Authors: David Gemmell
On the night of Aborain’s hanging armed soldiers had come for Ramus, taking him before the lord.
“Do you wish revenge?” the lord of Goriasa had asked.
“Yet you hate me?”
“I hate no one, sir. My brother deserved to die for the sins of his life. My father did not deserve to die. But his killing was an error and not born of malice.”
“You know why you are here?”
“You are considering whether it would be prudent to kill me.”
“You seem very calm, young man.”
“I cannot prevent you from killing me, sir, if that be your will.”
The lord had sat silently for a while, watching the young apothecary. Then he had drawn in a deep breath. “I will not kill you. Equally, I cannot have you living within my realm. It would concern me that you might one day discover hatred in your heart. I shall give you coin, and you will travel far from here. There is always a need for apothecaries. So where will you journey?”
“I have always liked mountains, sir.”
“Then cross the sea, Master Ramus. Travel to the north and find a home in the Druagh mountains. I am told it is very beautiful there.”
“I will, sir. Thank you.”
“A man should not be thanked for resisting evil. I wish you well, Master Ramus.”
“And I you, lord.”
The sound of shouting cut through the old man’s memories. Angry voices could be heard.
Ramus rose from his chair, pushing shut the heavy storeroom door.
Now there was silence.
Mulgrave reined in the chestnut and sat gazing out over Old Hills Lake. The water was shimmering in the afternoon sunshine, the jagged lines of the western mountains reflected on the still surface. The sight of the lake calmed him. “We are such fleeting creatures,” he told Gaise Macon. “Here for a heartbeat and then gone forever.”
“Why do you say that with a smile?” asked the young noble, drawing his palomino gelding alongside Mulgrave’s mount.
“It makes the evil of men more bearable to know that it is largely of no account,” replied Mulgrave.
“If that be the truth,” said Gaise, “then the good that men do is also of no account.”
Mulgrave chuckled. “Now,
is something worth
debating, sir.” The smile faded. A cold wind blew off the lake, a gust billowing Mulgrave’s gray cloak. The sudden movement caused the palomino to rear. Gaise fought for control, calming the horse. A lesser rider would have been thrown. “You handle him well, sir,” said Mulgrave.
“He is a skittish beast,” said Gaise, leaning forward to stroke the palomino’s golden neck. For a moment the two riders sat silently as Mulgrave once more returned his attention to the glittering water.
“Why did you want me to ride with you to the apothecary?” asked Gaise.
Mulgrave sighed. He was entering unknown territory here. “I wanted to tell you that your actions last night filled me with pride, sir. You tackled armed men. You did not run. You saved your father’s life. Of that there is no doubt.”
Gaise Macon reddened. “I was stealing coal,” he said.
Mulgrave swore suddenly and swung in the saddle to face the younger man. “You are a fine man, Gaise. You have it in you to be a great one. Do not let the man’s malice change you.”
“It would be a help to know why he hates me,” replied Gaise. “But we should not speak like this, Mulgrave. The Moidart is the law. Your words could see you hanged if reported to him.”
“Aye, sir, that is true.” He chuckled. “You are not the first to offer such a warning. The truth will be the death of me yet. Come, let us find the apothecary.” Mulgrave gently heeled the chestnut forward.
“Time to ride!” shouted Gaise Macon. The palomino surged into a run, thundering along the shores of the lake. Mulgrave’s chestnut followed, and for the remainder of the short gallop the swordsman’s burdens fell away.
Gaise cut to the left, racing toward a fallen tree. Fear touched Mulgrave. It was not that the palomino could not jump the obstacle but that Gaise could not possibly know what lay beyond it. There could be jagged rocks, or rabbit holes, or twisted roots. The palomino could snap a leg. Mulgrave had seen riders crippled or killed by such falls, their
backs snapped, their limbs flopping. The palomino rose majestically. Mulgrave’s breath caught in his throat. It seemed as if the golden horse hung in the air for an eternity. Then it sailed over the fallen tree, landed smoothly, and ran on. Mulgrave’s chestnut followed. As Mulgrave leaned in to the jump, he saw that the falling tree had broken several saplings, which now jutted from the earth like spears. The chestnut, as had the palomino, just missed them. Furious now, Mulgrave rode to where Gaise waited.
“Did you see the broken trees?” raged the swordsman.
“Yes,” said Gaise.
“That was monumentally stupid! You could have been killed.”
