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An equally heavy weight seemed to settle on his heart. For at last he
correctly interpreted the cause of Tathagres' brittle temper; with the
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frostwargs confined and the Stormwarden beyond reach of her command, she could
not claim the Keys to Elrinfaer from her King. The setback galled her. Judging
her pique, Emien guessed the powers of her neck band were still no match for
the forces which bound the frost-wargs behind their bastion of ice. Anskiere
had bested her in this contest of wills, even if he had forfeited his own life
in the accomplishment.
Unwilling to relinquish his passion for vengeance, Emien searched his mistress
for signs of defeat; if she gave up after all he had suffered, he would strike
her, though he died for impertinence. But the violet eyes which met his gaze
still burned with determination.
"Your Stormwarden, if he survives long enough, shall cer-tainly pay for his
tempest." Tathagres' mouth thinned with sovereign cruelty. "The ice cannot
protect him forever, this much I promise."
Suddenly Tathagres stiffened. Emien heard a horse stamp and snort somewhere
below. Alarmed, he searched the thinning mist, hands clenched on the sword
hilt. Hazy sunlight illu-minated the beach. Fog still clung to the cliffs, but
not for much longer. Within seconds the ledge would be visible to the patrol
which approached from below. Emien prayed the bodies of the murdered guards
would pass unnoticed.
That moment a man shouted in horrified discovery. Harness jingled and hooves
pounded across wet sand. Another man hailed from the ridge above, followed
abruptly by the din of an armed company dismounting.
Emien licked dry lips. "We're surrounded," he whispered frantically. Lifting
his sword, he ducked beneath the ridge of ice, prepared to defend their
position as best he could.
But Tathagres seized his wrist and jerked him painfully to her side. "No. Stay
by me." Her nails dug like claws into his forearm. "I am going to tap the
powers of Anskiere's geas, use them to pull us out of here.
Unless they have archers we are safe."
Trembling, helpless, and diminished once again by Tath-agres' superior powers,
Emien wrestled to contain his panic. Sweat slicked his back. Clinging to
mangled pride, he stood rigid in Tathagres' hold, while she touched her free
hand to her collar and began an invocation. The last billow of mist drifted
clear of the ice. Plainly visible on the strand below, an armored knot of men
clustered around the corpse
Tathagres had kissed to his death. Even as Emien estimated their number, the
dark captain in their midst glanced up and stared straight at them.
Backlash
"There!" shouted the Kielmark. He raised a muscled arm and pointed at the
intruders. Cloaked in black like scavenger crows, a woman and a boy with a
sword stood on a ledge of rock seventy yards above
the beach. Who they were and what pur-pose had brought them to Cliffhaven made
no difference. Three guardsmen lay dead, most likely of poison; for that
crime, they would never receive pardon.
With blue eyes narrowed to slits of anger, the Lord of Cliffhaven commanded
his men at arms. "You."
His gesture singled out a horseman on the fringes. "Ride to the east station
and bring back archers." The man appointed wheeled his mount, spurred at once
to a gallop. The Kielmark raised his voice over drumroll of retreating hooves.
"The rest of you cordon that cliff. Cut off every possibility of escape. When
the bowmen arrive, you will close in and take the boy and the woman alive."
The men broke ranks with alacrity, aware their performance might later be
reviewed to the last critical detail. But this once, the Kielmark's concern
lay elsewhere. Tense as a caged lion, he paced the tide mark, stooping now and
again to examine scattered fragments of planking which once had been a boat.
The keel and a few ribs were intact, enough to determine the craft's
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dimensions. The Kielmark planted his foot on the wreck-age, and with thumbs
hooked in his sword belt, regarded the corpses sprawled upon the beach. After
a moment he spat in the sand and swore with a violence few men ever witnessed
and lived to describe.
The boat, an aged, ungainly rig, at least explained why last night's watch had
ignored his most urgent directive, that every person who trespassed on
Cliffhaven be reported on sight. Probably the three had shirked duty on the
assumption such a clumsy craft should carry equally harmless passengers. The
mistake had killed them. That much was simple justice, the Kielmark reflected,
and he fingered the pommel of his sword in temperamental fury. Though spared
the nuisance of three hangings for disobedience, he still confronted the
consequence the dead men's negligence had wrought.
The woman and the boy remained on the ledge, pinned in position by the
relentless efficiency of the guardsmen. The base of the ice cliffs lay ringed
by a glittering half circle of weapons and a full score more men waited on
horseback, prepared to ride down any attempted escape through the lines. The
pres-entation was perfect, each man alert at his post with his spear held
angled and ready for instant action. Yet the Kielmark scratched his bearded
jaw, distinctly unsettled. Where other commanders might disdain to pitch sixty
men at arms against an unarmed woman and a boy, the King of Renegades acted [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]