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from The Curse of Steel by John Alleyn

Copyright © 2019–2021 John Alleyn

Chapter 13

The next day, Lóka seemed his usual self once more, waving away Kráva’s attempt to apologize once more. He spent most of the day riding in Kráva’s chariot, talking with her and with Drúthan.

The day itself was cloudy and cool, unusual for high summer in the heart of Tremára lands. A light rain began just before noon, but Múrvira held everyone to their course, not wanting to camp in the open country. He led the company onto a well-beaten track, which proved a little less muddy than the open fields. As if responding to his will, the line of showers moved on into the east after a few hours, and the sun came out at last.

Soon, the early evening sunlight fell upon Stántari Mórë, not far ahead of them.

It was a great ceremonial site, built ages before by a people long forgotten. An outer bank and ditch encircled the whole place, marked by a pair of great barrows where ancient hero-kings had been entombed. Inside the bank was a ring of free-standing dolerite stones. Closer to the center stood a ring of upright sandstone blocks, with more stones set atop them as a series of lintels. Inside that loomed a horseshoe of enormous sandstones, set up as five great trilithons. A wide avenue led from the northeast, through the outer bank and up to the standing stones, marked by another line of dolerites. Kráva knew that the entire site was built to align with the movements of the stars, the sun, and the moon, although she knew none of the details. Only a vaita who had spent a lifetime studying the heavens had a chance to truly understand the place.

In a land rich with dolmens, cromlechs, menhirs, and standing stones of every description, Stántari Mórë was exceptional. Vaitai and pilgrims came to visit, from across the Tremára territories and beyond. A large village named Trenoi stood about a mile from the site, and made most of its living by catering to the constant flow of pilgrims.

When the king arrived, the gathering-fields outside Trenoi were already busy. Hundreds of pilgrims had come to see the sun rise over the standing stones on the morning of the summer solstice, and even five days later many of those had not yet left for their homes. Now the camp sighted the king’s banners, and a large delegation came out to meet his company. Kráva saw as many as a dozen vaitai, all dressed in their white ceremonial clothes, carrying tall staves as they walked. Múrvira drove forward and then paused, to permit the delegation to come to him.

Oddly, for all the splendor of his white robes, the foremost vaita was probably the least impressive in his person. He was short for one of the Tremára, coming up only to Kráva’s shoulder. He breathed heavily as he walked, his belly substantial and his physical condition poor. His face was round and cheerful, bright with a habitually warm smile. The length of his iron-gray beard was balanced by the shiny baldness of his pate.

He was known to all the Ravatheni: his name was Vevára, and he had been the foremost vaita of the tribe for over twenty years, confidante of heroes and advisor to kings. Kráva had always thought him silly rather than imposing, especially with a name that meant little quick one or squirrel. Yet no one dared to discount the man’s knowledge and wisdom.

“Hail, Múrvira King!” he called, his voice a mellow tenor and surprisingly loud. “Have the Ravatheni found victory and glory in the lands of the east?”

Kráva felt her eyebrows rise in surprise. Vevára knew about the raid? He must have seen it in a vision. Which might explain at last how the king arrived so soon after the attack on Taimar Velkari.

“Hail, Vevára, master vaita,” the king answered, projecting his voice so that hundreds could hear him. “The tribe has defeated a large raid of the skátoi, slaughtering many and driving the rest back across the borders in headlong flight. Better yet, a new god-touched hero has arisen among us!”

The king gestured grandly toward Kráva. Startled, she froze for a moment, but then a whispered word from Lóka pushed her into motion. She urged her chariot forward, coming up alongside the king’s car. Drúthan followed on his black horse, the Raven banner in his hand.

“This is Kráva, daughter of Derga the Mighty and Tívetha the Blessed,” declaimed the king. “She has been revealed as one of Sky Father’s blood, mighty shield-woman, captain of warriors, wielder of the thunder! Let all the Ravatheni rejoice, for once more the children of the gods walk among us!”

Flattery, said the sword, in the back of Kráva’s mind. He means none of it. He seeks only to build you up for his own purpose.

Kráva thought she could have told Tarankláva that, without any need for mysterious insight. She let nothing that was in her thoughts show in her face, as ...

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