Book 3 of the Runelords Saga
By David Farland
THE CALM BETWEEN THE STORMS
King Croenert of Toom bought dung for his fields to make the grass grow deeper.
But found one day that warlords in gray would sell their sons far cheaper.
--Nursery rhyme alluding to King Croenert, who hired cheap mercenaries from Internook to attackLonnock
In South Crowthen, King Anders had been entertaining guests all night. Among them were a dozenfierce old warlords from Internook with their sealskin capes and horned helms. They’d sailedon ships painted like gray serpents, and the smell of sea salt clung to their beards. Theirsilver-gold hair was braided; the wind had burned their faces raw.
Any lord but Anders would have sought to buy their loyalty. The warlords of Internook werenotoriously cheap. But Anders offered no money. He merely filled them with strong drink andtales of the treachery of Gaborn Val Orden. By midnight they were pounding the wooden tableswith their silver mugs and shouting for the boy’s head. To celebrate their decision, theykilled a hog and dyed their braids in blood, then painted their faces with streaks of green,yellow, and blue. They’d take no pay for their services other than the spoils of war.
Thus Anders bought half a million berserkers for less than a steel eagle’s worth of strong aleand a butchered sow.
Beside them the Lady Vars, counselor to the queen of Ashoven, watched how Anders worked thewarlords of Internook with a reticent smile. She refused to touch even so much as a drop of hisbest wine. She was a stately woman, beautiful and cunning, with flashing gray eyes the color ofslate.
As he urged the warlords to dispatch their ships to the Courts of Tide, the lady’s lips drewtight. Though she tried to appear neutral, King Anders knew she stood against him. Too bad forher.
When the warlords were deep in their cups, she excused herself from the dining hall and fled tothe docks, no doubt feeling lucky to escape his realm with her life.
But a storm was brewing in the northern sea, Anders knew. He went out into the night as LadyVars sneaked away. From the door Anders could hear the wind singing over the whitecaps milesaway, could smell ice in the salt air.
The beast within Anders stirred at the smell. It circled in his breast like a restless dog. Itsuggested a small spell that would insure that wind would fill the sails of the counselor’sship, and urge it onto the rocks. Ashoven’s queen would no doubt find the wreckage on her ownshores. She’d mourn her faithful servant’s demise, never knowing what warning she might haveborne. Perhaps the next counselor Ashoven sent would be more malleable.
Anders stood for a long moment in the doorway of his keep, listening to the receding hooves ofLady Vars’s horse as it clattered over the cobblestone streets of the King’s Way. Thickclouds above sealed out the starlight, and the fires in the great hall cast a ruddy glow overthe cold ground that seemed to strain to reach beyond the courtyard. Somewhere down in the citybelow, a dog began howling. Soon, a dozen others joined their voices with its keen wail.
He whispered the spell that would end the lady’s life, and sauntered back to the Great Hall.
A one-eyed warlord named Olmarg watched him knowingly as he returned. Olmarg stood at thetable, leaning over the roast pig. He cut an ear off, chewed as he said in his thick accent,“She bolted on us.”
“That she did,” Anders admitted. Several other lords looked up through bleary eyes, too fargone into their cups to bother speaking.
“Knew she would,” Olmarg said. “The ladies of Ashoven have no taste for wine or war. Nowthat she’s gone, we won’t have to bridle our tongues.”
Anders smiled. Moments ago he’d have thought the man too drunk to think clearly. “Agreed.”
Olmarg said, “Our land is a cold one, and in the long winters our young men have naught to dobut huddle in the keeps under the furs, warming the wenches. For as long as our old onesremember, we’ve sold our sons to the highest bidder. We need this war. We need the plunder.More than that, we need lands in the south. And there’s none better to be had than Mystarria.Do you really think we can hold it?”
“With ease,” Anders assured him. “Gaborn’s forces are in disarray. There is far more thanjust the reavers for them to worry about. When Raj Ahten destroyed the Blue Tower, he killedthe vast majority of Gaborn’s Dedicates. Though there be many lords in Mystarria, few of themare Runelords.”
He let those last words settle in. Mystarria was the wealthiest land in all of Rofehavan. Forcenturies it had been well protected from attack--not because its castles were unassailable,but because of the number and power of its Runelords. With their wealth, the kings of Mystarriabought forcibles--magical branding irons--made from rare blood metal. They used those forciblesto draw attributes such as strength and wit from their subjects.
Now, without Runelords to protect it, the kingdom of Mystarria would not be able to stand forlong.
