They let her depart.
And only Aranict heard Brys say, ‘Of course you will.’
‘A Hood-damned dog,’ muttered Deadsmell as the marines and heavies walked from the barrow.
‘That’s Gesler for you,’ replied Throatslitter. ‘Brainless to the end.’
‘He wouldn’t have liked things without Stormy, anyway,’ observed Balm.
Bottle considered this brief exchange, and then nodded to himself. There’s a point when there’s nothing left to say. When every word does nothing more than stir the ashes. He glanced over at Smiles, and then Koryk, and finally Tarr. We finally took some losses, our squad. Cuttle – never thought he’d die, not like that. In some whore’s bed, maybe. Corabb – gods below, how that man could fight.
Limp says he saw him, there at the end – he’d blown his knee again, was looking over at the Crippled God – and there was Corabb, his face all lit with the glory of his last stand over the chained body of a god.
Really, what could be more perfect than that?
Well done, Corabb Bhilan Thenu’alas.
‘Heard she’s retiring us,’ ventured Sinter. ‘Priest’s paying us out – a damned fortune for each and every one of us.’
‘Where’en ne faareden? Eh? War bit ana dem?’
‘To the families if they got any, Nep. That’s how it’s done. Stand or fall, you still get paid.’
‘G’han nered pah vreem!’
Sinter made a startled sound, and beside her Kisswhere leaned forward to shoot Nep Furrow a shocked look.
‘Really, Nep?’ Kisswhere asked.
‘Gods below,’ Sinter whispered. ‘I never …’
Reaching the road, they came within sight of the Bonehunter regulars. Glancing back, Bottle saw the Adjunct on her way up, with Banaschar at her side. Behind these two walked Lostara Yil, Henar Vygulf, the three Fists, Skanarow and Ruthan Gudd.
‘She wants a last word with them,’ Tarr said, evidently noticing Bottle’s backward look. ‘But we’re not going to be there for that. Between her and them – you others all hear that? We walk through.’
‘We walk through,’ Hellian echoed. ‘Crump, go back and help Limp – he’s lagging. Let’s just get this over with.’
They strode into the loose ranks of the regulars.
‘Wish we had it as easy as you did!’ someone shouted.
Koryk yelled back, ‘You never would’ve hacked it, Ffan!’
‘Hey, Hellian, found me this big spider here – wanna see it?’
‘Call it whatever you want, soldier, it’s still small.’
Bottle shook his head. Aw, fuck. They’re soldiers – what did you expect?
It was dark by the time Korlat returned to the small Tiste Andii camp. They were seated round a fire, like hunters out from the wood, or harvesters at day’s end. A fresh rain had cleansed the air, but its passage had been brief and now overhead tracked the Jade Strangers – as she had learned to call them – casting down a green light.
Nimander looked up, made room for her on the Kolansii workbench they had found in one of the work camps. ‘We were wondering if you would ever return,’ he said.
She drew her cloak about her shoulders. ‘I watched the Bonehunters depart,’ she said.
‘Have ships arrived, then?’
Korlat shook her head. ‘They’re moving to a camp at this end of the Estobanse Valley. The Adjunct spoke to her regulars. She thanked them. That and nothing more. She was the last to leave – she bade the others go ahead, even her brother, and she walked alone. There was something … something …’ She shook her head. ‘It broke my heart.’
A voice spoke from the darkness behind her. ‘She does that, does Tavore.’
They turned to see Fiddler stepping into the firelight, carrying something wrapped in skins. Behind, arrayed but drawing no closer, Korlat saw the rest of Whiskeyjack’s old squad. They seemed to be muttering to each other in low tones, and then Quick Ben pointed up past the road, and in a sharp voice said, ‘There, that hilltop. Not too far, but far enough. Well?’ He looked at his companions, and both men grunted their assent.
Returning her attention to Fiddler, she saw that he had been watching, and now he nodded, faced Korlat. ‘It’s not far – in this air it’ll carry just fine.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Korlat, ‘what are you doing?’
‘See the hill they indicated, other side of the road? Go there, Korlat.’
Nimander made to rise, but a look from Fiddler stilled him. ‘Just her,’ he said. ‘I’ll take that stump there – mind, sir?’
Silchas Ruin, seated on that stump, rose, shaking his head and then gesturing an invitation.
Fiddler went over and settled down on it. He began unwrapping the object on his lap, and then looked up and met Korlat’s eyes. ‘Why are you still here?’
‘What are you going to do?’ she demanded.
He sighed. ‘Said it was the last time for him. Said it like it was an order. Well, he should know by now, we’re lousy with taking orders.’ He slipped away the final layer of skin, revealing a fiddle and bow. ‘Go on now, Korlat. Oh, and tell him, this one’s called “My Love Waits”. I won’t take credit for it – one of Fisher’s.’ Then he looked round at the gathered Tiste Andii. ‘There’s another one that I can slide into it easily enough, a bit sadder but not too sad. It’s from Anomandaris. You’ll forgive me, please, if I get the title wrong – it’s been a long time. “Gallan’s Hope”? Does that sound right to you all? … Seems it does.’
Korlat backed away, felt a hand touch her shoulder. It was Hedge. ‘Hilltop, Korlat. Fid’s gonna call him back. One more time. But listen, if it’s too much, walk the other way, or stay off the hill. He’ll see you anyway – we’re doing that bit no matter what. For him.’
He would have babbled on, but she moved past him.
Eyes on the hill on the other side of the road.
Behind her, the strings drew a song into the night air.
When she reached the road and saw her beloved standing on the hill before her, Korlat broke into a run.
FOR ONCE THE SEAS WERE CALM ON THE BEACH BELOW, AND WITH THE tide out many of the Imass had ventured on to the flats to collect shellfish. Off to one side the twins played with Absi, and the sound of the boy’s laughter reached up to the shelf of stone where sat Udinaas.
He heard footsteps coming down the trail nearby and turned to see Onos and Hetan. They were carrying reed baskets to join in the harvest. Udinaas saw Onos pause, look out towards the children.
‘Relax, Onos,’ Udinaas said. ‘I’ll keep an eye on them.’
The warrior smiled. Hetan took his hand to lead him down.
Reclined on a high shelf of limestone above Udinaas, Ryadd said, ‘Stop worrying, Father. It’ll wear you out.’
From one of the caves higher up the climb behind them, there drifted out the sound of a crying baby. Poor Seren. That’s one cranky baby she has there.
‘We’re safe,’ Ryadd said. ‘And if some damned mob of vicious humans shows up, well, they’ll have Kilava, Onrack, Onos Toolan and me to deal with.’
‘I know,’ Udinaas replied. He rubbed and massaged his hands. The aches were coming back. Maybe it was time to try that foul medicine Lera Epar kept offering him. Ah, it’s just years of cold water. Sinks in. That’s all.
Glancing over, he grunted to his feet.
‘It’s all right,’ he said. ‘The twins have buried Absi up to his neck. Those girls need a good whipping.’
‘You’ve never whipped a child in your life.’
‘How would you know? Well. Maybe I haven’t, but the threat still works.’
Ryadd sat up, looked down on Udinaas with his young, sun-darkened face. Squinting, Udinaas said, ‘In the bright sun, I see your mother in your smile.’
‘Once, I think, but I won’t take credit for it.’