Cursors fury, p.5
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       Cursor's Fury, p.5

         Part #3 of Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher
 

  “But . . .” Amara began.

  He turned to face her, and murmured, “Do you wish to leave me, my lady?”

  She swallowed and shook her head, not trusting herself to speak.

  “Then let’s have no more talk of it,” he said, and kissed her rather thoroughly. Amara felt her protests and worries beginning to dissolve into fresh heat.

  Bernard let out another low growl. “Think we’ve thrown off sufficient suspicion for this visit, my lady?”

  She laughed, a throaty sound. “I’m not sure.”

  He let out another low sound and turned his body to her. His hand moved, and it was Amara’s turn to shiver in pleasure at a touch. “We’d best play it safe, then,” he murmured. “And attend to duty.”

  “Oh,” she whispered. “Definitely.”

  In the coldest, darkest hours of the night, Amara felt Bernard tense and sit bolt upright in bed, his spine rigid with tension. Sleep dragged hard at her, but she denied it, slipping from the depths of formless dreams.

  “What is it?” she whispered.

  “Listen,” he murmured.

  Amara frowned and did. Gusts of winds rushed against the stone walls of Bernard’s chambers in irregular surges. From far away, she thought she could hear a faint sound on the wind, inhuman shrieks and moans. “A furystorm?”

  Bernard grunted and swung his legs off the side of the bed and rose. “Maybe worse. Light.” A furylamp on the table beside the bed responded to his voice, and a golden glow arose from it, allowing Amara to see Bernard dress in short, hurried motions.

  She sat up in bed, pressing the sheets to her front. “Bernard?”

  “I just have to make sure it’s being taken care of,” Bernard said. “It won’t take a moment. Don’t get up.” He gave her a brief smile, then paced out across his chambers and opened the door. Amara heard the wind slam against it, and the distant sound of the storm rose to a deafening howl until he shut the door behind him.

  Amara frowned and rose. She reached for her flying leathers, then regarded the sliced ties with a sigh. Instead, she dressed in one of the Count of Calderon’s shirts and draped one of Bernard’s capes around her. It was large enough to wrap around her several times and fell past her knees. She closed her eyes for a moment and breathed in the lingering scent of her husband on the fabric, then opened the door to follow him.

  The wind hit her like a physical blow, a cold, wet wind heavy with a fine mist. She grimaced and willed her wind fury, Cirrus, into the air around her in order to shield her from the worst of wind and rain.

  She stood at the top of the stairs for a moment, peering around the fortress. Furylamps blazed against the storm, but the wind and gusts of cold rain blunted their radiance, reducing it to little more than spheres an arm’s length across. Amara could see men hurrying through the storm-cast shadows and standing their watches atop Garrison’s walls in armor and spray-soaked cloaks. The barracks that housed the contingent of Knights attached to the forces under Bernard’s command opened, men spilling out of them and hurrying for the walls.

  Amara frowned and called to Cirrus again. The fury lifted her in a smooth rush of wind from the steps and deposited her on the heavy stone roof of the building, which allowed her to see over the fortress walls and out over the plains beyond.

  The furystorm lurked there like an enormous beast, out over the broad, rolling plains that marked the beginning of Marat territory. It was an enormous, boiling cauldron of lightning and scowling storm cloud. Its own inner fires lit the lands about in a display brighter than the light of a strong moon. Pale, luminous forms swept in and around bolts of lightning and rolling mist—windmanes, the savage and deadly furies that accompanied the great storms.

  Lightning flashed abruptly, so brightly that it hurt Amara’s eyes, and she saw fire reach down from the storm in a solid curtain that raked at the ground and sent earth and stone spraying up from the impact in clouds and pieces she could see from miles away. Even as she watched, whirling, twitching columns of firelit cloud descended from the storm and touched upon the earth, darkening into half a dozen howling funnels that scattered earth and stone into a second, earthbound storm cloud.

  She had never seen a storm of such raw, primal power, and it frightened her to her bones—though not nearly as much as when the tornados, each howling like a thing in torment, turned and flashed across the lightning-pocked earth toward the walls of Garrison. More wails, though infinitely smaller, rose in ragged dissonance as the windmanes came soaring down from the clouds overhead, outriders and escorts for the deadly vortices.

