Valdemar 05 - [Vows & Honor 02] - Oathbreakers (2 page)

BOOK: Valdemar 05 - [Vows & Honor 02] - Oathbreakers
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The camp was dark out of necessity; even in a downpour sheltered fires would normally burn in the firepits in front of each tent, or a slow-burning torch would be staked out in the lee of every fourth, but that was impossible tonight. You simply couldn't keep a fire lit when the wind howled at you from directions that changed moment by moment, driving the rain before it; and torches under canvas were a danger even the most foolhardy would forgo. A few of the Sunhawks had lanterns or candles going in their tents; but the weather was foul enough that most preferred to go straight to sleep when not on duty. It was too plaguey cold and wet to be sociable. For heat, most stuck to the tiny charcoal braziers Idra had insisted they each pack at the beginning of this campaign. The Sunhawks had known their Captain too well to argue about (what had seemed at the time) a silly burden; now they were grateful for her foresight.
But with the rain coming down first in cascades, then in water
, Tarma couldn't see the faint glow of candles or lanterns shining through the canvas walls that would have told her where the tents were. So she slogged her way through the camp mostly by memory and was herself grateful to Idra for insisting on an
camp, laid out neatly, in proper rows, and not the hugger-mugger arrangement some of the other mere officers were allowing. At least she wasn't tripping over tent ropes or falling into firepits.
:I can smell Keth and magic,:
Warrl said into her mind.
:You should see the mage-light soon.:
“Thanks, Furball,” Tarma replied, a little more mollified; she knew he wouldn't
her over the howl of the wind, but he'd read the words in her mind. She kept straining her eyes through the tempest for a sight of the witchlight Keth had promised to leave at the front—to distinguish their tent from the two hundred odd just like it.
They were practically on top of it before she saw the light, a blue glow outlining the door flap and brightening the fastenings. She wrestled with the balky rawhide ties (the cold made her fingers stiff) and it took so long to get them unfastened that she was swearing enough to warm the whole camp before she had the tent flaps open. Having Warrl pressed up against her like a sodden, unhappy cat did not help.
The wind practically threw Tarma into the tent, and half the sleet that was knifing down on their camp tried to come in with her. Warrl remained plastered against her side, not at all helpful, smelling in the pungent, penetrating way only a wet wolf can smell—even if Warrl only resembled a wolf superficially. The
was not averse to reminding Tarma several times a day (as, in fact, he was doing now) that they
have been curled up in a cozy inn if they hadn't signed on with this mercenary company.
She turned her back to the occupant of the tent as soon as she got past the tent flaps; she needed all her attention to get them laced shut against the perverse pull of the wind. “Gods of damnation!” she spat through stiff lips, “Why did I
think this was a good idea?”
Kethry, only just now waking from a light doze, refrained from replying; she just waited until Tarma got the tent closed up again. Then she spoke three guttural words, activating the spell she'd set there before drowsing off—and a warm yellow glow raced around the tent walls, meeting and spreading upward until the canvas was bathed in mellow light and the temperature within suddenly rose to that of a balmy spring day. Tarma sighed and sagged a little.
“Let me take that,” Kethry said then, unwinding herself from the thick wool blankets of her bedroll, rising, and pulling the woolen coat, stiff with ice, from Tarma's angular shoulders. “Get out of those soaked clothes.”
The swordswoman shook water out of her short-cropped black hair, and only just prevented Warrl from trying the same maneuver.
“Don't you dare, you flea-bitten cur!
Gods above and below, you'll soak every damned thing in the tent!”
Warrl hung his head and looked sheepish, and waited for his mindmate to throw an old threadbare horse blanket over him. Tarma enveloped him in it, head to tail, held it in place while he shook himself, then used it to towel off his coarse gray-black fur.
