From the start of their journey inland, Hevne had had the sensation of being watched. Neither the horrific slaughter nor the repulsion she had felt at leaving the slaughtered untended had lessened that feeling.
Then, as the sun hit its zenith, Hevne caught a distant glint ahead and to the north west. She bent their route toward that direction. From that moment on there was no further telltale sign: but something was there.
Knowing nothing, Hevne knew only what it wasn't. It was surely not some demented stray from the battle.
No. Whatever it was, it showed intelligence and cunning.
Camp was made at Korida's Ridge. It provided shelter of sorts from the incessant grizzling of the wind, the mounds and dips would hide the light of campfires from prying eyes whilst night would cloak any rising smoke, and sentries could be posted at several vantage points around the camp. The few injured men could be attended to without haste while the others, if they could, may at least find some rest.
"Also," Hevne confided in Darion, "We must give our new friend time to locate us."
Darion looked confused.
"Bring two trackers," Hevne ordered. "We eat. Then we hunt."
The march across the high moorland plateau of the Bronze Isles was executed in silence. Hevne led her troops inland seeking the warriors of the Fire Isles, the only sound the tramp of feet through the long grass and the hissing of the wind as it snaked around the marching warriors.
When evening fell they came to Korida's Ridge, ancient fortifications now fallen and overgrown in grass. Here the land began its slow descent to the shoreline on the farthest side of the island from where Hevne had first landed.
In this disquieting silence their enemy became their own thoughts.
"My orders shall be this, Jibrith.
"If Hevne does not return by this time tomorrow, we shall sail for the Bronze Isles. I believe she will return tomorrow. Or not at all."
He bit on his emotion, holding its tongue at bay.
"Then... let the future unfold as it will."
Jibrith's words clung in his throat, and he made an odd, plaintive sound as he turned to Triu and hugged the boy.
This time, Triu did not push him away.
Eventually, Jibrith took his arms from around Triu and in silence both considered the approach of the second sun .
Triu shook his head and spoke slowly, each word plucked from the innermost chambers of his spirit.
"Jibrith, I long to go to sea. I yearn to do battle on the waves, and, yes, if necessary, on foreign shores to ensure the peace of our island. The sea has called me for so very long, Jibrith."
This time Jibrith held back his counsel.
Eventually Triu resumed:
"But I must put that aside, Jibrith, for I cannot say whether or not my yearning controls my thinking. Therefore, my desire - oh, such a strong desire, Jibrith! - must be forgotten."
Jibrith sighed audibly.
"Indeed," Jibrith nodded. He weighed his next words against the silence and found them lacking. Because of this his mind cautioned restraint and diplomacy, but he said them anyway.
"Your men are ready, Lord Triu. The army is prepared and eager. They will follow you until all strength fails. But tell me as my Lord, what will be your orders to them? And tell me as my friend the reasons behind your orders."
Jibrith had held Triu's eyes while he spoke, but when his words were done he looked away for he knew his Lord's reply and he feared it.
"I thought I may find you here."
Triu made no reply.
Still no reply, though movements of Triu's fingers showed he had heard Jibrith's words, so the older man walked up to the younger and stood silently beside him.
The sun slid westward again, air rose from the harbour below and drifted around the High Shrine Of Enkarra. In the pale sky an early evening star appeared. It was predicted. The second sun was coming.
"A fine place for thinking, the Shrine," Jibrith spoke quietly.
Triu nodded. "And hoping," he whispered. "Let us make our hope our reality, Jibrith."
The echo of the door slamming died quickly away as Triu arose and helped Rallumi to her feet. The old woman grinned:
"Thank you, Lord Triu. He decided well... eventually."
"A truly wise man would not take so many moments to decide not to slay a fellow Advisor," Triu said sadly. "And only a fool would raise his sword in anger against one of our own."
"He is no fool, Triu," Jibrith said.
"I would be the fool were I to take him for one, good Jibrith," Triu's words were measured. And cold. "He is acting the part. But why?"
Rallumi did not take her eyes off her Lord, but she was well aware of the blade trembling dangerously at the cusp of her two different futures. She made no move but she saw the muscles in Triu's right wrist tense and knew that one explosive reflex of muscle and sinew and the blade that lay as if sleeping along Triu's thigh would sleep in Urqin's breast.
