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‘Your pardon, Adjunct,’ Fiddler ground out. ‘I would ask the Tiste Andii a question.’

‘By your threat,’ snapped the Adjunct, turning to Korlat, ‘should she refuse the courtesy, I will defend her decision.’

Korlat shook her head, drawing a deep, fortifying breath. ‘No, thank you, Adjunct. This soldier was Whiskeyjack’s closest friend. If he would ask me something, I shall answer as best I am able.’

The Adjunct stepped back.

Fiddler’s gaze fell to the stone in her hand. ‘You mean to give that up? Did you know Gesler and Stormy?’

Korlat shook her head.

‘Then … why?’

Her thoughts fumbled, words failing her, and her eyes fell from Fiddler’s.

‘Is it his?’

She looked back up, startled. Behind Fiddler the marines of the squad stared – but now she saw that what she had taken for rage in their expressions was in fact something else, something far more complicated.

‘Korlat, is it his?’

She faced the barrow entrance. ‘They were marines,’ she said in a weak voice. ‘I thought … a measure of respect.’

‘If you give that up, you will destroy him.’

She met Fiddler’s eyes, and at last saw the raw anguish in them. ‘I thought … he left me.’

‘No, he hasn’t.’

Hedge spoke. ‘He only found love once, Korlat, and we’re looking at the woman he chose. If you give up that stone, we’ll cut you to pieces and leave your bones scattered across half this world.’

Korlat stepped close to Fiddler. ‘How do you know this?’

His eyes flickered, were suddenly wet. ‘On the hill. His ghost – he saw you on the plain. He – he couldn’t take his eyes off you. I see now – you thought … through Hood’s Gate, the old loves forgotten, drifting away. Maybe you even began questioning if it ever existed at all, or meant what you thought it meant. Listen, they’ve told me the whole story. Korlat, he’s waiting for you. And if he has to, he’ll wait for ever.’

Her hand closed about the stone, and all at once the tension fell away, and she looked past Fiddler to the soldiers of the squad. ‘You would have killed me for forsaking him,’ she said. ‘I am reminded of the man he was – to have won such loyalty among his friends.’

Hedge said, ‘You’ve got centuries – well, who knows how long? Don’t think he expects you to be celibate or anything – we ain’t expectin’ that neither. But that stone – we know what it means to your kind. You just shocked us, that’s all.’

Korlat slowly turned to the barrow. ‘Then I should leave here, for I have nothing for these fallen soldiers.’

The Adjunct surprised her by stepping forward and taking her arm. She led her to the chest. ‘Open it,’ she invited.

Wondering, Korlat crouched down, lifted back the lid. The chest was empty. Baffled, she straightened, met the Adjunct’s eyes.

And saw a wry smile. ‘They were marines. Everything of value they’ve already left behind. In fact, Korlat of the Tiste Andii, if Gesler and Stormy could, they’d be the first ones to loot their own grave goods.’

‘And then bitch about how cheap we were,’ Fiddler said behind them.

‘We are here to see the barrow sealed,’ said the Adjunct. ‘And, if we can, get that Wickan demon to yield, before it starves to death.’

A thousand paces away from this scene, a gathering of Jaghut warriors stood facing a barrow raised to embrace the fallen Imass.

They were silent, as befitted the moment – a moment filled with respect and that bone-deep loss for comrades fallen in a battle shared, a time lived to the hilt – but for all that, it was a silence riotous with irony.

After a time, a small creature looking like a burst pillow of rotted straw came up to lie down at the feet of one of the Jaghut. From the filthy tangle out came a lolling tongue.

One of the warriors spoke, ‘Varandas, our commander never tires of pets.’

‘Clearly,’ replied another, ‘he has missed us.’

‘Or does the once-Lord of Death return with alarming appetites?’

‘You raise disquiet in me,’ said Sanad.

‘You promised to never speak of that – oh, you mean my query on appetites. Humblest apologies, Sanad.’

‘She lies, Gathras, this I swear!’

‘The only one lying here is the dog, surely!’

The warriors all stared down at the creature.

And then roared with laughter. That went on, and on.

Until Hood whirled round. ‘Will you all shut up!

In the sudden silence that followed, someone snorted.

When Hood reached for the sword at his hip, his warriors all found somewhere else to look. Until the ratty dog rose and lifted a leg.

Weathering their raucous laughter and the steady stream tapping his ankle, Hood slowly closed his eyes. This is why Jaghut chose to live alone.

Brys Beddict turned at the sound of distant laughter. Squinted at the Jaghut warriors standing at the Imass barrow. ‘Errant’s nudge, but that’s hardly fitting, is it?’

Aranict frowned. ‘Theirs is an odd humour, my love. I do not think disrespect is the intention. Indifference would have managed that succinctly enough. Instead, they walked out there, and requested solitude.’

‘Ah,’ murmured Brys, taking her hand, ‘it is, I believe, time.’

He led her towards the Adjunct, where Queen Abrastal, Felash and Spax now joined Tavore. Just beyond them, Aranict saw, was Ganoes – not one to join in these moments, yet never far from his sister.

Brys spoke as soon as they drew near. ‘There was some tension at the barrow, Adjunct. I trust all is well?’

‘A misunderstanding, Prince.’

‘The cattledog—’

‘No – once the barrow was sealed, the beast joined Destriant Kalyth, and at her side I believe it will stay until its life is done.’

‘There is word,’ said Abrastal, ‘of a tribe on the plateau north of Estobanse, remote kin of Kalyth’s Elan. Bhederin herders.’

‘They will journey alone?’ Brys asked in concern.

‘With only a few hundred K’ell Hunters as escort, yes,’ replied the Bolkando queen.

‘Prince Brys,’ said Felash, ‘your brother the king’s fleet is only days away.’ Her languid gaze flicked to Aranict.

‘I’ve not yet told him,’ Aranict replied, lighting a stick. ‘Beloved,’ she now said, ‘your brother is with that fleet.’

‘Tehol hates the sea – are you certain of that?’

But Felash was coughing, her eyes wide on the prince. ‘Excuse me, King Tehol hates the sea? But – rather, I mean, forgive me. Bugg – his— Oh, never mind. My pardon, Prince Brys.’

Abrastal was regarding her daughter sidelong. ‘You’re as plump as you ever were,’ she said. ‘Smoke more, girl!’

‘Yes, mother. At once.’

‘And where is your handmaid?’

‘Down with Captain Elalle, Mother, shipshaping a boat or whatever they call it.’

Brys spoke to Tavore. ‘Adjunct … there were times when I … well, I doubted you. This seemed so vast – what you sought—’

‘Forgive me for interrupting, Highness,’ Tavore replied. ‘The deeds that have won us this victory belong to every soul on this journey, and it has been a rather long journey. A sword’s tip is nothing without the length of solid steel backing it.’ She hesitated. ‘There have been many doubts to weather, but this is a weakness we all share.’

‘You said you would be unwitnessed. Yet, that proved untrue, did it not?’

She shrugged. ‘For each moment recorded in the annals of history, how many more are lost? Highness, we shall be forgotten. All of this, it will fade into the darkness, as all things will. I do not regret that.’

‘In Letheras,’ said Brys, ‘there will be a statue of bronze raised in your likeness. I know, few will know what it means, what it signifies. But I will, Adjunct.’

‘A statue?’ Tavore cocked her head, as if considering the notion. ‘Will I be beautiful?’ she asked, and before Brys could answer she formally bowed before him and then Queen Abrastal. ‘I thank you both, for making my cause your own. For your losses, I grieve. Goodbye, Highnesses.’