“Aye, I could.” The young man shrugged. “Did you not say that our lives were fleeting and of little account? So what would it have mattered?”
“Your life is of great account to
, sir. I do not like to see you risk it for so small a matter as a moment of recklessness.”
Gaise shrugged. “It was not a small matter, Mulgrave,” he said. “I needed that jump.”
Gaise did not reply instantly. Instead he leaned forward and ran his fingers through the palomino’s white mane. Mulgrave sensed the sadness in the young man. Gaise looked up. “Last night, as I returned to my bed, I could not sleep. I began to tremble. I felt fear like I have never felt it before. You complimented me for saving my father. Yes, I did that. I did it through instinct, not through any considered courage. You understand? The fear came later, and with it a terrible doubt. I came close to death. If I was faced with the same situation again, would I react differently? Would the fear unman me? Would I run? Would I cower and cry like a babe?” He fell silent.
“So, with the tree you were facing your fears?” prompted Mulgrave.
“Aye, even so.” Gaise smiled.
“He either fears his fate too much,
or his desires are small, that dares not
put it to the touch, to gain or lose it all.”
“Fine words, sir, but I’d sooner have seen the poet make that jump than yourself. In my experience poets are like politicians. They talk like lions and live like weasels.”
“Let us hope they are not all like that,” said Gaise, “for I wrote the words myself last night.”
Mulgrave saw the young man laughing at him. “Ah, give me a moment, sir, while I prize my boot from my mouth.”
“Do you still think me foolish for making the jump?”
“I have to say that I do, sir, though I better understand the reasons for it. You doubted yourself, but you did not have the confidence—or the patience—to wait for a better moment to test yourself. It was reckless and unnecessary. Had you asked me, I would have told you that you have all the courage a young man could desire. And I would have set you tasks to prove it to you. You have a fine future ahead of you, sir. Yet, but for a stroke of fortune, I could have been kneeling beside your crippled body, your legs and arms useless, your life ruined. Within a day the Moidart would have had me hanged for failing in my duty. You think the risk was worth it?”
Gaise laughed. “One can only measure deeds by results. I made the jump, and I feel free of fear, and strong, and young and happy. Therefore, the risk was worth it. Now let us debate it no more. You will not lecture me, and I will jump no more fallen trees. Agreed?”
“Agreed, sir,” answered Mulgrave. But he remained troubled. He knew then that Gaise Macon was cursed with a reckless spirit, and such a vice could prove deadly. Given time, he thought, I can cure him of it.
The two riders moved on. “I wish I had killed the poor wretch,” Gaise said suddenly.
Mulgrave remained silent. The screams from the captured assassin had been terrible and had lasted for hours. There was no escaping them. At last there had been silence, and the
Moidart had walked back from the cells, his clothing drenched in blood. Then he had written out a list, and soldiers had ridden into Eldacre to arrest those named on it.
The assassins had killed three of the four guards. The fourth was missing, but a warrant for his arrest had been issued.
“He should not have been tortured,” said Gaise. “Hanged, yes, tortured, no.”
“The Moidart needed to know if others were involved in the plot,” said Mulgrave.
“You heard him, Mulgrave. By the end he would have named Saint Persis Albitaine as a coconspirator.”
“The saint was arrested once, I understand,” said Mulgrave, “and taken to Stone for execution. I think it was the time that Bane fought for the Veiled Lady.”
“Not Bane,” said Gaise. “It was a gladiator named Rage. And you are changing the subject.”
“It is probably best we do not discuss the Moidart’s methods, though I will say that I agree with you. I wish the man had died before he did.”
The gray stone schoolhouse could be seen now and the cobbled streets leading into the village of Old Hills. As they approached the town, Mulgrave saw a crowd gathering. A fight was just starting.
A black-haired youth was being set upon by two—no, three—larger men.
Taybard Jaekel had always disliked Kaelin Ring. If asked why, he could have come up with a number of reasons, though none of them were entirely convincing, even to himself. The powerful young Varlish would have said that Ring was “too cocky for his own good” or that the clansman looked “down on him.” Taybard knew that those statements did not convey anything like the real reason, yet even he could not say exactly why the mere sight of Kaelin Ring would set his blood boiling. The easy, graceful way he moved
infuriated Taybard. The fact that the local girls—even Varlish girls—smiled at him and hung on his every word was like salt on an open wound to Taybard Jaekel. Now Chara Ward, the girl of Taybard’s dreams—who had never even given Taybard a second glance—had set her cap for Kaelin Ring. Everyone knew it. Taybard Jaekel would have walked through fire to see Chara look at him the way she stared at the clan youth. And so his dislike had distilled into a cold hatred.
