Authors: Dan O'Sullivan
or your weird sense of humor and enduring patience.
Thanks to Raymond E Feist,
amazing books have taught me so much and
an incredible impact on these novels.
‘Keep the bastard conscious, Tarlin,’ Nandul said coldly. ‘You can shove that as far up him as you wish when I’ve finished with him.’
He’s still conscious.’ Tarlin gave the injured man a sharp jab with the iron rod before replacing the instrument in the fire. ‘That’s more than I can say for the other one.’ He gestured briefly to a body that lay sprawled on the dirt. The residual look of anguish on the man’s face showed that his death had been agonizing. His trousers were gone and his lower body was lying in a pool of blood, which had rushed from his mutilated groin. Even in death the man’s shocked face seemed to register the wretched misery of his former companion. A man stood facing away from the horrifying scene. He watched the camp fire with his head down and his eyes half closed, feigning indifference to hide his terror.
Tarlin withdrew the iron rod from the
coals and stood over his victim. ‘I don’t think we’re going to get anything more out of this one, Nandul,’ he said. Blood tricked from the man’s mouth. His eyes rolled upwards as the hot tip of the sharpened iron rod cut into his groin.
kicked the man hard, breaking ribs. ‘What more do you know? How many soldiers?’ The only reply he received was a strangled curse. The man’s tied hands prevented his attempt to roll away. His face was a mass of lacerations, his body covered in burns and deep bloody wounds. Tarlin lifted his weapon and pushed the sharpened point against the man’s throat. Through the pain, the man glared at him defiantly. Tarlin carefully set the hot iron back in the fire and drew a knife from a sheath attached to his belt. Keeping a careful distance from the man’s feet, he drew the tip of the knife across an open wound. The man groaned piteously. Nandul crouched down, leaning towards the man’s ruined face.
I can draw this out,’ he said quietly. ‘Do they travel with guardians?’
With sudden ferocity the
man spat blood in Nandul’s face.
Kill me now! End it!’
wiped the bloody spittle from his face. His cold, black eyes glittered.
As you wish.’ He ground his booted foot down upon the soldier’s neck, crushing his windpipe with the weight of his tall, powerful body. He stood unmoving as the man flailed helplessly and grappled with the boot crushing his throat. Eventually his hands fell limply to the dust. Nandul turned to the third soldier whose face was unable to hide his horror at the outcome of his own treachery.
And you Moran,’ Nandul moved like a cat to stand beside him, ‘have you anything more to say to me?’
’s knees trembled. ‘She’s travelling from Cullen Ringo to Ringo’s Crossing, then from there down the River Ringo to Castle. She leaves tomorrow under the protection of Captain Cassic and his company of foot soldiers. You can take her at Three Ways. I’ve told you this. The others knew no more.’
Perhaps a little persuasion...’
I was under the impression that your people could hear our thoughts. So torture is pointless.’
Not entirely. The human mind gives up its secrets far more quickly with a little pain.’
backed away from Nandul, his hand straying towards the hilt of his sword. ‘You still need me to find her. I can find her.’ There was desperation in his voice. Nandul fixed his cruel expression upon Moran.
You’re no longer useful.’ He turned to Tarlin. ‘Stake him up on the road outside Three Ways. That should help to keep any others away.’ He smiled coldly. ‘So you’ll be useful again.’ Moran screamed hysterically as his legs were forced apart. Nandul picked up a huge wooden stake and drove it forcefully up through the sobbing man’s torso. Blood and feces rushed from his body. Nandul gave the stick a vicious thrust and blood streamed from Moran’s mouth. His heart stopped beating.
Despite the darkness
, Jaralina could see three men clearly. She knew who the leader was, though she had never been so close to him, and she wondered for a moment why he couldn’t hear her heart beating for sheer terror, or why he didn’t sense her fear. He’d changed direction quite suddenly and she found herself caught between the most dangerous people she’d ever tracked and an ice cold stream too deep to wade across. Barely daring to breathe, she lowered herself into the water until only her head remained above. Her feet sank and she felt the mud squelch between her bare toes. She was expecting the stream to be cold so high in the mountains but it took all of her strength not to gasp aloud with shock as the gelid water saturated her. For an instant she felt a bizarre desire to laugh. To get this close to Nandul of Tarl and survive, at least so far, was an extraordinary achievement. She had been following two Nyinakun warriors for three days with little rest and even less food, wondering all the while why they were moving through Alkira. All weariness and hunger disappeared the second she saw it was Nandul himself they were rushing to meet. Pushing aside the fact that her limbs were beginning to stiffen, she turned her attention to the two warriors who were listening carefully to their leader.
The taller of
the two sounded confused. Jaralina clenched her teeth to stop them chattering. She could hear the conversation clearly and had already heard enough to justify the time she had spent tracking them, now she desperately wanted them to finish their discussion before she froze to death, or worse still, was discovered. Nandul knelt and removed a cloak from his pack.
