ZIHAEN, The Shadow of the Revenaunt, Book 2


The great hall was truly impressive: large and high, with pillars of gray stone and a floor of dark red tiles. Dozens of battle banners hung down from the rafters, as witnesses of a turbulent past. The walls displayed antique weapons and at the back of the room stood an immense wooden throne on a raised dais. Ghyll looked at it with lifted eyebrows. Made of dark wood with blood-red lining, and adorned with grinning skulls, it exuded threat and intolerable arrogance. The thought that he would have to sit on it, filled the young king with disgust. He looked around and saw the senior sergeant of Davall’s troops. He beckoned and the man marched forward.


‘Redrill, lord.’

‘Sergeant Redrill, do me a favor. Take that thing outside and chop it into firewood, will you?’

The man inspected the throne and nodded. ‘Will do, lord,’ he said, slamming his fist on his armored heart in salute. He called six soldiers to him, who carried the colossus hurriedly out of the hall, and a moment later came the sound of chopping axes.

Ghyll looked around and discovered in a corner of the hall a solid chair. ‘That one,’ he said. ‘Seems more suitable.’

Before anyone could come into action, Torril had already lifted the massive seat off the ground and dragged it along to the dais. The thing was apparently heavier than he’d thought, but he said nothing and slid the chair into its place with a grimace of effort. ‘Have a seat, Sire.’

Ghyll solemnly thanked him and sat down. He looked over the breathlessly quiet hall and his face tightened. ‘Amdal Baron Ridaud.’

Leaning on the arm of a servant, the nobleman entered. At a sign from Ghyll, someone pulled a bench forward, but the man shook his head. ‘I prefer to stand.’

Ghyll examined Ridaud from head to toe. He must have been a powerful, broad-shouldered man once, this emaciated shadow. Someone had given him one of his own robes and it hung around his body like a collapsed tent.

‘Baron Ridaud,’ Ghyll said. ‘What happened here?’

Ridaud looked up; his dark eyes were sharp, as if his body but not his mind was affected.

‘Treason happened, my lord. I betrayed my king and I was betrayed in turn. Where is that cursed sorcerer? Has he escaped? Make sure you catch him; he is evil itself.’

‘Begin at the beginning, please.’

The baron nodded. ‘After the death of Prince Ranolfe I got the impression Rabogst had fallen into disgrace. I needed to be sure, so I hired a few people to test my suspicions.’

‘What people?’ Ghyll asked.

Ridaud looked confused at the question. ‘No Rhidaunans, my lord. I don’t know where they came from. Someone had recommended them to me. A fat man, who worked for a prominent nobleman at court.’ A violent bout of coughing forced him to stop.

‘Where is the steward?’ Ghyll asked impatiently.

‘My lord?’ Apparently, the man had been nearby all the time, but for some reason he dared not help his old master.

‘Do what you’re appointed for, man. Get the baron a drink.’

Moments later Ridaud sipped a cup of wine.

‘Don’t be hard on him, my lord,’ he said with some difficulty. ‘When those bastards were in charge, he wasn’t allowed to do anything without orders, lest it cost him his head.’

With a trembling hand, Ridaud wiped a trickle of wine from the corner of his mouth. ‘To make a long story short, the tests were successful. A barn burned, then a farm, and all those frightened farmers were looking for help. It was clear they had nothing to expect from Rabogst, so they came to me, without realizing the bandits who harried them were in my service. Unfortunately, I was as blind as they were. I did not see how the bandits I paid didn’t actually serve me, but that cursed sorcerer Kirogall.

‘Realization came only the morning I awoke to find they had come and taken over Derivall. My regular militia garrison was dead, and before I knew what was happening, those bastards dragged me off to one of those miserable cages, along with a number of servants, as hostages for the rest. No, my lord, those cages are not mine. Those scoundrels brought them along, together with the gallows. I may have been a hard master, but never a killer.’

Ridaud coughed spasmodically and Ghyll gave him permission to withdraw. In his place, he had the captured bandit leader brought forward, together with a second man, who seemed to be the mercenaries’ spokesman.

Davall brought them personally. ‘On your knees,’ he barked. The spokesman immediately fell down, but the other shook his head and stood defiantly. Though he was still bleeding from several crow-inflicted wounds, he looked at Ghyll in a way that gave the young king goose bumps.

‘Down!’ Davall snarled. He hit the man on the back of his head.

‘Let him stand,’ Ghyll said. ‘What is your name?’

The bandit spat. When Davall stepped forward, Ghyll raised his hand. ‘Don’t let him provoke you, he’s only a robber.’

The man’s eyes flashed fire. ‘I’m not a robber,’ he growled with a faint accent, as though standard Abarranese wasn’t his first language.

