Good morning everyone and thanks for stopping by to read Chapter Seventeen of The Cursed King. Whilst I am putting the last few pages together for Chapter 30, I have been taking it a little slower with the writing recently. Sometimes this is necessary, and whilst there is always guilt that you are not being as productive as usual, sometimes a couple of weeks of writing half of what you usually would in that time, will save you three months of writers block. I’ve always found that consistency is key, and maintaining that pace is imperitive. Setting myself these blog deadlines keeps me well ahead of these chapters, so thank you to those who continue to give me feedback and comment and indulge this little project of mine.
Chapter Seventeen follows Robert as he processes the news that war has once again been declared between The Hartlands and The Blacklands. Robert dreams of the wife and child that he lost, but when he wakes, is thrust back into a world at war, and learns secrets about those closest to him. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy!
“Sit still,” Isabelle gripped the hair on the back of Robert’s head to hold is steady as she dabbed at the cut above his eye. Little Harold was playing in the grass beside them, pulling out the dandelions, blowing them and then laughing. Robert could not help but wince. The solution stung and dripped into his eyes which stung even more. Eventually though, the pain stopped, and his wife applied a balm that helped close the cut. “All better,” she smiled and kissed him.
Robert had made a habit of leaving tournies as soon as he received his payment. No matter what injuries affected him, there was no worse agony than the faux praise of gossiping Lords and Ladies, and their endless questions about his family. The meadow they relaxed in away from the nobles was half a league from Dalchester. Robert had come to learn of all of the open fields around the major cities and towns of The Twin Kingdoms. It was like a great robbery. Robert would arrive, win the tournament, take the money and run. They would live off the winnings until the money ran out, and then they did it again. Robert felt an exceptional wave of tiredness as he held Isabelle and Harold in his arms as they sat in the shade of a great oak, but the warmth he felt soothed him to an easy sleep.
By the time he awoke, Isabelle had already packed everything and fixed it to the horses. She never waited for him to do anything, and always allowed him extensive rest after a tournie, even if it was excessive. Robert watched her through his sleep-soaked eyes until two tiny hands grabbed his cheeks, and Harold giggled joyfully. Robert picked his son up in his arms and walked over to Isabelle and Avairghon.
“Have you had a good rest, boy?” Robert patted his warhorse on his side and stroked his sleek coat. The joust had been by far the easiest so far for Robert, and had barely caused him a scratch. It was the melee that damaged his eye. He sweat so much in the summer heat that his lifted his visor, only to catch a blow from Sir Jorund Habgest. Even in a tournie, Sir Jorund was a rough fighter, never quite happy to win, and always seemed to enjoy causing pain. Robert’s skill won him the melee, which was announced by Evelie, Lady of Dalchester herself who had invited Robert and Isabelle to dinner, which he politely declined. Despite the politeness, he knew that the slight would damage his reputation in court, as with everything else he did.
“Where are we heading?” Isabelle asked.
Robert thought for a moment and turned his head south, waiting for some inspiration. “We will go North.”
“Are you sure?”
“He will not want to see me, Isabelle. In truth, I do not want to see him.”
“He is your brother, Robert.”
“It is too dangerous for us here as it is. Filos is ripe for revolt, and Dalchester will be after any able-bodied man to fight if there is a rebellion. The further north we go, the safer we are.”
“Tournies are not safe. Although you think they are. What if you had lifted your visor earlier, and you were caught with a sword instead of a fist?”
“Then I suggest you marry whoever manages to defeat me in battle, because there would not be a man alive who could defeat that phantom. He would be an excellent provider.”
“We are going to see Brodric. You need to speak to him. He is one of the only brothers you have left, and you sure as well hate the other two. Filos is always on the brink of revolt.. Just a few days?”
Robert stared at her. She had long black hair, a voice that sang, but very occasionally croaked. She was short, but curvaceous and strong-legged. Her eyes were constantly wide with hope and joy, and her smile dominated by mischief. He lifted Harold in his arms and kissed her on the cheek.
“Just a few days.”
Robert was awake before dawn had cast its light upon his home. Thair Spicer’s city estate was one of the largest that Robert had ever seen. The Merchant District of Silver City mingled with many of the homes of lower-lords and other nobles who did not stay at court. It was a wonder to Robert how his father-in-law had attained such a mass of wealth through spices alone, but rightly did not wish to pry any further. How a man made his money did not bother Robert as it did his father. To hear his father-in-law tell it, Thair Spicer started his empire with a single flowerbed of mint and sage that he sold at markets when he was just eight years old. Thair Spicer was now deep into his forties, and richer than most Lords.
