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.There was no sound from inside.All was deathly still.Something cold and metal touched his cheek.Tol jerked in surprise and looked up.A very dirty, ragged-looking soldier stood over him, his iron saber pressed against Tol’s face.On his upper right arm, the soldier wore a blood-streaked swatch of green cloth.Snarling, he seized Tol by the collar and dragged him bodily out into the yard.“My lord,” the Pakin soldier called out.“I caught this boy sneakin’ around.”The door of the hut swung in, and a figure stood silhouetted against the brighter interior of the hut.“Who is it?” said the dark apparition.When Tol didn’t answer, the soldier slapped him.“My name is Tol!” he said, rubbing his stinging ear.“I live here! With my family!”The man emerged into the starlight.Instead of a face of flesh, the intruder’s countenance was chiseled bronze, fixed in a hideous grin.Tol instantly recognized the armor and carriage of the man he’d met before at the onion field, the lord who had hunted Marshal Odovar and commanded the monstrous panther-creature.It was Spannuth Grane, leader of the Pakin rebels in the southern and eastern provinces.“I know you, boy,” Grane said, voice hollow inside his closed helmet.“You’re the farmer’s son.Where have you been?”“Carried off by soldiers, master.” Tol was surprised both by his own easy lie and that such a lordly fellow would remember him after their brief meeting.“I was made to work for them until a few days ago, when I ran away.”The leering bronze visor nodded slowly up and down.“Put him with the others,” Grane said.A second Pakin warrior came out of the house, and together he and his disheveled comrade shoved Tol inside.His family was there, huddled by the hillside wall-his father, Bakal, his mother, Ita, and his two sisters, Zalay and Nira.His father had taken a beating: his face was bruised, and one eye was blackened and swollen shut Tol’s mother whimpered with relief and tried to stand and take him in her arms.She was stopped short by a cord tied to her wrists and ankles.The Pakin soldiers shoved Tol at his anxious mother.They sprawled in a heap on top of his sister Nira.Sorting themselves into sitting positions, they had a low-voiced but joyful reunion.“How long have they been here?” Tol asked softly.“Since sundown yesterday,” muttered his father through split lips.“They killed our best pig, and mean to take the others-”“Shut yer hole,” one soldier snapped.Bakal prudently obeyed.One man went back outside, to stand watch.Lord Grane shut the door and sat down in the only chair, Bakal’s, by the cold fireplace.A lamp flickered on the hearth near his knee.Grane removed his fearsome helm.Beneath it, he wore a close mail coif, so all Tol could see of his face was his nose and eyes.He did not resemble Vakka Zan, the White Pakin, for Grane’s eyes were as black and cold as unburned coal.“Is this all your brood, farmer? Are we to expect any more visitors?”“This is all,” Tol’s father grunted.With arms folded, Grane sat facing the cowering family.Tol kept his eyes downcast, even as he strained his ears to hear any sign that Egrin was coming.He heard nothing, and finally his curiosity would not be denied.“Sir, what are you going to do with us?”His father growled at him to hush, but Grane replied, “A fair question.Since you were brave enough to ask, I’ll tell you.I shall tarry here awhile, resting.If you do not vex me, I shall spare your lives.When I depart, I shall resume the campaign of my master, the Pakin Successor, against the Ackal tyrant.”The carnage of the battlefield was still vivid in Tol’s mind.“But your army’s dead,” he blurted.The Pakin soldier snapped a vulgar word at him.Grane merely shrugged.“Ah, you saw the battlefield,” he said.“A setback, I admit.My cavalry commander mistook Imperial troops for Odovar’s local lackeys.He paid for his blunder with his life.”His escort sputtered, “My lord! Many a loyal follower of the true emperor died in that fight!”“ ‘Life to the strong,’ ” was Grane’s ironic reply.He didn’t even glance at his man.“Are these your strongest, then?” Tol muttered, glancing around.The soldier advanced, blade bared.“Shut up, whelp or I’ll feed you to your own pigs!”“Sit down, Yarakin,” Grane snapped.“The stableboy is baiting you, and you’re swallowing it like a starving dog.Sit.” Reluctantly, the anxious soldier complied.Grane produced a short dagger with a sharply pointed, triangular blade.Tol’s mother grasped his wrist in alarm, but the Pakin lord merely dug the tip into the chair arm, idly whittling.“By daybreak we’ll be gone, boy, so let us spend a quiet night, eh? Sleep, all of you.That is my order.”Tol’s eyelids fluttered, and he yawned.The rest of his family followed suit.“Sleep.Rest.Speak no more till sunrise…”Grane’s voice had taken on a gently insistent tone.Although his mind was racing, Tol felt himself growing more and more tired.His mother’s grip on his arm slackened, and her head rested on his shoulder.Zalay and Nira sighed in unison, their heads drooping.His father yawned so widely his jaw cracked.The soldier Yarakin was already snoring, standing up, leaning on his spear.“Sleep, all.Sleep.Close your eyes and visit the vale of dreams.”Grane was working magic, putting everyone to sleep! Tol tried to fight the spell.He was certain Egrin would come to their rescue, and he needed to be awake to help the warden.But his efforts came to naught.He felt as though soft weights were collecting on his limbs and his eyelids.His head grew so heavy he couldn’t hold it up.“Sleep, stableboy.Sleep.”The last thing Tol saw was Grane dragging the chair away from the hearth, into the deep shadows behind the door.The Pakin lord sat down again and drew one of Ita’s rag quilts close around his shoulders.The shadows swallowed him completely; only his greaves were visible, and light from the guttering lamp glinted on their rivets.As sleep claimed him, Tol heard-or thought he heard-the deep voice of Grane, chuckling.* * * * *Light roused Tol.He cracked one eyelid.Slim bands of sunlight came through cracks in the shutters.In the beams, silent cascades of dust danced.Tol opened his other eye.Recognition returned as he looked around.His family, the Pakin soldier Yarakin, and Lord Grane slumbered on.Tol shifted slightly, easing his mother’s head from his arm.With his family at their mercy, the Pakins apparently didn’t consider Tol a threat, and he had not been tied.If he could snatch Yarakin’s spear before the warrior woke, he could perhaps hold him at bay until his father got free.He listened hard, but heard no sounds from outside.Why hadn’t Egrin come to save them? He was certain the warden wouldn’t simply have ridden away, but he couldn’t risk wasting this opportunity.Yarakin was slumped by the hearth, snoring gratingly.Tol crept toward him.When his hand closed over the spear, he tugged…The movement unbalanced Yarakin.The soldier slumped forward, and sunlight fell on his face.His eyes opened.“Ha!” he shouted, taking firm hold of the shaft [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]