36

They camped on rough ground several mey outside the city of Horn where, years ago, a battle had been fought. An overhang sloped deep into an outcropping of rock, giving enough shelter that they dared build a fire and boil rice. Shai whittled. Zubaidit cleaned se leaves with a scraper. Tohon fed the fire one dry stick at a time to keep the heat even under the pot. Edard was on watch. The other three had crept away to another nook in the outcropping, but even so, Shai thought they were being awfully noisy, all that giggling and enthusiastic panting.

‘I have a question,’ said Tohon, twisting his ear as he studied the flame.

When he faltered, Zubaidit looked up. ‘There’s little you could say that would offend me, Tohon.’

The scout probed the fire with a green stick, maneuvering a hot flare under the belly of the pot. ‘Sometimes it is hard to know what I am asking. Among the Qin, we are not so — well — so free with all this.’

‘I’ll talk to them. What possessed them to get into it now, I can’t imagine. I thought they had more self control. “We could be attacked at any time, as they know, and they’re-‘

Tohon coughed.

She chuckled. ‘Sorry.’

He raised a hand to show no offense taken, and glanced at Shai. But Shai had nothing to say; he was more concerned with stifling the signs of arousal in his own body, because it was difficult not to pay attention to the whispered encouragements, the moans and groans. Whew! He bent his knife to the wood and shaved away a rough bump.

‘You are a whore,’ said Tohon.

‘A hierodule,’ corrected Zubaidit without heat. ‘A whore takes coin. I serve the goddess, and give freely in the act of worship. Eridit’s all right otherwise, it’s just she’s got a compulsion to get every male she meets chasing her ass. It’s cursed tiresome. Anyway, she’s one of Hasibal’s pilgrims, so don’t think this is part of the Devourer’s worship.’

Ladon staggered out of the darkness, tying closed his jacket. ‘Aui! I didn’t know anyone could be so flexibleV

Tohon and Zubaidit broke into laughter. Shai covered his eyes just as Veras, in the nook, came to climax on a series of rising yips. Everything seemed very hot. He ached.

Edard stomped into the light, bow in hand. ‘I’m of a mind to send you three back to Olossi. Could you be any stupider after what we’ve already been through? Eh, Ladon?’ He raised his voice. ‘Eh, Veras? As for you, Eridit, you deserve a whipping.’

‘Promise?’ came her bright voice. ‘I can tell you just the way I like it.’

‘What the council was thinking I don’t know, since you two lads arc as worthless as any rubbish I’ve stuck my foot in. I guess your clans paid them off, eh? Eridit at least is useful as a spy, and for impressing the cursed savages, and for that matter, now we know she can shave every cursed soldier in the enemy’s army until they

beg for mercy and surrender. Get your ass in here, Veras. You can’t even report for watch duty on time, too busy getting your sword sheathed.’

Veras hurried in, wiping his mouth. ‘Shut it up, you canting ass. She sheathed you a few days ago, didn’t she? You angry you’re not enough for her?’

Tohon scratched at his ear, he and Zubaidit exchanging a glance.

‘Don’t give me any of your piss, Veras. You were given explicit instructions when you volunteered for this expedition. I’m in charge.’

‘Bet you wish I was like Shai, here, and never said a word, eh?’ He mumbled a rude word under his breath.

Eridit sauntered in, wearing a cotton shift that left little to the imagination and loose trousers slung low around her hips. Hu! Even knowing she strutted around that way on purpose, he could not look away.

‘Is it my turn?’ asked Tohon.

Zubaidit grunted with choked-down laughter.

‘Ouch.’ With a rueful grin, Eridit got her hair twisted up and fixed with a comb, then lowered her hands to splay on her hips as she surveyed the unhappy fireside scene. ‘I earned that, didn’t I? Sorry. I should have known better.’

‘This is not an entertainment, and we’re not your audience.’ Edard was red-faced and stewing. ‘You three could get us all killed. We’ve stayed one night too many out here, hoping to find some cursed leavings from the battlefield to console our mute friend there. I’ve had enough. Time to move on. And once we’re past Horn, the more likely we are to run into trouble. Gods help us all if you three have your trousers down when those bastards find us. Can you two lads get that through your ass-crazed heads?’

‘Rice is done,’ said Tohon.