Even before dawn, Silver City was bustling. Whilst the Merchant District was quiet, there was always much more noise in the city centre. Robert dressed and kissed his still-sleeping wife Mallory on the forehead and set about his day. An emergency meeting of the City Guard was to take place at Harthelm due to the successful arrest of King Aedvard. Prince Charles Byrne immediately declared war upon hearing the news, and the camped armies had been slowly making their way to the border. King Aron himself had already started work on temporary fortresses by key access points into the Kingdom to delay any potential siege, whilst Prince Asher was assembling the rest of his Royal Army to meet the Blacklands armies at the borderland.
In truth, it was King Aedvard who held the upper hand, despite his daughter’s execution and subsequent arrest. Not only had he anticipated this event, having been accompanied by only a handful of young soldiers, he also prepared his military well in advance. Now, King Aron had two choices. Execute King Aedvard or keep him prisoner. Either choice would lead to a siege. Following through on his execution of Queen Lorne showed he could make that decision, but the wrath of The Blacklands should King Aedvard be executed would be feared by many at court. Robert knew that the difference between The Hartlands and The Blacklands was gold and steel. The peace between the Kingdoms made them a powerful alliance, but without each other, they were vulnerable. The Blacklands’ economy was weak, and The Hartlands’ had a soft underbelly, full of highly trained knights, but very few true fighters.
The city centre was bustling as usual. Robert bought a sweet apple pastry from a baker and gave the man an extra coin for his troubles. Beggars and lepers held their hands out eagerly as he strolled past them, and the brothel workers were flaunting for business outside of their establishments. Robert ignored all who tried to solicit him, be they beggar or whore, yet he enjoyed the company of their voices. The commotion of the market stalls being erected, the shouts of tavern owners and the clip clop of horses trotting through the street filled the air around him with music. Robert loved the music of cities. The sound of birds and windy trees were a welcome retreat, but it was always the sounds of people that filled Robert with joy. It was the sound of civilisation. The sound of opportunity. The sound of hope.
Whilst the blood that spilled from the court trickled down into the lives of the smallfolk, scarcely did war change the day to day lives of the people. To stop trading would be poverty. To stop working would be death. By the time Robert had reached Harthelm, however, the mood was far more solemn. Few there truly wanted war. There were some who craved revenge on enemies to avenge ghosts of long dead relatives. Some may have even wished for their own death, and saw the glory of martyrdom as the way to walk with Natos into paradise. For most, however, they dreaded war. Particularly those who fought for a living, who were trained soldiers and knew the fear of the battlefield. The smell of filled breeches and stale sweat. Only those who had not truly seen what it entails seemed to hope for it. The rest buried their fear under a cloak of either solemnity or bravery.
Robert found Eiruc in the hall and approached him. Eiruc extended a hand and they shook amicably. The lad was still a cocky gobshite whilst Robert was not around, he knew, but since their confrontation, the young man had learned to reign in his arrogance, particularly around more senior men. Robert was glad. He liked his spirit and imagined how he would have been at that age should he have flown through the ranks as he had done. Besides that, Eiruc had proven himself a skilled fighter, and Robert felt it was his duty to tutor him and aid his development.
The King’s Hall was not only filled with senior members of the City Guard, but also minor lords, and members of the Royal Guard. Sir Bethan Woad stood quietly by himself to the right of Prince Asher. Robert always thought it was a strange pairing, Sir Bethan and Sir Jorund. The two were almost always partnered with each other, yet they could not have been more different. Robert had the misfortune of competing in many a melee with Sir Jorund, and the man was utterly without mercy. Sir Bethan on the other hand, was quiet, kind and were it not for his reputable prowess, then one would never even think he were a knight. Robert looked around for Sir Jorund, but did not see him.
Before long, Lord Hardwick stood beside the throne whilst Prince Asher sat upon it. Only royalty was allowed to sit the throne, and one member of the royal family was required to be present in any meeting brought to the King’s Hall. Prince Asher looked tired, as if he had not slept in days, and whilst Lord Hardwick always tried to carry himself with energy and positivity, his eyes too betrayed him. These were the faces of men who were preparing for war. The faces of uncertainty, worry and fear. They did not want this either, as most men did not, but the egos of Kings are precious things, and burst as easily as bubbles.