  Heavy iron alarm bells sounded. The gates of the fortress opened, and perhaps two dozen Aleran traders and half as many Marat came running through them, seeking shelter from the storm. Behind her, she could hear other bells ringing as the folk of the shantytown were admitted to enter the safety of the stone shelters within the fortress.

  Cirrus whispered a warning into her ear, and Amara turned to find the nearest of the windmanes diving upon the men on the walls over the gate. A flash of lightning showed her Bernard, his great war bow in hand, bent to meet the wild fury’s attack. It glittered off the tip of his arrow—and then the heavy bow thrummed and the arrow vanished, so swiftly did the war bow send it flying.

  Amara found her heart in her throat—steel was of absolutely no use against windmanes, and no arrow in the Realm could slay one of the creatures. But the windmane screamed in agony and veered off, a ragged hole torn in the luminous substance of its body.

  More windmanes dived down, but Bernard stayed on the wall, calmly shooting those glitter-tipped arrows at each, while the Knights under his command focused their attention upon the coming storm.

  The Knights Aeris of Garrison, windcrafters at least as strong as Amara, each and every one, as well as those who had escorted her here, lined the walls, shouting to one another over the maddened, furious howls of wind and storm. With a concentrated effort, each of them focused upon the nearest of the whirling tornados, then together they let out a sudden shout. Amara felt a shift in air pressure as the Knight’s furies leapt forth at their command, and the nearest tornado abruptly wobbled, wavered, and subsided into a murky, confused cloud that slowed and all but vanished.

  More windmanes shrieked their anger and dived at the Knights Aeris, but Bernard prevented them from drawing near, sending unerring shots through each of the glowing, wild furies as they charged. Together, the Knights focused on the next tornado, and the next, each one being dispersed. In only moments, the last of the tornados bore down upon the walls, but it withered and died before it could quite reach them.

  The storm rolled overhead, rumbling, lightning flashing from cloud to cloud, but it had a weary quality to it, now. Rain began to fall, and the thunder shrank from great, roaring cracks of sound to low, discontented rumbles.

  Amara turned her attention to the walls, where the local Knights Aeris were returning to their quarters. She noted, in passing, that the men hadn’t even bothered to don their armor. One of them, in fact, was still quite naked from bed, but for the legionare’s cloak he held wrapped around his waist. Her own escort looked a bit wild around the eyes, but wry remarks and lazy laughs from the Knights of Garrison seemed to be steadying the men.

  Amara shook her head and descended back to the stairs, retreating into Bernard’s chambers. She slipped some more wood onto the fire and stirred it and its attendant furies to greater heat and light. Bernard returned a few moments later, bow in hand. He unstrung it, dried it with a cloth, and set it in a corner.

  “I told you,” he said, amusement in his tone. “Nothing worth getting out of bed for.”

  “Such things are common here?” she asked.

  “Lately,” he said, frowning faintly. He had gotten soaked in the rain and spray, and he peeled wet clothing on his way to stand beside the fire. “Though they’ve been rolling in from the east lately. That’s unusual. Most of the fury-storms here start up over old Garados. And I can’t ever remember having this many t
his early in the year.”

  Amara frowned, glancing in the direction of the surly old mountain. “Are your holders in danger?”

  “I wouldn’t be standing here if they were,” he replied. “There are going to be windmanes out until the storm blows itself out, but that’s common enough.”

  “I see,” she said. “What arrows did you use on those windmanes?”

  “Target points, covered in a salt crystal.”

  Salt was the bane of the furies of the wind and caused them immense discomfort. “Clever,” Amara said. “And effective.”

  “Tavi’s idea,” Bernard said. “He came up with it years ago. Though I never had the cause to try it until this year.” He broke into a sudden grin. “The boy’s head will swell when he hears about it.”

  “You miss him,” Amara said.

  He nodded. “He’s got a good heart. And he’s the closest thing I’ve had to a son. So far.”

  She doubted it, but there was little use in saying so. “So far,” she said, her tone neutral.