Smelling sweaty and salty, Eridit sank down beside Shai. He eased away, making her smile. In a huff, Veras grabbed his sword — his fighting sword — and stomped out to take the watch. The scrape of his feet as he climbed the outcropping serenaded them while Tohon spooned out rice onto se leaves. They ate in silence. Shai tried not to look at Eridit, but she was magnificent with her lustrous black hair, her glowing brown skin, her sleek curves, her inviting

smile and coy glance. Zubaidit made him nervous; Eridit made him hard.

‘I guess I wasn’t thinking,’ said Ladon suddenly. ‘I’ll do better. I know I was fortunate to be chosen. It’s just-‘ He looked at Eridit, and chuffed out a breath between closed lips. ‘Aui! That was something! Do they do it with three at the temple, Bai?’

‘Did you ever ask?’ retorted Zubaidit.

‘You’d be surprised what’s available at the temple if you think to ask,’ said Eridit with a purr that made Shai’s whole body shudder. She crept a bare foot over to rub against Shai’s, and with his ears burning and his face aflame, he jerked his foot away.

‘Leave the lad be,’ said Tohon quietly. ‘He’s not accustomed to the ways folk have here.’

‘You outlanders are a puzzle,’ agreed Eridit good-naturedly. ‘Is it true you’ve no temples to the Merciless One?’

‘We do not.’

‘How do young people meet the goddess for the first time, if they can’t go to the temple? How do folk married by their clans get their pleasure if their partner’s not to their taste, or if one is not fashioned that way? Even if they do like each other, how do they learn new tricks, keep things fresh, eh?’

‘It’s not our way,’ said Tohon. ‘A man marries.’

‘That’s it?’ Edard pulled a comical grimace. ‘Only to have relations with the person your clan chose for you? Never to worship the Merciless One?’

‘A man may have more than one wife, of course. If he can afford her. Keep them satisfied. A mistreated wife can appeal to her family and raise a feud. Everyone knows that.’

‘And a woman can have more than one husband?’ Eridit asked with a teasing grin. ‘Like they say the lendings do? That sounds fun.’

‘That would not happen. Also, a man may go to the brothel for relief. Or buy a slave for a concubine.’

Eridit frowned. ‘What about women? What are they to do? For relief?’

‘Women aren’t so free,’ said Tohon. ‘If you were my daughter, or my wife, I’d have to whip you for such behavior.’

‘The hells you would!’

Tohon had a sweet smile. ‘We are not in my country. Now we are Hundred folk.’

‘I’m going to sleep,’ said Edard.

Rain spattered the rocks. On the outcropping above, where he was keeping watch, Veras swore as he scrambled for shelter.

‘This smoke is getting to me,’ said Ladon. ‘I’ll go over where we — eh — anyway, it’s dry there.’ He walked out, hunched under his short cloak as if he was still embarrassed. Edard followed him. Zubaidit strolled to the mouth of the overhang, where she leaned against the rock and stared into the night, her head tilted at a pensive angle.

Tohon hooked the pot’s handle and lifted it off the fire, setting it on the dirt nearby and covering the mouth with a lid. ‘If I may say so, lass,’ he said to Eridit in a pleasant voice, ‘you do yourself no honor by teasing the men so they are set against each other. You may get attention, but you do not get respect.’

She crossed her arms over her chest. ‘You don’t intimidate me, Tohon. I get masses of respect, flowers and gifts heaped at my feet.’

‘Have you ever killed a man?’

‘I’ve slain many! They fell at my feet. And wept with pleasure.’ She looked Shai up and down with such a pressure of sensuality that he wished he had the courage to beg her to stop. Her dark eyes and thick lashes were beacons. Her hips slid sideways as she leaned toward him.

‘Shai’s a good boy, but he’s young and untested and likewise raised in a town where a lad like him hasn’t much chance to meet a woman like you. Anyone can kill a man who is unarmed and unprepared.’

She shifted away from Shai, her gaze fixed on the scout. ‘Aui! Are you saying I can’t seduce you, Tohon?’

‘You can’t. Marry me, maybe. But I don’t think we’d suit.’

She laughed so hard that Zubaidit turned from her contemplation of the rain and walked back to the fire. ‘I’ll win this duel. I’ll wager you on it.’

‘When I scout, I don’t play games.’ Despite the even tenor of his voice, the words were a warning that cracked her so hard she got to her feet and stamped outside into the rain, pouting.

He studied his palms in the light of the fire, unaffected by her

outburst. ‘What think you, Zubaidit? Split up Ladon and Veras, and they will get smarter. Together, they goad each other. If one is reckless, the other must be, also. Edard is strong, but he is no leader.’

