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Furies of Calderon, Page 43

Jim Butcher

Chapter 43

  Tavi ran for his life.

  The courtyard was a mass of confusion and motion, but he knew the one direction he had to go: away from the man who had killed Atsurak. Tavi spun, dashed around a pair of struggling Marat warriors, and fled toward the other side of the fort. He heard a roar of wind above him, and then a sudden burst of it sent him tumbling along the ground. Tavi yelped and tried to make sure that he didn't stab himself to death with the knife in his hand, rolling and bumping along the stones of the courtyard.

  When he came to a stop, he looked up to see a Knight Aeris in full armor diving toward him, the spear in his hand held extended. Tavi clawed at his pockets. Even as the Knight came on, Tavi hurled a handful of rock salt he had taken from Bernardholt's smokehouse at the oncoming Knight, and then dove frantically to one side.

  The Knight let out a sudden shout, clawing at the air-but he dropped to the ground, moving too fast, skipped along for a pair of desperate steps, and began to tumble end over end on the unforgiving stones. Tavi heard one of his limbs hit with a sharp crack of impact, and the Knight shrieked.

  Tavi regained his feet, looking around him wildly. More Knights Aeris had risen above the courtyard, looking for him. On the other side of a struggling knot of legionares, the huge swordsman Tavi had seen in the stable at Bernardholt spotted him and came toward him, sword lifting to clean any opposition out of his way. The man who had killed Atsurak was nowhere to be seen.

  Tavi ran away from the swordsman and down the length of the stables, toward the center of the fort and the far gate. Surely there would be someone there who wasn't already hips-deep in Marat by now, or a safe building that he could hide in.

  Tavi reached the end of the stables at the same time a bulky figure, dressed in a half-buckled breastplate and a helmet that hung down over his

  eyes, plunged out of the doors of the stables, shouting, "I'm coming, I'm coming!"

  Tavi slammed into the young man, and both went to the ground. The man's shield tumbled away wildly, though he managed to keep a grip on the well-worn handle of a spade. The man pushed his helmet back, then gripped the spade in both hands, raising it.

  Tavi shielded his head with his arms. "Frederic!" he shouted. "Fred, it's me!"

  Frederic lowered the spade and stared. "Tavi? You're alive?"

  "Not for long!" he panted, struggling to his feet. "They're trying to kill me, Fred!"

  Frederic blinked. His helmet fell over his eyes.

  Tavi reached up to push it away, and saw the next Knight Aeris swooping down at him as he did. He reached into his pocket for more salt, but in his haste he had turned the pocket inside out, when he had drawn out salt before. It had all fallen out as he ran.

  "Tavi," Fred said. "The Steadholder says I'm not to take that helmet off-"

  "Look out!" Tavi said, and bulled into his friend, overbalancing the larger boy and taking him down. The Knight flashed past, his sword reaching down, and Tavi felt a sudden, hot sting on one arm.

  Frederic blinked at Tavi and at the Knight flying on past, circling around again. "Tavi," he said, stunned, looking at the boy's arm. "He cut you. " Fred looked up at Tavi, eyes widening. "They're trying to kill you!"

  "I can't tell you how glad I am that you're here to tell me that," Tavi said, wincing at the sudden flash of pain. Blood had stained his shirt, but he could move his arm. "It isn't bad. Help me up. "

  Frederic did, his face showing his fear and confusion. "Who are they?"

  "I don't know," Tavi said. "But he's coming again!"

  Tavi turned to duck into the building-only to see, at the far end of the stables, the unmistakable outline of the swordsman against the doors on the far side, blade in hand.

  "Can't get out that way," Tavi breathed. He looked back around behind him. The Knight Aeris had been joined by one of his companions, and they had lined up for another charge. "Fred, we need Thumper. "

  "What? But Thumper doesn't know how to fight!"

  "Salt, Fred. We need salt to throw at those windcrafters, a lot of it!"


  "Hurry, Fred!"

  The Knights Aeris hurtled toward them in a screaming torrent of wind.

