From one of the most exciting new voices in dark epic fantasy comes a novel that is both intensely brutal and brilliantly cinematic; the story of a soldier torn between loyalty to her family and loyalty to her calling in her quest to preserve a kingdom's future. She was their hope, their martyr, their brother... Driwna Marghoster, a soldier for the powerful merchant guild known as The Post, is defending her trade caravan from a vicious bandit attack when she discovers a dead body hidden in one of her wagons. Born of the elusive Oskoro people, the body is a rare and priceless find, the center of a tragic tale and the key to a larger mystery. But as Driwna investigates who the body was meant for, she finds herself on a trail of deceit and corruption...a trail that will lead her to an evil more powerful than she can possibly imagine. Also by Adrian Selby: Snakewood The Winter Road
Release date: January 26, 2021
Print pages: 496
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
“I’ll say his name again. Lorom Haluim.”
Behind her stands one of her own people, an Ososi, a giant of their kind. Some of the slaves here hail him as a brother, proclaiming that they have been changed from ordinary humans to immortal Ososi soldiers. Full of pride they show me their glistening brains and the artless ruin they’ve become under the knives of these drudhas who removed the tops of their skulls and experimented with flowers and roots, poisons and herbs in that quivering, warm clay.
She watches me as all the elderly Ososi have in the time since I have served the Accord, as I take their hands, transmit this shivering dust and let what I taste evolve their pain. They look at me with all the contempt a mortal lifetime confers. “It is just power” speak their eyes. Between her cries of pain she hums a handful of cracked notes, a childhood song, I think, for it is a song I heard also the Oskoro children put into harmonies, the Ososi’s distant kin that once lived far across the Sar sea in the Citadels. She sings one note in a minor key here, and I marvel at the depth of the change it makes to the lullaby, a note that remakes the song as though she’s sending it backwards to the girl she once was.
Then I catch a word – the dust has unlocked something in her, the name of a river, and hearing it sends a rare shiver of happiness through me. In her delirium, mumbling, chasing a memory that must have followed her song, she has given me a clue to where the rest of her tribe may live. I look up at the giant Ososi behind her, known to all in these lands as Scar. Many years ago he had been capped, the top of his skull removed to leave the braegnloc ready to receive the Flower of Fates. It would have made him the tribe’s chief. The work done on his skull had only just been completed when the elders of his tribe learned he was not worthy of the honour of leading them. He carved the skin from their faces, cut their own skulls to pieces and stitched both to cover his head again. He is my finest hunter. He knows of the river this old woman’s pain has revealed. I’ll join his crew and we will find the children belonging to her tribe. I will hope too for that wisp of disorientation, that lurch in the belly if it’s close, the power of another magist, of Lorom Haluim, the one I have been tasked to find, to lead the Accord to.
“Thank you.” She frowns, not realising I’m speaking to Scar, ordering her execution. His hands go to her head and chin, a smooth, fast twist breaking her neck.
Scar drags her body past me and out of the tent. We’ve had some quiet while the drudhas have been spooning out the droop to the prisoners, stupefying them for a while. Many are in persistent agony as a result of our work, the price of progress on any frontier.
A cold wind enters the tent as Scar leaves. This camp is high in the Sathanti Peaks, away from the scrutiny of all but the wretched tribes that live in these heights. The drudhas make good progress for they are working with living slaves that I have provided them. The soldiers they will soon learn to make from these slaves will be more than a match for any army this world could muster. The Lord Yeismic Marghoster has been as generous in the provision of slaves as his word. It took very little to fix the deformities of his younger daughter and his gratitude has been predictably ample. I recall he wept and kissed my feet as she ran about us for the first time in her life. Who alive, after all, has met a magist such as I? Their myths make us out to be gods, understandable given their limitations. His wife, more sensibly, screamed, a horrified suspicion on her. For some time she thought it must have been a trick, some potion that would wear off. I wish I could feel as these people do; their mortality generates such heat.
As I ate and nodded where required at a feast to celebrate the miracle of her straightened bones, Marghoster shared his fears for the prospects of his oldest daughter, a potential marriage to the heir to the throne of Farlsgrad, young Prince Moryc Hildmir. As I told him how little the Hildmirs would soon matter I felt his wife next to me grow more disturbed by my proximity, shifting in her seat, sweating. Yeismic would not have approved of some of her thoughts. She suffered the memories that come unbidden while in proximity to a magist for two whole courses of our dinner before excusing herself, tears streaming from her eyes. We agreed that the joy of seeing a crippled child cured could be overwhelming to a woman’s more sensitive disposition.
