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from The Curse of Steel by John Alleyn

Copyright © 2019–2021 John Alleyn

Chapter 22

Kráva floated toward consciousness out of a deep sleep, somehow certain that someone had called her name. She woke, still wrapped in the darkness of her tiny sleeping chamber, feeling a sense of urgency that only grew stronger, despite the near-silence of the hall. She rose to her feet, reaching for her cloak and Tarankláva, wondering what had awakened her. Then she heard the commotion in the hall outside her door.

She stepped out of her room to lean over the railing, peering out into the hall in the dim light of the banked guest-fires. Almost all the warriors lay sleeping on their pallets, scattered across the floor of the hall. By the outer doors, the two on watch were having an intense whispered conversation with a man in a hooded cloak. She did not see Resavíra, or either of his sons, so she quickly climbed down the ladder and strode across the hall to see what was happening.

As she drew near, the stranger turned, and she could see his face under his hood. It was Galadan, looking extremely apprehensive. “Thank the gods,” he breathed. “My lady, you must listen to me.”

Kráva nodded to the two warriors on watch, who drew back a little and let her take the lead. “What brings you here in the middle of the night, Galadan?”

“It’s the king, lady Kráva.” Galadan shook his head in dismay. “He’s issued orders for the arrest of everyone here, and for some of the Wolf-clan as well. His men are mustering up at Mednákalë even now.”

What?” Kráva’s voice rose above the silence, and several of the warriors nearby stirred and looked up in surprise.

“I don’t understand it,” said Galadan. “He has something new, some reason to believe that your clan conspired with some of the Wolves to bring the skátoi down on us, and throw the door open for the Men of Iron.”

“That is absurd.” Kráva thought for a moment, and then turned to the watchmen. “You, go bring my uncle and my cousins, right now. You, go around the hall and begin waking everyone. Don’t sound the alarm. We want this to be quiet, but fast.”

They saluted and hurried away. Soon enough, Resavíra appeared, looking rumpled but alert as he approached from the back of the hall. “What is happening?” he demanded.

Kráva explained quickly, noticing that Galadan was looking more and more uneasy as the moments passed.

Resavíra noticed too. One Kráva was finished, he turned to the king’s man. “Why did you come here? Don’t you don’t believe the king is right to suspect us?”

Galadan hesitated, not wanting to put his disquiet into words, but after a moment he shrugged and nodded in agreement. “All due respect to the king, but no, I think he’s making a bad mistake. The Wolf-clan were hurt the most when the skátoi came. As for Sun, the beasts killed Derga the Mighty, then lady Kráva went and fought them, drove them off. Now the king thinks you were behind it all? It just doesn’t tally.”

Resavíra frowned, but said nothing.

“Galadan, thank you for the warning,” said Kráva. “Now you had better leave us. If the king finds out that you were here . . .”

“Yes.” Galadan gave her a final anxious glance, and then turned to hurry out of the hall. Within moments, he had vanished into the night.

“Something troubles you,” Kráva observed to her uncle. “Surely these accusations won’t stand up before any assembly?”

“They might,” said Resavíra slowly. “If the king can show that our supposed conspiracy had something to gain.”

“What? What could we possibly have gained from my father’s death?”

“You,” he said simply. “That sword you bear. The power and prestige you have already begun to gather, as a god-claimed hero. The deaths at Taimar Velkari could be counted as a false move, a mistake. No plan ever survives the first clash of arms, after all.”

For a long moment she stood silent and motionless, stunned as if a hammer-blow had fallen between her eyes. All while everything that had happened to her seemed to crumble, shift, and finally reassemble into a new image.

“No,” she whispered at last. “No one will believe it.”

Resavíra snorted. “If Múrvira says it often enough, and loudly enough? If Vevára or some of the other vaitai lend their voices to him? If, in the meanwhile, those of us who are accused can be swept off the board and silenced? Oh, yes, Kráva. Before long, everyone will believe it.”

Kráva’s fists clenched. “I must go. Wolf-clan must be warned!”

“Absolutely not.” Resavíra stepped forward and gripped Kráva by the shoulders. “Think, woman! Múrvira’s men can be here in less than ten minutes, once they set out from Mednákalë. It would take you far longer than that to cross town and reach the Wolf-clan hall, rouse them, and return. The best thing you can do for your friends is stay out of the king’s grasp. If you are free, you can bargain for them! Or avenge them, if it comes to that!”

Kráva saw a trace of fear in her uncle’s face, and wondered just how wild she must look to him. Then, slowly, she relaxed, no longer resisting Resavíra’s grip. “You’re right, Uncle, of course. It’s just . . .”

“I know.” He released her, one hand still resting on her shoulder, but it was a comradely touch and not a restraint. “I’m fond of Drúthan too. Don’t be afraid. I’ll see the two of you married yet, and dwelling in peace in the hall that was your father’s.”

Just then Rótrena and Várdan approached, Resavíra’s two sons. Both were tall, lithe warriors like their father, already fully dressed and armed. Rótrena carried a heavy pack, full of his father’s most important possessions. Várdan handed his father a bundle of traveling clothes, and his sword and shield. Dánia came close behind them, carrying the rest of Kráva’s clothing and gear, especially her war-bow, her quiver of arrows, and her Raven-blazoned shield.

“The men are almost ready to move, Father,” Várdan reported, while Resavíra and Kráva quickly prepared themselves for travel. &ldqu...

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