Valdemar 05 - [Vows & Honor 02] - Oathbreakers (10 page)

BOOK: Valdemar 05 - [Vows & Honor 02] - Oathbreakers
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Two of the Hawks not too flagged to stand watch were acting sentry on Idra's tent. Tarma nodded to both of them, and pushed her way in past the flap, Kethry at her heels.
Idra inclined her head in their direction and indicated a pile of blankets with a wave of her hand. Sewen already occupied her cot, and Geoffrey, Ta mas and Lethra, his serjeants, the equipment chest, the stool, and another pile of blankets respectively. The fourth serjeant, Bevis, was currently sleeping off one of Kethry's spells.
“Where's your
the Captain asked, as they lowered themselves down onto the pile.
“Sentry-go. He's about the only one of us fit for it, so he volunteered.”
“Bless him. I got him a young pig—I figured he'd earned it, and I figured he'd like to get the taste of man out of his mouth.”
Tarma grinned. “Sounds like he's been bitching at
Captain, for a pig, he'd stand sentry all bloody night!”
“Have him see the cook when he's hungry.” Idra took the remaining stool, lowering herself to it with a grimace of pain. Her horse had been shot out from under her, and she'd taken a fall that left her bruised from breast to ankle.
“Well.” She surveyed them all, her most trusted assistants, wearing a troubled look. “I‘ve—well, I've had some unsettling news. It's nothing to do with the campaign—” She cut short the obvious question hurriedly. “—no, in fact Geoffrey is sitting on our mustering-out pay. Leamount's been damned generous, above what he contracted for. No, this is personal. I'm going to have to part company with you for a while.”
Tarma felt her jaw go slack; the others stared at their Captain with varying expressions of stunned amazement.
Sewen was the first to recover. “Idra—what'n th' hell is
supposed t‘mean? Part company? Why?”
Idra sighed, and rubbed her neck with one sun-browned hand. “It's duty, of a sort. You all know where I'm from—well, my father just died, gods take his soul. He and I never did agree on much, but he had the grace to let me go my own way when it was obvious he'd never keep me hobbled at home except by force. Mother's been dead, oh, twenty-odd years. That means I've got two brothers in line for the throne, since I renounced any claim I had.”
“Two?” Kethry was looking a bit more alert now, Tarma noticed. “I thought the law in Rethwellan was primogeniture.”
“Sort of, sort of. That's where the problem is. Father favored my younger brother. So do the priests and about half the nobles. The merchants and the rest of the nobles favor following the law. My older brother—well, he may have the law behind him, but he was a wencher and a ne‘er-do-well when I left, and I haven't heard he's improved. That sums up the problem. The Noble Houses are split right down the middle and there's only one way to break the deadlock.”
“You?” Geoffrey asked.
She grimaced. “Aye. It's a duty I can't renounce—and damned if I like it. I thought I'd left politics behind the day I formed the Sunhawks. I'd have avoided it if I could, but the ministers' envoys went straight to Leamount; now there's no getting out of it. And in all honesty, there's a kind of duty to your people that goes with being born into a royal house; I pretty much owe it to them to see that they get the best leader, if I can. So I'm going back to look the both of my brothers over and cast my vote; I'll be leaving within the hour.”
“But—!” The panic on Sewen's face was almost funny.
“Sewen, you're in charge,” she continued implacably. “I expect this won't take long; I'll meet you all in winter quarters. As I said, we've been paid; we only need to wait until our wounded are mobile before you head back there. Any questions?”
The weary resignation on her face told them all that she wasn't looking forward to this—and that she wouldn't welcome protests. What Idra wanted from her commanders was the assurance that they would take care of things for her in her absence as they had always done in her presence; with efficiency and dispatch.
It was the least they could give her.
They stood nearly as one, and gave her drillfield- perfect salutes.
“No questions, Captain,” Sewen said for all of them. “We'll await you at Hawksnest, as ordered.”
ethry was in trouble.
A glittering ball of blinding white hurtled straight for her eyes. Kethry ducked behind the ice-covered wall of the fortifications, then launched a missile of her own at the enemy, who was even now charging her fortress.
The leading warrior took her return volley squarely on the chest, and went down with a blood-freezing shriek of anguish.
“Tarma!” squealed the second of the enemy warriors, skidding to a stop in the snow beside the fallen Shin‘a'in.
“No—onward, my brave ones!” Tarma declaimed. “I am done for—but you must regain our ancient homeland! You must fight on, and you must avenge me!” Then she writhed into a sitting position, clutched her snow-spattered tunic, pointed at the wall with an outflung arm, and pitched backward into the drift she'd used to break her fall.
The remaining fighters—all four of them—gathered their courage along with their snowballs and resumed their charge.
Kethry and her two fellow defenders drove them ruthlessly back with a steady, carefully coordinated barrage. “Stand fast, my friends,” Kethry encouraged her forces, as the enemy gathered just outside their range for another charge. “Never shall we let the sacred palace of—of—Whatever-it-is fall into the hands of these barbarians!”
“Sacred, my horse's behind!” taunted Tarma, reclining at her ease in the snowbank, head propped up on one arm. “You soft city types have mush for brains; wouldn't know sacred if it walked up and bonked you with a blessing! That's
sacred ground you're cluttering up with your filthy city! My nomads are clear of eye and mind from all the healthy riding they do.
know sacred when they see it!”
“You're dead!” Kethry returned, laughing. “You can't talk if you're dead!”
“Oh, I wouldn't bet on that,” Tarma replied, grinning widely.
“Well, it's not fair—” Kethry began, when one of Tarma's “nomads” launched into a speech of her own.