Scar returns, giving a short grunt as he forces his huge frame through the flap of the tent. He stands once more, silent, eyes following me as I wipe the Ososi woman’s piss off the only chair here.
“I don’t like this place. I wish I could return home.” I don’t expect a reply but I need, sometimes, to say it out loud. I unstopper the wine flask and pour a cup. Taste is the second most interesting thing about taking the form of a human.
“I hope we’ll find those escaped Oskoro with that old woman’s tribe.” Scar remains silent, watches me drink. I see a subtle shift in his eyes, a tenth of a smirk, a mote of annoyance. We had tried to capture or kill the Oskoro that lived across the sea in Citadel Hillfast. Bigger than the Ososi, an older race, all of their kind are as dangerous as Scar, and their chief, the Master of Flowers, far more so. With Scar’s crew we butchered all the Oskoro we could find, for they could not withstand me. They cried out for Lorom Haluim, even his master, Sillindar, one that I dared not hope would appear. Sillindar is the Accord’s great enemy and the reason for my search for Haluim, who has made his home on this world. I quelled as many Oskoro as I could, my dust taking their strength so they could be tied up. But a handful of them saw their chance, aided by the Master of Flowers, drawing in and killing two of our mercenaries, wounding even Scar. The Master, a drudha and five others fled. Worse was still to come, for as we threw lime bombs into the houses that remained, one of the women came out holding a great prize in her arm, a baby girl, her skull newly cut, the skin sewn back and a seed in her skull – clearly marking her as their future leader, the next Master of Flowers. Her mother saw us, saw me and raised a knife. I raised my arms up, a supplicating gesture, waving to instruct my men to stay back. In the sudden stillness, all of us focused on the child, I felt it, like a gossamer skin on every particle of air and tree, flower and body. Sillindar. Sillindar was here not many years past, within the life span of the woman before us. Then she brought the knife down. The baby didn’t make a sound. I threw forward my arms, the dust of creation from my hands, a moment too late. The air spun savagely, my thought made material, a force to tear the knife from her fingers. But she’d stabbed herself in the gut, the force I’d applied pulling the knife up through her stomach instead of into the air. She fell to her knees gasping, letting her baby fall to the ground. Scar rushed forwards to it, kicking her back. He took the baby up in an arm while the other reached for a pouch, a salve that hissed hot on the tiny body. He hummed and shushed her as he did so. I ran to them, smoothing my dust over the hole in her chest but she was already dead. Reversing death is beyond me. I attempted it nevertheless. I always do.
The wind scuffs and kicks at the tent flap. I stand and take a fur from the desk nearby. Scar remains still. He’s elsewhere, eyes vacant.
“You’ll leave tomorrow. Tell your soldiers. I will return to Farlsgrad’s capital, Autumn’s Gate. The High Red, Yblas, has returned from the Old Kingdoms. I must be at his administrator’s side.”
I look over at Cal as we ride at the head of the caravan, my best friend in all the world. He’s started singing an old ballad I taught him, “At The Willow”, and looks over at me with a wink, for my mun would sing it when I was a child, a song from my homeland that we were cast out of.
“You go well together, Driwna, you and Cal. You’re quiet, he’s always singing. He’s going to sing me to sleep in my furs tonight, in’t you Cal?”
Leis this is, on the lead wagon, poking her tongue out of the gap where she used to have front teeth so she can lick her lips.
“He could slide it in there without you moving your jaws, Leis,” shouts one of the crew further back.
“Sure he could. Long as he sings me “Away To The Corn” I’ll go down easy.”
Cal’s singing breaks up at this, he’s laughing.
A horse canters up behind us, its rider, my captain, clears his throat. “Driwna, it’s getting late, ride on with Cal and find us a spot we can pull the wagons around.”
Garn this is, Vanguard, as the captain of a caravan’s called. He runs the Post’s sheds in Lindur as well, the settlement I’ve called home these last few summers. He’s easy to respect, old man been in the field some ten years, lost an arm, but as reds guarding the lots on vans such as this that’s far from a steep price for the coin he’s made.
“Yes, Vanguard,” I say. “I’ve seen some whitebark up on the slopes; we should do some cutting once we’re settled. Laurel might like this earth and all; I’ll scout for it.” Laurel and whitebark are always welcome in our fieldbelts; they grind well for “scabbard sauce”, the poisons our blades soak in.
