Home > Half a War (Shattered Sea #3)

Half a War (Shattered Sea #3)
Joe Abercrombie

The Fall

‘We have lost,’ said King Fynn, staring into his ale.

As she looked out at the empty hall, Skara knew there was no denying it. Last summer, the gathered heroes had threatened to lift the roof-beams with their bloodthirsty boasting, their songs of glory, their promises of victory over the High King’s rabble.

As men so often do, they had proved fiercer talkers than fighters. After an idle, inglorious, and unprofitable few months they had slunk away one by one, leaving a handful of the luckless lurking about the great firepit, its flames guttering as low as the fortunes of Throvenland. Where once the many-columned Forest had thronged with warriors, now it was peopled with shadows. Crowded with disappointments.

They had lost. And they had not even fought a battle.

Mother Kyre, of course, saw it differently. ‘We have come to terms, my king,’ she corrected, nibbling at her meat as primly as an old mare at a hay-bale.

‘Terms?’ Skara stabbed furiously at her own uneaten food. ‘My father died to hold Bail’s Point, and you’ve given its key to Grandmother Wexen without a blow struck. You’ve promised the High King’s warriors free passage across our land! What do you think “lost” would look like?’

Mother Kyre turned her gaze on Skara with the usual infuriating calmness. ‘Your grandfather dead in his howe, the women of Yaletoft weeping over the corpses of their sons, this hall made ashes and you, princess, wearing a slave’s collar shackled to the High King’s chair. That is what I think “lost” would look like. Which is why I say come to terms.’

Stripped of his pride, King Fynn sagged like a sail without a mast. Skara had always thought her grandfather as unconquerable as Father Earth. She could not bear to see him like this. Or perhaps she could not bear to see how childish her belief in him had been.

She watched him swill down more ale, and belch, and toss his gilded cup aside to be refilled. ‘What do you say, Blue Jenner?’

‘In such royal company as this, my king, as little as I can.’

Blue Jenner was a shifty old beggar, more raider than trader, his face as crudely chiselled, weathered and cracked as an old prow-beast. Had Skara been in charge he would not have been allowed on her docks, let alone at her high table.

Mother Kyre, of course, saw it differently. ‘A captain is like a king, but of a ship rather than a country. Your experience might benefit Princess Skara.’

The indignity of it. ‘A lesson in politics from a pirate,’ Skara muttered to herself, ‘and not even a successful one.’

‘Don’t mumble. How many hours have I spent teaching you the proper way for a princess to speak? For a queen to speak?’ Mother Kyre raised her chin and made her voice echo effortlessly from the rafters. ‘If you judge your thoughts worth hearing, pronounce them proudly, push them to every corner of the chamber, fill the hall with your hopes and desires and make every listener share them! If you are ashamed of your thoughts, better to leave a silence. A smile costs nothing. You were saying?’

‘Well …’ Blue Jenner scratched at the few grey hairs still clinging to his weather-spotted scalp, evidently a place unknown to combs. ‘Grandmother Wexen’s crushed the rebellion in the Lowlands.’

‘With the help of this dog of hers, Bright Yilling, who worships no god but Death.’ Skara’s grandfather snatched up his cup while the thrall was still pouring, ale spilling across the table. ‘They say he lined the road to Skekenhouse with hanged men.’

‘The High King’s eyes turn north,’ Jenner went on. ‘He’s keen to bring Uthil and Grom-gil-Gorm to heel and Throvenland …’

‘Is in the way,’ finished Mother Kyre. ‘Don’t slouch, Skara, it is unseemly.’

Skara scowled, but she wriggled her shoulders up the chair a little anyway, closer to the board-stiff, neck-stretched, horribly unnatural pose the minister approved of. Sit as if you have a knife to your throat, she always said. The role of a princess is not to be comfortable.

‘I’m a man used to living free, and I’m no lover of Grandmother Wexen, or her One God, or her taxes, or her rules.’ Blue Jenner rubbed mournfully at his lopsided jaw. ‘But when Mother Sea whips up the storm, a captain does what he must to save what he can. Freedom’s worth nothing to the dead. Pride’s worth little even to the living.’

‘Wise words.’ Mother Kyre wagged her finger at Skara. ‘The beaten can win tomorrow. The dead have lost forever.’

‘Wisdom and cowardice can be hard to tell apart,’ snapped Skara.

The minister clenched her jaw. ‘I swear I taught you wiser manners than to insult a guest. Nobility is shown not by the respect one is given by the highest, but the respect one gives to the lowly. Words are weapons. They should be handled with proper care.’

Jenner waved any suggestion of offence gently away. ‘No doubt Princess Skara has the right of it. I’ve known many men far braver’n me.’ He gave a sad smile, displaying a crooked set of teeth with several gaps. ‘And seen most buried, one by one.’

‘Bravery and long life rarely make good bedfellows,’ said the king, draining his cup again.

‘Kings and ale pair up no better,’ said Skara.

‘I have nothing left but ale, granddaughter. My warriors have abandoned me. My allies have deserted me. They swore fair-weather oaths, oak-firm while Mother Sun shone, prone to wilt when the clouds gather.’

That was no secret. Day after day Skara had watched the docks, eager to see how many ships the Iron King Uthil of Gettland would bring, how many warriors would accompany the famous Grom-gil-Gorm of Vansterland. Day after day, as the leaves budded, then the leaves cast dappled shade, then the leaves turned brown and fell. They never came.

Hot Novels
  • Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Chris
  • Fifty Shades Freed (Fifty Shades #3)
  • Never Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #2)
  • Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shades #2)
  • Library of Souls (Miss Peregrine’s Peculi
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades #1)
  • Fallen Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #1)
  • Forever Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #3)
  • Ugly Love
  • Allegiant (Divergent #3)
  • Hold on Tight (Sea Breeze #8)
  • Bared to You (Crossfire #1)
  • The Destiny of Violet & Luke (The Coinc
  • Captivated by You (Crossfire #4)
  • Uprooted