“What’s more,” Anders continued, “to your advantage the vast majority of Gaborn’s troopshave marched west to drive Raj Ahten from Mystarria’s borders. They’ll have a tough job ofit, for Raj Ahten has leveled several castles, and his men hold the strongest that remain.Gaborn will have to spend his men to dislodge Raj Ahten. With any luck the two are already atone another’s throats. That leaves Gaborn open to attack. Now his coastline is Gaborn’s softunderbelly.”
“Soft, maybe,” Olmarg said, “but soft enough? Mystarria’s men outnumber mine twenty to one.Even with your help--“
“Not mine alone,” Anders assured him. “Beldinook will sweep down from the north, joiningus.”
“Beldinook?” Olmarg asked, as if he could not have hoped for such a boon. Beldinook was thesecond-largest kingdom in all of Rofehavan. “You think old King Lowicker will bestirhimself?”
“Lowicker is dead,” Anders said with finality.
At that, several warlords gasped. “How?”
“When?” One fellow downed a mug in the old king’s honor.
“I got word only hours ago,” Anders said. “Lowicker was murdered today by Gaborn’s ownhand. His fat daughter is a surly creature. Surely she will demand vengeance.”
“Poor girl,” Olmarg said. “I have a grandson who is not particular about his women. PerhapsI should send him to court her.”
“I was thinking of sending my own son.” Anders grinned.
Olmarg lifted a mug of ale in salute. “May the better man win.”
At that, Anders’s wife got up from her seat at the dinner table and shot Anders a glare.She’d been so quiet the past hour, he’d all but forgotten her. “I’m going to bed,” shesaid. “I can see that you gentlemen will be up all night trying to figure out how to carve upthe world.” She lifted the skirts of her gown and walked stiffly upstairs to the tower loft.
There was a long silence. A burning log shifted in the hearth, as it steadily crumbled to ash.
“Carve up the world...” Olmarg intoned. “I like the sound of that!” The unabashed greedthat shone from his single eye gave Anders pause. There was a hardness to his jaw that Andersfound chilling. Olmarg was a man without compunction. “And Gaborn is still a pup. It will takelittle to strike off his head. If I can take a few key cities quickly--dispatch his remainingDedicates...Gaborn would never be able to retaliate.”
Anders smiled. Olmarg saw things more clearly with one eye than most could with two. The worldwas turning upside down. It was true that Gaborn’s forces vastly outnumbered them, but withoutRunelords to lead those forces...
“Carving up the world should not be so hard to do,” Anders said. “I want very little of it.I’ll take Heredon.” Olmarg raised a single white brow. Heredon was no small bit of land, butOlmarg would have no use for it. “Lowicker’s daughter will want western Mystarria, along withher vengeance. You’ll want the coast--“
“Everything within two hundred miles of shore,” Olmarg said sternly.
“A hundred and fifty,” Anders suggested. “We’ll want to leave something for the others.”
“I’ve received missives from Alnick, Eyremoth, and Toom. Dignitaries should be arrivingshortly.”
“A hundred and fifty,” Olmarg agreed. But he added thoughtfully, “On the other hand, what ifGaborn is indeed the Earth King? Could we stand against him? Dare we stand against him?”
Anders laughed, a sound that reverberated through the quiet room and made the hounds sleepingbefore the hearth look up in anticipation. “He’s nothing but a fraud.”
But Anders tried to sound more self-assured than he felt. The beast hidden within him lent himspecial powers. Anders could hear voices carried on the wind from far off. He could smellscents from miles away. But even the wind took time to travel.
He wished that he knew how Gaborn’s battle with Raj Ahten had ended. But that news would notcome until later. At Anders’s assertion, Olmarg sliced off the pig’s other ear, and theycelebrated.
With these affairs of state in hand, Anders climbed to the towers of his castle early in thenight, found his wife brushing her hair in the bedchamber.
Her back was stiff with anger. As he crossed the room, she followed him with her eyes, rakingher brush through her hair as if she were trying to rid it of burrs.
“You seem upset,” Anders said casually. He knew the source of her anger, sought to divert herattention. “You should be overjoyed. The news was good today. I have done little but worryabout the reavers rumored to be in North Crowthen, and now we hear that my cousin has driventhem back.”
“A lucky shot with a ballista killed their fell mage,” his wife groused, “and thesorceresses beneath her harvested her brain. There is nothing to rejoice about. They’ll returnin greater numbers.”
