Inda by Sherwood Smith

  Ryala flicked a look beyond Evred at the scribe, then returned her dark, unfriendly gaze to Evred. “Are you really the Marlovan Prince, or are you some underling dressed up?” She poked a finger toward his travel-stained riding coat with its crown stitched on the breast.

  “I am Evred-Varlaef Montrei-Vayir of Iasca Leror,” he said, adding wryly, “I don’t know how to prove it unless you come to my camp. You can ask anyone there who I am.”

  “I don’t want to go to your camp. I want restitution for my ships,” she said. And then stunned Evred with the words, “Your Prince Indovun Algraveer stole them.”

  “Indevan. And he’s not a prince.” Who said that? Evred realized he’d spoken as shock gave way to a flood of delight and then apprehension. The whipsawing emotions, after what he’d just experienced, made him feel slightly dizzy.

  Ryala slammed her hand on the table. “But he is a pirate.” And at his expression of disbelief, “If you don’t want to listen—”

  “Speak.” Evred rapped out the order quite sharply. It was unconscious, and he’d meant to be polite, but the tone reassured Ryala that he really was who he said he was.

  “They said the ships would have been taken anyway. That the embargo made them targets. But they sold our ships. At least one, probably all three. Sold our cargo, and my mother and I, we have nothing left. Nothing. I have to go back to Lindeth and tell her we have to hire out as cooks, or scrubbers, because all we know are ships, and you Marlovans made it impossible for us to do any trade.”

  “How much?” Evred asked.

  “How much what?” Ryala was so ready for disbelief she struggled to make sense of this unexpected response.

  “How much are you owed?”

  She drew in an unsteady breath. “Three ships—the cargo—”

  Evred gestured, and the two women saw it as kingly command. “Find out how much you are owed. Bring it to me. I will pay whatever it is.”

  That simple! It couldn’t be true. It had to be some Marlovan trap. Ryala glared across the table, her limping thoughts trying to fight their way to clarity, but then the young man leaned forward, his eyes wide, the pupils large, so large she saw the lamplight reflected in them, pinpoints of golden flame. “When did you see him? What did he say?”

  “Who?” she squeaked.

  “Inda. The Dal—you would call him Lord Indevan.”

  “I saw him in Freeport Harbor. Just before winter. It-it’s a pirate island somewhere east of Khanerenth. He was all battered up. Some battle, supposedly against pirates, I was told, though I don’t believe . . . well. He was there, with Handar Kodl, who was once first mate to Captain Beagar—”

  She stopped when she saw the young man rub one hand along his jaw. His fingers shook. Her voice stuttered to a stop.

  The hand came down, and his face was calm. “Is that all you can tell me about him? That he’s, what, become a pirate?”

  “Yes. Well, they are calling themselves something else, but—” Again she stopped, remembering that she had no evidence, really, except her own angry assumptions. “Whatever they are or aren’t, they won’t get hired anywhere honest, being Iascan. Everyone knows about the embargo, thanks to you Marlovans, and the Venn take Iascans off ships. No one sees them again.”

  The prince said, “Bring your total to—” His eyes went hazy, and then he looked up. “To the harbormaster. I’ll see to it that your sum is made good.” He looked in question at the scribe, who gestured agreement, not hiding her surprise.

  Ryala stared in even greater surprise, but before either could speak the young man rose, his soggy clothing smelling of wet wool, and stepped out, closing the door quietly behind him, and Ryala said, “He didn’t even ask about the Fleet.”

  The scribe dropped onto one of the chairs, letting out her breath in a slow whistle. “I suppose we can send word of what we know through the harbormaster. It’s not like we know much, but I guess we owe him that.”

  Ryala did not respond. It was so much easier to hate these Marlovans, to regard them as so many mindless killers, all alike in their evil. To be dealt with fairly by one was almost as upsetting as the clues—covert, but there—that they cared for one another.

  Chapter Twenty-eight

  EVRED realized he had no one to send to Tanrid.

