Wizardborn

Book Three of 'The Runelords'

Runelords (Volume 3 of 8)

David Farland

Tor Books

Chapter 1
TONGUES OF LIGHTNING
 
Truth is stronger than many armies, and the wicked shall fall before it.
A proverb of the Ah’kellah
 
 
Night had fallen in earnest while the Brotherhood of the Wolf rode south, but when the warriors reached Carris there was light to see by. An inferno blazed in a stone tower, its roof and inner chambers incandescent, as if it were a giant torch. Watch fires licked the city walls.
Lightning split the night on the southern horizon, like the flickering tongue of a serpent that spoke words of thunder.
The riders let their horses race the last two miles, harnesses and armor jangling. Of the forty lords in the retinue, only three had brought lances. They rode point, lest they should come upon a reaver in the darkness.
Ash mingled with rain so that mud pummeled them from the sky with the weight of mercury. It oozed through Myrrima’s cloak.
As the riders crested the hill above the Barrens Wall, the men around Myrrima gasped in amazement. “See there!” one cried. He pointed to the yawning pit from which the world worm had risen. It looked like a small volcano—a cone two hundred yards across and three hundred high. Steam billowed from its crown.
Only fires lit the scene. Yet with the endowments of sight, smell, and hearing that Myrrima had recently taken, everything seemed preternaturally clear.
Myrrima had taken endowments only yesterday. She could still almost hear the yelps of pain from the pups as they gave their sight and hearing to her.
Myrrima’s heart pounded. She wondered if the worm might still be about, but saw no sign of a worm trail. It had retreated into the hole from which it had sprung.
It was hard to comprehend the devastation, to try to imagine the battle that had taken place here. Gaborn had driven his troops to Carris, heeding the Earth’s summons, believing that he would find the city besieged by Raj Ahten’s troops. Instead he’d found Raj Ahten surrounded by a ghastly horde of reavers, trapped.
He’d used his newfound powers as Earth King to summon a world worm—a beast of legend—from the Earth’s core to dislodge the reavers.
The aftermath of that battle would be sung for a thousand years, Myrrima felt sure. The carnage took her breath away.
To the south lay a field of dead reavers, enormous and black in the darkness, their wet carapaces gleaming in the wan light as if they were a plague of dead frogs. Men and women swarmed among them, torches in hand. The plains were terribly broken and uneven, pocked with thousands of burrows. Squads of troops armed with spears and battle-axes were searching every nook for live reavers. But not all of the people out there were warriors. Some were coming from the city to cart off the dead and wounded—mothers looking for sons, children hunting for parents.
A reaver suddenly lunged from a burrow three quarters of a mile away, and out on the plain screams arose with the blaring of warhorns. The reaver charged straight for a knot of footmen. Knights on chargers galloped to intercept the monster.
“By my father’s honor,” shouted one lord of Orwynne, “there’s still reavers about! This battle’s not won yet!”
The lords spurred their mounts down to what was left of the Barrens Wall. Beneath its arch, beside a bonfire, a dozen footmen huddled beneath muddy capes with hands wrapped around their longspears.
“Halt!” they called as the lords approached. A couple of guards struggled up. They wore mismatched armor, marking them as Knights Equitable.
Their bright eyes reflected the firelight. Jubilantly their leader shouted, “Most of the reavers are in a rout—fleeing south the way that they came. Skalbairn asks that any man who can bear a lance give chase with him! But there’s still a few of the damned things holed up in their burrows, if you’ve a mind to fight here.”
“Skalbairn is chasing the horde in the dark? In the rain?” Sir Hoswell shouted. “Is he mad?”
“The Earth King is with us, and no one can stand against us!” the guard shouted. “If you’ve ever had a fancy to slay a reaver and win some glory, tonight’s the night for it. Some simpleton from Silverdale killed a dozen on the city walls today with nothing more than a pickax. True men like you should do as well—or better.” His tone was challenging.