“Yes,” Anders said, as if to put a bright face on it. “But next time, my cousin will bebetter prepared for them.”
His wife did not speak for a long moment. He let the tension build, until the words broke fromher. “Why do you lower yourself like this? We should have no dealings with barbarians fromInternook. They stink of filth and whale blubber. And those tales you told--“
“Were all true,” King Anders countered.
“True?” she demanded. “You accused Gaborn Val Orden of murdering King Lowicker?”
“Lowicker defied Gaborn today, denied him passage through Beldinook, just as I said. For that,Gaborn slaughtered him as a man would slaughter a steer.”
“How do you know this? There have been no couriers!” she shouted. “There could not havebeen: I’d have seen them.”
Years of neglecting his physical needs had left Anders thin and starved-looking, a rag of aman. He drew himself up, trying to appear authoritative. “I received the message privately.”He did not want to argue the point. His wife knew full well that she had been at the table withhim all afternoon. Had even a private messenger arrived, she’d have seen him.
Her mouth twisted in anger. He could tell that she was about to rail at him. He silentlygathered a spell, reached out and touched her lips with his forefinger. “Shhh...” he said.“A message did come by word of mouth only. No doubt we will hear more details by morning.”
Hearing the Earth’s summons, believing that he would find the city besieged by Raj Ahten’stroops. Instead he’d found Raj Ahten surrounded by a ghastly horde of reavers, trapped.
He’d used his newfound powers as Earth King to summon a world worm--a beast of legend--fromthe Earth’s core to dislodge the reavers.
The aftermath of that battle would be sung for a thousand years, Myrrima felt sure. The carnagetook her breath away.
To the south lay a field of dead reavers, enormous and black in the darkness, their wetcarapaces gleaming in the wan light as if they were a plague of dead frogs. Men and womenswarmed among them, torches in hand. The plains were terribly broken and uneven, pocked withthousands of burrows. Squads of troops armed with spears and battle-axes were searching everynook for live reavers. But not all of the people out there were warriors. Some were coming fromthe city to cart off the dead and wounded--mothers looking for sons, children hunting forparents.
A reaver suddenly lunged from a burrow three quarters of a mile away, and out on the plainscreams arose with the blaring of warhorns. The reaver charged straight for a knot of footmen.Knights on chargers galloped to intercept the monster.
“By my father’s honor,” shouted one lord of Orwynne, “there’s still reavers about! Thisbattle’s not won yet!”
The lords spurred their mounts down to what was left of the Barrens Wall. Beneath its arch,beside a bonfire, a dozen footmen huddled beneath muddy capes with hands wrapped around theirlongspears.
“Halt!” they called as the lords approached. A couple of guards struggled up. They woremismatched armor, marking them as Knights Equitable.
Their bright eyes reflected the firelight. Jubilantly their leader shouted, “Most of thereavers are in a rout--fleeing south the way that they came. Skalbairn asks that any man whocan bear a lance give chase with him! But there’s still a few of the damned things holed up intheir burrows, if you’ve a mind to fight here.”
“Skalbairn is chasing the horde in the dark? In the rain?” Sir Hoswell shouted. “Is hemad?”
“The Earth King is with us, and no one can stand against us!” the guard shouted. “If you’veever had a fancy to slay a reaver and win some glory, tonight’s the night for it. Somesimpleton from Silverdale killed a dozen on the city walls today with nothing more than apickax. True men like you should do as well--or better.” His tone was challenging.
The guard raised a wineskin in salute. Myrrima saw that the man’s eyes gleamed from more thanmere jubilation. He was half drunk, reveling in the victory. Obviously Skalbairn’s men didn’tknow that Gaborn could no longer warn his Chosen warriors of danger.
Even though they’d been Chosen only a few hours ago, Myrrima could see how these men werealready becoming complacent. Why should they keep a close guard so long as the Earth King wouldwarn them of danger?
Obviously, Skalbairn’s men hadn’t heard the latest. Gaborn had used his abilities to dislodgethe reavers from Carris, but in the aftermath of the battle, he’d sought to use his gift tokill Raj Ahten.
For misusing those protective powers, the Earth had withdrawn them--including the ability towarn Gaborn’s Chosen warriors of danger.
These men, blithely celebrating their victory, had no idea how much trouble they were in. TheEarth had charged Gaborn to help “Save a seed of mankind through the dark times to come.”Full night was not yet upon them.
