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.“Every nomad in Ergoth will hear about this day.That’s for certain! Your days of terror are coming to an end!”A black-haired woman with blue tattoos on her cheeks asked, “Who are you, grasslander? You’re not one of these sheep.”He told them.From their nervous shifting, they obviously recognized his name.Although he asked several times where their chief was, they would say no more.He ordered they be given food and water, but no treatment for their wounds until they decided to talk.The sergeant of the guard he warned to be alert for any who might show a change of heart.Feeling bolstered, Tol returned to camp.On the way he saw soldiers routing out Seventh Company deserters who were hiding in the town’s ruins.The militia men had no qualms about arresting their former comrades.Their own lives had been put at risk when the Seventh ran away, and they were none too gentle about catching the cowards who had endangered them.Near the ruins of the town wall, a gang of workmen was knocking together salvaged timbers in an open area.As he passed this gallows, Tol’s fragile confidence gave way to gloom.Zala, freshly scrubbed, was waiting for him at his shelter.She had bandages, a jar of ointment, and a basin of clean water.She ordered him to take off his jerkin and let her inspect any damage.Amused by her imperious tone, he did so, and she commenced scrubbing his back.“Ow! What is that, sharkskin?” he complained.“Quiet!” She resumed scrubbing at the dirt and blood with the coarse bit of wet cloth.“Some warrior! Can’t take a little cleaning!” She resumed with a vengeance.The washing revealed that Tol hadn’t so much as a scratch.Zala muttered something about luck, and he smiled.Kiya was always saying he was the luckiest dolt the gods ever made.Despite the roughness of her ministrations, Tol found his eyelids growing heavy.He hadn’t tasted battle in six years, and no amount of wood-chopping in the Great Green could substitute for the adrenaline rush of open combat.Exhaustion claimed him.His chin dropped to his chest.Zala stepped back and regarded him in amazement.He was snoring! The great ox was asleep!Tol shifted position, easing himself onto his side without ever waking.Zala watched him, a frown on her face.What she’d been through today would trouble her own sleep for many nights to come.* * * * *Ackal V let the empty cup fall to the flagstone floor.It was solid gold, cast in the reign of Ackal Dermount, but without wine in it, it was just so much cold metal.He reached for a full cup, this one of translucent crystal etched with the Ackal arms.His private chambers were alive with revelry.Smoke from the roaring fire mixed with the smells of incense, sweat, and spilled wine.The emperor had decided to forget his troubles with a little celebration.Breyhard had failed, and his army was lost.Crumont had managed to return across the Dalti River and fall back to the Ackal Path, ready to defend the capital from a bakali assault.It had never come.The lizard-men disappeared once more into the rich farm country northwest of the city.The Great Horde was searching for them.The only ones invited to this party were the Emperor’s Wolves and a few special guests, including Breyhard’s kin.His two wives were chained to pillars, with his three children cowering at their feet.Breyhard’s brother had been arrested as well, but the Wolves had been careless and allowed him to fall on a concealed knife, cheating the emperor’s vengeance.Filthy, unkempt Wolves lurched around the captives, bellowing insults and drenching them with wine or cider.In the shadows beyond the firelight, Ackal’s hounds were savaging something: a beef joint from the cooking spit, or one of the servants-the emperor couldn’t tell which.Ackal V got up from his couch, brushing aside a sodden courtesan.With the exaggerated dignity of the intoxicated, he smoothed his wrinkled crimson robe and tightened its sash.Without being called, Tathman appeared silently at his master’s elbow.“I’ve neglected my guests,” the emperor said.“Come.”Two Wolves had passed out while berating the dead warlord’s wives.Ackal roused them with kicks.Once they crawled away, he addressed the chained women.“You know why you are here, don’t you?”The elder wife, a plump, dark-eyed brunette, nodded curtly.The younger, red haired and half Breyhard’s age, only sobbed and hung slack against her bonds.“I have decided to be merciful and spare your lives,” he said, weaving slightly as he tried to stand straight.“You will be consigned to slavery in Windgard.” This was the capital of the Last Hundred, the province at the extreme western end of Ergoth, south of the Seascapes and west of Thorngoth [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]