The guard raised a wineskin in salute. Myrrima saw that the man’s eyes gleamed from more than mere jubilation. He was half drunk, reveling in the victory. Obviously Skalbairn’s men didn’t know that Gaborn could no longer warn his Chosen warriors of danger.
Even though they’d been Chosen only a few hours ago, Myrrima could see how these men were already becoming complacent. Why should they keep a close guard so long as the Earth King would warn them of danger?
Obviously, Skalbairn’s men hadn’t heard the latest. Gaborn had used his abilities to dislodge the reavers from Carris, but in the aftermath of the battle, he’d sought to use his gift to kill Raj Ahten.
For misusing those protective powers, the Earth had withdrawn them—including the ability to warn Gaborn’s Chosen warriors of danger.
These men, blithely celebrating their victory, had no idea how much trouble they were in. The Earth had charged Gaborn to help “Save a seed of mankind through the dark times to come.” Full night was not yet upon them.
Myrrima glanced right and left at the lords of the Brotherhood of the Wolf—sober men with hard faces. They’d come to fight, but hadn’t bargained for such madness.
“I’ll warn Paldane’s men,” Sir Giles of Heredon offered.
“Wait,” Myrrima said. “Are you sure that’s wise? Who knows where the rumors might fly, how the tale might grow in its travels?“
“The Earth King warned us that he has lost his powers in order save our lives,” Baron Tewkes of Orwynne said. “He can’t hide the truth, and we can’t hide it for him.”
If she were to tell Gaborn’s secret, Myrrima feared she might betray a man who had never unjustly sought to harm another. Yet if she withheld the news, innocent men would die. To tell was the lesser evil.
Sir Giles took his leave of them and galloped toward Carris.
“The rest of us will need to warn Skalbairn,” Tewkes said. He dismounted for a moment, cinched his saddle for a fast ride. Others drew weapons, and more than one man brought out a stone to sharpen a lance or a warhammer.
Myrrima licked her lips. She wouldn’t be riding south with the others tonight. Gaborn had said that she would find her wounded husband a third of a mile north of the city, near the great mound. But reavers were still hiding out on the field. She tried not to worry.
“Do you want me to come with you, milady?” a voice asked, startling her. Sir Hoswell’s horse had sidled up to her, and he was bending near. “To find your husband? I told you that if you ever need me, I’ll be at your back.”
She could barely make out his face beneath his hood. Hoswell leaned close, as if expecting her to fall into his arms at the first sight of blood.
Hah! she thought. Maybe when the stars have all burned down to ashes!
He had tried to seduce her once. When she resisted his advances, he’d tried to force her. He’d apologized, but she still didn’t trust him, even though she had enough endowments now that she knew he would never try to force her again.
“No,” she said. “I’ll go alone. Why don’t you find some reavers to kill?”
“Very well,” Hoswell said. He drew his steel greatbow from its pack, began carefully to unwrap the oiled canvas that protected it from the rain.
“You’ll fight with that?” she asked.
Hoswell shrugged. “It’s what I use best. A shot to the sweet triangle…”
Myrrima spurred her own mount away from the other lords, rode under the arch toward the largest knot of dead reavers. Borenson would have fallen in the thick of battle. She imagined that he would be there.
In the distance, she could hear others searching the battlefield, calling for loved ones. They shouted different names, but all were the selfsame cry: “I am alive; are you?”
“Borenson? Borenson!” she called.
She had no way to know how severe his wounds might be. If he lay trapped beneath a fallen reaver, she’d make light of it. If he was disemboweled, she’d stuff his guts in and nurse him back to health. She tried to steel herself for whatever she would find.
She imagined what she would say when she found him, rehearsed a hundred variations of “I love you. I’m a warrior now, and I’m coming with you to Inkarra.”
He would object—perhaps on good grounds. She had only gained a little skill with a bow.