  Tavi gripped at his knife and looked around wildly, but there was no place to run.

  Frederic stepped forward, in front of Tavi, his spade gripped in both hands. He let out a yell that grew into a deep-throated roar and drew back the spade. When he brought it around again, it came straight over his head and down in a great swooshing arc that met the leading Knight just before his sword could reach Tavi's friend.

  The blow crumpled the Knight as though he had been made of straw, slapped him out of the air and to the ground in a single short, violent motion. Tavi had no doubt at all that Frederic had crushed the life from him.

  Frederic lifted his spade and swung wildly at the next Knight, as the man swerved to avoid him. Frederic missed, but even as he swung, Tavi saw the light glittering on something shining on the blade of the spade, hard white lumps-crystals of salt. The salt swept through the Knight Aeris's wind-stream, and the man let out a yelp, tumbling to the ground and rolling with bone-breaking violence into the wall of one of the barracks.

  Fred stared at the two men, his eyes wide, panting. He turned to Tavi and stammered, "I already had my spade salted. After I hit that first one, when I was working on that boulder. " He blinked at the spade, and then at Tavi. "Are you all right?"

  Tavi swallowed and looked back over his shoulder at the interior of the stable. Inside, someone had leapt out of the shadows at the swordsman. There was a confused blur of outlines, a short cry-and then the swordsman continued toward them.

  Frederic swallowed, gripping his spade. "Tavi? What do we do?"

  "Give me a minute," Tavi stammered. "I'm thinking. "

  Without warning, a Marat warrior hurled himself at Tavi, plowing into his side and lifting him, carrying him to slam painfully against the wall of the stable. Tavi let out a croaking shout and swung his knife weakly at the Marat warrior, a blood-smeared member of Clan Wolf, but the knife glanced off, barely breaking the Marat's skin.

  The warrior tore at Tavi with his fangs, drawing back just enough to slam him against the wall, once, and then again, driving the breath from his lungs and stars into his vision.

  Fred loomed up behind the warrior, shoved one brawny arm beneath his

  chin, and wrenched the Marat back from Tavi, hauling the Marat off of his feet and eliciting a strangled scream of protest. "Tavi!" Fred shouted. "Run!"

  Tavi landed on the ground, woozily, and pushed himself to his hands and knees. He looked up to see the swordsman still coming for him and turned, the gold-handled dagger still clutched in his fist, and started moving again, staggering off into the wild melee of the courtyard.

  Tavi ducked the butt of a legionare's spear, slipped on a dark wetness he did not take the time to look at, and scrambled forward. A bloodied holder Tavi recognized from Rothholt turned toward him and lifted his sword, but recognized Tavi before striking and yelled something at him through the tumult and din.

  Wind roared over the courtyard once more, and Tavi looked back to see another Knight Aeris hovering, eyes searching over the courtyard. His gaze swept to Tavi and stopped. The man's eyes widened, and he dived down toward him.

  Somewhere close, Tavi heard the scream of a horse, and Tavi turned toward it, his eyes widening. He slipped past a stout old holder hauling a wounded legionare back out of the main knot of combat in the courtyard's center, to find a knot of horses, riders wielding spear and blade and forcing their way across the courtyard.

  "Hashat!" Tavi shouted.

  The Marat's head whipped around, white mane flying, and she flashed Tavi a fierce smile. "Aleran!" she called, her voice merry. Her eyes snapped into place above him, and she hissed, tightening her legs on the back of her horse. The beast plunged forward, all but bowling Tavi over, then reared. Tavi looked up in time to see the
Knight Aeris that had been coming for him slash at Hashat and miss, only to have the Marat's saber whip across his face. The man shouted, clawing at his eyes, but he managed to thrust himself up higher into the air, bobbing drunkenly away from the courtyard. One of the other warriors spun with one of the heavily curved Marat short bows in his hands, and loosed an arrow that felled the Knight from the sky.

