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Kate faces winter with a broken heart: betrayed by one lover, the other lost to her.
Kiefan will not give up on the alliance his kingdom desperately needs — even though the Caer queen refuses to speak to him.
Anders, alone and despairing, faces the Empress’s seductive offers of power and privilege.
Each of them must carry the ongoing war in their own way, whether cold, alone, or backed into a corner. Each must patch together a broken heart as best they can. Duty will throw them together soon enough and they must be ready.
The wind was a knife; Kiefan turned his cheek to it before it could tug off his fur-lined hood. Still, it sliced at his nose and mouth, pulling the cloud of his breath into a streamer. He took a lungful of the wind. Damp enough for snow.
When it ebbed, he turned back to the view down onto Knapptal’s main street. The gatehouse tower was his alone, as none of the guard wished to brave the wind. From here, he could see along the lake shore, northwards, to the village where Leix Gwatcyn’s knights and archers camped.
As Tannait had said, they brought their commander to the pyre at dawn, singing their dirge.
It came faint, at first, with the wind. A shiver gripped him a moment — it was something like the lamia’s song. Long, high notes. These wanted to be screams, though, they wove along a raw edge and then fell into harsh melodies.
Their procession joined the main road half a mile off, led by the Gwatcyn standard of mountains and moons. They came in their mail and swords, in perfect formation, marching as they sang. Six carried the pall. Gwatcyn’s red cloak, wrapped around her, flapped in a tail when the wind picked up again.
Kiefan covered his eyes with one gloved hand. Drew a hard breath, though it shook. Dead, now, his only friends in Caercoed. Leix had always been ready with a solid strategy, always ready to argue with Seagrace but never made a fight of it. Her defensive, sword-tangling kir-spikes had taken him unawares in their first sparring, and he’d been trying to work them into his practice since. Not that there’d been much time for that.
And Síochana… her lessons…
Below him, closer voices joined in the dirge when the melody began anew. Kiefan put his back to the merlon and slid down to sit on the cold stone. Pressed his hand to his eyes, to crush the tears out all the quicker. His chest trembled, on the edge of pain in fighting the surge of memories.
Sío’s blood on his cote, her mouth hanging slack as her head lolled. Dead, all of them, lying in blood in the hall. And Kate, running to — him, that fucking bastard who haunted Kiefan’s every day, she ran to his fucking arms and —
Kiefan slammed his fist into the stone, and pain in his knuckles split through the rage. He was here, alone, in the cold. Not there, afire with hate, running through the bastard — the man — Kate loved —
He’d never so wanted to doubt his anticipation Blessing. Only a fool would.
Kiefan wiped at his nose and drew a hard breath through it. Held it, exhaled. The tears kept coming, despite that. Too strong to deny. Sío, dead. Kate, worse, alive and so furious she’d refused to look at him during the funeral.
She hated him. He fought the sob that tried to claw its way up his throat.
He dropped his head against the stone and breathed, let the fist around his heart loosen. His tears slid out and the silent sobs wracked him as the dirge grew louder. A week’s stoic silence, he’d held. A week’s festering, and now the abscess drained. Left him empty, resigned.
The voices reached the Spanne, below. Sío lay on the bier already, wrapped in her blue-white lieutenant’s cloak. Still wearing the ring he’d given her, the silver band set with a green tourmaline. Something from the jewel cache, something he’d seen as a boy while his father told him the family stories.
His mother had wanted it back. But it was Sío’s, freely given, and he’d seen that she kept it.
When his breath came even and quiet, he stood, lifted the trap door and descended. The pyre stood in the center of the Spanne, a long bier of firewood that the two bodies lay upon, head to head. Bright red and pale blue. Gregor followed, a few steps behind, as Kiefan walked toward them. So did Captain Aleks; they’d waited for him at the gate. Kiefan’s hand settled on his sword.
The Crown’s Blades made a ring around the mourners, facing outward with their hands on their swords as well, ignoring the cold wind rippling their blue cloaks. Inside, Gwatcyn’s soldiers stood at attention with the duchesses, Sío’s business partners, and the Blade officers. And, in white and green, Ciara.
She held a torch, guttering in the breeze. The sun was only just up and warming the clouds that skittered overhead. It would take most of the short winter day to burn the dead.
Ciara turned, raising the torch higher. Elect Teleri folded her arms, beside the Crown.
“We would honor the dead with you,” he said.
Just to touch Sío’s hand once more, even cold and stiff. Say one last goodbye to her, and to Leix one last thank-you.
“’Twas many a chance after you failed them. What more have you to say?” Ciara asked.
“That I will avenge them.” He stopped at the ring of Blades, in a gap between two — whose hands gripped their sheaths tight, kir at ready for a quick-draw. His anticipation Blessing piqued, telling him to stab left first, then cut back at speed to block on the right.
Ciara’s voice went flat. “With such prowess as Wodenberg brings, ’twill indeed. Your castle lies gutted by one squad of Arceal?”
Aleks muttered under her breath.
“We would avenge the Crown as well,” Kiefan said as Ciara lowered the torch toward the kindling. “The Empress stole from us both.”
She paused. “’Twas my sister. See to your own.” Then, touched the oil-soaked rags and sticks. Fire crackled up, spreading fast where lamp oil had been splashed in a ring around the stacked wood.
Kiefan raised his voice, over the flames. “We must seal the alliance, Crown. There are still —”
“No.” She didn’t shout, but the word was clear. Ciara stalked to the ring, snow clotting around the hem of her white gown. Torch held to the side, at something like a low rear guard. “Nothing. Wodenberg has nothing Caercoed wishes. ’Tis clear enough?”
Look for Disciple, Part VI in early 2015
and a Kickstarter/Indiegogo campaign
later this year --
later this year --
I want to end this series with a bang!