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from The Curse of Steel by John Alleyn

Copyright © 2019 John Alleyn

Chapter 9

The skátoi began their attack in the deep night. Sky Father’s star and the moon shone brightly down from their stations in opposite quarters of the sky, as if their gods leaned close to watch the battle. There had been hours of shouted taunts and blowing of horns, to keep the Red Deer folk awake and fearful. Now archers moved up, firing to clear defenders from the walls, sending fire-arrows on a high arc to come down inside the village.

The raika had a ditch and a log palisade, taller than a man on its outward face, but with an earthen firing-step built into its inner side. Archers among the Tremára could step up to shoot, then duck back down behind the palisade for protection. They soon had all the work they wanted. It was hard to see, even in the bright moonlight, but there were so many targets.

Kráva and Drúthan stood side by side on the wall, near the village’s gate, having a small contest to see how many skátoi they could hit.

“Three,” said Drúthan, as he crouched down behind the palisade once more.

“That one doesn’t count,” said Kráva. “It tripped.”

“If it doesn’t get back up again, it counts.” The big man glanced into the village grounds, checking for signs of fire. He saw only the non-combatants, moving here and there with buckets of water from a well, dousing any fire-arrows that fell in thatch. “We seem to be holding.”

“Don’t tempt fate.” Kráva rose, turned, and fired, all in one smooth motion. “Four! They’re just testing us. They have something else to try, and we’ll see what that is soon enough.”

“Did your ravens tell you that?”

“They saw something out among the skátoi, before the sun went down. They couldn’t explain what it was, or maybe I just don’t understand them well enough yet.”

“Maybe the skátoi are just waiting for us to run out of arrows,” Drúthan muttered.

Kráva ducked down, as another flight of skátoi arrows came whistling past. A warrior three places down on the palisade wasn’t so lucky, or his timing was not so good. He screamed and fell backward as a black-feathered arrow took him in the throat.

“Or out of archers,” Kráva agreed.

He gave a grim chuckle, and then sobered. “Kráva, I want to thank you.”

“For what?”

“For letting me come with you.”

“There’s nothing to thank me for. You’re a good friend.” She peeked over the palisade, rose and shot once more, then crouched down again to watch Drúthan’s face. “Although I think your father had his own reasons for sending you.”

“Yes.” He frowned, looking away from her for a moment. “Not that I haven’t thought about it, but that’s not why I agreed to come.”

“I know. Drúthan, I’ve known you for most of our lives, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen you do something for selfish or mercenary reasons. You don’t have it in you.”

“You might be surprised,” he muttered. Then he looked up at her, giving her a searching stare, as if he had made up his mind about something. “I’m sorry, I’m no good at this. It doesn’t matter to me, who you are to the tribe, or what you might inherit from your father. When you and your father came to the taimar, a few days ago? Even before that sword came to you, or we learned you had any god’s favor? The moment I saw you again, I suddenly had a sense that you were important. That you had weighty deeds ahead of you. That there would be a place for me at your side, if I swore to help you. A better place than a clan chieftain’s third son could usually expect.”

She cocked an amused eyebrow at him. “So, what you’re saying is, you’re not in love with me, you’re in love with my fate?”

Drúthan shook his head in annoyance. “I never said I wasn’t in love with you.”

“Now I’m sorry. I shouldn’t tease you about it.” Kráva reached ...






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