She would persuade him.
As Myrrima drew close to the fell mage’s final battleground, she smelled the remnants of the monster’s curses. Residual odors clung like a mist to the low ground.
Even two hours after the mage’s death, the curses’ effects were astonishing. “Be blind,” a curse still whispered, and her sight dimmed. “Be dry as dust” sweat oozed from her pores. “Rot, O thou child of man” her stomach knotted and every scratch felt as if it might pucker into a festering wound.
She rode in the shadows of reaver corpses that loomed on every side. She gazed in awe at crystalline teeth like scythes. She caught movement from the corner of her eye. Her heart leapt in her throat to see a reaver’s maw open.
She yanked her mount’s reins to turn it back, but realized that the reaver did not hiss or move.
It was dead. Its maw merely creaked open as the monster cooled. Its muscles were contracting like a clam’s as it dries in the sun.
Myrrima looked around. All of the reavers’ mouths were opening by slow degrees.
The air seemed heavy. No katydid buzzed in a thicket. No wind sighed through the leaves of any trees, for the reavers had uprooted every plant.
“Borenson!” she shouted. She scanned the ground, hoping the reflected firelight might reveal the form of her husband buried beneath a layer of soot.
A trio of gree whipped past her head, wings squeaking as if in torment.
Through the tangled legs of a dead reaver, she glimpsed a flickering light, and suddenly she had the wild hope that Borenson had lit the fire.
She spurred her mount. Around a bonfire had gathered a crowd of warriors from Indhopal. Myrrima felt unnerved by them, even though today they’d fought beside her people against the reavers.
These were no ordinary warriors. They were dark nomads who wore black robes over their armor, as some symbol of status. Their headgear bore steel plates that fell down over the ears to protect the shoulders.
Nine of Raj Ahten’s dead Invincibles lay before the fire. The nomads seemed to be preparing to consign the deceased to a funeral pyre.
Among the dead Invincibles lay a girl with dark hair, practically a child. She rested upon a riding robe of fine red cotton, embroidered with exquisite gold threads to form curlicues like the tendrils of vines. On her temple rode a thin silver crown that accentuated her dark skin.
She wore a sheer dress of lavender silk, and in her hand someone had placed a silver dagger.
Myrrima had come upon Saffira, Raj Ahten’s dead wife. Gaborn had sent Myrrima’s husband to fetch Saffira from Indhopal so that she might plead with him to cease his attacks on Gaborn’s people. Gaborn could have searched the world and found no one better to sue for peace. Rumor said that Saffira had taken hundreds of endowments of glamour and voice. She would have been more alluring than any woman alive, would have spoken more eloquently.
Obviously Borenson had found Saffira and brought her to the siege at Carris. Now she lay dead among a few Invincibles. Myrrima imagined that the Invincibles had been her royal escort, and suspected that her husband would be nearby.
The leader of the Indhopalese was immediately recognizable. Every eye in the crowd rested on him, and many nomad warriors knelt before him—some on one knee, some on two.
He sat atop a gray Imperial warhorse, glaring down at the dead, talking in an even, dangerous tone. His dark eyes glowed in the firelight as if he struggled to hold back tears of rage. On the right breast of his black robe he wore the emblem of Raj Ahten, the three-headed wolf in red. Above the wolves were golden owl’s wings, and above them flew three stars.
His insignia identified him as more than an Invincible or even a captain of Invincibles.
At his feet, several men in black burnooses knelt on hands and knees. One answered him in a frightened voice.
Myrrima seemed to have wandered into a confrontation. She didn’t want to have anything to do with it.
A tall Invincible came up from the shadows behind her, a man with a forked beard and ivory beads woven into his black hair. The firelight reflected from his dark eyes and golden nose ring.
He grinned at her, and Myrrima could not tell if it was meant as a seductive grin or a friendly greeting. He jutted his chin toward the Indhopalese leader. He whispered, “You see? He Wuqaz Faharaqin, warlord of the Ah’kellah.”
