Inda by Sherwood Smith

  “Your men will have our own Riders’ campground as the weather’s good. My brother is seeing to that,” the Jarl said. “Here is your guest chamber, if you’d like to rid yourself of the road dust.”

  Up old-fashioned stairs through the middle of what was once a main hall, to a second floor built, like most others in these old square castles, within the last two hundred years. Evred slowly entered a huge room clean-swept, newly made raptor chairs at either side of a clear fire, and a bed turned down, with fresh herbs strewn on the sheets.

  While he stood absently unstrapping the wrist guards he’d forced himself to wear every day to make them familiar, he contemplated the strangeness of life that would bring him here as guest, when he’d assumed for the past seven years that the next time he saw Buck Marlo-Vayir would be over swords in the grand parade court, only one of them able to walk away.

  In the courtyard, Buck jerked a thumb upward. “So?”

  Tanrid gave his characteristic one-shouldered shrug. “He’s a Varlaef,” he said. “They seem to have figured it out at last, and now he’s riding off to try out the duties of a future Harskialdna.”

  Buck brooded on that for a time, as they paced across the long courtyard between the great stable and the outer wall. A scout dog loped up, snuffing at Tanrid; Buck would have swatted the animal out of the way but Tanrid knelt, running experienced fingers over the dog’s back, chest, under the chin, while its eyes narrowed and its body stiffened in ecstasy. When Tanrid rose again Buck said, “Sponge’s good? Despite what the Sierlaef kept telling us when we were horsetails?”

  Tanrid shrugged one shoulder as the dog trotted on to resume its patrol route, waving tail high. “They’re calling him Evred now. But yes, he’s good.”

  Buck gave an explosive sigh. “I thought Cherry-Stripe was like a colt full of bran gas about their wins and flags.”

  Tanrid flashed a brief grin.

  Neither spoke as they vaulted up the worn stone steps to the wall. Sentries saw them, the last rays of the sinking sun catching in the silvery stitchery around the great owl in flight embroidered on Tanrid’s House tunic, and gave way, leaving them to stand in the cold western wind, staring down at the two great campfires below, ringed with Marlo-Vayir men and those of Evred’s new command.

  Buck’s profile was dark against the campfire below. “Evred. Did you know my given name is Aldren, same’s the Sierlaef’s?” Tanrid shrugged. “For nearly ten years, I thought—” He tipped his head east toward the royal city. It was as close as he could come to saying the words that never were supposed to be said, and now couldn’t be: that the Harskialdna had promised he’d be the Sierlaef’s Shield Arm.

  Tanrid grunted.

  “You think all that talk in the past was just some kind o’ test for him?” He tipped his head back toward the guest chamber.

  Tanrid opened a hand. “Doesn’t matter. What they want comes true.”

  Buck then remembered that Tanrid’s own brother had somehow—no one knew how—crossed the Harskialdna’s attention and had vanished. Completely vanished. Buck stared down at the men below who were bringing out drums and drawing swords in order to begin the old campaign dances, overseen by his uncle, but he didn’t really see them. He tried to remember, and couldn’t, what exactly had happened on that banner game so long ago when they were horsetails. The details were gone, except for the sight of Whipstick Noth’s little brother lying there beside the stream, dead. The first dead person he’d ever seen, and not an enemy: one of their own. After that, he did remember Tanrid here swearing he’d find out the truth, but then one morning his brother was gone. Missing, no one knew where he was, and Smartlip Lassad and Kepa Tvei—now an heir himself, after his brother’s death at the Ghael Hills battle—swearing that the brat had been cheating.

  What they want comes true.

  Yes, so it seemed. Well, he loved Marlo-Vayir land, and as they’d gotten older, he’d wondered just how much he’d enjoy being Shield Arm to the Sierlaef, with his moods and his wild jaunts after some female.

  He sighed, a sound barely discernable over the thunder of drums rising on the dying breeze. He realized he did not resent that solemn red-haired boy upstairs; if anything he felt sorry for him.

  Pointing below he said, “They’ll expect us to join the dances.”

  Tanrid shrugged, a short, sharp movement that hinted at memory for him, too. “Let’s go.”