“Good idea, Driwna. Not seen much but the firs. Head off with Cal while the wagons are rounded off and there’s still some light; you’re our best sniffers for plant.”
“Let’s go then, Driw, I’m keen for a few pipes tonight.” Cal this is.
Trail’s been cut and shored up now we’re nearing Lindur, a blessing as we’ve been making good ground and looking forward to getting back to our sheds there in a few days. Border with the Roan Province has been quiet, must have had a purge on as we heard they were losing vans on Cruck’s Road. Did fuck all about our vans getting taken, mind, but it was crossroads coin for this van, meaning we were paid the same purse as those on runs that were a risk to their lives. This run didn’t look to be taking us through bandit country, but I couldn’t pass that kind of coin up anyway with the shit my pa’s been in at the kurch. Long story.
Clouds are coming in, air’s got a lick of ice to it as I nudge my horse into the yampa and sedgegrass. I turn to look back at Cal riding after me. He’s away in the clouds, humming and taking in the view.
“Beautiful as it all is here,” I say, “I need your eyes between the yampa around us and the stands of pine we’re heading into. You see any dung or hoof from horses, I need to know.”
“Sorry, Driw.” He stops his humming.
“Are you going to put her out of her misery and fuck Leis before we tally up at Lindur?” I ask. He smiles, knows I’m fluffing him.
“She’s a bit thin for me. It’s like she’s been chipped out of flint and her colour doesn’t help. It’s turning us all from whatever colour we’ve had to this cold grey, this fightbrew they’ve been training us on. We look like we’re dead already. You know I need a bit more than a handful in the furs anyway.”
I’ll say it now, upfront. I wanted a go at his handful, years back at Epny, and he wanted a go at mine, not long after we became friends at the academy there. He’s a beautiful man, with a smile that fills his big brown eyes and brings the sun out. I was mad to kiss him first time I saw him. There were a few of us had a bet on getting in his leggings, for along with his look he was the son of a wild and disgraced Rulger, noble blood, while his singing could put a dog in season. Back then, same as now, I had bad blood with my pa, for the Rulgers had fucked my family as immigrants on their land long after the Marghosters had betrayed us out of our own. Well, we got mashed one night, too many cups and kannab, and I fancied I’d do something I knew would upset Pa. So I got into Cal’s furs and after some kissing where I bit his tongue and his elbow smacked me good in the nose as he tried to get up on me and collapsed, there came a sort of stillness with the moment when he finally got it in. We looked at each other properly, clearly. You don’t look at someone that sort of clearly when you’re body’s rising to it and we both felt it. I remember we smiled at the same time, shrugged at the same time and laughed all the more for how we matched those gestures. It wasn’t what we really wanted from each other. We held each other till we fell asleep, him telling me how lucky he was to have met me. Me the same. We’ve been on the same crews ever since.
We use sign lingo while scouting, talking with our hands as we nudge the horses through a few rare oaks. Beyond them there’s a bit of a rise in the land that’d give us a decent lookout. We dismount to check it a bit more closely, sniff the air.
*This looks right,* Cal signs.
I shiver then, put my hand up to still his moving about. I flick my head over to our left, roughly in the direction we’d come from. I hear the low whoop of a grey grouse’s mating call. I tap my finger in the air in time with the whooping, to single out the sound for him. He nods.
*It’s not mating season,* I sign.
*Mount casual, turn, juice eyes in cover of trees.*
The juice’d sharpen our eyes fierce, help us to pick out who might be thinking of an ambush. I follow him, try to flatten off my breathing. It’s cold, they’ll see me blow and know we’ve cracked them.
As we walk the horses into the oaks we get our bilberry thumb-bags out and squeeze juice into our eyes. I grit my teeth with the pain of it, listening best I can while my eyes burn. Other calls I hear then, the grouse again, brown robins but not sweet or clear enough, mouthpieces not up to the mimicry. They’re between us and where the wagons would be.
We kick the horses to a canter.
*Dayers,* signs Cal, meaning the mix that gives you a touch of the strength and speed a full fightbrew can give without paying the awful price after.