‘He’s well connected. Branches of his clan run river transport all over the Hundred. If anyone can hauls soldiers by boat or move oil of naya in bulk to combat the northern army, they can.’

‘I see his value. But he needs a guiding hand, and he will not take one. As for her, she should be at home birthing healthy children.’

‘Are you saying a woman has no place on this expedition?’

‘You are a woman. Eridit is skillful at disguise. She collected useful information in Horn three days ago. And that tale she sang had real power. But she has never actually killed a man. We cannot know if she is prepared for what will come. Why did the temple council send her?’

‘And the Hieros agree to it? I don’t sneer at her ability to disguise herself, ask questions, and chant tales. She’s proven herself more valuable so far than the militiamen and the ordinand. Because truly, I ask myself if those four are the best Olossi could put forward for such a crucial expedition. Have we become so ill prepared, all of us?’

‘We soon find out.’

‘So we will. I’m going to sleep.’

He nodded. ‘I will take first watch. I wake you later.’ He began scraping clean the used se leaves. ‘Shai,’ he added, without looking up, ‘best you catch some sleep, also.’

‘And I wish you would stop talking so much, little brother,’ said Zubaidit from her blanket.

Stung, Shai sheathed his knife and wrapped up the carving in a strip of cloth. ‘Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and be proved one.’

‘Wit to go with those brawny arms!’ Chuckling, she yawned and turned over.

He settled against the rock wall, where even if it rained hard, he’d be sheltered. When he closed his eyes, he thought of Eridit. He was hot all over. Impossible to sleep in this state. He herded his thoughts to cooler pastures. Stuck without horses, they’d trudged east-northeast for many days, careful not to stray into the Lend. Edard had suggested again and again that they return to Olossi and get

new gear, but Tohon and Zubaidit had refused. Horses were useful, but not necessary. Like himself, he thought as he drifted off to sleep.

Shai did not like to think about things that bothered him. If he did, then he felt as if they nipped at his heels wherever he walked. As Eridit was doing this morning as he trudged a final time over the remains of a battlefield.

‘It has to be the battle where your brother was lost,’ she was saying. ‘Everyone I talked to in Horn agreed there had been a cadre of outlanders with the troop. No one had seen anything like them. The time is right, if you think he could have died three years ago.’

He stooped to turn over a rock. Bugs swarmed over white roots, like thoughts hiding from the light. He settled the rock back in place.

She went on. ‘The odd thing is, no one knew where the outlanders came from, or where they were going. Or who the men were who attacked them and wiped them out.’

They reached the highest point in the tumble of rocks where they had made their camp. Shai halted in the shadow of a huge rock to survey the grass and scrub growing in the hollow beyond. There were remains scattered all the way from the banks of a distant stream cutting down the far slope to these outcroppings, as though the men fighting had done it on the run.

‘The folk I talked to said everyone died in the battle. But I think a few of the outlanders were still alive. From what folk let slip, the Horn folk came through afterward and slit the throats of the wounded rather than try to heal them. The other group ran away.’

‘Folk lie.’

‘It seems likely.’ She rested a hand on his elbow.

He shifted away.

‘Don’t tell me you’ve never had sex.’

He turned away so she wouldn’t see how red he was. ‘I went to the temple in Olossi.’

‘One time, I hear.’

‘I’ve been to brothels in Kartu Town.’ Only twice, but he needn’t say that! Anyway, the girls there had been glazed on sweet-smoke, unable to distinguish one man from another.

‘Some things in life can’t be bought or sold.’

‘You keep slaves here.’ He met her gaze defiantly. Let the Hundred folk preen and spout about their temples; that didn’t make them better than the people of Kartu Town.

‘Sure we do. There are folk who like that a person hasn’t any choice. I think it’s disgusting.’ She pressed his shoulder back until he was caught against the rock, then leaned against him. ‘What do you think?’

Ragged corners of rock poked painfully into his back. ‘Slaves have no will of their own,’ he said hoarsely. He could feel the pressure of her all along the length of his body.

‘What does that mean?’

‘They are disgraced. They have no honor.’

‘Maybe so, or maybe they were just unlucky.’ She licked her lips in a manner meant to make him crazy, and it did. ‘I wasn’t asking about slaves anyway.’ She traced the line of his body from chest down his torso to a hip, and slid her hand around to cup one buttock. ‘Aui! You have a good, firm shape. We could do it in the crevice over there, and no one the wiser.’