“Glad to see you, Greeneyes,” Tarma continued, stripping herself down to the skin, occasionally wincing as she moved. She rummaged in her pack, finding new underclothing, and finally pulling on dry breeches, thick leggings and shirt of a dark brown lambswool. “I thought you'd still be with your crew—”
Kethry gave an involuntary shudder of sympathy at the sight of her partner's nearly-emaciated frame. Tarma was always thin, but as this campaign had stretched on and on, she'd become nothing but whipcord over bone. She hadn't an ounce of flesh to spare; no wonder she complained of being cold so much! And the scars lacing her golden skin only gave a faint indication of the places where she'd taken deeper damage—places that would ache de monically in foul weather. Kethry gave her spell another little mental nudge, sending the temperature of the tent a notch upward.
I should have been doing this on a regular basis,
she told herself guiltily.
Well—that's soon mended.
“—so there's not much more I can do.” The sweet-faced sorceress gathered strands of hair like sun-touched amber into both hands, twisting her curly mane into a knot at the back of her neck. The light from the shaded lantern which hung on the tent's crossbar, augmented by the light of the shielding spell, was strong enough that Tarma noted the dark circles under her cloudy green eyes. “Tresti is accomplishing more than I can at this point. You know my magic isn't really the Healing kind, and on top of that, right now we have more wounded men than women.”
“And Need'll do a man about as much good as a stick of wood.”
Kethry glanced at the plain shortsword slung on the tent's centerpole, and nodded. “To tell you the truth, lately she won't heal anybody but you or me of anything but
wounds, so she isn't really useful at all at this point. I wonder sometimes if maybe she's saving herself—Anyway, the last badly injured woman was your scout Mala this morning.”
“We got her to you in time? Gods be thanked!” Tarma felt the harpwire-taut muscles of her shoulders go lax with relief. Mala had intercepted an arrow when the scouts had been surprised by an enemy ambush; Tarma had felt personally responsible, since she'd sent Warrl off in the opposite direction only moments before. The scout had been barely conscious by the time they'd pounded up to the Sunhawk camp.
“Only just; an arrow in the gut is not something even for a Master-Healer to trifle with, and all we have is a Journeyman.”
“Teach me to steal eggs, why don't you? Tell me something I
know,” Tarma snapped, ice-blue eyes narrowed in irritation, harsh voice and craggy-featured scowl making her look more like a hawk than ever.
Oops. A little too near the bone, I think.
“Temper,” Kethry cautioned; it had taken years of partnership for them to be able to say the right thing at the right time to each other, but these days they seldom fouled the relationship. “Whatever happened, you can't undo it; you'd tell me that if the case were reversed. And Mala's all right, so there's no permanent harm done.”
“Gah—” Tarma shook her head again, then continued the shake right down to her bare feet, loosening all the muscles that had been tensed against cold and anger and frustration. “Sorry. My nerves have gone all to hell. Finish about Mala so I can tell the others.”
“Nothing much to tell; I had Need unsheathed and in her hands when they brought her inside the camp. The arrow's out, the wound's purified and stitched and half-healed, or better. She'll be back dodging arrows—with a little more success, I hope!—in about a week. After that all I could do that was at all useful was to set up a
around the infirmary tent—that's a shielding spell like the one I just put on ours. After that I was useless, so I came back here. It was bad enough out there I figured a
tent was worth the energy expense, and I waited for you to get in before putting it in place so I wouldn't have to cut it. Can't have the Scoutmaster coming down with a fever.” She smiled, and her wide green eyes sparkled with mischief. “Listen to you, though—two years ago, you wouldn't have touched a command position, and now you're fretting over your scouts exactly the way Idra fusses over the rest of us.”
Tarma chuckled, feeling the tense muscles all over her body relaxing. “You know the saying.”
“Only too well—‘That was then, this is now; the moment is never the same twice.' ”
“You're learning. Gods, having a mage as a partner is useful.”
Tarma threw herself onto her bedroll, rolling over onto her back and putting her hands behind her head. She stared at the canvas of the tent roof, bright with yellow mage-light, and basked in the heat.