“Lords and Knights of the realm,” Hardwick started. “I thank you all for being here. I will be brief. Many of you will know why you have been called here. Each of you has been chosen for your exceptional leadership skills. Prince Asher is assembling a Royal Army as many of you already know, and you have all been selected to as Unit Commanders. Following senior strategy meetings, you will all report to me directly and will be given your instructions. Prince Asher Hartlin will now say a few words.”
The faces around the hall were a mixture of pride, smugness, and boredom. There were still many men who had previously fought in wars for The Hartlands. Just because The Twin Kingdoms stopped fighting, it did not stop the rest of the world. Rebellions, revolts and disputes were still rife, and the men who were at these battles or in these armies had heard a hundred speeches all the same. Robert had fought in a battle or two, but as a mounted swordsman, by the time he usually arrived, it was about cleaning up the mess. It was the vanguard and the infantry that took the brunt of the deaths. Those without a warhorse always stood a greater chance of perishing in battle. Without Avairghon though, Robert felt that his chances of survival had also been slashed.
“You are all here because you have proven yourself skilled leaders,” Prince Asher reiterated. “But you have also been chosen for your loyalty to the crown and your refusal to be intimidated. Even from his cell, King Aedvard and his Kingdom believe that they can intimidate us, and that we will let them march through our lands with impunity, and not stop them in their tracks and put them each to the sword. We expect that Prince Charles Byrne has already began moving his force through the low hills of the Great Forest, his passage will lead him into the Earldom of Hazelfield and Sanderson Castle, which he expects to be our weakest point of defence, and thus most vulnerable to a siege. It will be an important capture, should they take it, but we will not allow it to happen. Our force will cut them off as they make their way through the valley. First, our longbowmen will set themselves in the mountains and cause disarray in their ranks, then, whilst still in the narrow valleys, our infantry and longspearmen will close them in at the mouth and force them to retreat, and behind them will be our cavalry, who will pick off any men who do get through and into the low hills. Our goal here is to force retreat. We do not want to lose men. The aim is to capture Prince Charles. With King and Prince safely in our cells, we believe we can negotiate with Lord Riechard Byrne, the teenage son of Prince Charles, and begin an occupation of The Blacklands in return for King Aedvard and Prince Charles being returned safely.”
Robert and Eiruc looked at each other and were both clearly relieved. Neither of them would be in particularly vulnerable positions. Eiruc would be up in the mountains, and Robert would be picking off the odd straggler who would be armed with no more than a bread knife or a pitchfork. It almost seemed too good to be true. War commanders knew the value of noble men. Not only were they highly trained, but they were valuable to the enemy should they be captured and could ransom a high price. Keeping them protected whilst also utilising their skills in the most effective way was a game of chess. Robert though, had faith in Prince Asher. Every Lord in The Twin Kingdoms knew that Prince Asher was already, at the tender age of twenty, one of the most competent military commanders in The New World. Whilst his twin brother Aron inherited the birth right, and the look of a King, it was Prince Asher who had the dirty hands at the end of each day. Once they were dismissed, Eiruc and Robert wandered from the hall amongst a mass of their fellow commanders, some of whom would never return.
Once they were outside the castle, they stood for a moment and looked over the city. Through the trees, they could see the Silver River cut the city in half as it fed the sea over the horizon. Harthelm was a glorious castle, adorned with silver on the inside and purestone on the outside. Purestone was an expensive, mineral-rich stone, as hard as iron and as smooth as fresh fallen snow. Silver City had only been the capital of The Hartlands for a century and a half, before that, the Kings of The Hartlands resided at Hartlake, now the seat of Prince Asher. The silver mines that surrounded the city helped to make The Hartlands the richest nation in The New World.
Robert turned around to see Eiruc staring at him.
“You gaze a lot.”
“Always gets me into trouble that. I prefer to do less of it.”
“We’re going to war. There is a lot to think about.”
“Not for me.”
Robert remembered just how young this lad was at that point. Of course, he would not think of war as he did. Eiruc had never suffered loss or grief. He could not possibly imagine the fear of experiencing it, as that fear only comes after you have already experienced it. Aside from a few raids and tavern brawls, the boy would not have seen death. He would not have held it in his arms or cried into its neck.
“Perhaps not,” Robert finally replied.
“I’m going to take the men to a tavern and explain the situation. Will you appoint someone to take charge whilst we’re away?”
“Who do you trust to keep order here?”
“Danson Gorge is not the best fighter, but he always breaks up the scuffles and the men respect him.”
“Then tell Danson that we will expect a full report of what we have missed when we return.”
“Are you not coming to the tavern?”