  "Bah!" Hashat shouted at the archer. The man only grinned at her, drawing another arrow. She lifted the bloodied saber to her teeth and extended a hand to Tavi. "Up, Aleran!"

  Tavi took her hand and was startled by the slender woman's strength. She hauled Tavi up to the light cushion of a saddle the Marat used, wrapped one of his arms around her waist, and shouted to the warriors near her in a

  tongue he could not understand. Together, the horses turned and plunged toward the outer wall, forcing their way through the crowd of screaming beasts and men.

  "What is happening?" Tavi shouted.

  "Your people have been forced back onto their wall!" Hashat shouted. She shrugged, and Tavi saw a number of loops of black cloth over her shoulder- the dark sashes worn by the enemy Knights. "Wolf and Herdbane were closest to the walls. Our people are fighting their way here through them, but it might take time. We are helping your people get onto the wall or to fall back to the other courtyard!"

  As Tavi watched, the butt end of a spear scythed through the air and took one of the mounted warriors of the Horse Clan from his saddle, dropping him into a knot of Herdbane warriors. One of them plunged a glass knife into his throat, and then as blood fountained from him, grasped his pale mane and cut it from his head together with the scalp.

  Hashat, seeing this, let out a piercing scream of pure rage, her horse rearing and plunging its hooves at the chest of the fallen Herdbane warrior. The man dropped, screaming, one side of his chest warped oddly. One of the other Marat raised his spear, but Hashat lifted a hand, spitting a command. The spearman nodded and whipped the spear down at the Marat, its tip leaving a long cut over the Marat's ribs. He slashed again, into an X, and then the horses surged on.

  "What was that?" Tavi asked.

  "He took Ishava's scalp," Hashat snarled. "Attempted to destroy his strength. That is different than killing, Aleran. "

  "Why didn't you kill him?"

  "Because we will not lose Ishava's strength. We marked him. After the fight, Aleran, we will partake of that Herdbane and let Ishava rest. "

  Tavi blinked and stared at Hashat. The Horse headman's dark eyes gleamed with something hard and savage, and she only smiled when someone hurled another spear at her, and she had to raise up on her stirrups to cut it out of the air with her saber.

  They reached the wall, but the press of the combat had forced them to the northwest corner of the courtyard, where part of the wall had collapsed when Doroga's gargant had come charging through it.

  "Doroga!" Tavi shouted. "Where is Doroga?"

  "Out!" Hashat responded. "We got him onto his gargant and sent him

  back to his people. " She looked around the courtyard and shook her head. "We cannot remain here long, Aleran. The Wolves and Herdbane are being forced inside your walls by our people. "

  "My friend!" Tavi said. "Fred! Tall boy carrying a spade! He's back by the stables! You have to help him!"

  Hashat looked back at Tavi, expression dark. Then flashed him a brilliant smile. "I will help him. Now, Aleran. Stand up. Hold on to my shoulders. "

  Hashat rode close to the crumbled section of the wall and looked up into the sun to see figures moving up there. One of them dropped a rope down. Tavi stood up, his arm throbbing where he had been cut, his feet on the Marat saddle, his hand on Hashat's slender, strong shoulders. He shoved the gold-handled dagger through his belt and grabbed on to the rope. Hashat glanced up at him, then kicked her horse into motion, leaving him swinging in the air, as whoever was up above began pulling the rope up.

  "Fade!" Tavi exclaimed.

  Fade let out a happy hoot and hauled Tavi up onto the broken section of the wall. The slave's scarred face twisted into a grotesque smile, as he grasped Tavi's shoulders and then hurried him up onto the battlements, away from the edge of the broken walls.

  At the top, several legionares crouched upon the battlements, panting and exhausted. None were unwounded. They crouched with their backs against the crenellation, their shields held between them and the courtyard below. Bernard crouched there, too, but rose to come to Tavi and clutched at his arm fiercely. "Tavi!"

  "Uncle! Where's Aunt Isana?"