The news struck through Myrrima like a lance. Even in Heredon she had heard those names. Among Raj Ahten’s warriors, Wuqaz Faharaqin was one of the most powerful. And of all the desert tribes, the Ah’kellah were the most respected. They were judges and lawgivers of the desert, hired to settle disputes among tribes.
The fact that Wuqaz Faharaqin was angry did not bode well for the object of his wrath.
The Invincible reached up a hand clumsily, as if he seldom greeted in this manner. “I am Akem.”
“What has happened here?” Myrrima asked.
“His nephew, Pashtuk, murdered today,” Akem said. “Now he question witnesses.”
“Faharaqin’s nephew murdered someone?”
“No, Pashtuk Faharaqin was murdered.” He nodded toward an ugly dead Invincible who lay, as if in a place of honor, next to Saffira. “He was a captain among Invincibles, a man of great renown, like the others here.”
“Who killed him?” Myrrima asked.
“Raj Ahten.”
“Oh!” Myrrima breathed softly.
“Yes,” Akem said. “One of slain live long enough to bear witness. He say, ‘Raj Ahten call to Invincibles after battle, and try to murder Earth King’—a man who is his own cousin by marriage to Iome Vanisalaam Sylvarresta. To fight a cousin, this is a great evil. To kill one’s own men, this is also evil.” He did not say it, but Myrrima could hear in his tone that Raj Ahten would have to pay.
“These men”—Akem indicated the kneeling Invincibles—“found the dying witness.”
Wuqaz Faharaqin questioned the witnesses one by one. As he did, his eyes blazed brighter and brighter.
Derisive shouts arose from the crowd. One lord strode forward, pointing at the witnesses. Myrrima did not need Akem to translate. “This man say the witness no good. Need more than one witness. He say Raj Ahten would not seek to kill Earth King.”
Myrrima could hardly restrain her rage. “I saw it!”
Wuqaz Faharaqin growled at her outburst, asked a question in his native tongue. Akem looked up at Myrrima and translated, “Please, to tell name?”
“Myrrima,” she said. “Myrrima Borenson.”
Akem’s eyes widened. A hush fell over the crowd as men whispered her name to one another. “Yes,” Akem said, “I thought so—the northern woman with the bow. You slew the Darkling Glory. We have all heard! We are honored.”
Myrrima felt astonished. News traveled fast. “It was a lucky shot.”
“No,” Akem said. “There is not so great luck in all the world, I think. You must tell your story.”
Myrrima nudged her mount closer to the bonfire so that she could speak to Wuqaz face-to-face.
“I was thirty miles north of here when Raj Ahten caught up to Gaborn. There was murder in the Wolf Lord’s eyes, and he’d have killed Gaborn sure, if Binnesman’s wylde had not stopped him. I put an arrow in Raj Ahten’s knee myself, but Gaborn forbade me or anyone else to kill him.”
Akem translated. Wuqaz tried to listen impassively, but his eyes continued to blaze. He spoke and Akem translated. “Can you prove that you saw this?”
Myrrima reached into her quiver, drew out the arrow with which she’d shot Raj Ahten. His blood lay black upon its iron tip. “Here’s the arrow. Have your trackers smell it. They’ll know Raj Ahten’s scent.”
Akem carried the arrow to Wuqaz. The warlord sniffed it curiously. Myrrima saw that he, too, was a Wolf Lord. He growled low in his throat, spat a few words in his own tongue, and raised the arrow for all to see. Other lords rode close, sniffed at the shaft.
“The smell of Raj Ahten is indeed upon this arrow,” Akem translated. “His hand pulled the shaft free, and his blood stains its tip.”
“Tell Faharaqin that I want my arrow back,” Myrrima said. “Someday I intend to use it to finish the job.”