Taybard and his friends had been earning coppers in the market, fetching and carrying for the shoppers, when news had come in of the assassination attempt on the Moidart. All business had stopped momentarily as people paused to discuss the dreadful incident. Most of the residents of Old Hills were Varlish, and many could remember the last clan uprising fourteen years before. Those had been bloody times, days of rape, pillage, and murder, ending only when the Beetlebacks had crushed the last of the Rigante. An attack on the Moidart might be the herald of a new uprising.
Kaelin Ring had come walking along Market Lane, a canvas bag hanging from his shoulder. He had not seen Taybard and his friends, nor did he seem to notice the gathering crowd. It looked to Taybard as if Ring felt that the worries of the townsfolk were somehow beneath him.
Kammel Bard, one of Taybard’s companions, an overweight redheaded youth, saw him staring at Kaelin Ring. “He can’t be bothered with the likes of us, Tay,” he said.
“He will today,” snapped Taybard. He ran across the lane, catching up to Kaelin Ring just as he reached the gates of the school. “Heard the news, Ring?” shouted Taybard.
Kaelin Ring stopped and turned. “I’ve heard. What do you want, Jaekel?”
“Stinking clansmen attacked our Moidart.”
Ring said nothing and swung away to continue his walk. “Don’t you turn your back on me, you bastard!” shouted Taybard, rushing forward. Kaelin Ring sidestepped as Taybard grabbed at him. Taybard felt himself falling and landed hard on the cobbles, bruising his knees. Kammel Bard and Luss
Campion came running over. “He’s attacked Tay!” shouted Kammel.
Taybard pushed himself to his feet. The crowd moved out, forming a half circle around the two young men. Kaelin Ring still had his canvas bag on his shoulder. Taybard advanced more warily. At least a head taller than Kaelin Ring and twenty pounds heavier, he was known for his street-fighting skills. His heart pounded, and a savage exultation filled him. He would make Ring beg for mercy. Taybard darted forward. Kaelin Ring ducked, moved to his left, and hooked his foot over Taybard’s instep. Taybard stumbled and fell once more. A sharp stone slashed his leggings and cut a shallow wound into his leg. Taybard cried out more in anger than in pain. He looked up. Kaelin Ring was still holding his bag. Twice now Taybard had hit the ground. He scrambled to his feet, aware of laughter in the crowd. It stung him worse than a whiplash. He advanced on Kaelin Ring. The black-haired clansman laid his sack on the floor. Taybard moved in and let fly with a straight left. Kaelin swayed aside from it and delivered a right uppercut to Taybard’s belly. Air whooshed from his lungs, and he sagged forward into a powerful head butt that smashed his nose. Taybard fell back, blood streaming. Fat Kammel ran at Ring and grabbed him. Kaelin Ring slammed an elbow into Kammel’s face. As he did so, Luss Campion ran in and thundered a punch to Ring’s cheek. The skin split, and blood sprayed out. Kaelin Ring lashed out with his foot, kicking Luss Campion’s feet from under him, then hit Kammel twice more with his elbow. Kammel let go and threw a clumsy punch. Ring blocked it and hit the fat youth in the jaw with a straight left followed by a right cross. Luss Campion had regained his feet and ran in behind Ring, grabbing him in a bear hug and pinning his arms. The clansman leaned forward, then threw his head back. His skull struck Campion full in the face.
Taybard watched Luss fall back. Blind rage and pain from his smashed nose overcame his reason, and he drew a small knife from a sheath at his belt. Kammel had grabbed Ring
again, and Luss ran in, hurling blow after blow at the clansman. Taybard moved in, ready to grab Ring’s hair, pull back his head, and rip open his throat.
Just as he reached the struggling trio, a shadow moved across him. He glanced to his left. A golden horse surged forward, its shoulder slamming into Taybard, knocking him once more to the cobbles. Two officers of the watch, one of them the famed Sergeant Bindoe, moved through the crowd and pinned the arms of Kaelin Ring. Luss Campion smashed two blows to the clansman’s face while he was being held. The officers holding him did nothing to prevent the attack.