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from The Curse of Steel by John Alleyn

Copyright © 2019 John Alleyn

Chapter 17

For a few days, a guarded peace held in Verkanta. Kráva made excuses to avoid the king's hall, not wanting to be the object of Múrvira's attention, but otherwise she was free of the town.

She spent more of her time at the Sun-clan hall than she had expected.

The Tremára system of leadership, organized by family, clan, and tribe, was quite informal. Accomplishment mattered more than birth. The son of a long line of clan chieftains would count for nothing, if no one respected his strength or wit and he had no battle-victories in his own name. On the other hand, a dirt-poor farmer’s daughter who proved fierce and clever on the field of battle might find herself elevated to the nobility, serving on the council of clan or tribe.

Kráva had inherited nothing but land and goods from her father; she would have to earn authority on her own. Normally, she would have been too young to do that . . . but as word of recent events spread, as people began repeating the poems Lóka had made about her, she found her prestige rising rapidly. A shield-woman who had won impossible victories, who had the gods’ blood in her veins, who had the favor of Sky Father and the king? Such a one would always have plenty of clout, daughter of a respected nobleman or not.

Members and dependents of the Sun-clan who lived near Verkanta would normally have traveled to Taimar Nár for clan business. Now their disputes, requests for assistance, payments of fees or tribute, all of that began to come to Kráva. On the second day after she arrived in the town, two petitioners came to her attention. On the third day, it was five. On the fourth day, it was eight.

She wasn’t taken completely off-guard by her new prominence. Her father had trained her in more skills than those of a shield-woman. She had often stood by his side, listening and learning, while he fulfilled his own obligations to the clan. Meanwhile, she found a young Sun-clan vaita named Mírsetha to help her keep records and advise her on matters of law. She still had to make the decisions, but at least she could do that with the benefit of trained advice.

Fortunately, clan business never came close to filling the day; she was usually free by early afternoon at the latest. Afterward she might wander about the town, shopping in the markets or taking a mug of beer in a tavern. She visited her friends among the Wolf-clan. She worked with sword, spear, and bow on the drill field. She went riding in the nearby countryside.

She was rarely alone. Kráva found herself at the center of a circle of warriors, men and women who saw her as the tribe’s rising star. Not all of them were from the Sun or Wolf clans, but they were all bright, lively, attractive people, often somewhat drunk on beer and youth. Lóka placed himself amid this circle, using his poetry to paint an image of heroic life for them. More than once, a raucous evening at one of Verkanta’s taverns ended with a room full of silent tears, as the vaita played and sang.

When his own duties permitted it, Drúthan went with Kráva everywhere, quiet and steady, keeping her grounded. Dánia was always there too, a friend and companion-in-arms, to share the business of each day and warm Kráva’s bed of nights. The two of them seemed to have become friends, of an odd sort. They divided Kráva between them, the woman enjoying one last brilliant love-affair before settling down into mature adulthood, the man waiting patiently for the times to change. Dánia subjected Drúthan to merciless and rather salacious teasing, but he only gave her a tolerant smile.

It was a sunlit time. Kráva could enjoy being young, a hero, praised by all, with no terrible burdens to bear. Naturally it couldn’t last.

---

Kráva and Dánia strolled down a street in the gloom of twilight, both of them rather the worse for drink, leaning slightly on each other to stay upright. While they walked along, Dánia sang one of Lóka’s poems, cheerful obscenities replacing some of the words. Then they turned a corner, and Kráva stopped dead in the middle of the street. Some distance ahead of them, she could see the Sun-clan’s hall. It was alive with light and activity.

“Dánia,” she growled, suddenly cold sober.

The other woman stopped, shaking her head in beery confusion. “What?”

“Better sober up, ravalo.” Kráva took Dánia by the shoulders to steady her. “My uncle is here.”

“Oh.” Dánia took a deep breath, and suddenly was much less unsteady on her feet. “Gods above, he has rotten timing. I had plans for you this evening.”

“That will have to wait. Come on, warrior, it’s time to report.”

The front yard of the hall compound was a busy place, lit with many torches against the fall of night, full of men putting away chariots and s...






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