  Buck indicated the stairs, then said with grim humor, “The only good recollection of that summer is what Kepa Tvei—do you know they call him Snowballs now, he’s so full of frost—what he looked like after you caught him out.”

  “Huh,” was all Tanrid said. But he grinned.

  Behind them, in the castle, Cherry-Stripe and his wife-to-be, fourteen-year-old Mran Cassad, came to fetch Evred.

  “Are you ready?” Cherry-Stripe asked, pride and delight shining in his big, handsome face. “Wanta show you over the castle before we get down to the camp. You know they’ll expect you in on the sword dances.”

  Evred had recollected himself, changing hastily into his good tunic. Cherry-Stripe and Mran both stared at the crimson and gold, splendid in the firelight. Cherry-Stripe had never seen Sponge in anything but academy gray, with his hair clubbed modestly. Now he wore his House tunic, and his hair was pulled up, clasped in gold, a long tail hanging down his back. Cherry-Stripe paused, the fond, familiar Sponge sticking in his throat. Somehow he’d become Evred-Varlaef, the future Harskialdna. And he looked like the king.

  Evred saw the bemusement in Cherry-Stripe’s face, and muttered, “So, Cherry-Stripe, where’s this famous room where you and Flash scared your Ains into thinking you were ghosts?”

  Cherry-Stripe’s crack-voiced laugh echoed down into the great stone hall below, and they clattered back downstairs, the Jarl relieved to hear the sounds of the boys’ laughter. This Evred-Varlaef looked far too much like Tlennen-Harvaldar, who had been incomprehensible ever since their boyhood days, when he’d appeared so suddenly after his little scrub of a brother had gotten thrashed by the dragoons’ boys for either frost or snitching, and had sat with him all night long, watching over his sleep, then vanishing with the dawn back to stable duty.

  “You forgot your sword,” Mran pointed out.

  “What? Oh!” Cherry-Stripe looked down at his side, and snorted. “Don’t ride off.” He ran down the hall.

  Mran, who had hidden the sword to guarantee a few moments of privacy with the overnight guest, put out a hand to keep Evred from following. She was very small, the prince tall and imposing, but he courteously stood still, and she said, looking up at his unreadable face, “I just want you to know I know who made Landred—ah, you call him Cherry-Stripe—made him bearable.”

  Evred gazed down at that heart-shaped face, so determined, so serious, and he did not know what to say.

  “Landred learned from you,” she murmured, and still there was no comprehension in his face, no acknowledgment, so she rather desperately finished what she’d been planning to say all these weeks they’d prepared for this visit. “And Buck learned a little from him. If I can help you in any way, send me word.”

  He smiled then, a kind smile, though inwardly he was bemused, but it was enough.

  She flitted away, and was gone when Cherry-Stripe came clattering back, waving his sword. “Let’s get the dancing over with. Then it’s back for supper, and just wait till you see what we have planned by way of eats . . .”

  Chapter Twenty-seven

  EVRED looked down at the woven carpet, its pattern of spring green vines obscenely splattered with a thick brownish stain. From there he scanned child-sized furnishings, scattered toys, small clothing, all picked out in clear gold-touched morning sunlight.

  The body had been Disappeared, but the disorder remained, violence caught out of time.

  He looked up at the waiting faces and found that of the older woman accused of the child’s murder. Her hands rubbed together, fingers stiff, as they had since Tanrid’s men had
brought her in.

  Evred forced himself to concentrate. They all stood there in the small circular room high up in the tower of Sala Varadhe castle at the north end of Andahi Pass, Idayagans and Marlovans alike, waiting. He knew what must come next, had sat listening in judgments conducted by his father.

  “Was it an act of war, or of personal conflict?” he asked, in Idayagan.

  The woman stared at him as if he had spoken in Venn.

  Evred repressed impatience. He had, on the two months’ journey, mastered enough Idayagan vocabulary to understand and to be understood, and he knew his pronunciation was clear enough.

  He enunciated slowly, “You killed Nadran Kepri-Davan. Was your motivation one of war or of personal conflict?”