‘Stop,’ he whispered.

She ground her hips against his until he thought he would burst. ‘You’re not going to find any trace of your brother after four days looking over this cursed field. I’m bored waiting around, and when I get bored I get in a devouring mood, even if I am one of Hasibal’s pilgrims. So I’m going to devour you, right now, because you want it, you’re just too shy to say so. You need a little spice to heat you up, get that… tongue… of yours slick.’

She steered him to the crevice, a slit mostly covered by a fall of vegetation sprinkled with orange flowers. He caught a whiff of their sweet scent as she dragged him through the vines. She pressed him down on the dry dirt floor and peeled back his clothing. At first she sat astride him fully clothed, teasing him with her hands and lips as he groaned and writhed, rocking herself against him until she gasped to a climax. Then she loosed her own trousers and straddled him.

He gasped and moaned, delirious, mounting, gone.

‘I knew that would be fast,’ she said, hands on his shoulders, her pink tongue peeping out between slightly parted lips. ‘You’ll last longer next time.’ She stroked his torso. ‘Whew! You have a body a

woman could just devour again and again. Do you want to try it a second time?’

‘Eridit,’ he said, but her name exhausted him; he could think of nothing to say to her except that all he could think of was wanting her to devour him over and over and over. No wonder they called their goddess merciless.

A fluttering bird’s whistle rose on the air.

‘The hells!’ muttered Eridit. ‘That’s the signal.’

She scrambled to slip on her trousers as Shai rolled into a tangle of his own clothing. She ducked out from under the crevice as he tried to get everything straightened out so he could dress. By the time he crawled out and stood, an eagle flew so low overhead that he yelped and dropped to the dirt.

‘Hurry!’ Eridit dashed back to grab his wrist. ‘A reeve is here. They weren’t supposed to contact us! Edard will be furious! They could break our cover.’

They cut down over uneven ground between ridges of naked rock and bumpy grass-grown slopes. The eagle had come to earth beyond the eroded remnants of a once great spine of rock, a bit downslope toward the depths of the hollow, a landing spot that might conceal the eagle from any folk walking on nearby West Track or more distant Horn. The reeve had already unhooked, and he left his harness dangling free behind him as he strode up the slope.

Edard trotted down to meet him. ‘Be quick about it so we’re not spotted, you rank fool!’

‘Strange, I was here before,’ said the reeve, unaffected by Edard’s snarling demeanor. ‘Be sure I wouldn’t have cut my flight short if I’d not been commanded to deliver a personal message to one of your party. I’m called Volias, by the way. The man I’m looking for goes by the name of Shayi. An outlander.’ He bent his sour gaze on Shai, but was distracted by the sight of Eridit sauntering up. ‘Whew! What’s your name?’

‘No luck today,’ she said with a flirting smile.

‘Didn’t I see you in Olossi, at the arena? Aren’t you the Incomparable Eridit?’

She did not take the bait. ‘Beautiful eagle. Is she friendly?’

‘That might depend,’ he said.

She shook her head with a mocking frown. ‘You need work, ver. This is Shai. What’s your message?’

‘Yes,’ added Edard, ‘and then get gone. Cursed idiot. Where are you headed?’

‘None of your cursed business, is it?’ With a sneer, he turned to Shai. ‘Captain Anji’s wife said to tell you — and I’m just repeating her words, they mean nothing to me, mind you — “Beware of Cornflower”.’

‘What is a cornflower?’ asked Eridit.

‘She’s haunting you, on your trail, out for revenge.’

‘If Mai meant the slave girl,’ said Shai, ‘then she’s dead. She vanished in a sandstorm. No one could survive that.’

‘He’s not too swift, is he?’ said the reeve to Eridit.

‘Umm. But tasty.’

‘Oof! That hurt! All right, Sbayi.’ The reeve mangled the name, and seemed to enjoy doing it. ‘I think what the captain’s wife is trying to tell you is that you’ve got a demon stalking your tail.’

Hu! His body recalled how it had responded to the sight of Cornflower’s slight, pale form, her demon-blue eyes, her passive air. Every one of his brothers had tasted her, repeatedly; he had refrained, but not from disgust. Not from not wanting her. Not at all. He wiped sweat from his brow, shut his eyes, trying to wring from his memory the image of her lying on a pallet dressed in scanty bedroom silks, trying to freeze his body’s fresh stirring of arousal.

‘A lilu, eh?’ said Eridit, who missed nothing.

