Roger Taylor: Caddoran

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Roger Taylor Caddoran
  • Название:
    Caddoran
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  • Жанр:
    Фэнтези / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Caddoran: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Roger Taylor


Caddoran

Chapter 1

Mist folded around the five figures on the beach, reducing their world to a grey, shifting dome, and deadening everything around them. Even if they had not been afraid of discovery, it would have made them lower their voices.

Hyrald massaged his left arm with his right hand, to stave off the chilly dampness that was threatening to make him shiver. His sister moved to his side and voiced the inevitable question.

‘Where are we?’

Hyrald would have liked to reply, ‘Just another damned lake. We’ll find shelter for the night and move around it in the morning,’ but every sense told him otherwise.

‘It’s the sea, Adren,’ he said flatly.

Standing only a few paces away, Thyrn, slight and restless, and his uncle, Nordath, both turned to him as they caught the reply. The third man, Rhavvan, taller and heavier than the others, presumably also heard but made no response. He continued staring intently into the mist.

‘What?’ Thyrn demanded querulously.

‘The sea,’ Hyrald confirmed, more relaxed now that the word had been spoken, though he glanced uneasily at Rhavvan, who had moved further away and now stood vague and insubstantial at the shadowy limit of his vision.

Thyrn looked around into the greyness as if for an ally. ‘The sea! It can’t be. The sea’s to the east, not north. Are you sure? How do you know? Gods, we’ll be trapped if we can’t move on…’

‘Sniff the air.’ Hyrald cut across the outburst almost viciously. He was in no mood to debate the obvious and Thyrn’s nervous disposition had to be firmly handled if it was not to run out of control. ‘That’s salt. I remember it well enough now. Be quiet.’ He raised a hand to emphasize the order.

Thyrn blew out a steaming breath into the mist and stamped a foot irritably. Water welled up around his boot. Hyrald caught his eye and he fell still.

Into the ensuing silence came the sound that Hyrald was listening for. A soft, distant lapping. He motioned the group forward and soon they were standing at the water’s edge. It glistened, oily smooth in the dull light, and quite still save for an occasional slow welling like the sleeping breath of a great animal. A thin foam-specked rim slithered slightly towards them, then retreated.

‘This is the sea?’ Thyrn whispered, curious now, as well as frightened. ‘I always thought it would be noisy – violent – great waves crashing in. Like in the old tales – and pictures.’ He waved his arms in imitation, then crouched down and tentatively dipped a finger into the water. Hyrald watched him – Thyrn could bring an almost uncanny intensity to the most trivial of actions – and it was rarely possible to predict what he would do next. He sniffed his damp finger then, without hesitation, sucked it noisily. His face wrinkled in distaste and he spat drily and wiped his hand across his mouth.

‘I just told you it was salt,’ Hyrald said. Almost in spite of himself, and as had proved the case before, he felt his irritation turning into a mixture of compassion and amusement at Thyrn’s naive curiosity. ‘It’s the sea all right. I’ve only seen it once, and that briefly and a long time ago – before Adren here was born – but that smell’s unmistakable. Takes me right back.’ He pulled a wry face as he pushed the old memories away. They were too much of a burden now, too full of different times. ‘I suppose it’s quiet because there’s no wind, or…’

‘Move!’

The voice was soft, but commanding. It was Rhavvan’s. He was abruptly among them, urging them forwards, his arms spread as if to gather them all together. There was the same purposefulness in his moving as previously there had been in his motionless watching. It allowed no pause. Thyrn staggered to his feet fearfully, but made no sound. Hyrald and Adren took his arms to steady him, but he needed little support and was almost immediately half walking, half trotting ahead of them, his uncle following close behind him.

Hyrald looked significantly at Rhavvan serving as rearguard. He was answered with a brief hand mime that told him, ‘Riders,’ and fingers held up which said, ‘Two, maybe three.’

Hyrald nodded and drew his sword nervously. Both circumstances and his personal inclination led him towards evasion in preference to confrontation, but with no idea where they were or where they were going, the latter was very probable. Noting her brother’s action, Adren drew her sword also. They strode on in silence, Rhavvan occasionally inclining his head to catch any sounds behind them. Hyrald took solace from the fact that though they were lost, so too were their pursuers, and the mist hid everyone alike. Then the soft padding of his feet intruded to dispel this faint comfort and he looked down – mist would not hide the footprints they were leaving.

Even as the realization impinged on him, Rhavvan grimaced and hissed out, ‘Stand, they’re on us!’

Nordath moved in front of Thyrn protectively, his sword uneasily extended. Thyrn crouched low behind him. In front of them in turn, Hyrald and Adren stood either side of Rhavvan. Both kept a good distance away from him however, noting that he was hefting his long staff in preference to his sword, and to be hit accidentally by that was only marginally less damaging than being hit on purpose!

Then Rhavvan was crouching low and signalling them to do the same.

Struggling to control his breathing, Hyrald screwed up his eyes and peered into the shifting greyness. More thoughts that he did not want leaked into his mind. What was he doing here? What madness was abroad that would make Vashnar proclaim the Death Cry against them, turning him, his sister and Rhavvan from hunters into hunted? He tightened his grip on the sword and gritted his teeth to dispel the questions; there were no answers to be had here – they were only a hindrance. He must focus completely on what was happening.

Within a heartbeat of this resolve, a shapeless movement in the mist ahead of him formed itself into a rider.

Perhaps they’re not after us. Perhaps they’re fishermen or something. Not everyone in the country’s searching for us – surely? It was an unexpected and unsettling thought, and it made Hyrald falter as he braced himself. Then it and all doubts were gone, for as the rider drew nearer he saw the drawn sword. And he recognized the uniform of the Arvenshelm Wardens.

This was no foolish villager looking for easy money. Vashnar was sending his own men the length of the country against them! And they had drawn swords without challenge.

The implications almost unmanned Hyrald. He began to tremble violently, and his mind was filled with visions of throwing down his own sword and begging for mercy, or alternatively, dashing off into the mist and abandoning everything.

Rhavvan’s voice cut through his fear. ‘Yours, Hyrald! Left side!’

At the same time he became aware of Rhavvan surging upwards, his long staff lunging towards the rider’s head. The Death Cry was the Death Cry – no choices – and as though drawn after him, like an inadequate shadow, Hyrald too was on his feet and swinging a wild double-handed blow at the figure now above him, sword raised. The rider gave a brief cry of alarm and instinctively straightened up to avoid Rhavvan’s staff, but the speed of his horse and that of Rhavvan’s attack gave him little chance; Hyrald knew that the man’s neck had been broken even as the flat of his own sword struck him across the chest. The impact knocked Hyrald backwards and he tripped, nearly losing the sword. The corpse fell clear of him but he rolled over several times nevertheless, desperate to be away from it.

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