  Bernard shook his head, his face pale. "We got separated. " He took the boy's shoulders and guided him up against the crenellation, pressing him to crouch against the stone, and kneeling with his own body between Tavi and the courtyard. Tavi looked out at the battlefield outside the fortress, awed. He had never seen so many people, much less so many people struggling to kill one another. The battlefield outside was as confusing a jumble as the one in the courtyard, but on a far grander scale. Gargants screamed and bellowed in the distance, plowing a slow but steady path toward the walls, while wheeling groups of mounted Horse Clan dashed and feinted everywhere, engaging packs of Wolf warriors or disorganized bands of Herdbane with their uncontrollable warbirds.

  "Great furies," Tavi breathed.

  "Get your head down," Bernard rumbled. He picked up a heavy Legion shield and held it across his body, facing the courtyard. "Someone still stops to shoot an arrow once in a while. "

  "What about Aunt Isana?"

  Bernard grunted, as something struck the metal shield with a hollow, heavy thump. "We're doing all we can, boy. Stay down!"

  Fade let out an alarmed cry from behind his shield, and Tavi looked back in time to see someone make a running leap from the other side of the gap in the wall. Amara landed on the battlements beside Fade with a rush of wind and a grunt of effort and wormed her way behind Fade's shield at once, panting.

  "Tavi?" she said, her eyes widening. "I never thought you'd make it out of that. "

  "I had help. "

  "Do you have it?"

  "Yes," Tavi said. He turned the knife's handle toward her and passed it over. Amara took the dagger, paling, and shook her head. "I have to get this to the First Lord. "

  Bernard grimaced. "What's Giraldi have to say?"

  "We're cut off," Amara said. She wiped sweat from her brow, and Tavi saw that her hand was shaking. "Horse and Gargant are pushing the other Marat into Garrison. They hold the west courtyard except for the wall. East courtyard has pulled all its people back into buildings for defense. Giraldi thinks that Doroga's people will drive a wedge between Herdbane and Wolf within the hour and they'll have to quit the field. "

  Bernard blew out a breath. "An hour. " Something else slammed against his shield, shoving his shoulder into Tavi's. "We aren't going to last that long. My sister?"

  "She's in one of the barracks in the east courtyard, with Gram. Giraldi said that he saw her go in with him. "

  "Good," Bernard rumbled. "Good. "

  Down the wall, one of the legionares cried out. Tavi looked up and saw an arrow protruding from the man's upper shoulder. It didn't look like a life-threatening wound, but within a few seconds, the man's head rolled on his neck and he fell quietly to his side.

  Bernard grabbed Tavi's arm and crab walked down the battlements behind his shield, keeping it over both of them. He checked the man's throat

  and grimaced. "Must have hit the artery. He's gone. " Then he frowned and leaned closer. "This isn't a Marat arrow. "

  The next legionare on the wall abruptly jerked. His head snapped back, where a few scant inches of his helmet showed over his shield. He blinked, a few times, and then blood ran down between his eyes and over one temple. His eyes unfocused, and then he toppled to his side as well, the arrow piercing his helmet.

  Amara dragged Fade down the wall and flicked a glance around his shield. "It's him," she hissed.

  The thir
d man crouched behind his shield, tucking everything in close-too close. The next arrow slammed into the shield itself, pierced it, and went on into the man's chest, at his ribs. He let out a wheezing cry, blood suddenly a froth on his mouth.

  Tavi stared in horror at the legionares dying on the wall beside him. It had happened so fast. It hadn't taken half a minute for the unseen archer to kill three men.

  "We have to get out of here," the last of the legionares stammered. He started to rise. "We can't stay here. "

  "Stay down, you fool," Bernard shouted.

  But the legionare turned to run down the wall, toward the rope that lay coiled by the gap. As soon as he rose, he cried out, and Tavi saw a thick black arrow impaling the man's leg. He fell to the ground with a shout, landing on top of his shield.

  The next arrow struck square against his ear. The man folded quietly down, as though going to sleep, and didn't move again.

  "Damn you, Fidelias!" Amara shouted, her voice raw.