It was very impassioned, full of references to “our fallen leader, now with the stars,” and “our duty to free our ancient homeland,” and it was just a little confused, but it was a rather good speech for a twelve year old. It certainly got her fellow fighters' blood going. This time there was no stopping them; they stormed right over the walls of the snowfort and captured the flag, despite the best efforts of Kethry and her band of defenders. Kethry made a last stand on the heights next to the flag but to no avail; she was hit with three snowballs at once, and went down even more dramatically than Tarma.
The barbarians howled for joy, piled their other victims on top of Kethry, and did a victory dance around the bodies. When Tarma resurrected herself and came to join them, Kethry rose to
feet, protesting at the top of her lungs.
“No, you don‘t—dead is dead, woman!” Kethry had come up with one of her unthrown missiles in her hands; now she launched it from point-blank range and got the surprised Tarma right in the face with it.
The never-broken rule decreed loose snowballs only. Tarma enforced that rule with a hand of iron, and Kethry would never even have thought of violating it. This was a game, and injuries had no part in it. So Tarma was unhurt, but now wore a white mask covering her from forehead to chin.
Only for a moment. “AAARRRG!” she howled, scraping the snow off her face, and springing at Kethry, fingers mimicking claws. “My disguise! You've ruined my disguise!”

Kethry cried in mock fear, dodging. “It‘s—it's—”
“The great and terrible Snow Demon!” Tarma supplied, making a grab at the children, who screamed in excitement and fled. “I tricked you fools into fighting for me! Now I have
of you at my mercy, and the city as well!
It was only when a more implacable enemy—the children's mothers—came to fetch them away that the new game came to a halt.
“Thanks for minding them, Tarma,” said one of the mothers, a former Hawk herself. She was collecting two little girls who looked—and were—the same age. Varny and her shieldmate Sania had met in the Sunhawks, and when an unlucky swordstroke had taken out Varny's left eye, they'd decided that since Varny was mustering-out anyway because of the injury, they might as well have the family they both wanted. Though how they'd managed to get pregnant almost simultaneously was a bit of a wonder. Somewhat to their disappointment, neither child was interested in following the sword. Varny's wanted to be a scrivener, and Sania's a Healer—and the latter, at least, was already showing some evidence of that Gift.
“No problem,” Tarma replied, “You know I enjoy it. It's nice to be around children who don't take warfare seriously.”
In point of fact, none of these children was being trained for fighting; all had indicated to their parents that they wished more peaceful occupations. So their play-battles
play, and not more practice.
“Well, we still appreciate having an afternoon to ourselves, so I hope you don't ever get tired of them,” one of the other mothers replied with a broad smile.
“Not a chance,” Tarma told her. “I'll let you know next afternoon I've got free, and I'll kidnap them again.”
“Bless you!” With that, and similar expressions of gratitude, the women and their weary offspring vanished into the streets of the snow-covered town.
“Whew.” Tarma supported herself on the wall of the snowfort with both arms, and looked over at Kethry, panting. Her eyes were shining, and the grin she was still wearing reached and warmed them. “Gods, did
have that much energy at that age?”
“Damned if I remember. I'm just pleased I managed to keep up with them. Lady bless, I'd never have believed you could get this overheated in midwinter!”
“You had it easy. I was the one who had to keep leading the charges.”
why you let me take you out so easily!” Kethry teased. “Shame on you, being in that poor a shape! You know, I rather liked that Snow Demon touch—I was a little uneasy with Jininan's rhetoric.”
“Can't teach a child too early that there are folks that will use him. I just about had a foal when I found out there weren't any granny-stories up here on those lines. We Shin‘a'in must have at least a dozen about the youngling who takes things on face value and gets eaten for his stupidity. Come to think of it, the Snow Demon is one of them. He ate about half a Clan before he was through.”
story!” Kethry helped Tarma beat some of the snow out of her clothing, and the powdery stuff sparkled in the late-afternoon sunlight as it drifted down. “Was there such a creature, really? And was that what it did?”
“There was. And it did. It showed up in an unusually cold winter one year—oh, about four generations ago. A Kal‘enedral finally took it out—one of my teachers, to tell the truth. Mutual kill, very dramatic—also, he tells me,
painful. I'll croak you the song sometime. Tonight, if you like.”
Kethry raised an eyebrow in surprise.
meant Tarma was in an extraordinarily good mood. While time had brought a certain amount of healing to the ruined voice that had once been the pride of her Clan, Tarma's singing was still not something she paraded in public. Her voice was still harsh, and the tonalities were peculiar. She sometimes sounded to Kethry like someone who had been breathing smoke for forty-odd years. She was very sensitive about it and didn't offer to sing very often.
“What brought this on?” Kethry asked, as they crunched through the half-trampled snow, heading back to their double room in the Hawks' barracks. “You're seeming more than usually pleased with yourself.”
Tarma grinned. “Partly this afternoon.”
Kethry nodded, understanding. Tarma adored children—which often surprised the boots off their parents. More, she was very good with them. And children universally loved her and her never-ending patience with them. She would play with them, tell them stories, listen to their woes—if she hadn't been Kal‘enedral, she'd have made an excellent mother. As it was, she was the willing child tender for any woman in Hawksnest who had ties to the company.
When she had time. Which, between drill and teaching duties, wasn't nearly as often as she liked. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Kethry was rather looking forward to the nebulous day when she and Tarma would retire to start their schools. Because then, Tarma would have younglings of her
—by way of Kethry. More, she would have the children that would form the core of her resurrected Clan.
BOOK: Valdemar 05 - [Vows & Honor 02] - Oathbreakers
2.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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