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from The Curse of Steel by John Alleyn

Copyright © 2019–2021 John Alleyn

Chapter 11

They set out for Verkanta later in the morning, three hundred of them or more, keeping to a leisurely pace that footmen could follow. A small range of hills stretched westward from Red Deer village, marking part of the boundary with the Mírsari tribe. The company skirted these hills at first, moving through green woodlands and golden meadows, crossing small streams that ran southward across their path, passing the occasional farmstead or village. For all that the land had been under skátoi raid the day before, today it seemed peaceful under summer sun and cloudless blue skies.

The king led, looking brave and confident in his chariot, his tail of noble warriors and their servants following behind. Then came Dúvelka and the Wolf-clan, and finally Kesdan and his small band of Red Deer folk. Lóka disappeared soon after the departure, but later Kráva saw him riding near Kúndan, then near a pair of vaitai that were in the king’s entourage.

Kráva was in her father’s familiar chariot once more, since the Wolves had brought it with them from Taimar Velkari. She drove just behind Dúvelka, and Drúthan rode alongside like a herald, with the Raven banner in his hand. Her ravens took turns riding on the rim of the car, the other one always flying sentinel above.

For the first time in days, Kráva felt that she could take a deep breath. The weather was fine, the land was fair, she was surrounded by friends and tribesmen, she was young and had her own hero-tale in front of her. She wished her father could have been there to see, wished she could talk to him about all that had happened.

The company paused in a wide meadow in the early afternoon, to give horses and men a chance to eat and rest. Kráva took the opportunity to step down from her chariot, seeing to her horses before she let a Wolf-clan warrior lead them away to graze. She glanced around for Drúthan, thinking to join him for a mid-day meal, but then she saw Lóka hurrying in her direction.

“Kráva!” he called. “The king wishes to see you right away.”

She paused, wondering whether she had any wish to see the king, but then she shook her head and fell in beside the vaita. “What does he want from me?”

“The Angvírai prisoner has decided to speak. The king is questioning him, and wants you there.”

The two of them hurried through the chaos of the king’s troop. The king’s men made way for Kráva, most of them with expressions of surprise and awe, a few with hostile glances. One specific man caught Kráva’s eye, a big warrior with long mustaches and a scar across his forehead, who glared fiercely at her before turning away. Then she reached the center of the crowd, where Múrvira sat on a large stone, his foremost warriors and vaitai all around him, the prisoner held bound before him.

Kráva took a close look at the Angvíra. He was a tall man, not heavily built but athletic, like a runner or a woodsman. His coloring was typical for the Tremára, rich brown skin, dark hair and beard. His eyes were strange, a golden color like those of a cat. His clothes were tattered, he was bruised all over, but he still stood tall and defiant, contemptuous of all around him.

“Ah, Kráva,” the king greeted her. “Allow me to make introductions. This is Rexava, the man the Moon-folk captured yesterday. Rexava is a Man of Iron, and no ordinary tribesman at that, although he has yet to say just how high he stands in Pelkóra King’s favor.”

“High enough that you would do well to release me,” said the prisoner. “The Angvírai will not let this dishonor go unanswered!”

“You were captured in the company of skátoi,” said Múrvira. “Beasts that are the common foes of all humankind. Beasts that had just raided Ravatheni lands, burning and slaying. I will hear nothing from you o...

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