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from The Curse of Steel by John Alleyn

Copyright © 2019–2020 John Alleyn

Chapter 29

Kráva pulled up and dismounted from her chariot in front of the chieftain’s hall, surrounded by clansmen eager for news. Then someone came at her from the side, and she suddenly found herself wrapped in a fierce hug. Lips pressed hers for a moment, then Dánia stepped back with a breathless smile of welcome on her face. On all sides, the clansmen grinned with delight.

“I was sure we had lost you, in the battle at the gate,” said Dánia.

“Very nearly,” Kráva agreed.

“Make way! Gods below, make way!” Várdan arrived on horseback, his followers forming a flying wedge behind him. “Sound the mustering-horns, rouse the countryside. We’re invaded!”

All around them, men and women went from gladness to fear in a heartbeat. Warriors rushed off to sound the alarms, and to put the taimar’s defenses in order. The ordinary folk of the village went to take refuge in their huts and round-houses, clearing the streets of the fortress for the fighters.

“There’s smoke on the horizon, the way you came,” said Várdan to Kráva. “The village you evacuated in the night is burning now. If we were on the battlements, you could probably see the foe a few miles away.”

“How many fighters do we have here?”

“Fifty warriors, perhaps two hundred spearmen. I called up the clan yesterday, but only the closest holdings have been able to reach us in time. We might get a few more before the enemy arrives.”

“They outnumber us better than two to one, if Rána’s count is accurate.”

“It’s accurate,” said the sanatha woman, dismounting from her own horse and striding over to them. Her hood was down, and all could see the strangeness of her face and eyes. A pool of silence spread out, as the Sun-clan took notice of her.

“As you say, noble lady,” said Várdan. “We will have to stand siege, then.”

Kráva caught Rána’s eye, and they both shook their heads. “There won’t be a siege,” said Rána. “Most of that force is skátoi, and they don’t have the skill or the patience to take any settlement by siege. If they tried, they would be forced to start eating their animals before long. Or their allies.”

“Then I don’t see what we have to fear. Taimar Nár is one of the strongest fortresses in the Tremára lands.”

“That’s true,” said Kráva, “and the Angvírai know it. If they attack this place, they must have some reason to think they will succeed.”

Várdan grunted, as the point struck home. “Very well. I’m going to call an assembly. The clan needs to hear your news, Kráva, and then we have some decisions to make.”

---

The Sun-clan’s assembly met an hour later, in the open square of the taimar. Over two hundred noble warriors and spearman-retainers were present, and hundreds more of the common folk of the fortress. More arrived even while the assembly was under way, riding or marching up to the hill-fort’s front gate to take up places in the crowd.

There had already been an assembly the previous day, in which Várdan had reported everything that had come before the Sun-clan’s flight from Verkanta. Now Kráva stood before her clan, for the first time as an important figure in her own right, and recounted all that had happened since. She stood tall and unbowed, and projected her voice so every ear could hear her, not flinching from her own actions and what had followed them.

To her surprise, the Sun-clan seemed to approve of all she had done. They growled in anger when she told of how Múrvira had accused them of treachery, and treated the survivors of Resavíra’s company like criminals. There were shouts of approval when she spoke of how she had erupted into the king’s assembly and defended her friends and clansmen. Only when she told how she had insulted and challenged the king did the clan seem to pause, but it was but for a moment.

“Gods above, I would have been ashamed to do any differently!” shouted one warrior, a burly man whose bare chest was covered with elaborate tattoos. Kráva recognized Tekudan, a distant kinsman who held one of the iron-mines north of the fortress. “None of us here have been anything but loyal to the tribe, no matter what we thought of its present king. To accuse us, even after a defense had been made and the tribe’s voices had been heard in its favor? Folly!”

“What came of the challenge?” demanded another voice.

Kráva took a deep breath, and gestured with one hand to the scar on her face. “I stand before you. Marked, but alive. Múrvira King has fallen.”

Not everyone was pleased at this, but many of the warriors and spearmen shouted in exultant pride. “Kráva! The Raven!”

“Then who is king?” asked an older woman, once the shouting had died down.

“One of the High Grove clan, a man named Betráxa, has claimed the high seat,” said Kráva. “He has brought in the Men of Iron and the skátoi to enforce his claim, and they now hold Verkanta. Some of the order of vaitai stand with him, although others have remained loyal to the Trem...






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