*Agree.* We take a slug. A sword rings in the distance, at the van. We kick up to a gallop, my heart thumping and I feel sick. Now the juice has got in and the itching’s worn itself down a bit I see them, bandits it must be, moving through the pines near the van. Horn blows as they’re spotted, but there won’t be anyone on a full brew and no time to flatten one and get up on it. I hope to Sillindar that these are bandits too poor to have a real brew. Cal rattles his sword in its scabbard to freshen the sauce before pulling the blade free. I do the same and we ride in. Our vanners have been caught cold really, bandits chose a good time after a long day and no guard or defences set. I can hear Garn, our Vanguard; he’s calling in Farlsgrad field lingo for the crew to gather up and push to the trees, towards our coming, for he’s rightly assumed we’ve got wind of the fighting. It’s dusk though, and hard to see what’s going on. Cal gallops away right to run down two that are trying to put arrows into those of our van who are crouching among the wagons. The wagon-horses are stamping and neighing in fear and two break right, taking their wagon off along the path. One’s been hit with an arrow to the gaskin; he’s frenzied. Garn’s near the head of the van where I’m riding in at. He sees me.
“They’re brewed, Driw! Get Cal, get to Lindur, there’s no hope! It’s over!”
“Get on, Garn!”
“Not the Vanguard’s purse, Driw, you know that.” He’s taking mouthfuls of a full fightbrew. It’s a stupid thing to do without being able to prep himself for it, but he’s going to die anyway. I can hardly believe what he’s saying, the last time I’ll see him and it’s come now, out of nothing. But now I’ve closed on the wagons I see the massacre. Garn’s horse is dead. The van is fucked. I can’t see one of our crew alive. The shouting and screeching is of a victory, not a fight. I see one of the bandits leap high and far from a wagon and run for Garn then; he’s hot with his brew, fast and savage as a wolf.
“Garn! To me! Please!” But I know he won’t.
“Get Cal, girl, you’re not dying here!” He hasn’t looked back as he’s said it. He’s standing ready with his two-hander as the bandit runs at him, frighteningly quick on a brew. I look for Cal. He’s off his horse, against a tree. He looks to me for sight as I can see past the tree he’s behind. No one. He must have killed one or both of the archers. I ride for him.
Garn dies shortly, as anyone would without being risen on a brew to match the soldier they face.
Cal breaks from the trees and runs towards me. The bandit that’s killed Garn comes charging after us. I don’t trust I’ll get an arrow off so I keep for Cal. Two more bandits burst out of the trees behind him. They’re closing. Cal’s laughing, the mad fucker. He gets like that when death’s about. I can’t lose him.
“Drop right!” I shout. He knows. I’m grateful for my horse, Anilly; she’s calm as a cow as she heads at him. He leaps out of my way as I whip past him, and the two chasing him, only fifteen yards from him then, see too late what I’ve done as Anilly hammers into the first of them and my sword’s out and I swing at the other as he tries to fall out of my way. I’ve done enough to buy us time. I lead Anilly about, kick up back to Cal, who’s standing, sword out as Garn’s killer closes. He won’t make it. Cal gets my arm, swings up and behind me and we’re away up the trail as horns of triumph sound, the van lost.
We ride until we’re sure there’s none following. Cal puts his arms around me from behind.
“Glad you’re alive, Driw. Those poor bastards.”
I put a hand over his. There’s nothing to say to that. One moment we’re flushed with the prospect of a flask and a few pipes, the next our crew’s dead. “Worried I lost you as well for a moment, Rulger filth.” He gives me a squeeze.
I pull the horse up and we dismount. I give her a snivet and a kiss for she’s saved our lives. We’re in a stand of pines, up a slope that looks back across the grasses we’ve just ridden. Cal goes to the edge of the trees to look out.
He shakes his head, wraps his cloak about him.
“Fuck this life,” he says.
“It was a good van. But it was the purse too, Cal, not an easy run. Garn was a good Vanguard, made leadership look easy. The Post’s going to miss him. Fuck it, I’m going to miss him.”
“Led seventeen runs out, he told me,” says Cal. “Weren’t meant to be bandits on this stretch, for all that we got paid some more coin.”
There’s a quiet moment then. I am angry with myself for not being enough. Much as Garn led well, we were close enough to Lindur we made mistakes, complacent, and a shade of that shit out here gets you killed and I didn’t see it, didn’t call it as Garn’s second.
“How many did you see, Cal?”
“Bandits?” He turns to me. “You’re going to say something stupid.”
“They caught us cold, full fightbrews to none. They’ll be paying colour soon enough.” Paying colour is what we call it when the fightbrew wears off and leaves you in pieces, helpless. It’s a heavy price we pay for a strength and speed not even cougars can match.