Akem relayed her message, retrieved Myrrima’s arrow. Wuqaz and his men had more questions about her encounter. They seemed baffled as to why Gaborn had spared Raj Ahten, a man who proved to be his enemy. Myrrima looked at the stern faces among the Ah’kellah, and remembered something she’d once heard: in some places in Indhopal, there is no word for “mercy.” She explained that Gaborn, as Earth King, could not slay one who was Chosen. The Ah’kellah listened intently. They asked what had happened after the fight, where Raj Ahten had gone. She pointed southwest toward Indhopal.
At that, Wuqaz drew his saber from the scabbard at his back, whipped its curved blade overhead, and began shouting. His warhorse grew excited, fought him for control as it danced forward. It reared and pawed the air. Myrrima had to fight her own mount as it backed away.
The Ah’kellah all began to shout, waving swords and warhammers overhead.
“What will happen?” Myrrima asked.
“Raj Ahten did great abomination to attack Earth King. Such deed cannot go unpunished. Wuqaz say, ‘Raj Ahten has sided with reavers against own cousin, against own tribe.’ He say, ‘Raise Atwaba!’”
“What is that?”
“In ancient time, when king do wrong, witnesses raise Atwaba, ‘Cry for Vengeance.’ If people get angry, they kill king—maybe.”
Wuqaz Faharaqin spoke encouragingly to his men.
“He warn, ‘Raise cry loud in markets,’” Akem translated. “Let not your voice tremble. Retreat not from kaif who challenges, or from guards that threaten. If all Indhopal does not rise against Wolf Lord, they must know why Ah’kellah do so.”
With that pronouncement, Wuqaz Faharaqin leapt from his charger and rushed to his nephew’s corpse. He raised his sword, stared down at the remains, and began shouting. “He ask spirit to be appeased,” Akem said, whispering in respect for the dead. “He ask it not to wander home or trouble family. Wuqaz Faharaqin promise justice.”
Wuqaz smote off the corpse’s head with the clunk of metal piercing bone. Men cheered as he lifted his nephew’s head in the air.
“Now he will carry head to tribe as testament.”
Wuqaz beckoned to the crowd. Tribesmen came forward, Invincibles of the Ah’kellah. They were strong men, austere. Wuqaz Faharaqin took his nephew’s head by the hair, held it high, and shouted. Akem said solemnly, “He say, ‘There must be no king but Earth King.’”
All around, the Ah’kellah repeated the words in chorus, chanting them over and over.
Myrrima’s heart pounded as the Ah’kellah decapitated the other murder victims, bagged the heads. They began to toss the bodies into the funeral pyre. She didn’t understand everything that was going on. She didn’t understand desert justice, desert politics.
Myrrima asked, “Will people really rise up against Raj Ahten?”
Akem shrugged. “Maybe. Raj Ahten has much endowments of glamour. Wuqaz Faharaqin—”
“I don’t understand. Raj Ahten has committed injustices against a hundred of your lords before this. Why should his people care if he commits one more?”
“Because,” Akem said forcefully, “now there is Earth King.”
Everything fell into place. This wasn’t about Raj Ahten. This was not just about a small injustice. It was about self-preservation: Raj Ahten had not been able to drive the reavers from Carris. But Gaborn had proven himself. So Wuqaz would seek to overthrow his lord.
She felt as if she had stepped into great events. Her testimony today, however small, would start a civil war.
Myrrima stayed for a moment longer, watched as the slender form of Saffira was consigned to the funeral pyre. She studied Saffira’s lovely face, tried to imagine the girl in life, with a thousand endowments of glamour. Imagination failed her.
She turned her horse to leave. Akem folded his hands before his face and bowed low, out of respect. “Peace be with you. May the Bright Ones protect you.”
“Thank you,” she said. “And may the Glories guide your hand.”
She rode into the thick of the reaver bodies, into the darkness.