“I pity the rest of the Hawks, with nobody to weatherproof their tents, and nothing but an itty bitty brazier to keep it warm. Unless they're twoing, in which case I wish them well.”
“Me too,” Kethry replied with a tired smile, sitting crosslegged on her own bedroll to fasten the knot of hair more securely, “though there's only a handful really twoing it. I rather suspect even the ones that aren't will bundle together for warmth, though, the way we used to when I wasn't capable of putting up
a jesto-vath.”
“You must be about Master-grade yourself by now, no?”
Tarma cracked her left eye open enough to see Kethry's face. The question obviously caught the mage by surprise.
“Beyond it?”
“Thought so.” Tarma closed her eyes again in satisfaction. “This job should do it, then. Through Idra we'll have contacts right up into the Royal ranks. If we can't wangle the property, students and wherewithal for our schools after this, we'll never get it.”
“We'd have had it before this if it hadn't been for that damned minstrel!” Now it was Kethry's turn to snap with irritation.
you remind me?” Tarma groaned, burying her face in the crook of her arm. “Leslac, Leslac, if it weren't for Bardic immunity I'd have killed you five times over!”
“You'd have had to stand in line,” Kethry countered with grim humor. “I'd have beat you to it. Bad enough that he sings songs about us,
that he gets the salient points all bass-ackwards, but—”
“To give us the reputation that we're shining warriors of the Light is
too damned much!”
They had discovered some four or five years ago that there was a particular Bard, one Leslac by name, who was making a specialty of creating ballads about their exploits. That would have been all to the good, for it was certainly spreading their name and reputation far and wide—except that he was
leaving the impression that the pair of them were less interested in money than in Just Causes.
Leslac had stressed and overstressed their habit of succoring women in distress and avenging those who were past distress. So now anyone who had an ax to grind came looking for them—most particularly, women. And usually they came with empty pockets, or damned little in the way of payment to offer, while the paying jobs they would
have taken had been trickling away to others—because those who might have offered those jobs couldn't believe they'd be interested in “mere money.”
And to add true insult to injury, a good half of the time Kethry's geas-blade Need would force them into
those worthless Just Causes. For Need's geas was, as written on her blade, “Woman's Need calls me/As Woman's Need made me./Her Need will I answer/As my maker bade me.” By now Kethry was so soul-bonded to the sword that it would have taken a god to free her from it. Most of the time it was worth it; the blade imparted absolute weapons expertise to Kethry, and would Heal anything short of a death wound on any woman holding it. And after the debacle with the demon-godling Thalhkarsh, Need
seemed to quiet down in her demands, unless
presented with a woman in dire trouble. But with all those Just Causes showing up, Need had been rapidly turning into something more than a bit expensive to be associated with, thanks to Leslac.
They'd been at their wits' ends, and finally had gone to another couple of mercenaries, old friends of theirs, Justin Twoblade and Ikan Dryvale, for advice. They hadn't really hoped the pair would have any notions, but they were the last resort.
And, somewhat to Tarma's surprise, they'd
It was the off-season for the Jewel Merchants' Guild, Justin and Ikan's employers; that meant no caravans. And
meant that the paired mercenary guards were cosily holed up in their privat quarters at the Broken Sword, with the winter months to while away. They certainly weren't stinting themselves; they had a pair of very decent rooms, the Broken Sword's excellent ale—and, as Tarma discovered when she tapped at their door, no lack of female companionship. But the current pair of bright-eyed lovelies was sent pouting away when straw-haired Ikan answered their knock and discovered just who it was that had chosen to descend upon himself and his partner.
One of the innkeeper's quick-footed offspring was summoned then, and sent off for food and ale—for neither Justin nor his shieldbrother would hear a word of serious talk until everyone was settled and comfortable at their hearth, meat and drink at their elbows. Justin and Ikan took their hospitality very seriously.
BOOK: Valdemar 05 - [Vows & Honor 02] - Oathbreakers
8.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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