  Tavi looked up and down the wall. Behind him, the battlements abruptly ended at the gap Doroga had crushed into the wall. Before him, the battlements ran steadily along until they reached a wall of solid rock. The builders of Garrison had used the old granite bones of the hills on either side of the fortress to serve as its north and south walls, and they were little more than a sharply sloped face of rock. "Can we climb that? Can we get out that way?"

  "With all those Knights Aeris?" Amara shook her head. "We wouldn't stand a chance. "

  The courtyard itself, Tavi could hear, seethed with the cries of Marat and their beasts, the occasional scream of a horse, the snarling of wolves,

  the whistling shrieks of herdbane. Even if they did climb down the rope, they would only be falling from the frying pan and into the fire.

  "We're trapped," Tavi breathed.

  Another arrow slammed into Bernard's shield, its steel tip bursting through the metal lining and wood of the shield, sharp point emerging for the width of several fingers and barely falling short of his temple. Bernard went white, but his expression didn't change, and he covered himself and Tavi with the shield resolutely.

  Wind howled at the gap in the wall, and Tavi looked back to see the man who had ordered the Knights Aeris earlier being dropped off on the battlements by one of the airborne Knights. A moment later, the huge swordsman landed next to him.

  Amara drew in a breath, her face pale. "Get away from here, Fidelias. "

  The innocuous-looking man regarded those crouching on the walls with a flat, neutral gaze. "Give me the dagger. "

  "It isn't yours. "

  "Give me the dagger, Amara. "

  For an answer, Amara rose, and drew the sword from her side. She took the dagger from her belt and tossed it onto the stones behind her. "Come take it, if you can. I'm surprised you didn't kill everyone while you had the chance. "

  "I ran out of arrows," the man said. "Aldrick. Kill them. "

  The swordsman drew his blade and began walking down the wall.

  Amara licked her lips and held her guardsman's blade low, parallel to her thigh. Tavi could see her hand trembling.

  Beside him, he heard his uncle growl. Bernard jerked at the straps of the shield and loosened it from his arm. Then he handed the straps to Tavi and said, "Hold on to this. " Bernard rose, taking up the double-bitted axe, and moved down the wall to stand beside Amara.

  Tavi swallowed, staring.

  Aldrick paused several feet away, abruptly becoming absolutely still.

  Bernard shrugged one of his shoulders and then let out a shout and rolled forward, axe sweeping across his body in a vicious arc at the swordsman's head. Aldrick ducked beneath the blow, and the axe bit into the stones of one of the merlons, shattering it into flying bits of rock and powder. Bernard spun, using the momentum, and brought the axe sweeping down in a blow meant to split the swordsman's body in two.

  Aldrick waited until the very last second to move and then hardly

  seemed to move at all. He twisted his hips to one side, drawing the line of his body away from the descending axe, so that it whipped past his chest by the breadth of a hair.

  As he did, his sword rose. The tip plunged into Bernard's flank, just above the belt of his trousers. Bernard stiffened, his eyes widening. He let out a short, harsh groan, and his fingers loosened from the handle of the axe. It fell to the battlements with a thump.

  Tavi stared in horror. Aldrick twisted the blade as he tore it back out of Bernard's flank, then casually let him fall from the battlements, toward the chaos of the courtyard below.

  "Uncle!" Tavi screamed.

  Amara reached out a hand toward him as he fell. "Bernard!"

  Fade let out a shriek, dropping his shield, and ran back to Tavi, clutching to the boy and gibbering incoherently.

  Aldrick flicked his weapon to one side, and droplets of blood, of his uncle's blood, splattered against the stones of the battlements.

  Amara's face set into a sudden mask of cold disdain. "Crows take you, Fidelias," she said in a cool, quiet voice. "Crows take you all. "

  Tavi didn't see her strike, so much as he saw a blur of color the same shade as the cloak the Cursor wore. She moved toward the swordsman with her guardsman's blade, and the sword made the air whistle as it darted at Aldrick.

