Mark Newton: Nights of Villjamur

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Mark Newton Nights of Villjamur
  • Название:
    Nights of Villjamur
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  • Жанр:
    Фэнтези / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Brynd wrapped his cloak around him, glad for the extra shirt beneath his uniform, although the additional layers made his new leather vest feel restricting.

'Hardly a bloody battle, this, is it?'

Brynd looked back to see who had spoken. A line of the Second Dragoons stood motionless in their black and green uniforms, leaning on their long shields, viewing the wave that rolled into the distance. The men and women weren't yet wearing armour, only the traditional brown cloaks, each with the Jamur star stitched in gold on the left breast. With them he had long stopped being self-conscious for being an albino human as well as their captain.

Amongst other things.

'And who said that, then?' Brynd asked.

'Me,' said a distinctively higher-pitched voice this time.

Muffled laughter.

Kapp Brimir, a boy native to Folke, started squirming his way forward between the soldiers. More of the other islanders were visible in the distance gathered around their fires. The first voice certainly couldn't have been his, for Kapp was perhaps only ten years old. To avoid local uprisings, soldiers were told to be friendly with the local people before campaigns, but it was a difficult task with some of them. This boy seemed especially keen on annoying everyone. Kapp insisted on asking questions of any senior officers encountered around Ule: details about sword play, about how people dressed in Villjamur, about what they did for fun and did they dance?

'Yes?' Brynd said. 'Your voice's pretty deep for such a young age, and you can swear in Jamur, too? That surprises me for a native. If this isn't much of a battle, just count yourself lucky. Were you looking for a full-scale war?'

'No.' Kapp stepped forward, stood right next to Brynd, looking up at the soldier. 'Doesn't seem very fair, though, using one of them.' He indicated the cultist on the shore below.

Brynd said, 'You'd rather we all died, instead?'

Kapp shrugged, stared out to sea, played with a lock of his hair as if he'd already forgotten their conversation.

Brynd said, 'You want to be a soldier?'

'No way.'

'Might be useful to learn how to fight one day.'

'I can fight already.' Kapp turned to face the unlikely tide again.

'Captain Lathraea!' someone shouted. It was the cultist, now wading up the sand without his relic. He was grey-haired, with bird-like features, a thin medallion strung around his neck, the symbol unclear in this light. 'Captain, they've a cultist, too. They've got a bloody cultist!'

'Shit, how's that possible?'

'I don't know, but look.' He indicated the wall of water coming back towards them, the lip of the wave breaking over itself.

Brynd turned in time to see Kapp pushing back through the troops.

'I think I can stop it, or at least weaken it,' the cultist continued. 'I'd get everyone inland, anyway.'

'Thought I gave the commands.' Brynd placed a hand on the sheathed blade by his side.

'This isn't the time for ceremony, captain.'

'I suspect you're right.'

'Have you seen the rest of my order?'

'Not for some time.' Brynd shook his head. 'Can't you lot keep a track of yourselves by using one of your own damn contraptions?'

'You'd do well to keep it friendly, brother,' the cultist snapped, then ran down the shore, skidding on the sand, and placed his device in the water again.

Brynd commanded the Dragoons to move back, and the soldiers retreated up to the plains.

To the north of the island, tribesmen were clambering up the shore on to the grass ridge, axes in hand, and how they had arrived unnoticed, Brynd had no idea, because the garudas should have spotted them, wherever the hell they were.

If that boy really wanted a battle, Brynd thought, drawing his sabre, it's bloody well on its way.

*

Kapp ran so fast it seemed as if he couldn't stop if he wanted. The path was bounded on either side with broken buildings, and his feet thundered into the ground as he sped down Flayer's Hill towards his home.

He stopped as he heard the first wave surge against the landscape, rocking it. Then he turned back to watch seawater frothing as it spilled over the crest of the hill, sparkling in the moonlight. The water wasn't enough to fully breach the bank, but you could see that the next wave would. And he next heard shouting, then there they were, hundreds of the Emperor's Dragoons changing direction, marching now to the north of the island.

That albino soldier was leading them, his weapon raised.

The troops began to line up on either side of him. They locked their shields together, began to beat on the massed metal. As Kapp ran into the distance and downhill, the last image he had of them was that they were a dominating force.

He no longer wanted anything whatsoever to do with them.

The tribesmen clambered over the shore in an endless stream, the whites of their bone-charms visible, their axes held high, their flesh barely covered by primitive clothing.

Nothing made sense. Only moments earlier, the Dragoons on his native island were about to take another neighbouring island under the Emperor's wing, but now it was his island that was suffering a coastal raid. Like burning insects, fires were scattering in Ule as people fled from the main town and out into wilder land.

Kapp had to warn his mother.

Arms aflail, he sprinted towards his home, a large wooden construct surrounded by a herd of half-asleep goats that swarmed away from him as he approached. He stopped when he heard a strange crackling. Frowning, he spun in a full circle to see where it came from, yet somehow it seemed to embrace every direction, fluxing through the air. He caught a glimpse of a spectral glow and headed towards it.

There were two figures beside a betula tree, both of them in black clothing, barely noticeable in this dim light.

One lay on the ground, a net of violet light surrounding him. The other stood above, a small metal box clasped in his hands, and it was from this the strange energy emanated. The one on the ground was screaming in pain, blood on his face. Kapp wanted to do something. It hurt him to witness someone in so much agony.

Scanning the ground for a fist-sized stone, Kapp picked up two knuckles of granite, then scampered in an arc to approach from behind. He threw the first stone, which hit the tree.

The standing-man turned.

Kapp threw the second stone, which struck him square on the back of the head, and the man collapsed against the tree with a grunt of pain, dropping his box.

The net-light evaporated.

The injured figure suddenly rose, slashed a blade across the other's chest, then drew it again across his neck. His victim collapsed to his knees, shuddering, his mouth agape in either confusion or surprise, then slumped sideways.

The killer hunched over the corpse, panting, then concealed the box beneath his cloak.

Kapp was stunned by the incident. Apart from the wind sliding across the tundra, all sounds were improbably absent. Kapp felt an immense guilt, wanted to run. Had he actually contributed to murder?

As the remaining figure approached, Kapp experienced a sudden sense of calm. This was a cultist, or some official – you could tell by the medallion he wore around his neck. The rest of the outfit was elaborate, with the subtle red stitching of a small crest on one breast. The survivor was chubby, blond hair dishevelled. Kapp watched in silence as the cultist knelt down before him, bloody scars webbing across his face in symmetrical perfection.

'Thank you, boy. Seems I owe you my life,' the figure declared in elegant Jamur. He took Kapp's hand and shook it. Kapp was uncertain of the gesture.

'That's all right,' Kapp replied in Jamur, dazzled by the man's intense blue eyes. They seemed unnaturally feminine… and there was no stubble.

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