“No,” Robert replied, his eyes fixed on the God’s Hall behind Eiruc. “I must pray.”
The God’s Hall was an innately quiet place. As soon as Robert stepped inside and closed the heavy doors behind him, the church instantly blocked out all of the noise from the city. Every birdsong, every carried voice and child’s laugh smashed into the doors and bounced away. It was a fortress of sound, and yet inside everything echoed. It was as if it were built so that everything was to be heard twice, once from the vessel, once from the soul. Thus, as soon as the doors were closed behind him, the process of a Godson approaching him had already begun. Godson Effei heard everything, and came immediately from his office to greet Robert and took his hand with a broad smile.
“Sir Robert, what a pleasure it is to see you. What can I do for you?”
“I would sit with Natos for a while, if it please you, brother.”
Effei looked concerned. “By all means, but if you require an ear that can communicate back to you, we can speak in private.” To speak with Natos was generally a cause for concern for Godsons, particularly to men as morally concerned as Effei. “How has everything been since…your wedding?”
Robert had no doubt expected that. The last time he saw Effei was when the man conducted his wedding ceremony, but all Robert had been told was that he had been poisoned, and that Lady Reynard was still in self-exile somewhere, and nobody had seen her since. Now, King Aron had sent men around the Kingdom looking for her, though that was not for Robert’s sake, it was for King Aron’s deceased son, whose mother had been given the same poison.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Robert smiled, “but with war being declared, and as I will be a soldier within it, I felt it a good time to speak to my soul’s guide.”
Effei placed a hand upon his shoulder. “It says a lot about a man, whom he chooses to speak with when confronted with death. Those who expect to live, ask Jivana, those who expect to die, ask Natos. I always speak to both. It is good to hear both sides of the story.”
Effei turned away and sauntered back to the office. As Robert approached the chancel, he looked to his left and saw the towering statue of Jivana with her long hair carved into a wisp, and to the right, Natos, his eyes alight with emeralds. Jivana’s statue was made with purestone, a reflection of the beauty of life, whilst Natos was built with cryptstone, a reflection on the harsh reality of death – enduring and eternal. Beneath Natos’ statue, he noticed a boy on his hands and knees, cleaning the stone of Natos’ feet intently, so much so, he had not even noticed Robert. It was then that Robert recognised the lad as the boy who accompanied the monks that he chaperoned to Silver City.
The boy almost jumped out of his skin, but his expression calmed as soon as he recognised the knight. “Sir Robert Talford,” the boy said politely.
“I’d imagined you’d be far away from here by now. Stillius told me about what happened to your village, he seemed absolutely determined to find your mother. Has he had any luck, do you know?”
Nadir’s face was blank, as if Robert’s words gave him no joy at all. “I know who took her. I know who raided my village, but I have no one to help me anymore. Stillius has not been here in months, and His Worship is in Cesara, meeting with the other Arkgodsons. Since I escaped my burning village, I have been chased by wolves, given to the church, and shot with a crossbow, and in the months that I have been here, I am as close to finding my mother as I was when I arrived. They all seem determined. They seem that way so that they can use me for what they need me for.”
Robert could not help but feel for the lad. Nobles had a habit of using who they needed and discarding them once they were done, particularly those of absolutely no influence or money. The fact that this boy was learning this lesson at his tender age was enough to send Robert into a rage. This war would only make it worse, Robert knew, an unknown face that was blindly loyal to whom he trusted to help him was an understated tool in warfare, and no doubt Nadir would see far more of that now.
“We are all used and manipulated by those above us. At dawn, I am to join the Royal Army in Hazelfield. I will fight men whom I have no desire to harm, and who might have been friends in a different life. I will likely kill some of those men, or they will kill me. I will do it for a man who I do not rightly know, and who may recognise my name and have a steep understanding of my house, but does not know me either. This is the world we live in, Nadir. Just make sure that they hold up their end of the bargain should you survive their plans.”
“How am I to do that? I do not have money or influence or freedom.”
“You must carve it out for yourself. Chipping away at the stone of their authority piece by piece and build your own palace of power with the debris. Keep watching and listening Nadir, now is a time for learning.”
“That doesn’t help me find my mother though. That is all I want. I would trade all of the money and the power in the world for my mother.”
Robert felt for Nadir as he felt for all helpless creatures in these moments. Knights grow up believing that they are to protect the innocent and help those who cannot help themselves, and yet all they seem to do is fight for money or for power, helping those who already have far too much of both.
“Nadir, if there was anything I could do, I would help. Truly. Stillius is a fine man, and you are a fine lad. Do you know anything about the men who raided your village?”