  The swordsman took a pair of quick steps back, no surprise on his face, no emotion. He lifted his blade, and caught Amara's blow on it. Three more blows followed, so fast that they chimed in what almost seemed a single tone, but the swordsman stopped them all, despite Amara's sheer speed, his blade close to his body, his movements very short, quick.

  Tavi crawled forward, tears blurring his eyes, lugging the huge shield and the sobbing Fade with him. He recovered the dropped dagger and shoved it through his belt again, watching the battle, helpless and terrified.

  Amara whirled and crouched and whirled again, her blade whipping at Aldrick's throat, knees, and throat again. The swordsman blocked each strike and then with a sudden, hard smile, his blade lashed out. Amara hissed, and the sword tumbled from her hands, falling to the stones near Tavi.

  Aldrick whipped his blade in a horizontal line, and Amara let out a harsh cry, staggering against the battlements, her hair fallen around her face. Tavi could see blood on the mail around her belly. Amara turned toward Aldrick, unsteady on her feet and swung her arm at him in a strike. The swordsman

  slapped her hand aside, and his foot lashed out at her knee. Amara gasped and fell to the stone. She struggled to rise again.

  Aldrick shook his head, as though disgusted, and slammed one heavy boot down onto Amara's splinted arm. She let out a cry and jerked. She looked up at Tavi, her eyes not focused, her face bedsheet-white.

  Aldrick did not pause. He drew back his blade, crouching, and with two hands swung it toward the paralyzed Cursor.

  Tavi didn't stop to think. He seized the fallen sword in his left hand and lunged forward from his knees, toward the swordsman. The guardsman's blade flicked out and found the gap between the swordsman's mail and the tops of his boots, drawing an insignificant cut across the skin. But it was enough to make Aldrick divert the blow aimed for Amara's neck, to parry Tavi's clumsy thrust aside.

  Aldrick snarled, his face suddenly suffused with scarlet anger, making an old scar stand out white against his cheek. He slammed his weapon against Tavi's. Tavi felt the jolt of it in his shoulders and chest, and his arm went numb in a tingling wash of sensation, from fingertip to elbow. The sword flew off somewhere behind him.

  He rolled back and tried to lift the shield to cover himself, but the swordsman kicked it aside, and it tumbled out of Tavi's grasp and into the courtyard below.

  "Stupid boy," Aldrick said, eyes cold. "Give me the dagger. "

  Tavi clutched his hand on the dagger's hilt and started worming his way back along the wall. "You killed him," Tavi shouted, his voice hoarse. "You killed my uncle!"

  "And what happen
ed to my Odiana is your fault. I should kill you right here," Aldrick growled. "Give up. You can't win. "

  "Go to the crows! If I don't beat you, someone else will!"

  "Have it your way," the swordsman said. He whirled the sword in his fingers and closed toward Tavi, lifting the blade, eyes cold. "If Araris Valerian himself was here, he couldn't beat me. And you aren't Araris. "

  The swordsman brought both hands to the hilt of the sword and struck. Tavi saw the cold, bloodied metal of the blade falling toward him and knew that he was about to die. He screamed and lifted a hand, knowing full well that it would do him no good, but he was unable to do anything else.

  The sword came down in the death stroke.

  And met steel in a cold, clear chime, like a bell. A cloud of silver sparks

  rained down where Aldrick's blade had met the steel of the guardsman's sword.

  Fade stood over Tavi, both hands on the hilt of the short blade, his legs spread out wide, knees bent, his body relaxed. The swordsman bore down on his weapon, but Fade seemed able to hold it away from Tavi with little effort, and after a scant pair of heartbeats, Fade twisted his body. Aldrick's blade slid to one side, and he skipped back from a counterstroke-but not fast enough. Fade's sword whipped toward Aldrick's face, and split the white scar there open anew, blood flowing.

  Aldrick dropped back into a guard position, watching Fade, his eyes wide, his reddened face going pale. "No," he said. "No. "

  Fade took a step forward and stood between Tavi and the other two men on the wall. His voice came out quiet, low, steady. "Stay behind me, Tavi. "

  Tavi stared in shock. He clutched the dagger and scooted back from the two men.