“I saw eight, ten? Heard more. There’ll be twenty or more wherever they’re camped. Driw, leave it go. Didn’t think you were the sort got their blood up for revenge. I like you cold, we live longer.” He comes over to me, knowing I was filling up, sad and angry. He puts his hands on my shoulders. “Go on then, girl. Say your piece.”
I lift forward the edge of my cloak, the red cloak that the Post gives all who take its purse after passing their training. I wipe the sweat and tears from my face.
“I want to get that van back. For us, Garn, all of that crew’s final tallies, and because we’re Post. I took the red because of what it means, never mind that no other fucker excepting yourself seemed to care about it beyond what purse they could earn. Amaris, our teacher, it’s like we were the only two listened to her stories as she taught us all the idea of what the Post should be. We both fell in love with that woman. It’s another family, she said, and one that’s for some good in the world; no slaves, no more politics than it takes to keep itself strong. She talked of a creed that she’s fighting to have us all swear on. Help the helpless, peace through trade, remember?”
“I do, love.”
“I believe it, seen it enough on our purses. You know what it means to put this cloak on, how people look at us, trust us not to fuck them over and see us respect their ways when we’re in their kurches, their towns and hams. These cunts, paying colour, they won’t believe two Post with one horse will take them on.”
He smiles. “Marghoster filth.”
He’s quiet a moment.
“You don’t seem set on it, Cal, and I won’t, can’t, do it alone.” I think I sensed in him a question about what I was saying we should do. Of course it’s hard to go risking your life if not for kurch or country, but Cal knew well enough why I held the Post so close; it was as close to a kurch as I had now, for I could no longer stand to see what had become of my own kurch, the Bridche.
“Driw, you have a way of getting at what’s right even when it’s telling a man he should go die with you for some kegs of ale and salt. I just needed a moment to accept what I already knew. Fuck it, I fancy us on a brew and all. We’ll have a song about us, how we gave our lives for a kurchman’s salt.”
We ride back to where the wagons had been attacked, seeing none lingering. My horse, Anilly, we have to leave and hope she remembers her training and waits.
We have a strong brew, being Post. “The Amo” it’s called and I have no idea why. Normally a drudha’d bind us up once we swallowed it to stop us bringing it back up. We just have to manage out here and hold each other’s mouths shut. Cal calls it “Riding the Boar”, and he sings as he fights. I don’t know what to call feeling like my body’s being ripped open by a tree from the inside, for you grow on a brew; sinew and muscle, all senses are much multiplied and you sense what many have called the Song of the Earth, a feeling like you are dissolving, flour blown into the air. Something more than you’ve ever been.
The stolen wagons had been led up into a wide valley that forked as it rose, cliffs all about us. Easy to defend. We string our bows and go over our fieldbelts before moving in, making sure the mixes we’d need – powders, spores and poisons – are in good order. I scale an outcrop of rocks to get a view ahead.
*Dogs. Six,* I sign back to him
Below me Cal preps a pepperbag for them.
*Two guard. Twenty more. Paying colour. Drinking.* I sign the spots and yards to each.
*Three guard,* Cal signs back, pointing higher up, and as he does so, the one I’d missed above us belches. Unprepared.
*My kill. I’ll cover you. Join up on count of thirty.*
He salutes me. I doubt he’d start singing but he’s done some stupid things in his time.
I find some more handholds to get higher and get a shot at the guard that’s above us. Our bilberry mix is good in this darkness, though it’s less good with fire. He’s absorbed with fletching an arrow, winding thread around feather and shaft. It keeps him still and my shot’s good, through the side of his head so no chance to alert the camp. I scale to his position and sign Cal to move in.
He slings in the bag that contains spores and pepper to send the dogs mad, a savage throw smashing it open against a tree near them before he runs in to the guards. They get to their feet just as I put an arrow in one of them, centre of his chest and Cal cuts the other guard’s arm off, running him through before he can make his move. I put two arrowbags down into the camp among the tents there as the dogs start howling and sneezing with our powders. The count of thirty now up I run down the path from the lookout into the camp. We work fast, no panicking on the brew, working always to keep it under control. I’ve seen soldiers pull out their eyes when they lose it on a fightbrew.