Edard said, ‘If you’ve delivered your message, get moving.’

‘Where’s the rest of your party?’

‘The rest of the party is smarter than these two nimwits,’ said Edard. ‘They stayed hidden. You find what you were looking for, Shai, or are you ready to give up on it?’

As Shai opened his eyes, his gaze wandered to the reeve with his harness clipped tight around his torso and his tight leathers beneath, the trousers ornamented by a polished belt buckle engraved with a wolf’s head.

He took in a sharp breath. ‘Where’d you get that?’ he demanded.

‘Get what?’ asked the reeve indignantly.

‘The belt buckle.’ Shai raised his right hand to display the wolf ring, sigil of the Mei clan into which he had been born. ‘That

belonged to my brother. I recognize it.’ The shock of seeing it made him come alive, as if he were already moving, an axe in its downward swing.

The reeve leaped back, raising his baton. ‘The hells! Don’t come any closer.’

Shaking, Shai lowered his hand, now curled into a fist. He was about the same height as the reeve, but bulkier, and he felt his strength in the way his entire body was poised; but he also recognized the reeve’s ready stance.

‘Heya, Shai,’ said Eridit in a cool, amused tone. ‘We’re playing for the same side, neh?’

‘Want to get out of here now?’ asked Edard. ‘If you would be so kind, reeve.’

The reeve furrowed his brow, and slanted a glance at Shai. ‘Yet it’s true, I found it. Here, on this field.’

Shai’s tongue rooted; he couldn’t speak.

‘Down this way,’ said the reeve.

‘Stay here, Eridit,’ said Edard sternly. ‘Go gather your gear.’

Shai stumbled over every bump and root that hooked his path, while the reeve glanced back several times, no doubt the better to eye Eridit from the rear. The reeve fetched up near where the stream cut through tussocks of flowering grass and white-barked saplings growing among low-lying rocks. Farther upslope, scrub trees and brush covered the hillside.

The reeve searched along the bank of the stream until he reached a spot dense with human remains left to the weather.

‘It was… right… here.’ He probed with a boot, and lifted his foot a hand’s width with a curved bone caught over the arch. ‘I found it under this fellow.’

If a tree had hit him square in the back, Shai could not have dropped harder to his knees. A jumble of shapes and colors pulsed before him: green grass blowing; the white cradle of bare ribs; red-clay-colored cloth pressed into the loam, becoming part of the weave of earth. Nearby, a skull was lodged upside down between rocks in the stream, water flowing through the eye sockets. White flowers bobbed on a nearby bush. From deep in the branches, a bird peeped at him, black eyes gleaming.

i need to get on.’ An object thudded to the ground by Shai’s

knees. The man walked away as Shai stared at the buckle; the wolf’s head stared back at him, black on silver. He sucked in an inhalation as he grasped it.

Hari!

Dead. Dead. Dead.

With a trembling hand Shai touched the shattered rib cage. Closing his eyes, he tried to snare the lingering whispers of a spirit from the sun-warmed bones.

These were not Hari’s bones.

A man shouted.

Shai started back, his hands cold and his chest heavy. He scrambled on hands and knees through the scatter of bones, touching leg bones, arms, fingers, a mandible. So many dead men, carved by death out of life and sent fleeing through the Spirit Gate. But none of them were Hari.

Yet Hari had been dead when he had last been wearing the belt buckle. Hari’s wolf sigil ring had come to the family through convoluted channels, more by accident and chance than purpose, so Shai believed. Hari’s ring, too, had whispered of its owner’s death. But Hari’s bones were nowhere to be found, or at least, not here where he had left his ring and his buckle. Weeping, Shai sank onto his heels, head cupped in his hands. The obvious answer sang in his ears: Hari had died elsewhere, and another man had robbed his corpse and worn his fine ring and buckle until he himself was caught by the death that attends those who march to war.

Enough.

An eagle rose out of the outcropping, whose bare stone shouldered above dirt in rough surfaces and ragged spills of rock like massive frozen waterfalls. Men flowed out of the rock, spurting from between ridges, cascading down the slope.

They had seen him.

They were armed.

He tied Hari’s belt buckle into his sleeve and leaped the stream, landing up to his knees in the rushing cold water. He splashed through and scrambled up the far side as shouts were loosed at his back. He sprinted up the slope to the shelter of the low-lying scrub. Thin straggler vines whipped his face; branches caught in his clothes

as he tore through. His cap came off. The racket he made as he thrashed through the brush was trail enough for his pursuers.