“I know everything, Sir Robert. I know everything, but no one will help me because of the war. I am not as important as Lord Garrison who admitted that he sent men to burn down my village, I am not as important as the men he can provide, who burned an old lady alive in a home she had lived in all of her life. I am not as important as stupid knights who wear stupid badges of pink men shooting longbows and have stupid long hair. I am not as important as them, so it doesn’t matter how much I know. There is nobody who can help me, because I am not important.”
Nadir stormed off. Robert had done the same when he was a boy. It was not out of rudeness, but pride. He imagined that the tears were filling his eyes as he spoke, and the last thing he wanted was another man to see them. Robert knew many men who still did the same thing, but instead of running, they fought and punched so that nobody could see their pain. They let their anger overwhelm their sadness to avoid what they saw as weakness. Robert did the same too. Robert had heard many murmurings about villages in Ayden and Bankwater being razed by men sent by Lord Garrison. Hillhold was a borderland, and thus far more susceptible to a vicious response than Hunter’s Valley should The Blacklands have responded with equal violence. It was always the small, unprotected villages that suffered most during war, despite the fact that many of them want nothing to do with it, only dreaming of a safe place to work the fields and raise their children.
Robert knelt by Natos’ feet. He prayed to Natos to guide him kindly, though deep in his heart Robert knew that he had not lived a life fulfilled. He had once, but if the Gods were kind, they would have struck him down with his wife and son. It was cruel to let him live whilst they died. He prayed for their souls, and begged Natos every day to guide them into paradise. He prayed to Natos to let Jivana keep his men should they fall in battle, but to take him instead. None of those young men deserve to die, but take me, please take me, he thought silently. Then he prayed for Nadir’s mother, hoping that Lord Garrison’s men had not treated her wrongfully, and to punish those that had. Robert thought of his brothers often, but he did not pray for them, except for Harold. He thought the name must be cursed. Both his son and his brother of that name had died, but yet, perhaps it was the name Talford that was cursed, as almost all of them had died, and what a cruel joke it was that Robert was the only one that had remained. If the Gods had taken me, and left the rest, that would have been fair. All of them might still be alive.
Robert wad startled by a distant crash, and he jolted up from his prayer. Effei was stood over the chancel, coins scattered everywhere, and a heavy-looking crate beside it. Robert hurried to help, and began to collect them, but Effei tapped him on the shoulder reassuringly.
“Sir Robert, I thank you, but this is not necessary. The amounts of the coins were carefully calculated. I should think I am in for a busy night, but this is no job for a knight. Please, accept my apologies for interrupting your prayer.”
Robert rose to his feet. “You saved me from it in truth. Are you sure I cannot help you?”
“You have enough to think about without scrambling on the floor for coin with me. I wish you a safe return, Sir.”
Robert shook Effei’s hand. “Please make sure you look after that lad, Nadir. He is going to need the guidance of a steady hand.”
Effei smiled. “Do not worry about that, Sir. I am sure the Gods have a plan for him.”
The tavern was full to the brim with members of the City Guard. Robert did not like to drink much, he found it worsened his episodes and made it nigh on impossible to sleep. It did not stop him from enjoying the atmosphere though. A bard played a song in the corner of the hall, and merry men sang along and tossed him coin. It was a sad song, lyrically, that detailed the yearning of the wife of a soldier to have her husband home in one piece, and not strung up in the woods. Its sadness was lifted by a high tempo tune that allowed dancing. Although a sad song, it was tradition to play this before men went off to battle.
The old tavern stunk of piss and weak ale, smoke, and rancid meat that likely filled the pies. Drunken old men swayed from side to side or learned on the splintered wood of the bar to stop them from falling over. Apron-covered wenches side-stepped dirty groping hands as they plonked tankards of ale upon packed tables that men sat at shoulder to shoulder. Robert had to duck as he entered, the ceilings being too low to accommodate his tall frame, and immediately he was accosted by one of his men, Lyle Halfdon, who pushed a huge tankard of ale into his chest and wished him well before stumbling back to the bar to fetch another before Robert could even thank him.
Robert finally caught sight of Eiruc Garrison and Danson Gorge. Danson was an approachable looking man with big, hopeful eyes and a slightly crooked nose that gave his plain face some semblance of character. His hair had started to recede into a peak, but he was young enough at twenty-nine so that it had not yet affected his looks. Danson caught his eye and let out a cheer that was echoed by the other men. Robert could tell they were all royally drunk, which he had expected. It still annoyed him. He had hoped he could pull Eiruc aside and ask him about Ashfirth. As soon as Nadir mentioned long hair and a longbow, he knew that he must talk to Eiruc. In truth, he did not know how many Garrisons grew their hair out to abnormally long lengths, but he would feel guilty if he did not even try to help the poor boy.