‘What is your name?’ Ghyll said abruptly to the kneeling bandit.

‘Lebarn,’ the man said quickly. ‘And him’s called Soltshart.’

‘You bastard!’ The standing man gave his mate a kick.

Ghyll gestured to Davall. ‘Soltshart’s life is forfeited; bring him back to his cage.’

Four soldiers ran forward and dragged the cursing murderer away.

‘Lebarn,’ Ghyll said in an iron voice. ‘Who was the sorcerer?’

The bandit closed his eyes and his face was ashen. ‘I… I cannot say, lord. He’ll kill me.’

Ghyll gave the man an icy stare. ‘He is not here, and I am. I don’t know about him, but be sure I’ll torture you slowly to your death if you don’t tell me exactly what I want to know.’

With his eyes tightly squeezed shut, the man whispered, ‘Kirogall.’

‘Kirogall,’ Ghyll repeated softly. Ridaud had used the same name. He stared at Lebarn. ‘Kirogall was of the Dar’khamorth.’

The man’s eyes flew open, wide with fear. ‘You know? Believe me,’ he said bitterly, ‘had I known beforehand what kind of man he was, I wouldn’t be here.’

‘Where are you from?’

‘I’m from Kerresh in Rockath, far to the north. I know not where Soltshart hails from, but his accent is almost the same as that of Kirogall. When they came to us, they were already together.’

‘Why are you here?’

Lebarn spread his hands. ‘We are mercenaries, lord. When someone pays us, we work for him. These are all my men, or were, before Kirogall took over the command. The baron had hired us for a simple job, to scare the locals so that they sold themselves to him in exchange for protection. This happens often in Rockath, lord; we thought it would work here as well. And it did, till that sorcerer ruined it all.’

He paused and his eyes went to the gallows. ‘From that moment on it was murder, lord. Anyone who was ill or weak, who spoke up or didn’t work hard enough, was hanged. Even we were sick of it, but we daren’t say anything lest he punish us, too. One of those three on the gallows was a man of mine, lord. He refused to hang a woman. Soltshart did it himself then, first her and then my mate, side by side. She was pregnant, lord.’

This shocked Ghyll. ‘Hang a pregnant woman? Cowards!’

Lebarn shook his head. ‘You have no idea, lord. Kirogall is a necromant; the things he can do to you… I have seen him pulling a man’s intestines out of his body by just wriggling his fingers. We’re tough, sir, but then a few of us fainted.’

‘So the blame for the killings rests with Kirogall?’

‘And with that beast Soltshart, lord. He was it who messed up your spy. He… falls on boys, lord. First he uses them and then he kills them. I don’t know which of the two acts he enjoys most.’

Ghyll looked around for Uwella and called her over. When she stood beside his chair, he whispered what Lebarn had said.

The wikke nodded. ‘Zethir told me. I had to drug him nearly unconscious first, but then the whole story came out. I made the worst memories bearable, so that he can come to terms with it. Now it’s wait and see.’

‘Was Soltshart the only perpetrator?’

Uwella nodded. ‘The men who had captured him protested, Zethir said. But after that beast had threatened them, they shut up.’

‘Thank you.’ Ghyll looked coldly down at the kneeling mercenary. ‘Where is Kirogall now?’

The man looked up with an expression of terrible fear on his face. ‘I don’t know, lord. He was often absent, but where he went to and what he did we weren’t told. He’s a monster, an unbelievable monster, lord.’

Ghyll paused. Now he had to judge. He wielded the Staff of Righteousness, even if not literally. He thought of Embit-Koy’s death, of the pregnant girl and all the terrorized farmers. Justice.

‘I’ll keep you out of the monster’s hands,’ he said bitterly. He looked at Davall. ‘Hang him. Hang all the mercenaries, Captain Davall. Let the prisoner Soltshart be brought.’

The sorcerer’s helper was markedly less confident, the second time. His eyes darted back and forth as if looking for a way out. Father Dennarias was with him. He leaned over to Ghyll and said softly, ‘Soltshart knows nothing of value, Sire. My colleagues have questioned him. They are, with Dragos’ help, very experienced. The man knew the Dar’khamorth existed, but that was all. He served the sorcerer because they were countrymen; both hailed from Upper-Nophat. His head was full of black deeds that were each of them gruesome enough, but none of vital interest.’

Ghyll stared at the multiple murderer. ‘Soltshart,’ he said in a tone no one had heard of him before, a mixture of anger, disgust and complete authority. ‘You and the fugitive Kirogall have committed the most heinous crimes imaginable. Murder, rape, falmagic, besides insulting the Guard and through them, the Crown. Each of these crimes except the last carries the same punishment, death. For the insult, I sentence you to five lashes per guard, including those who fell. For assisting in falmagic, your hands and feet will be broken. For the rest of your misdeeds you will hang by the neck until dead. Captain Davall, you will execute the sentence.’

