Return to Kervale Carvesh
The ride back to Kervale was fast and furious. The empty Kingsway allowed their horses to gallop at full speed. They had been riding for less than ten minutes when the village came into view. Even from a distance, it was clear that Kervale was bustling with activity. Villagers and maroon-clad soldiers moved busily through the streets. Several stopped to watch as Carvesh and his companions thundered toward them. When they reached the outskirts of the village itself, a tall, broad-shouldered man emerged from the gathering crowd.
“Blessed Guardian!” he shouted as Carwell reined in his horse. “When the farmhand returned alone with the boy, we feared the worst.”
“Well met, Linden. They made it safely, then?”
“Aye,” replied the man, stepping forward to take horse’s reins as Carwell slipped out of the saddle. “They came in shortly after dark. Was there really a demon?”
“We’ll discuss it later. For the moment, we have work to do. Where’s Samane?”
“Hurt. She’s at the infirmary—what we’re calling the healer’s house now—nursing her leg. Rimey thinks she’ll be okay, but it’s hard to say for certain.”
“Another pack of those beasts came tearing through town last night. It was all we could do to drive them back. As it was, we lost Wallace and about six of the villagers.” Carvesh’s stomach knotted and he must have gasped because Linden turned to him. “Your family’s safe, goodman. It was an old couple who was caught outside when the attack came, along with four other men who fought with us. Solid men, too, from good northern stock. I cursed the beasts seven times over for that.”
“How many wounded are there?” Quelana asked.
“I lost count—wait, that man, Jadoc, he said you got done in pretty bad, but you look fit as a bull, if you’ll pardon the expression.”
“I got better. And it sounds like I have my work cut out for me. I’d best get to it. If we’re moving these people, their wounds will need to be bound differently. I may need your help, Madik.”
“Happy to oblige,” replied the hunter, and together they made their way toward the healer’s home.
“Moving?” asked Linden. “What’s she talking about?”
“We can’t stay here,” said Carwell, speaking quietly so that the gathered crowd could not hear. “Call the Mayor. Have him gather the people in the village square within the hour. And unfurl the Black Banner.”
“My Lord?” the man’s eyes widened in astonishment.
“Yes, old friend. I’m afraid that, as of this moment, we are at war.”
“The Guardian protect us.”
“Indeed. We need—“
Carvesh never heard what was said next. “Father!” someone shouted. He followed the familiar sound of the voice and found Jayne rushing toward him. Vaulting from his saddle, he closed the distance between them in a dozen strides. He fell to his knees, opened his arms and gathered his daughter up into his arms. He held her close and offered up a silent prayer of thanks for her safety. He never wanted to let her go.
“We were so scared,” Jayne said, choking back her tears. “When you didn’t come back—and the monsters last night. Oh dada—I heard people screaming. I heard them dying.” She broke down, trembling and sobbing softly into his shoulder.
“I’m here now,” said Carvesh. “I’m here. Where’s your mother?”
“At Quelana’s. She’s still working with the people who got hurt. I was helping her, but I just couldn’t take it anymore. There’s so much blood.”
“With Dane and his aunt, I think. I haven’t seen them since breakfast. What’s happening, dada? Where did these monsters come from? Why are they doing this?”
“We’re still trying to work that out,” Carvesh told her. He was not about to repeat Taaru’s story to his daughter. Jayne had always shown a maturity beyond her years, but she was still just a child, and prone to the same vivid nightmares that he had suffered as a boy. The coming days would be hard on her—they would be hard on everyone—and there was no reason to add more fuel for her troubled dreams. She had already seen enough.
He glanced back at Carwell. Though the Lord was still speaking intently with Linden and his men, he somehow sensed Carvesh’s gaze. He returned it with a slight nod, as though to say go ahead.
“Come on,” said Carvesh. Jayne was eight now and he rarely carried her anymore, but this seemed like the right moment to do so. When she nestled into his shoulder and some of the tension seemed to ease from her body, he knew it was the right decision. “Let’s go see your mother.” Jayne nodded weakly in reply.
As he made his way through the streets of Kervale, it was like walking through an entirely different place. Many of the villagers were moving about at a frenzied pace, while others seemed to be wandering aimlessly. A number homes were already boarded up and normally friendly faces lacked their familiar smiles. Altogether, a pallor seemed to have fallen across the village, as though all of Kervale had been covered by a fog of fear and grief. It reminded Carvesh of the silence that had preceded the demon’s attack. He had to fight down the constant urge to look over his shoulder.
It’s mid-morning, he thought, struggling to ignore the uneasy quiet. The sun is high in the sky. We’re safe.