He dropped to hands and knees and scrambled among narrow trunks, squiggled into a thicket and lay, panting, on his belly. He eased around, to watch the way he had come. Branches snapped and slithered as four men pressed past not two body’s lengths from him. He could not see their faces, only their legs. White and pale pink flowers danced in the taller scrub trees as the wind rose, melding with the stamp and disturbance made by the searching men. Maybe rain would blow through, discourage the hunters, and leave him free to-

A thorn pricked him. He shifted to get out from under it. The point pinched harder.

‘Get up,’ said a man.

The point of a spear jabbed hard enough to break the skin.

Cautiously, he eased up to hands and knees.

A kick planted into his rear sent him sprawling into vines and thorns. A second kick caught a hip, and as he struggled to get out of the thorns, the kicks kept pushing him back in until he simply went limp and lay like he was dead. Blood tickled along his spine; his skin stung where the spear had poked him.

The spear jabbed a new spot.

‘Get up,’ said the same voice, in the same flat tone, no pleasure in it, no giggling sneering gloat.

He had learned a few tricks from the Qin soldiers. With a spinning roll, he knocked the point off his back and got his hands on the shaft with a wide grip. He wrenched the spear out of the man’s grip, twirled it, and smacked him upside the chin with the shaft.

The man dropped right into Shai, his weight smashing him backward into a bush. Shai shoved him off, then levered the spear under him to push himself up.

Too late.

Others pushed into view. Two had swords, three had spears, and one had a bow nocked with a ready arrow.

‘Not bad,’ said the bowman, standing in back of the rest, partially screened by brush. ‘Kill him now, Sergeant?’

‘Give us the spear, lad.’

They looked like ordinary folk on the surface, bedraggled from tearing through the scrub, but their eyes were hard and their clothes

mismatched, and they carried their weapons like they wanted an excuse to use them. Three had lips stained red, the sigil left by sweet-smoke, whose mark he’d seen on Girish. The addicts looked ready to kill if given the order. The fallen man groaned as he staggered to his feet.

‘Cursed outlander!’ he growled. ‘Can I rip his balls off?’

‘Neh. The master will want to know what he’s doing here pawing through the battlefield right where Lord Twilight was raised. Looks like he was traveling with that ordinand.’

Had they captured Edard, too?

Was it better to fight and die, or give up your freedom now in the hopes of winning it back later?

He released the spear.

A man grabbed it and smacked him alongside the face. He blacked out.

And came to retching, with them dragging him through grass. They had been joined by more soldiers.

‘Walk!’

They pulled him past a pile of clothing discarded on the ground, only there was a man still in that clothing, a face staring up at the sky and mist rising out of the nostrils in a roil of confusion.

‘Why will folk never listen to me when I try to warn them? Heya! Shai!’ Edard’s ghost writhed toward him, mouth widening in an exaggerated grimace. ‘Did I tell you my clan’s password to make contact in Toskala? Someone needs to know. “Splendid silk slippers”, like in the tale. Same as our badge.’

Shai had never been so afraid in his life, to see a ghost calling his name as its cloudy essence chased after him.

But of course, no one else could see. They just thought he was struggling to get free.

‘No fighting, or I’ll let Twist cook and eat your balls after he’s cut them off.’

‘Don’t want to eat them,’ said Twist, to the laughter of the others. ‘Want to make him eat them raw.’

They chortled. Dizzied, Shai blinked as Edard’s ghost hazed his vision.

‘One moment I was walking down to find where Eridit had gone, and the next… Eiya! Am I dead?’

The ghost seemed less angry than puzzled as the gang of men marched through him. He drifted toward a ridge of rock adorned with curtains of orange-flowering vegetation. The way the vegetation fell down the crag made it seem there was rock all the way down, the crevice itself easily missed, unless you knew it was there because a young woman had recently dragged you in there and done what she wanted, not that he hadn’t wanted it just as much.

‘Aui!’ said the ghost. ‘There Eridit is! Safe, at least.’

Shai saw her eyes, a patchwork face behind orange flowers. As she saw him see her, fear made her face ghastly. Fear for him? Or for herself?

He stumbled purposefully, drawing their attention, and surged up so they crowded in to pressure him forward, weapons bristling like so many iron thorns ready to impale. They didn’t examine the nearby rocks.

Edard’s ghost had vanished.

And Shai was their living prisoner.

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