Davall, pale and grim, saluted stiffly and barked an order to sergeant Redrill. The young officer looked so tense that Ghyll was sure these were his first executions.

Soltshart fell to his knees. ‘No, lord, no. Spare me! Beat me; banish me, but let me live. No!’ He kept screaming and moaning while the guards dragged him away.

‘You’ll get the rope with which you hanged that poor girl,’ Ghyll heard the sergeant promise, before the heavy doors of the great hall cut off all outside noise.

‘Hard but fair, Sire,’ Father Dennarias said softly.

‘Only Ridaud left. Do you know if he has any heirs?’

‘I checked, Sire. His only relative is a cousin on his mother’s side in Isterle. Estan Andure, a young man who has had little contact with his uncle. He is a lieutenant in the Guard.’

Ghyll beckoned Captain Davall. ‘Jerann, do you know an officer named Estan Andure?’

Davall thought for a moment. ‘Andure, of the Guard in Isterle? Vaguely. I’ve met him once or twice. He seemed a decent fellow.’

‘All right then, let us make the cousin happy. Bring Ridaud here, will you.’

The emaciated baron came forward, supported by an elderly servant. Ghyll looked at the shuffling man, and steeled himself. Ridaud had suffered, but what he had done left Ghyll with no choice. His eyes met Ridaud’s gaze and it was clear the baron knew the price he was going to pay.

Ghyll kept his face impassive. ‘Amdal Ridaud, your actions here constitute high treason. You have killed and terrorized the local farmers, who were in service to the king. You appropriated and destroyed their property and that of the Crown. Of these charges you stand accused and you have admitted to them. The charge of collusion with members of the Dar’khamorth has been withdrawn.’

He noticed a fleeting look of relief pass over the baron’s face.

‘Amdal Ridaud, treason knows only the death penalty. As you are a nobleman, I will spare you the dishonor of a hanging. You will be transferred to Rhidaun-Lorn, where you will be beheaded. Your title with associated property will pass on to your heir, your maternal cousin Estan Andure, now lieutenant of the Guard in Isterle. Thus, justice is served.’

Ridaud sank painfully to his knees. ‘Thank you, my lord,’ he said. ‘You are most gracious. I wish with all my heart it had not come to this, but my greed was stronger than my honor. My worst shame is that my actions brought me into contact with animals like him.’ He nodded toward the courtyard, where Soltshart enjoyed his terrible punishment.

As a guard led the baron away, Ghyll suddenly felt an immense disgust. ‘Father Dennarias, I can leave further matters to you?’

The judge bowed. ‘Certainly, Sire.’

‘Davall, you’ll take command here. I will consult with the marshal to find a suitable duty, Commander of the Guard in the Margautainen Hills, or something. I don’t want Rocathese bandits in our territory, but should you make contact with the Nhael you’re to inform me immediately. This has a high priority; we must normalize relations with the Nhael any way possible. I’m going back to Rabogst. Oh, should you catch Kirogall, be careful. He is much more dangerous than you may think. And remember, I want him alive.’

He rose and went over to his companions. ‘Zethir, you stay here, I’ll send a skyboat to pick you up.’

The young spy shook his head. ‘I’ll ride, Sire.’

Ghyll looked at Uwella questioningly and she spread her hands. ‘He’s drugged, so he won’t feel much. At most, he falls off his horse.’

Zethir didn’t fall until they rode into the courtyard of Rabogst. Then he let go of the reins and slid from the saddle. Uwella clasped her arm around him and with her support he stumbled inside.

Ghyll stared around the courtyard. ‘Not only Derivall gets a new lord,’ he said. ‘I need a new castellan for Rabogst as well. What a mess.’

‘But what an opportunity.’ Olle looked at his foster brother. ‘Davall?’

Ghyll was silent a long time. ‘That would be an idea.’ He sighed. ‘There’s nothing more to do here, is there? I’d like to return to the capital. Our rooms in the Crown are a lot more comfortable than our lodgings here. Where is Zethir?’

‘Here.’ The young spy came with Uwella. He was pale and moved like everything hurt him, but he was still functioning.

Uwella shook her head. ‘He doesn’t want me to examine him,’ she said.

Ghyll looked at Zethir and saw his empty face. Later, he thought. We’ll keep an eye on him.

‘I’ll bring us to the inn,’ Bo said. A moment later they flashed back to Rhidaun-Lorn.

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