The men shifted aside to allow Robert to sit at the already tightly-packed table. All of the men had half a stool or less to support them, but they propped each other up so that should another man need to get up, they all had to brace themselves for the shift in balance should they all fall to the floor. Robert had seen men do this better in a tavern than he had on a battlefield, though there were admittedly fewer drunk men in taverns. As he sat down next to Eiruc, he took a sip of his ale, and realised just how watered down it was. It was the strength of ale you’d give to a child with dinner, but that suited him fine. It was only when Robert sat close to Eiruc that he realised just how drunk his sergeant was. Eiruc’s eyes were glazed, and his laughs stammered and exaggerated. He would have no doubt been on the floor if the tightness of the table did not support him. Perhaps in this state I can fish some truth from him, Robert thought.
“I need to talk to you,” Robert said, his hand covering his mouth as he lened close to Eiruc’s ear.
“Then talk,” Eiruc gurgled.
“Not here. Outside.”
Eiruc was reliant on Robert to get him through the crowd and out of the tavern. Robert propped him up against the wall and gave him a soft pat on the cheek. “Eiruc, I must ask you something of importance.” Eiruc was so drunk that he could barely stand, and Robert wondered if he should wait until the morning But the Garrison clan were not known for their honesty, and Robert felt that only under the duress of alcohol could he garner some gems of truth within this rockheaded boy. “Was it your men who raided Ashfirth and the other Blacklands villages?” Suddenly, Eiruc’s eyes sobered up, and the lad’s darting pupils told him all he needed to know.
“Fuck off, Robert.”
Robert gripped him by the throat. “Look at me. I am not going to hurt you. I will not speak a word of it to anyone, but I need answers. I know you raided Ashfirth, and I know you took someone, a woman, she was dark-skinned, torn from her child and caged before being taken from the village. You were there, Eiruc. I give you my word as a man that your secrets will be safe, I just need to know where she is.”
He released Eiruc, and he slumped to the floor, sat up against the wall. He was deep in drunken thought, the kind of thought where there was some idea of focus, but it was caught in a distant haze where only hard facts existed, and all other convoluted inventions vanished and burned up before they could be spat into the world. All Eiruc could possibly give him was the truth or say nothing at all.
“I don’t know. We…we took some captive, but they were serfs all of them, what could we do with serfs but sell them?”
“Sell them? Who did you sell them to?”
“Slavers from here and there, I suppose. I can’t remember,” Eiruc slouched again.
Robert’s patience left him. He drew his dagger and pushed it into the boy’s stomach gently. Eiruc winced and tried to grab it, but he was too weak and uncoordinated. Robert was strong and sober, so Eiruc ended up with a twisted wrist and a blade pinching his belly. “Think. Hard.”
“I didn’t know him. Never heard his name before. It was foreign. Natonian, maybe, from The Old World, maybe Amentian too though. He gave us more coin than we’d asked, more coin than anyone else would offer, so we sold her. That’s all I know, I promise, I promise.”
The cold fear in Eiruc’s drunken eyes was enough to convince Robert that he was being truthful. If it was true though, it meant that Nadir’s mother could be anywhere on the land or sea. Robert pulled the dagger away and tucked it into his boot before hoisting Eiruc to his feet. Eiruc had tears on his face, and Robert could not understand how this arrogant boy had been so affronted by a dagger, until he realised that the boy had deeper troubles than a knife in the gut. “It is okay, Eiruc. I will not speak a word of this.”
“It is not that. It is the woman you speak of. I have not stopped dreaming of her. She haunts my sleep as soon as I close my eyes. Not the others we took. Just her. And that boy, her son. I see him too. I saw him in the woods. Now I see him in the city. There is something about them both that terrifies me to my core, Robert. Whoever coerced you to ask me. I must beg you not to reveal what I know.”
Robert saw the terror in this drunk man’s eyes, and felt a sort of sick comfort that he was not the only man tortured by his dreams. He had no doubt that this boy was all bravado, and whilst he had more than enough of that, he was still just a young man, raw and inexperienced, afraid and confused. Robert took the stumbling fool’s arm and wrapped it around his shoulder. “Come on, sergeant. Let’s get you home.”