She found Borenson’s horse, smashed like a melon. A search revealed only her husband’s helm, a few bodies. But in the ground she found a man’s handprints, and near them, knee prints. Big hands, like her husband’s.
He’s crawled off, she thought. He might be making for the city even now, or maybe he crawled away and fainted.
Myrrima climbed from her saddle, retrieved Borenson’s helm. She sniffed the ground for his scent, but the rain and stench from the reavers’ curses confounded her. She could not track him. She considered where she might find the best vantage point from which to look for her husband. The mound around the worm’s crater on Bone Hill seemed perfect.
She climbed to the lip of the crater. It was hard to imagine a living thing that could have bored such a hole.
Firelight reflecting from the clouds showed only a yawning pit. By inclining her ear, Myrrima could hear water churning somewhere in that void. The worm’s course had cut through a subterranean river, forming a waterfall. But it was far below. If she stepped away from the hole, the sound faded.
Myrrima walked among the scree, sinking into loose soil with every step.
The ground was wet and unsettled. Bits of dirt cascaded into the crater. Myrrima’s footing shifted as if the mound might suddenly slide beneath her, carrying her to her doom. Instinctively she eased back to safety.
The destruction of Carris was doubly apparent from atop the mound. But the view revealed nothing of her husband.
“Borenson!” cried Myrrima, as she scanned the plain. Wuqaz Faharaqin and his men left the bonfire, riding east toward Indhopal.
She glanced toward Carris. Her heart leapt. Guards had set watch fires against the return of any reavers. At the broken entrance of the city, she saw a warrior with red hair like her husband’s, leaning upon the shoulder of a red-haired girl. He limped toward the city. Between the falling rain and lingering smoke, she could not be sure if it was him.
“Borenson?” she shouted.
If it was him, he could not hear her, so far off. He hobbled into the shadows thrown by the barbicans.
* * *
Carris was a bedlam as Myrrima rode beneath the broken barbicans, searching for her husband.
A week ago Myrrima had celebrated Hostenfest at Castle Sylvarresta. There, for the first time in two thousand years, an Earth King had arisen. The people of Heredon had hosted by far the finest celebration she’d ever witnessed.
As she had strolled through the concourses outside Castle Sylvarresta, brightly colored pavilions had covered the fields like gems in a copper bracelet, greened with age. The entrance to each pavilion was decorated with wheat stalks braided in intricate patterns, and wooden icons of the Earth King all arrayed in finery.
The smell of sweetmeats and fresh breads wafted through the air. Music swelled from a hundred sites around the city.
It had seemed a feast for the senses.
At the turn of each corner she met some new wonder: a jester in parti-colored clothes, carrying a wooden fool’s head on a stick, came riding past her on a huge red sow. A young flameweaver out of Orwynne drew the flames of a fire until they rose up and burst into flowing shapes like golden lilies in bloom. A woman with five endowments of voice rendered an aria so beautiful that it left the heart aching for days afterward. She’d seen Runelords joust at rings ?.on chargers caparisoned in colors so bright that they hurt the eyes, and dancers from Deyazz wearing lionskins.
She’d tasted rare treats—eels kept alive in a pot and cooked fresh before her eyes; a dessert made of sweetened cream and rose petals cooled with ice; and confections stuffed with coconut and pistachios from Indhopat.
It had been a day to delight even the most downcast heart.
Now as she rode through Carris, her ride provided the dark antithesis of that day.
Instead of fair provender, her keen nose registered the stink of animals, spoiling vegetables, cloistered humanity, blood, urine, and war—all made more abominable by the lingering residue of the reavers’ curses.
Instead of seductive music, she was haunted by the entreaties and sobbing of the wounded, mingled with the cries of those who mourned the dead and those who called out for loved ones.
Instead of celebration, there was horror. Myrrima rounded one corner to find half a dozen children, the youngest a girl of two, whispering words of encouragement to a mother that they thought was grievously wounded. A glance told Myrrima that the woman was dead.