Myrrima glanced right and left at the lords of the Brotherhood of the Wolf--sober men with hardfaces. They’d come to fight, but hadn’t bargained for such madness.
“I’ll warn Paldane’s men,” Sir Giles of Heredon offered.
“Wait,” Myrrima said. “Are you sure that’s wise? Who knows where the rumors might fly, howthe tale might grow in its travels?”
“The Earth King warned us that he has lost his powers in order save our lives,” Baron Tewkesof Orwynne said. “He can’t hide the truth, and we can’t hide it for him.”
If she were to tell Gaborn’s secret, Myrrima feared she might betray a man who had neverunjustly sought to harm another. Yet if she withheld the news, innocent men would die. To tellwas the lesser evil.
Sir Giles took his leave of them and galloped toward Carris.
“The rest of us will need to warn Skalbairn,” Tewkes said. He dismounted for a moment,cinched his saddle for a fast ride. Others drew weapons, and more than one man brought out astone to sharpen a lance or a warhammer.
Myrrima licked her lips. She wouldn’t be riding south with the others tonight. Gaborn had saidthat she would find her wounded husband a third of a mile north of the city, near the greatmound. But reavers were still hiding out on the field. She tried not to worry.
“Do you want me to come with you, milady?” a voice asked, startling her. Sir Hoswell’s horsehad sidled up to her, and he was bending near. “To find your husband? I told you that if youever need me, I’ll be at your back.”
She could barely make out his face beneath his hood. Hoswell leaned close, as if expecting herto fall into his arms at the first sight of blood.
Hah! she thought. Maybe when the stars have all burned down to ashes!
He had tried to seduce her once. When she resisted his advances, he’d tried to force her.He’d apologized, but she still didn’t trust him, even though she had enough endowments nowthat she knew he would never try to force her again.
“No,” she said. “I’ll go alone. Why don’t you find some reavers to kill?”
“Very well,” Hoswell said. He drew his steel greatbow from its pack, began carefully tounwrap the oiled canvas that protected it from the rain.
“You’ll fight with that?” she asked.
Hoswell shrugged. “It’s what I use best. A shot to the sweet triangle...”
Myrrima spurred her own mount away from the other lords, rode under the arch toward the largestknot of dead reavers. Borenson would have fallen in the thick of battle. She imagined that hewould be there.
In the distance, she could hear others searching the battlefield, calling for loved ones. Theyshouted different names, but all were the selfsame cry: “I am alive; are you?”
“Borenson? Borenson!” she called.
She had no way to know how severe his wounds might be. If he lay trapped beneath a fallenreaver, she’d make light of it. If he was disemboweled, she’d stuff his guts in and nurse himback to health. She tried to steel herself for whatever she would find.
She imagined what she would say when she found him, rehearsed a hundred variations of “I loveyou. I’m a warrior now, and I’m coming with you to Inkarra.”
He would object--perhaps on good grounds. She had only gained a little skill with a bow.
She would persuade him.
As Myrrima drew close to the fell mage’s final battleground, she smelled the remnants of themonster’s curses. Residual odors clung like a mist to the low ground.
Even two hours after the mage’s death, the curses’ effects were astonishing. “Be blind,” acurse still whispered, and her sight dimmed. “Be dry as dust”; sweat oozed from her pores.
“Rot, O thou child of man”; her stomach knotted and every scratch felt as if it might puckerinto a festering wound.
She rode in the shadows of reaver corpses that loomed on every side. She gazed in awe atcrystalline teeth like scythes. She caught movement from the corner of her eye. Her heart leaptin her throat to see a reaver’s maw open.
She yanked her mount’s reins to turn it back, but realized that the reaver did not hiss ormove.
It was dead. Its maw merely creaked open as the monster cooled. Its muscles were contractinglike a clam’s as it dries in the sun.
Myrrima looked around. All of the reavers’ mouths were opening by slow degrees.
The air seemed heavy. No katydid buzzed in a thicket. No wind sighed through the leaves of anytrees, for the reavers had uprooted every plant.
“Borenson!” she shouted. She scanned the ground, hoping the reflected firelight might revealthe form of her husband buried beneath a layer of soot.
A trio of gree whipped past her head, wings squeaking as if in torment.
Through the tangled legs of a dead reaver, she glimpsed a flickering light, and suddenly shehad the wild hope that Borenson had lit the fire.
She spurred her mount. Around a bonfire had gathered a crowd of warriors from Indhopal. Myrrimafelt unnerved by them, even though today they’d fought beside her people against the reavers.