I put two quick stabs into all the bodies I can see; in bedrolls, crawling out of tents in their woollens, those who are paying colour and all, writhing in troubled dreams as I stick them. It is silent work until I hear swords clash. We’d missed some, still risen a bit from their earlier brew, or they’d taken dayers that were starting to work. I sheathe my sword, take up my bow. A bandit rounds a tree to the side of Cal where he’s engaging another; must have come from the far side of the valley.
I shoot her just as she looses her own arrow, a moment’s difference that saves Cal’s life, for seeing me fucks with her stance and her arrow hits Cal in his thigh. My arrow finds her true enough, shoulder only, but they have nothing for our poison. She cries out as it begins spreading, starts going through her belts but the only counter we know of doesn’t grow in these parts. The bandit on Cal moves in when he sees him hit, knocks Cal’s sword out, for he’s got no form with the arrow in his leg. Bandit’s on Cal in a moment, punches him before he can raise his other arm and then gets him round the throat, getting himself behind Cal, using him as a shield against me.
“Drop the bow you ugly red cocksucker.” He puts the tip of his sword to Cal’s ribs. Cal chokes, tries to move his weight, but for all his strength on the brew, the arrow has him hobbling and he goes still when the point of the sword digs into his side, the threat accepted.
I have the sight, bow fully drawn. It’s too much ground to make up. The bandit is leaning on the notion I’d not risk the shot for killing Cal.
“Easy to see you’re wet for him, woman. We can all live this out.” The dogs have gone, a distant howling and yelping in the trees about us as they run blind and without a sense of smell. The archer I’d shot finally hits the ground, bleeding from her mouth. I remain still, bow fully drawn.
He hears her hit the ground, looks behind me, around us, hoping someone is still alive. “I count three and—”
I let fly before he could finish. Cal saw me wink the moment the soldier’s eyes left mine, was quick enough on our fightbrew he would see the arrow in flight. He drops a shoulder, moving his head sideways. The arrow shaves Cal’s neck, hits the bandit in the mouth and passes through him. He chokes, clawing at the arrow’s shaft as he drops.
“Cal!” Blood pours from his neck. He falls to his knees and the arrow in his thigh snaps, sending him into a spasm.
I unstopper a vial as I run to him, kneeling. “Move your hand!” Blood is pouring between his fingers as he presses the cut, moaning and shaking. “Move it, Rulger!” I tear his hand away, put my knee on his chest to flatten him down and empty the powders onto the slice in his neck. He throws up over me, bucking about under my knee as the powders soak to a jelly and then a wax. I take a strip of gummed linen, press down on the cut, lean over him.
“Cal, look at me!” He does, but only for a moment. I’m losing him; his heart is wild as he loses the brew and it’s drawing the arrow’s poison in. There’s no talking him back. I dig out a couple of thumbs of betony and sugar, put them on his gums and he falls still. He hates betony, we all do, for it’s easy to crave and cows the strongest men into an addiction to last to the end of their days. Right now, it’ll save his life.
I cut the arrow out of his leg, the brew giving my hands strength, precision. I clean the wound, press the feathery plugweed into it, chew and gum some bark to bind the skin about it and let the fightbrew fight out the poison in peace. There’s no more I can do for him now.
I stand and go about the camp. All of the bandits are dead. I hack about at a couple of bodies to get the rage out of me, for I had nearly killed him with my shot. Half an inch to the left he’d be dead. They train us not to think like that and I know that if I had spent a moment thinking then he, or both of us, would be dead for sure. On a brew you can’t think, only act.
The cold blue of dawn seeps west, the valley here still mostly dark. I’ve mixed what I can to help with paying the colour but I’m falling hard. There’s no choice now. If we’ve missed even one of them we’re dead. Cal hasn’t woken, his heart’s faint and slow. I’ve built up the fire to help us and brought the horses from the wagons a bit closer before paying the colour got too much for me, giving them some food and setting some ankle breakers and lines about. They’ll only stop the careless.
I wake with a start. An eagle screeches above us. Afternoon, but this time of year the sun’s not high enough and the valley’s dark. I turn to look at Cal. He’s moved at some point but is sleeping again. I’m sweating pins, bitter sharp, and it hurts so much I look at my hand expecting the skin to have been flayed. I begin crying, happy Cal’s not dead and sad because I’m not dead. Then I smell it, feel it on my legs. I’ve shit myself. I can’t move myself, my arms, I can only watch them twitch as I pay the colour. My legs spasm, it feels like my heart stops and starts, chest pains and blackouts.
I manage to get a finger of betony and rub it in my gums. It isn’t
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...