  The woman’s heavy face flushed with rage, with hatred. Her chins trembled. He could see in that flat, angry gaze that she’d already chosen judgment for herself, though the trembling in her hands, the sharp smell of fear, betrayed the body’s unswerving wish to live.

  When he spoke, it was for the others listening. He said, in that same careful voice, “Your king signed the treaty, and so you come under our laws. An act of war means you are subject to the laws of war. A personal conflict among us is a civil complaint, and there are choices, depending on reasons and actions. For example, you murdered a two-year-old child, so we can assume that he had not threatened you, stolen from you, or dishonored your family.”

  Two-year-old child. How evil, how cold, when stated so flatly! Someone gasped, and farther back in the crowd, a sob. The woman’s face blanched. She said, her voice thick with loathing, “War. It was war.”

  “Then your action falls under the rules of war. There was no flag of battle, and the slain carried no weapon, so your action is termed covert, and for that you will die—”

  Her voice sharpened in desperation. “I demand a public execution! Let all witness you butchering more civilians—”

  Evred cut through. “A public execution is for commanders captured in battle. You murdered a child who was asleep in bed. You will die by the same method, in the same length of time, as far as can be discovered under questioning, as the slain. It will not be public.”

  The woman gasped, and she began to scream, “But you are invaders! Norsunder-damned, blood-handed—”

  “Next,” Evred said, pitching his voice to be heard.

  Tanrid jerked his head, and one of his armsmen shoved the woman out, still screaming invective.

  Evred followed Tanrid, stopping at the line of rooms comprising the castle’s residence chambers.

  “Next is the murder of Garid Kepri-Davan, heir to the Jarl. These four are responsible.” Tanrid indicated four men, two young and two old, waiting in the hallway under guard. All four were wounded, two badly.

  By Kepa, fighting for his life. Evred felt sick. He had never liked Kepa in their scrub days, even less when Kepa had become the strutting Snowballs, heir to a new Jarldom. It had been a relief when his father, the new Olaran Jarl, had pulled him out of the academy after their last banner game.

  Personal reaction aside, the discovery that the Kepri-Davans had been murdered the night before his arrival was a direct jab at Marlovan honor. Motivated, it was clear, not just by a general wish for revenge, but by bad governing.

  He walked on to see the room where Kepa had died; the chamber, rich with new furnishings, was hacked up, the floors strewn with blood-smeared belongings.

  Evred moved on, forcing himself to listen one by one to the voices of accusers and defenders. He passed judgments, one by one, and at the end of the long morning, when at last they departed the blood-stained, dishonored house, he and Tanrid left behind heavy reinforcements to hold the place.

  Neither spoke for a long time. Evred breathed in the clean, frosty wind flowing down from the western peaks. There was still snow gleaming on those peaks. Around them green grassland sloped downward toward the river winding along below the ancient road. Behind them the castle overlooked the north end of the pass. Evred felt its violated presence still.

  He watched shadows move over the grassy slopes, cast by clouds overhead: blue-green, then light green again. Finally he said, “As bad as the Kepri-Davans were, these people seem to think we’ll be worse.”

  Tanrid glanced back. “They used your name as a whip.”

  “The Kepri-Davans? How so?”

  “More than one of them said that the Jarl used the same threat: You think I’m cruel, wait until the King’s Voice returns in the spring.”

  “What was the spark?”

  “The woman who killed Kepa’s little brother. Her own son, flogged to death by Snowballs Kepri-Davan himself last summer. The Harskialdna was here to witness.”

  “What was his offense?”

  “Conspiracy. According to her—under kinthus—they’d talked but hadn’t actually done anything. The execution was a supposedly a warning. One of many.”

  Evred made a gesture, ending the subject: he didn’t need to hear more. He could imagine the figures bound to a post in a military court, their backs raw and bloody, Kepa leaning forward watching greedily, perhaps licking his lips like he did in the old days whenever anyone was beaten, or even talked about floggings. He could feel the anger, the desperation, the woman dashing into that quiet room with the green rugs, steel in hand, and once she’d forced herself to act, there could be no return. You got your welters and weepers, Kepa.

  “You’ll have to put someone in,” Tanrid said. “Soon.”