  "You aren't," Aldrick snarled. "You can't be. You're dead. "

  Fade said, "You talk too much. "

  Then he spun forward, deftly stepping over Amara's unmoving form, his sword gliding toward the swordsman. Aldrick parried in a shower of scarlet sparks, slid a thrust to his belly aside, and cut at the slave's head. Fade dropped to a crouch, and the blow struck cleanly through two feet of furycrafted battlement stone. A chunk of stone the size of a big washtub slid down the wall and fell into the battle outside the fortress.

  Fade rose, blade dancing, and pressed the swordsman back, down the battlements, his ragged and unkempt hair flying about his head, his scarred face set in an expression of cool detachment. When his sword struck Aldrick's, scarlet fire rained down, and when he caught one of the swordsman's strikes, clouds of silver-white motes flew forth in a flash.

  Tavi saw Aldrick begin to panic, his movements becoming jerkier, faster, less elegant. He retreated step by step, and Fade pressed him relentlessly. The slave swept one blow at Aldrick that missed altogether, throwing up another shower of sparks as the blade cut through the stone near Aldrick's feet, but the slave seemed to recover rapidly, and he began to push Aldrick down the wall once again.

  Tavi had never seen anything so graceful, so terrifying, as the two men clashing together. Though Aldrick was the larger of the pair, Fade seemed more nimble, his movements more fluid, again and again blocking blows

  that might have killed him to miss by the barest margin. He leapt over one strike, ducked under another, and thrust at Aldrick's belly once more. The swordsman parried him aside, spinning on his feet to reverse positions with Fade on the narrow battlements, so that he now stood with his back to Tavi.

  Aldrick rained a pair of heavy blows down on Fade, who danced aside from one and slid the other off the guardsman's blade. Fade countered with a volley of cuts and thrusts too swift for Tavi to follow, and Aldrick once again backed down the wall, defending himself.

  Fade's blade whipped at Aldrick's foot and missed, slashing stone. Aldrick kicked the slave in the face with one heavy boot, and Fade's face snapped to one side. He turned the motion into an upward slash, but that blow too missed Aldrick altogether, instead slashing through the massive merlon beside him.

  Aldrick's sword darted down to Fade's wrist, a swift cut that drew blood and threw the sword from the slave's hands and down into the courtyard below. Fade cried out and fell to his knees, clutching the hand to his chest.

  Aldrick stood over Fade, panting, white around the eyes, and drew his sword slowly up behind him. "Over," he said. "Finally over. You lose. "

  Fade said, "Look where you're standing. "

  Tavi looked down at Aldrick's feet, at the deep slashes in the battlements where Fade's sword had cut through the stone.

  Aldrick looked down, and his face went white.

  The merlon beside him slid to one side along the upward-sweeping line Fade had cut in it, the stone falling with a ponderous grace to the weakened floor of the battlement. It struck, and the two slashes Fade had made in the stone became a sudden myriad of crumbling cracks. Aldrick tried to step back, but the stone beneath his feet gave way like a rotten board, and with a howl Aldrick ex Gladius and a thousand pounds of stone went crashing down to the courtyard below.

  Fade closed his eyes for a moment, panting, then looked up at Tavi.

  The boy stared at him. "How?"

  Fade moved one shoulder in a shrug. "Aldrick has always thought in lines. So I thought in curves. "

  Tavi saw a movement behind Fade and shouted, "Fade! Look out!"

  The slave whirled, but not before Fidelias, holding the rope they had used to climb to the wall, had tossed a loop of it over Fade's head. Fidelias jerked on the rope, and it tightened. Then the man planted his feet and hauled.

  Fade struggled, but he had no leverage. The rope hauled him off the battlement. Fidelias let go of the rope, and Fade fell out of sight. The end of the rope had been tied off to one of the crenellations, and the rope tightened with a sudden, snapping jerk.