  That was it, the thing that had been bothering him all along—ever since Mran Cassad exhorted him to send word if he needed her help. How could he send word? Everyone had their own Runners, trusted Runners, Runners who kept their own business quiet and reported everything of everyone else’s. Everyone except him; he’d never wanted a personal Runner because he knew they were all spies for his uncle.

  Runners . . . and sex.

  There was nothing, Evred thought grimly as he toiled straight into the rising wind, like humiliation to force clear sight. Now he could see what had probably been obvious to everyone not only along the main street but in his camp: that Dallo had been on the watch for a likely connection with the Marlovans, and instead of having to exert himself to seduce one of the warriors, it was the prince himself who’d come to heel at the first hot glance.

  Well, he wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last to be blinded by lust, and suddenly those songs, too, made a lot of sense. He grimaced, but there wasn’t any pain, at least not yet; not in the face of the news about Inda.

  Inda, alive. And . . . a pirate.

  Evred had promised Tanrid, but there was no one to send—a general message would be opened. They had not set up a code.

  I need my own Runners, he thought, as the first perimeter guard called out the challenge, and Evred responded with the day’s password. Chuckles behind him made his ears burn, and accelerated him toward his tent, before which he paused. How simple! How easy. He was in command, so no one could stop him from taking the news about Inda to Tanrid himself. Meanwhile it would get him out of Dallo’s territory.

  Evred ducked inside, and as he shivered out of his wet clothing into dry, he mentally reviewed the situation here at the Nob. There was nothing that couldn’t be done by Sindan.

  By morning he had his gear packed and his story ready. The captains were surprised, and Sindan concerned, when he announced that he was riding east to perform a surprise inspection himself along the north coast, which he still had yet to see. Sindan insisted he take two Guards and two Runners and then suggested Evred wear Runner blue, at least along the peninsula, so he wouldn’t be a target. And so three Runners and two Guards rode splashing through the mud that dawn, steam rising from the puddles, the air brisk and clean.

  They had a week old report on Tanrid’s movements at Ala Larkadhe below the south end of the Andahi Pass. At Sala Varadhe Castle at the north end of the pass, which would soon be held by the Arveas family, as Evred had desired, the Runners were able to give him a report three days old, and at Trad Varadhe castle in the western region of Idayago called Tradheval, a report half a day old, sending them south on Tanrid’s trail (“Here, take a pair of scout dogs and let them sniff Tanrid Laef’s bed upstairs; they’ll find him faster than a hawk stoops”) as Tanrid rode out just that morning to investigate a report of marauders in the river towns on the other side of a great forest.

  They set out after him—a ride almost not made, because they were weary, and the weather was cold. But Trad Varadhe had fresh horses and Tanrid was so close, so very close.

  It was near midnight, midway along the forest road, when they spotted, between tall stands of trees on another ridge, the pinpoint of ruddy light that was probably a campfire, and then they heard echoes, faint shouts and the ringing of steel.

  Bavas, one of the king’s Runners under Captain Sindan’s command, jerked in his saddle, his face a pale blotch in the weak moonlight. “It sounds like fighting, Evred-Varlaef.”

  An attack? Just then someone blew the academy ride-to-shoot signal. Once. And again—until the sound was cut off.

  One of the dragoons drew a hissing breath. “That’s not locals.”

  “Ride!” Evre
d shouted.

  The horn had brought more attackers. The noise intensified as Evred’s party splashed across a stream, galloped up the ridge and into the camp. The fight was desperate; the attackers looked up, saw the Runner blue, and redoubled their efforts in maddened desperation.

  Most of them clustered around Tanrid Algara-Vayir, who was alone except for three ferocious scout dogs trying to defend him. Hot with fury, Evred closed the last distance at a gallop, dismounting in a perfect drop and roll, coming up with sword in hand as the two standing attackers retreated into the trees, leaving Tanrid lying alongside two dead dogs and a wounded one, and surrounded by dead enemies.

  Tanrid tried to rise, and sank back. The dragoons chased the two fleeing attackers, the Runners searched for more. Evred cast his sword onto the mossy ground and knelt by Tanrid, who lay facing away from the fire, half in shadow. Evred did not see any arrows or knife hilts. Relief washed through him. “Tanrid.”