  “I know.” He’d read it often enough: the most dangerous of times was not during an attack, but after, when people had become accustomed to violence, when they felt they had less to lose, when change, by anyone, had become the norm and not the aberration. Custom and habit were two of the strongest legs of order, besides law and plenty. Take any of them away, and what was left was imbalance.

  They each fell silent, then, Tanrid wondering how many more chases like that lay in the future. Running down a bunch of scared servants! He’d rather face battle, even the trickery of Ghael Hills. “I feel dirty,” he said suddenly.


  After a grim pause, Evred spoke again. “The best defender, the most reasonable judge, would be Dewlap Arveas.” They both had grown up hearing about Cavalry Captain Dewlap Arveas, Flash’s father, who with Dragoon Captain Horsepiss Noth had commanded the king’s forces in the days before the war. Evred frowned. “But the next command was promised to one of the Sindan-An or Tlen families.”

  Tanrid lifted one shoulder. “That’s your worry, not mine.” He looked sardonic.

  “Not much of one. No appointment of mine is a true promotion. Just a holding command,” Evred said. They both knew that, but he said it out loud, trying the words, listening to what they meant.

  He had command, yet he didn’t have command. Things had changed, yet things hadn’t changed. He saw the evidence of it, but knew he still did not yet fully comprehend the sense of it.

  “Tell Captain Sindan first,” Tanrid finally said, and with that, Evred knew that though Tanrid disliked politics, he was aware of its machinations. He was also aware of the importance of Sindan’s getting Arveas’ appointment to the king before the Harskialdna’s Runner reported to him.


  For a moment his mind wrestled with two important questions, leaving him in a jumble of images without a point. He frowned in frustration, then lifted his head, trying to find the end of the mountains through which they’d ridden so recently. Behind them lay the northlands proper. At the south end of the pass he knew that he’d find Uncle Sindan waiting, with his gathered report on the rest of the northern shores. You will have Captain Sindan’s eyes and ears at your command.

  And his eyes and ears would, in turn, send all Evred’s doings back to the royal city. Evred did not resent that. It was as it should be. He would also be surrounded by men chosen by his uncle and his father—again, all good captains, good warriors, as it should be. They were there to lend their experience to his command.
  Experience, and possibly authority. He did not know what might happen if he disagreed with their orders, or if he simply wanted to talk out his ideas without his words being repeated. He felt a strong, desperate wish for his own friends: Noddy, Cama, Rattooth, Tuft, Cherry-Stripe, and Flash Arveas. What a luxury that had been, and they hadn’t even known it: to be able to talk over their plans, and have no one else hear their words.

  He thought about each of them, sensing that he was on the verge of some insight, some very important insight, but it hovered just out of reach, like the sun behind the sailing gray clouds.

  Captain Sindan was indeed waiting at the south end of the pass with the captains of the occupation forces. He agreed with Evred’s decision about Dewlap Arveas’ appointment to hold Sala Varadhe. Not only agreed, but approved: unsaid was the fact that what was needed was not just someone tough—that sort of Jarl was easy to find—but someone fair. Dewlap had a reputation for fairness.

  They regrouped, some to ride back north again through the pass and then east on patrol, the rest up to the Nob to inspect. Evred had expected Tanrid to take the eastern patrol, as he’d learned the territory during the invasion with the Harskialdna and Sierlaef, but he declared his wish to accompany Evred.

  “I want a glance at the defenses myself,” he said to Evred’s overt surprise, and Sindan’s mute question.

  Evred accepted that with no questions. So far their cooperation had been amicable. Evred worked to keep it that way. It was easy enough to guess that Tanrid did not trust the Olarans, who were known for their independence, in spite of their former alliance with Idayago.

  And so they rode together up the old roads above the rocky, wave-smashed cliffs toward the distant harbor city. At their left, the sea, green, blue, gray, silver, by slow-changing degrees, the wind fresh and stringent, the horizon almost without limit. At their right the mountainous line that formed the spine of the Olaran peninsula, hiding old valleys, and—it was said—ancient geliaths in which the mysterious white-haired morvende hid. Evred surveyed all hollows, cave mouths, and other mysterious nooks that they rode past but they never saw a morvende or heard eerie singing on the night winds.

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]