He had just arrived at the steps of Quelana’s house when the woman rushed at him. “You bastard!” she shrieked, throwing herself at Carvesh with fists flying. “You flaming, bloody bastard!” Carvesh recoiled from her assault, and nearly fell backward over the steps. He raised one arm and pushed his assailant back so that he could lower Jayne onto the safety of the porch. The woman stumbled for a moment. By the time she rushed forward again, Carvesh had retreated into the middle of the street. She swung at him with all the strength she could muster, but her attack was more surprising than painful. His greater height allowed him to keep her at bay until she grasped his arm and sunk her teeth into his wrist.
He screamed in pain. “Ashes and embers woman! What the bloody hell is your problem?”
“He’s dead because of you!” she shrieked. By now, two of Carwell’s maroon clad soldiers had appeared, rushing out of Quelana’s home to restrain the woman. She was older than Carvesh had first thought, with thick streaks of grey through her dark hair and deep lines around her eyes. She was clad in a long, black dress.
A mourner’s black.
“Who?” Carvesh asked. “Who’s dead?”
“My son, you horse’s ass! My beautiful boy! Those damned beasts killed him. And it’s all because of you!”
“He thought you were a hero!” she shrieked. “Carvesh the farmer, slayer of shadowbeasts. Bullocks, I said, but would he listen? Of course not! The fool picked up a sword and went to fight because he thought that’s what you would do. And now he’s dead!”
“Miss,” said one of the guards, trying to restrain her.
“You know what I think?” she continued. “I think you brought those beasts. I think they’re here because of you! You, that bitch wife of yours and your half-breed whelps! It’s unnatural, and the Nine sent these beasts to punish us all for not driving you out years ago.”
“Enough!” The voice boomed so loudly that it seemed to shake the very earth. When Carvesh turned to see Aurin Carwell approaching, he thought that perhaps it had. The Lord strode forward with his shoulders squared, making him look taller than he really was. His emerald green blazed with fury. “What in the name of the Nine is going on here?”
“My son is dead!” shouted the woman again, though she sounded somewhat less certain of herself. “Because of him!”
“You accuse this man of murder?”
“Yes!” she shrieked. “I accuse him of darkness. Of consorting with the Iria. Hang him! Hang him like the dog he is—“
“Silence!” snapped Carwell. “I am sorry for the loss of your son, madam, but I will not stand by and allow you to besmirch the name of this good man.”
“Good? He’s in league with those beasts. Fellheart, I name him! May he be cursed beneath the eyes of the Nine and all other gods!”
Carwell’s jaw tightened and his nostrils flared. When he drew his sword, Carvesh thought his uncle was going to order the woman’s execution and carry it out right there in the middle of the street. “Do you know who I am?” he asked, very quietly.
“The rockcat of Sharenden,” spat the woman. “Lord and Protector. Isn’t that what they call you? Where were you when the beasts attacked? Where were you when my son died?”
“Fighting my own battle. Men die in war. There’s nothing I can do to stop that.”
“But we’re not at war!” the woman wailed, working herself into hysterics. Carvesh could almost see the last vestiges of reason being swept away by the flood of her grief.
“We are now. Our lands have been invaded by strange beasts, and I have reason to believe this incursion is just beginning. The Black Banner flies.”
Even as Carwell spoke, Carvesh felt a hand on his back. When he looked down, he found Anya at his side. She did not say a word. She merely looked up at him with those beautiful brown eyes that spoke a language deeper than any words. I love you, they said. And I’m so glad you’re back safely. He pulled her close.
“My son was not a soldier!” the woman protested.
“No,” said Carwell, quietly. “You’re wrong about that. The truth is every man’s a soldier in his own way. Every man is a warrior in his own home. Every man has right to stand for what is important to him, to fight for justice and to defend the weak. If your son took up a sword in the defence of this village, then surely he is resting with the Guardian in the Hall of Heroes, for he did what was good and right in the eyes of the Nine.”
“But he’s dead!”
“So that others might live, woman! Has your own grief blinded you so much? Or has selfishness so hardened your heart? You accuse this man of darkness, but the only darkness I see here is that which lurks in your own mind. You seek retribution against the blameless. In my eyes, the man you accuse has done nothing but fight to protect the people of this community. He put his own life on the line to rescue a boy that was not of his own blood. And last night, he slew a creature that none in our party had ever seen before, a creature that we can only describe as a demon. Fellheart, you name him? By both my Lordship and that of my forefathers, I deny it. For I give this man a new name.
“I name him Demonsbane, and raise him here and now to the rank of Captain of the Kervale Militia.”