  “Evred. Not yours?” Tanrid coughed, a ghastly, liquid sound. He turned his head. His mouth opened, and horror froze Evred’s nerves when blood bubbled out. Tanrid gasped for breath, and now Evred saw the terrible wound in his side, under the gripping hands. His eyes were stark, desperate, as he fought to understand. “Evred.” Each word took a breath. “Evred. Not. Your ambush?”

  “Ambush?” There were many words for ambush in Marlovan. Tanrid used the word that implied treachery.

  Evred looked at the bodies littering the area, saw tattered northern clothing. Idayagan brigands wouldn’t see an attack as treachery, but defense. And Tanrid would know that.

  He forced himself to focus, his own purpose coming first to mind. “I came to find you. Tell you myself. I found out where Inda is—” But the words about piracy would not come.

  “Inda.” Tanrid’s eyes eased, though his teeth were clenched against pain. Then he forced in a deep breath, an effort that Evred felt in his own guts. “Bring him back.” Tanrid’s bloody hand left his side, and clutched at Evred, his long dark hair, loosened by a blow to the head, falling down over his arms. “Promise. Bring. Him. Back.”

  Evred hesitated, bitter memory forcing him to hear his own voice promising Inda justice, a justice he couldn’t possibly give.

  Tanrid wheezed. “Bring . . .”

  “I will.” Evred’s eyes stung, blurred, as Tanrid’s grip loosened, and he fell back, his red-stained lips moving. Did he whisper “the Sierlaef”? Evred bent nearer, but all he could hear was the labored breathing.

  Tanrid’s eyes remained open, looking up into Evred’s face, even after his breathing went shallow, then stopped. Evred knelt there for a long time, staring down, scarcely hearing the long, nerve-prickling mourning howl of the wounded scout dog, until Bavas came back and said, “Evred-Varlaef. We have the two who ran. The others are all dead.”

  Two prisoners. Trial, execution, retribution. Except there was no real retribution. The Idayagans would only become more righteous, the Marlovans more cruel. But it must be done. It would be done.

  Evred picked up the fine silver hair clasp that lay gleaming a stride or two away, and pocketed it. Then he forced himself to rise, to act. He had to witness, they all had to witness, had to Disappear the bodies of the attackers, and so he walked around, counting them all where they lay, and reconstructed what must have occurred. One of them men tended gently to the wounded dog, who lay patiently under the bandaging, but once it was done, once again lifted muzzle to the sky, and howled long and low and hoarse.

  Evred found what he expected to find: five dragoons with Tanrid. Against them had been twelve, all wearing shabby local garb. It was so easily construed that he almost missed the horn, lying not by Tanrid, or even by one of the dragoons, but by an attacker.

  Evred pulled it up, and stood there, turning it over in his hands, and then he looked around again. Two dragoons lay near the brigand who’d had the horn, and all three were across the camp from Tanrid.

  Think! He knew the horn was important. He looked down again, hearing that academy signal. Dragoons, none of them academy trained. Only their officers came from the academy and learned its signals; among themselves they used whistler arrows, not horns.

  Neither Tanrid nor his dragoons had blown that horn.

  Ambush. Tanrid had heard that horn signal, which could have summoned targets to attackers who were combing the woods just as easily as it could summon rescuers.

  And Tanrid would know the fighting style whatever clothes the enemy wore.


  Evred whirled around to face the two prisoners, held in the grip of the Runners, both badly wounded, hands bound behind them. In the firelight he could see their rough north country garb: long, shapeless tunics, woolen trousers, moccasins. They were dressed as Idayagans.

  He said in Marlovan, “Did you really believe you would escape?”

  One stood stolidly, the other’s eyes flickered toward the fire and back. They all heard it then, the rescue, riding far too late to the sound of a distant horn. Evred saw the plan: brave Tanrid, set about by brigands, blowing for aid, which came at the gallop, but too late. It would have worked, too, except for Evred being there to catch the “brigands” and to hear the horn signal and identify it.

  The question was: who had set this ambush?