  “Looking forward to Ceres,” Bernard said. “I haven’t spoken to Isana in weeks. That’s strange for me. But I suppose we’ll have time on the trip.”

  Amara said nothing, and the crackling of the fire emphasized the sudden tension that built up between them.

  Bernard frowned at her. “Love?”

  She drew in a breath and faced him, her eyes steady on his. “She declined the First Lord’s invitation to be transported by his Knights Aeris. Politely, of course.” Amara sighed. “Aquitaine’s people are already bringing her to the conclave of the Dianic League.”

  Bernard frowned down at her, but his eyes wavered away, moving to the warmth of the fire. “I see.”

  “I don’t think she would have cared to keep much company with me anyway,” Amara said quietly. “She and I . . . well.”

  “I know,” Bernard said, and to Amara, her husband suddenly looked years older. “I know.”

  Amara shook her head. “I still don’t understand why she hates Gaius so much. It’s as though it’s personal for her.”

  “Oh,” Bernard said. “It is.”

  She touched his chest with the fingers of one hand. “Why?”

  He shook his head. “I’m as ignorant as you are. Ever since Alia died . . .”

  “Alia?”

  “Younger sister,” Bernard said. “She and Isana were real close. I was off on my first tour with the Rivan Legions. We were way up by the Shieldwall, working with Phrygias troops against the icemen. Our parents had died a few years before, and when Isana went into service in the Legion camps, Alia went with her.”

  “Where?” Amara asked.

  Bernard gestured to the western wall of the room, indicating the whole of the Calderon Valley. “Here. They were here during the First Battle of Calderon.”

  Amara drew in a sharp breath. “What happened?”

  Bernard shook his head, and his eyes looked a bit more sunken. “Alia and Isana barely escaped the camp before the horde destroyed it. From what Isana said, the Crown Legion was taken off guard. Sold its own lives to give the civilians a chance to run. There were no healers. No shelter. No time. Alia went into childbirth, and Isana had to choose between Alia and the baby.”

  “Tavi,” Amara said.

  “Tavi.” Bernard stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Amara. She leaned against his strength and warmth. “I think Isana blames Alias death on the First Lord. It isn’t rational, I suppose.”

  “But understandable,” Amara murmured. “Especially if she feels guilty about her sister’s death.”

  Bernard grunted, lifting his eyebrows. “Hadn’t ever thought of it that way. Sounds about right. Isana has always been the type who blames herself for things she couldn’t have done anything about. That isn’t rational, either.” He tightened his arms on Amara, and she leaned into it. The fire was warm, and her weariness slowly spread over her, making her feel heavy.

  Bernard gave her a last little squeeze and picked her up. “We both need more sleep.”

  She sighed and laid her head against his chest. Her husband carried her to the bed, undressed her of the clothing she’d thrown on before rushing into the rain, and slipped into the sheets with her. He held her very gently, his presence steady and gentle, and she slipped an arm around him before falling into a doze that quickly sank toward deeper sleep.

  She considered the furystorm in the drifting stillness that comes just before dreams. Her instincts told her that it had not been natural. She feared that, like the severe storms of two years ago, it might be a deliberate effort on behalf of one of the Realm’s enemies to weaken Alera. Especially now, given the events stirring across the Realm.

  She choked down a whimper and pressed herself closer to her husband. A quiet little voice in her thoughts told her that she should take every moment of peace and safety she could find—because she suspected they were about to become memories.

  Chapter 3

  Tavi didn’t get his sword up in time, and Max’s downward stroke struck his wrist at an appallingly perpendicular angle. Tavi heard a snapping sound and had time to think Those are my wrist hones before the world went suddenly scarlet with pain and sent him to one knee. He keeled over onto his side.

  Max’s rudius, a wooden practice blade, hit his shoulder and head quite firmly before Tavi managed to wheeze, “Hold it!”

  At his side, Maestro Magnus flicked his own rudius at Max in a quick salute, then unstrapped his wide Legion shield from his left arm. He dropped the rudius and knelt beside Tavi. “Here, lad. Let me see.”

  “Crows!” Max snarled, spitting. “You dropped your shield. You dropped your bloody shield again, Calderon.”