Please don’t make camp here,’ Jaralina silently pleaded, knowing she was doomed if they did. Nandul stood and handed the taller warrior a small pouch. The warrior opened it and took a pinch of what appeared to be dark sand, studied it for a moment whilst rubbing it between his fingers then pulled the strings sharply to close the pouch. Nandul slung his cloak across his shoulders and turned towards the stream. He hesitated. His eyes roamed along the banks and for a terrifying moment Jaralina was sure he could see her head amongst the fetid reeds. His gaze drifted over her hiding place and she frantically tried to control her panic, sure that her erratic emotions would draw him to her, then from the corner of her eye she saw a shadow emerging from the reeds. Terror and cold overcame her.
When she regained consciousness,
she was lying between the roots of a huge tree on the edge of a clearing. She gazed up through the leaves of the giant fig, whose branches formed a darker silhouette against the black sky. By the position of the moon she knew that not a lot of time had passed since she waded into the stream. She fought the urge to vomit. A hand on her chest prevented her from rising and another was held above her face, with one raised finger warning her to remain silent. With a slight nod she acknowledged the command, feeling too weak and ill to struggle. Warmth from her captor’s hand coursed through her body. He stood as a second person appeared from between the trees so quickly he seemed to materialize by their side. The two men were so alike it was obvious they were brothers. Both stood six foot and six inches tall with well-muscled shoulders and chests in proportion to their stature. Their eyes were intensely blue and their complexions were freckled as if they spent a lot of time in the sun. One of the men had light brown hair which he had tied at the base of his neck, whilst the man standing beside Jaralina had blond hair hanging untidily around his shoulders. They were dressed in dark trousers, leather boots, and loosely fitting shirts with the neck opening laced together with leather cord. They carried hunting knives and bows.
’ Jaralina’s rescuer questioned. ‘Where are they Araas?’
I led them away but they’ll be back. Timbul, we have to get her out of here.’ Araas turned to Jaralina. He watched her for a moment as she labored to rise to her feet, then she fell forward and vomited violently. Timbul passed her a leather water bag. She washed her mouth several times and crawled away from the vomit. Timbul followed her and knelt beside her. Once again he placed his hand on her chest and let warmth flow through her body. She was trembling uncontrollably and he could hear her teeth chattering. He looked questioningly at Araas.
We haven’t exactly excelled ourselves,’ said Araas, his brow furrowing in concern. ‘We were sent after her to make sure she got safely back to Castle, and now she’s half frozen and vomiting.’ Jaralina groaned and looked confused, trying to wrap her arms around her trembling body. She raised her hand as if to push something away and shivered violently once again.
She’s struggling to stay conscious. And she’s terrified. Can you sense her thoughts?’ asked Timbul.
I can, though she usually does a fairly good job of hiding her mind. You?’
Always. Hold her upright.’ He removed her drenched tunic and leggings. ‘She was in the water for too long. I wonder why she had bare feet.’
Araas unfastened his cloak and
carefully wrapped it around Jaralina’s body. ‘Probably because she’s quieter in bare feet. But we’re not going back looking for her boots. I doubt Nandul will waste any time getting back here with a bunch of his nastier warriors. I still can’t believe she went in the stream!’ He drew her long black hair together and twisted it to wring out the water.
I’ll take her.’ Timbul gathered her into his arms and began walking towards Castle, balancing her weight against his body to minimize the burden. Tears poured from Jaralina’s green eyes and coursed down her pale cheeks, and her body continued to tremble with cold and fatigue. Araas and Timbul exchanged glances.
We run?’ Timbul’s concern was mirrored in Araas’ face. Araas nodded and moved ahead of Timbul as they gained pace and settled into a steady lope.
The sun was rising as the
y came within sight of the city. The soft mist hanging over the valley gradually lifted, revealing the deep blue, late winter sky. In the light of the morning sun, the pale grey, stone curtain walls of the castle and the adjoining city walls glowed with rosy light and the sea sparkled brilliantly beyond. The city was waking and the usual noises of merchants preparing their days trade drifted through the air.
I can walk.’ Jaralina worked unsuccessfully to free her arms.
Timbul leaned forward and whispered,
‘Unfortunately you can’t walk naked into the city. Your clothing is still wet. Besides,’ his smile faded as he straightened, ‘the King knows there are traitors either within the garrison or the city guard. Too many people know you’re the King’s agent, and King Dannicus said he would prefer if the city guard wasn’t aware of your movements. The only group he’s sure hasn’t been infiltrated is the King’s Knights.’
‘That’s right,’ said Araas. ‘His personal guards are above reproach. But the fallen would be delighted to end your life prematurely, not to mention ours, and I wouldn’t put it past them to have a couple of spies in the garrison. You have so often wandered around Nyinaku and cunningly managed to avoid capture. If there are traitors within the Castle garrison… Let’s just enter the city inconspicuously and find the Prince.’
He wants you to get me past the city guards without them recognizing me?’ Jaralina’s voice rose in disbelief. ‘He can’t be serious!’