These were no ordinary warriors. They were dark nomads who wore black robes over their armor,as some symbol of status. Their headgear bore steel plates that fell down over the ears toprotect the shoulders.
Nine of Raj Ahten’s dead Invincibles lay before the fire. The nomads seemed to be preparing toconsign the deceased to a funeral pyre.
Among the dead Invincibles lay a girl with dark hair, practically a child. She rested upon ariding robe of fine red cotton, embroidered with exquisite gold threads to form curlicues likethe tendrils of vines. On her temple rode a thin silver crown that accentuated her dark skin.
She wore a sheer dress of lavender silk, and in her hand someone had placed a silver dagger.
Myrrima had come upon Saffira, Raj Ahten’s dead wife. Gaborn had sent Myrrima’s husband tofetch Saffira from Indhopal so that she might plead with him to cease his attacks on Gaborn’speople. Gaborn could have searched the world and found no one better to sue for peace. Rumorsaid that Saffira had taken hundreds of endowments of glamour and voice.
She would have been more alluring than any woman alive, would have spoken more eloquently.
Obviously Borenson had found Saffira and brought her to the siege at Carris. Now she lay deadamong a few Invincibles. Myrrima imagined that the Invincibles had been her royal escort, andsuspected that her husband would be nearby.
The leader of the Indhopalese was immediately recognizable. Every eye in the crowd rested onhim, and many nomad warriors knelt before him--some on one knee, some on two.
He sat atop a gray Imperial warhorse, glaring down at the dead, talking in an even, dangeroustone. His dark eyes glowed in the firelight as if he struggled to hold back tears of rage. Onthe right breast of his black robe he wore the emblem of Raj Ahten, the three-headed wolf inred. Above the wolves were golden owl’s wings, and above them flew three stars.
His insignia identified him as more than an Invincible or even a captain of Invincibles.
At his feet, several men in black burnooses knelt on hands and knees. One answered him in afrightened voice.
Myrrima seemed to have wandered into a confrontation. She didn’t want to have anything to dowith it.
A tall Invincible came up from the shadows behind her, a man with a forked beard and ivorybeads woven into his black hair. The firelight reflected from his dark eyes and golden nosering.
He grinned at her, and Myrrima could not tell if it was meant as a seductive grin or a friendlygreeting. He jutted his chin toward the Indhopalese leader. He whispered, “You see? He WuqazFaharaqin, warlord of the Ah’kellah.”
The news struck through Myrrima like a lance. Even in Heredon she had heard those names. AmongRaj Ahten’s warriors, Wuqaz Faharaqin was one of the most powerful. And of all the deserttribes, the Ah’kellah were the most respected. They were judges and lawgivers of the desert,hired to settle disputes among tribes.
The fact that Wuqaz Faharaqin was angry did not bode well for the object of his wrath.
The Invincible reached up a hand clumsily, as if he seldom greeted in this manner. “I amAkem.”
“What has happened here?” Myrrima asked.
“His nephew, Pashtuk, murdered today,” Akem said. “Now he question witnesses.”
“Faharaqin’s nephew murdered someone?”
“No, Pashtuk Faharaqin was murdered.” He nodded toward an ugly dead Invincible who lay, as ifin a place of honor, next to Saffira. “He was a captain among Invincibles, a man of greatrenown, like the others here.”
“Who killed him?” Myrrima asked.
“Oh!” Myrrima breathed softly.
“Yes,” Akem said. “One of slain live long enough to bear witness. He say, ‘Raj Ahten callto Invincibles after battle, and try to murder Earth King’--a man who is his own cousin bymarriage to Iome Vanisalaam Sylvarresta. To fight a cousin, this is a great evil. To killone’s own men, this is also evil.” He did not say it, but Myrrima could hear in his tone thatRaj Ahten would have to pay.
“These men”--Akem indicated the kneeling Invincibles--“found the dying witness.”
Wuqaz Faharaqin questioned the witnesses one by one. As he did, his eyes blazed brighter andbrighter.
Derisive shouts arose from the crowd. One lord strode forward, pointing at the witnesses.Myrrima did not need Akem to translate. “This man say the witness no good. Need more than onewitness. He say Raj Ahten would not seek to kill Earth King.”
Myrrima could hardly restrain her rage. “I saw it!”
Wuqaz Faharaqin growled at her outburst, asked a question in his native tongue. Akem looked upat Myrrima and translated, “Please, to tell name?”