A girl of twelve wandered in front of Myrrima’s horse. She had gray eyes, dulled by shock, and her dirty face was cleaned only by the tracks of her tears.
That’s how I looked at that age when my father died, Myrrima realized. Her stomach knotted in sympathetic pain.
She searched for Borenson among thousands of grisly wounded scattered throughout inns, private homes, stables, the duke’s Great Hall, and blankets in the street.
Many wounded struggled near death. The reavers’ curses set wounds to festering in unnatural ways. Gangrene set into abrasions that were only hours old.
The search was a foul chore. Nearly every private household had taken in one or two wounded. The stench of the place assaulted her senses. She could not pick up her husband’s scent among so many competing odors.
“Borenson!” she shouted again and again as she rode through the streets, her throat going raw. She began to doubt her own senses, wondered if she’d only imagined that she’d seen her husband heading into the city.
He could be asleep, she thought. Perhaps that’s why he doesn’t answer.
Volunteers worked the battlefield, hauling the dead to the bailey outside the duke’s palace. She worried that Borenson might be among them. Gaborn had said that her husband was wounded. Perhaps he’d died in the past few hours. Or perhaps someone had mistaken him for dead, and even now she might find him barely alive. She made her way toward it, and finally caught her husband’s scent.
She rode with rising trepidation up to the bailey. Thousands of corpses were laid out. Whole families marched among them, carrying torches.
The blasted grass was a gray mat. The dead lay arrayed on blankets in rows. She could smell Borenson now.
Myrrima knew that dead loved ones never look quite as you expect them to. The faces of men that die in battle become pale, leached of blood, while the countenances of strangled men turn bluish-black. The eyes of the dead glaze over, so that it is difficult to tell whether a man had blue eyes or brown. A corpse’s facial muscles can either contract horribly or relax in perfect repose.
Many a woman who has slept with a man for years doesn’t recognize her own husband’s corpse.
In the same way, when Myrrima found Sir Borenson, she did not know him by sight, only by scent.
He knelt over a dead man beneath the remains of a gnarled oak that had dropped all its leaves. His face was leached as pale as cream, and he stared down, his expression so twisted in pain that she would not have known him. Dirty rain matted his hair and covered him with grime, so that he looked like a squalid wild thing. Clotted blood from a groin wound stained his surcoat down the legs. His right hand gripped the handle of a horseman’s battle-ax as if it were a crutch.
He looked as if he had been kneeling like this for hours, as if he might never move again. He had become a statue, a monument to pain.
Only his attire identified him. He wore the same clothes as he had two days past, including the yellow silk scarf that he’d chosen to sport into battle as a sign of her favor.
A little red-haired girl knelt above him, lantern in hand, weeping savagely. They stared down at a dead man who looked so much like Borenson that he might have been a brother.
“Borenson?” Myrrima called hesitantly. All the words of comfort that she’d imagined would come so easily suddenly caught in her throat. She could not imagine a wound that would cause the unadulterated agony she saw in his face. She asked softly, “What’s wrong?”
He did not look at her. Did not answer. She wasn’t sure that he even heard. His left hand clutched at his belly, as if he’d just taken a blow to the stomach.
Acorns crunched under her horse’s hooves as she approached. As she drew close, she realized that she’d thought that he was unmoving as he knelt. Now she saw that he was trembling all over.
She’d heard tales of men who had seen some great horror and retreated so far into themselves that they never spoke again. Borenson was a warrior. He’d been forced to butcher two thousand Dedicates at Castle Syl-varresta. The deed had so demoralized him that afterward he had quit his service to his king.
Before her knelt a man wounded both in body and spirit. He trembled, and his mind was blank. He was so far gone in pain that he could not weep.
“Myrrima,” he said in a stiffly formal voice as he gazed down on the dead man. “I’d like you to meet my father.”
 
Copyright © 2001 by David Farland