More,’ said Timbul. ‘He doesn’t want anyone to know you’re being followed and protected by guardians. We’ll pretend we’re farmers and you’re our sister.’ Jaralina sighed and stopped struggling.
‘You begin to recover.’ Araas could imagine nothing worse than presenting the human’s sovereign King Dannicus with the dead body of his trusted agent, especially as her safety had been placed in his hands.
I’ll live.’ Jaralina was gaining strength and she felt helpless and a little stupid to be wrapped like a baby and carried into the city. Araas could clearly sense her annoyance.
No-one can see who you are when you’re wrapped in that cloak, so you need not begin to argue. Tim can carry you a little further.’ Araas reached towards Timbul and flipped the corner of the cloak over Jaralina’s face as they approached the gates of the city. ‘Though I’m sure these city guards would be most…appreciative should you wish to remove the cloak and-’
Araas!’ Timbul was less than amused.
Araas regarded his brother thoughtfully. ‘I apologize, brother. I didn’t know.’
Timbul nodded slightly and sighed. Araas inclined his head towards Jaralina with a questioning look on his face.
Timbul stopped walking. Araas glanced at him curiously then waved his hand over Jaralina’s covered face. Her body relaxed.
She sleeps?’ asked Timbul.
Only for a moment.’
No, she doesn’t know.’
Are you going to tell her?’
looked longingly at Jaralina then fixed his eyes firmly on his brother. ‘No and neither will you tell her, Araas. She’s barely sixteen.’
She’s been working as the King’s agent for several years,’ Araas pointed out. ‘She turns seventeen next month.’
Which is not a lot more than sixteen, is it?’ Timbul replied. Jaralina stirred slightly, and Timbul moved towards the city gates, as though no time had passed. Araas followed his brother.
Passing the city guard proved more difficult than either Timbul or Araas had imagined. The guards were freshly on duty and proved diligent in their attitude.
‘What’s your purpose?’ The guard eyed Timbul with curiosity. ‘If you wish to carry a veiled person into the city we must know who it is and the reason for your visit.’
This is our sister. She’s tired from the journey from our farm.’ Araas glanced past the guard and wondered what would happen if they just kept walking. The guard stared at Araas’ clothing and at the wrapped bundle in Timbul’s arms.
You don’t look like farmers and you carry weapons. Show your sister’s face. We need to know that you’re not bringing dead into the city. Dead must be buried outside the city walls to keep plague from the people.’
Araas stared at the guard.
‘Of course she’s not dead! She’s simply very tired and could walk no further.’
didn’t move. ‘I’m sure she’s not too tired to prove herself to the guard of the city gates. Wake her.’
Timbul turned towards Araas and nodded slightly. Araas leaned forward as though to whisper in the gua
rd’s ear then he lifted his hand and waved it briefly in front of the man’s face. The guard dropped like a stone. Araas caught him and leaned his body against the wall.
Let’s move!’ he said, walking quickly through the gates. A shout from above prompted the brothers to sprint. As soon as they were inside the city, Araas turned towards the castle with Timbul dashing along behind him and Jaralina clinging to Timbul as tightly as possible. Two guards raced after them as they ran through the streets. They darted through the marketplace, sending chickens squawking in all directions and leaving an angry merchant to retrieve his baked pastries from the ground, muttering under his breath as he decided which items were still saleable with a little dusting off. Several wooden stalls were demolished as Araas crashed through with his brother close behind. There was a shriek of fury as a woman dove to retrieve her supplies of colorful cloth which were knocked into a pot of hot pork cooking over a small fire. Pieces of silk fell into the flames. The outraged merchant grabbed the ruined fabric with fire tongs and cast it aside. The burning fabric landed in a farmer’s stall and the dry straw immediately caught fire. The farmer opened the stall gate, setting the frightened animals loose and they rushed destructively through the marketplace, trampling goods indiscriminately. The brothers managed to break free of the ensuing pandemonium and ran east to the street onto which the castle backed. The guards were now out of sight, having had difficulty negotiating the demolished marketplace. Araas and Timbul darted into an open warehouse and Araas slammed the door, sliding the locking bar into place.
That went well,’ said Timbul sarcastically.
Oh yes! Totally inconspicuous!’
There are dozens of doors along this street for all the castle storehouses. If Aran isn’t here I imagine we have a little time to work out a really good excuse.’
Araas stared at Timbul in disbelief.
‘A good excuse? For incapacitating a guard – who they probably think is dead, for avoiding several more city guards, and for bringing a dead body into the city? Not to mention what
did to the marketplace.’
Put me down, Tim,’ the dead body pleaded. Timbul flipped the corner of Araas’ cloak from Jaralina’s face and winked at her.
Not yet. I’m enjoying this far too much. Let’s find Aran.’ Jaralina huffed grumpily knowing full well it was pointless to struggle. Aran was found loading a small hand drawn cart with food supplies for the castle. He dipped his head politely to Jaralina and smiled at the two brothers in greeting.