“Myrrima,” she said. “Myrrima Borenson.”
Akem’s eyes widened. A hush fell over the crowd as men whispered her name to one another.“Yes,” Akem said, “I thought so--the northern woman with the bow. You slew the DarklingGlory. We have all heard! We are honored.”
Myrrima felt astonished. News traveled fast. “It was a lucky shot.”
“No,” Akem said. “There is not so great luck in all the world, I think. You must tell yourstory.”
Myrrima nudged her mount closer to the bonfire so that she could speak to Wuqaz face-to-face.
“I was thirty miles north of here when Raj Ahten caught up to Gaborn. There was murder in theWolf Lord’s eyes, and he’d have killed Gaborn sure, if Binnesman’s wylde had not stoppedhim. I put an arrow in Raj Ahten’s knee myself, but Gaborn forbade me or anyone else to killhim.”
Akem translated. Wuqaz tried to listen impassively, but his eyes continued to blaze. He spokeand Akem translated. “Can you prove that you saw this?”
Myrrima reached into her quiver, drew out the arrow with which she’d shot Raj Ahten, His bloodlay black upon its iron tip. “Here’s the arrow. Have your trackers smell it. They’ll knowRaj Ahten’s scent.”
Akem carried the arrow to Wuqaz. The warlord sniffed it curiously. Myrrima saw that he, too,was a Wolf Lord. He growled low in his throat, spat a few words in his own tongue, and raisedthe arrow for all to see. Other lords rode close, sniffed at the shaft.
“The smell of Raj Ahten is indeed upon this arrow,” Akem translated. “His hand pulled theshaft free, and his blood stains its tip.”
“Tell Faharaqin that I want my arrow back,” Myrrima said. “Someday I intend to use it tofinish the job.”
Akem relayed her message, retrieved Myrrima’s arrow. Wuqaz and his men had more questionsabout her encounter. They seemed baffled as to why Gaborn had spared Raj Ahten, a man whoproved to be his enemy. Myrrima looked at the stern faces among the Ah’kellah, and rememberedsomething she’d once heard: in some places in Indhopal, there is no word for “mercy.” Sheexplained that Gaborn, as Earth King, could not slay one who was Chosen. The Ah’kellahlistened intently. They asked what had happened after the fight, where Raj Ahten had gone. Shepointed southwest toward Indhopal.
At that, Wuqaz drew his saber from the scabbard at his back, whipped its curved blade overhead,and began shouting. His warhorse grew excited, fought him for control as it danced forward. Itreared and pawed the air. Myrrima had to fight her own mount as it backed away.
The Ah’kellah all began to shout, waving swords and warhammers overhead.
“What will happen?” Myrrima asked.
“Raj Ahten did great abomination to attack Earth King. Such deed cannot go unpunished. Wuqazsay, ‘Raj Ahten has sided with reavers against own cousin, against own tribe.’ He say,‘Raise Atwaba! “
“What is that?”
“In ancient time, when king do wrong, witnesses raise Atwaba, ‘Cry for Vengeance.’ If peopleget angry, they kill king--maybe.”
Wuqaz Faharaqin spoke encouragingly to his men.
“He warn, ‘Raise cry loud in markets,’ “ Akem translated. “Let not your voice tremble.Retreat not from kaif who challenges, or from guards that threaten. If all Indhopal does notrise against Wolf Lord, they must know why Ah’kellah do so.”
With that pronouncement, Wuqaz Faharaqin leapt from his charger and rushed to his nephew’scorpse. He raised his sword, stared down at the remains, and began shouting. “He ask spirit tobe appeased,” Akem said, whispering in respect for the dead. “He ask it not to wander home ortrouble family. Wuqaz Faharaqin promise justice.”
Wuqaz smote off the corpse’s head with the clunk of metal piercing bone. Men cheered as helifted his nephew’s head in the air.
“Now he will carry head to tribe as testament.”
Wuqaz beckoned to the crowd. Tribesmen came forward, Invincibles of the Ah’kellah. They werestrong men, austere. Wuqaz Faharaqin took his nephew’s head by the hair, held it high, andshouted. Akem said solemnly, “He say, There must be no king but Earth King.’ “
All around, the Ah’kellah repeated the words in chorus, chanting them over and over.
Myrrima’s heart pounded as the Ah’kellah decapitated the other murder victims, bagged theheads. They began to toss the bodies into the funeral pyre. She didn’t understand everythingthat was going on. She didn’t understand desert justice, desert politics.