  No one moved, until Evred faced the two prisoners, and said in Marlovan, “Whatever you were told about safety or reward was a lie. You’re going to die, and it’s going to be slow.”

  Neither spoke, but the one’s eyes flickered again.

  The sound of horse hooves approached, at least a riding. Evred flung back his head, wondering for a moment if this, too, would be part of the attack. No, it didn’t make sense. These would be genuine rescue, and sure enough, he recognized the commander from Trad Varadhe, who halted near him, saluted fist to chest, and said, “A Runner came to us on road patrol. Said he heard a horn signal.”

  Evred opened his hand. The man looked about, horror and disbelief lengthening his face when he saw Tanrid.

  Evred said, with a glance at the prisoners, “Take these back for questioning. I will supervise it myself.”

  The ride back was silent. When they reached the castle the wounded dog was carried to the kennel to recover, and the prisoners were jerked off their horses and shoved toward the prison, their treatment testament to Tanrid’s reputation and esteem, short as his stay here had been.

  Evred had risen before dawn and now it was past midnight; he asked the hovering commander for something to drink while they sent for kinthus from a Healer. Evred needed sleep, but even more badly he required answers to his questions.

  But even so short a wait, so late at night, was a mistake. When the Runner arrived, it was not to announce that they had their kinthus. “The prisoners are dead!”

  Evred and the captain both ran down to the prison cells, and saw the two men lying in the farthest cell, still bound, their throats cut.

  Evred turned on the commander. “Find out who did that. Now. Or my father’s men will.”

  The commander blanched.

  Evred trod back upstairs. His head ached, his eyes burned, but he knew he would never sleep until he found out what had happened. Before long the commander came himself. “Evred-Varlaef. It appears someone gave conflicting orders, one by one, to my guards. Sent them on various errands, in my name. All that’s known is that the orders were carried by Runner. But we don’t know who.”

  The remainder of the night was spent in interrogation, tension escalating steadily as tired men tried to reconstruct what had happened, the guards insisting they had followed orders brought them by a Runner, the Runners insisting they had not carried any such orders.

  The prison guards had all been handed written orders, which was common enough if you did not want prisoners hearing spoken orders; everyone remembered the stories going round about Tanrid’s death, people running back and forth, and Runner blue, yes, but not who it was who handed them the little strips of paper.

  When asked for the
order papers, each man said that the directions had been to put them in the fire. This, too, was accepted practice.

  Evred listed all the Runners’ places and times, beginning with Farnid, the Harskialdna’s Runner, who had heard the horn signal just after he left the castle to head south with a report, and returned to alert the commander. But Farnid had spent the time between their arrival back and the news of the dead prisoners with the older dragoons, drinking and talking, seen by everyone. He could not have carried those orders.

  And so Evred kept listening, posing questions first to Runners and then to stable hands and kennel keepers and orderlies, until one of the stable hands mentioned another Runner’s name: Vedrid, personal Runner to the Sierlaef, who arrived that day with a message for the commander about supplies. The other Runners all thought he left again that afternoon, except this one man.

  “Midnight is when I saw him,” he reported. He smelled of fear sweat, and kept looking past Evred to his commander as if for clues, for safety, but the commander just sat, angry and grim, and the man went on somewhat hopelessly, “Took one of the Runner horses from the meadow, rather than from the stable. I-I thought Vedrid just wanted a very fresh mount. Thought no more about him. Hadn’t seen him near the castle.”

  “So you never saw him hand out any order,” Evred said, forcing his voice not to show the corroding sickness he felt inside: all he could see, over and over, was Tanrid’s dying face, the blood pouring out of his mouth.

  “No.” And the man saluted, his fist thumping his chest. The sound somehow underscored the truth of his conviction.

  And so Evred dismissed him and continued with the questions, despite thirst, hunger, a growing headache driven by that memory that would not go away: but all for nothing.

  As Vedrid’s name spread through Trad Varadhe Castle by whispered conversations, Evred came to realize the Runner’s name was like a magic spell that turned men to stone. No one would say anything, anything at all, now, because of who Vedrid was. There was no positive proof to convict him, and far too much danger in speculation—at least in open speculation.

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