  "No," Tavi breathed.

  Fidelias turned toward Tavi.

  "No!" The boy rose to his feet and threw himself at the man on the wall, brandishing the dagger. He leapt at Fidelias, knife extended.

  Fidelias caught Tavi by his shirt, and without any effort spun him around and threw him to the stones of the battlement. Tavi felt the rock hit his back with an impact that stole his breath and turned the steady, hot sting of his wounded arm into a raging fire.

  He let out a weak sound of pain and tried to struggle away from Fidelias, but within a few inches he felt the crumbling edge of the shattered battlement behind him. He looked back and down on a drop into the hard, jagged rubble of the fallen section of wall, where Marat and beasts fought in savage efficiency, killing.

  He turned back to Fidelias, clutching the dagger.

  "Give me the knife," Fidelias said, his voice quiet, his eyes dead. "Give me the knife, or I'll kill you. "

  "No," Tavi wheezed.

  "You don't have to die, boy. "

  Tavi swallowed. He squirmed out as far as he could on the broken battlements and heard the stones begin to crackle and groan beneath him. "Stay away from me. "

  Fidelias's face twisted in anger, and he jerked his hand in a sudden gesture. The stone rippled, as if it had been a sheet snapped by a holdwife, and threw Tavi a few feet toward Fidelias, stunning the boy.

  Fidelias reached for the knife. Tavi swept it at him in a desperate cut. Fidelias clutched the boy's throat, and Tavi felt his breath cut off with a sudden jerk.

  "Just as well," Fidelias said. "No witnesses. "

  Tavi's vision began to dim. He felt his grip on the dagger begin to loosen.

  Fidelias shook his head, and the pressure on Tavi's throat began to increase. "You should have given me the knife. "

  Tavi struggled uselessly, until his arms and legs seemed to forget how to move. He stared up into Fidelias's hard eyes and felt his body going limp.

  And so it was that he saw Amara weakly stir and lift her head. He saw her writhe, lifting one knee beneath her, and reaching back to draw a short, small knife from her boot. She clenched her jaw and shoved her broken arm beneath her, her forearm across the floor
, lifting her body.

  Then, in one motion, she drew back the knife and flicked it at Fidelias's back. A sudden jet of wind propelled the knife toward him.

  Tavi saw the man jerk suddenly, startled surprise on his features. He stiffened, fingers loosening from Tavi's throat, and reached a hand up toward his back, his expression twisting with sudden agony.

  "You wanted a knife, Fidelias," Amara hissed. "There's the one I took from you. "

  Fidelias, his face blank, frightened, turned back to Tavi and clutched at his hand, at the dagger.

  There was a frantic moment of scrambling, and Fidelias let out a gasping cry of pain. Tavi felt a hand around his wrist, a sudden pressure, heard the crack of breaking bones. Agony roared over him, and he saw his hand dangle uselessly.

  Fidelias reached for the dagger and grabbed its hilt.

  Tavi seized Fidelias's belt and hauled with all of his strength and weight.

  Fidelias overbalanced, let out a harsh croak and fell from the battlements, to the sharp-edged rubble of the gap in the wall. Tavi turned and looked down, saw the man land on the stones, with his feet under him. Tavi thought he heard bones break.

  Fidelias fell to the ground, and a tide of Marat washed over him.

  Tavi stared, panting, exhausted, in more pain than he thought could exist in the entire world. Uncle Bernard. Fade. The tears welled up, and he couldn't stop them, couldn't stop himself from sobbing, letting out ugly, harsh little sounds. He laid his cheek down on the stone and cried.

  He felt Amara crawl to him a few moments later. The Cursor dragged a shield with her. She lay down beside Tavi and used the shield to cover them both.

  He couldn't stop sobbing. He felt her hand pat clumsily at his back. "It's all right, Tavi. It's all right. " She leaned her cheek against his hair. "Shhhh. You're going to be all right. It's over. "


  Tavi cried quietly, until the darkness swallowed him.