  “You broke my crowbegotten arm!” Tavi snarled. The pain kept burning.

  Max tossed his own shield and rudius down in disgust. “It was your own fault. You aren’t taking this seriously. You need more practice.”

  “Go to the crows, Max,” Tavi growled. “If you weren’t insisting on this stupid fighting technique, this wouldn’t have happened.”

  Magnus paused and exchanged a look with Max. Then he sighed and removed his hands from Tavi’s injured arm, taking up shield and rudius again.

  “Ready your shield and get up,” Max said, his voice calm as he recovered his own rudius.

  Tavi snorted. “You’ve broken my bloody arm. How do you expect me to—”

  Max let out a roar and swept the practice weapon at Tavi’s head.

  Tavi barely threw himself back in time to avoid the stroke and he struggled to regain his feet, balance wavering because of the pain and the heavy shield on his left arm. “Max!” he shouted.

  His friend roared again, weapon sweeping down.

  Magnus’s rudius swept through the air and deflected the blow, then the old Maestro shouldered into Tavi’s shield side, bracing him long enough to get his balance underneath him.

  “Stay in tight,” Magnus growled, as Max circled to attack again. “Your shield overlaps mine.”

  Tavi could hardly make sense of the words for the pain in his arm, but he did it. Together, he and Magnus presented Max with nothing but the broad faces of their shields as a target, while Max circled toward their weak side—Tavi.

  “He’s faster and has more reach than me. Protect me or neither of us will hold a sword.” Magnus’s elbow thumped swiftly into Tavi’s ribs, and Tavi pivoted slightly, opening a slender gap in the shields through which Magnus delivered the quick, ugly chop Tavi had been less than enthused about learning.

  Max caught the blow on his shield, though barely, and when his reply stroke came whipping back, Tavi stretched his shield toward Magnus, deflecting the blow while the Maestro recovered his defensive balance.

  “Good!” Magnus barked. “Keep the shield up!”

  “My arm—” Tavi gasped.

  “Keep the shield up!” Max roared, and sent a series of strokes at Tavi’s head.

  The boy circled away, staying tight against Magnus’s side, and the o
ld Maestro’s return strokes threatened Max just enough to keep him from an all-out assault that would batter through Tavi’s swiftly weakening defenses. But Tavi’s heel struck a stone, he misstepped, and moved a little too far from Magnus’s side. Max’s rudius clipped the top of Tavi’s skull, hard enough to send a burst of stars through his head despite the heavy leather helmet he wore for their practice bouts.

  He fell weakly to one knee, but some groggy part of his brain told him to keep his shield close to Magnus, and he foiled a similar strike Max directed at the Maestro on his return stroke. Magnus’s rudius flashed out and tapped Max hard at the inner bend of his elbow, and the large young man grunted, flicked his rudius up in a salute of concession, and stepped away from the pair of them.

  Tavi collapsed, so tired that he felt he could barely keep breathing. His wounded wrist pounded in agony. He lay there on his side for a moment, then opened his eyes to stare at his friend and Magnus. “Through having fun?”

  “Excuse me?” Max asked. His voice sounded tired as well, though he was barely panting.

  Tavi knew that he probably should keep his mouth shut, but the pain and the anger it begat paid no attention to his reason. “I’ve been bullied before, Max. Just never figured you’d do it.”

  “Is that what you think this is?” Max asked.

  “Isn’t it?” Tavi demanded.

  “You aren’t paying attention,” Magnus said in a calm voice, as he stripped himself of the practice gear and fetched a flask of water. “If you got hurt, it was a result of your own failure.”

  “No,” Tavi snarled. “It is a result of my friend breaking my arm. And making me continue this idiocy.”

  Max hunkered down in front of Tavi and stared at him for a silent minute. His friend’s expression was serious, even . . . sober. Tavi had never seen that expression on Max’s face.

  “Tavi,” he said quietly. “You’ve seen the Canim fight. Do you think one of them would politely allow you to get up and leave the fight because you sustained a minor injury? Do you think one of the Marat would ignore weaknesses in your defense out of courtesy for your pride? Do you think an enemy legionare will listen while you explain to him that this isn’t your best technique and that he should go easy on you?”