another life. He closed his eyes as memories flickered through his mind. The Gadrai; his sword-brothers; of Kastell, slain by that traitorous bastard Jael; of Tahir and Orgull, the only other survivors of the betrayal in Haldis. It felt so long ago. The time-before. He looked at his hands, blood still ground into the swirls of his skin, stuck beneath his fingernails. Orgull’s blood.

His friend’s face filled his mind as it had been when he had cradled him – beaten, bloody, dying. A swell of emotion bubbled up, tears blurring his eyes. He remembered Orgull’s last words to him: a request to find a man named Meical and pass on a message. That I stayed true to the end, Orgull had said.

So much death, and yet still I live. More. I am a free man. All right, a refugee, with enemies behind me, and I’m a thousand leagues from home. But I’m free. Free to hunt down Jael and put him in the ground. Even now the thought of Jael burned away all else. He could see his face, lips twisted in a mocking sneer as Maquin had been chained and led to the Vin Thalun ships. Hatred flared incandescent, a pure flame in his gut. He felt himself snarling. A tearing sound drew his attention. Fidele was standing in the stream close by. She was ripping away the lower part of her dress.

‘Easier to run,’ she told him. ‘Here.’ She bunched the fabric and dipped it in the stream, then began washing the filth from his back. She gasped and paused a moment as the myriad scars were revealed, telling the tale of the whip as a slave, countless other cuts and reminders from his time in the fighting-pit. She’d seen him earn some of those scars, watched him fight, kill others. Shame filled him at the things he’d done and he bowed his head.

‘Where are you from?’ she asked quietly.

He blinked; for a moment he had to think about that. ‘Isiltir,’ he said, pronouncing it slowly, like a forgotten friend.

‘What is your name? Who are you?’

In the pit I was called Old Wolf, the only name I’ve gone by for a good long while. I am a trained killer. Have become that which I hate.

‘My name is Maquin,’ he said with a twist of his lips, a step towards reclaiming himself. ‘I was shieldman to Kastell, nephew of King Romar.’

‘Oh,’ Fidele breathed. ‘You are a long way from home. How did you end up . . . ?’

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