Out of the corner of his eye, Urqin saw it, too. Saw also Jibrith's hand reach for his own sword.
Urqin spun away and roared his frustration high up into the vaulted ceiling.
Urqin, glaring, drew his sword and screamed at the old woman, waving the blade above her head:
"You send us to our deaths, you carcass! You condemn us whilst we sue for peace! You are insane! She's insane, Interim Lord Triu. Insane, Jibrith!"
His words spluttered to a close and his whole body trembled with anger. He stood for one long moment, poised above the old woman, sword in hand. In that moment the hate in his heart surged through him. It broke the shackles of his control and fuelled his arm. Above Rallumi, his blade trembled, awaiting its bidding.
"Fool of a woman!" Urqin yelled, his smile gone, spittle flying into the air before him. "You advise him to go to slaughter - and for what? For a vain attempt to save his sister? Can you not understand such foolishness will cost many lives! The Interim Lord, this - this child - has no authority to send men to their doom!"
Rallumi ignored the outburst and knelt before Triu.
"My Lord Triu, the year of the Second Sun is indeed a strange time, a time of fear and of wonder. If your wisdom tells you to gather the army, then do it."
Jibrith's eyes were turned inward. He looked back into past discussions with Hevne, and with Hevne's father, and to his communions with the memories of past leaders of Kamkarra.
Rallumi's eyes were fierce. They held anger and they held concern. Triu was but a lad and could be hot-headed in defence of his own. His father had been the same, she recalled. But within Triu, she knew, lived the wisdom of all good men.
"Take our men, Triu," she spoke suddenly, surprising herself more than anyone. "If you deem it wise, take our men. Give your support to Hevne."
The air in the Court of Counsel burned with belligerence. From high windows set deep in the white stone walls sunshine threaded its way through the suppressed anger and the battle of wills, and, exhausted, lay in feeble patterns of light on the stone floor.
Silence had reigned for minutes, but it was not a gentle silence. Triu's eyes flashed from one to another of his counsellors. They settled on his hands, then on the haft of his dagger lain along the length of his thigh.
Urqin's eyes blazed black. In the circumstances, his smile looked conspicuously out of place.
Hevne signalled her warriors attend. Then she raised her voice above the tumult:
"Warriors! For Kamkarra! We must seek out and strike at the warriors of the Fire Lord. Sympathy for innocence and our emotions must not keep us from that Fate. Let your heart accept no hindrance. Let your sword accept no delay. Forward!"
And the Fists moved into positions of attack; and the bloodshed and the slaughter were great; and in the silence that ensued the only tears were the tears of Hevne and her warriors as they left the dead behind them and did not look back.
The squalling tumult of the attack continued, it's pace unrelenting, brutality undiminished.
Hevne jerked her head aside as a woman around her own age swung a rock at her. It scraped her shoulder, drawing blood, and the assailant yelled gutturally in triumph, throwing her arm around Hevne's neck. A sword flashed over Hevne's shoulder from behind, and the woman fell backwards, wide mouthed and screeching.
With horror, Hevne saw her assailant had had her tongue ripped out by the warriors of the Fire Lords. The guttural screeching and groaning of the others proved they, too, had suffered the same fate.
Surrounding her warriors the attackers screamed and shrieked, their onslaughts becoming even more unrelenting. The occasional man still fell to the crack of stone on flesh, women or girls still fell injured from the glint of blade. And the strident, raucous yelling continued as women and children, clothed only in noise, filth and hatred continued to attack and retreat, attack and retreat, as if in some bestial, drug-frenzied tribal dance.
Her warriors continued suffering injury, more of the females fell weeping and writhing.
Continuing this, Hevne thought, their deaths, like their lives, will be slow and nothing but pain.
Hevne quickly assessed their potential options.
If her Fists attacked, the massacre would be total - and over in minutes, with few, if any, casualties for her warriors. But Hevne hesitated. Enemy or not; maddened or not; was it right to slaughter unarmed women and girls?
Alternatively, they could maintain their formation until, inevitably, the attackers faltered, wearied, and could attack no more. They could then be bound and would pose no threat. But what then? Leave them bound? And leave them to starve?
Or she could maintain formation and return to the ships. A retreat. Defeated by women and children?
One command from Hevne and the Fists assumed a defence position; a circle of warriors, those on the outside bearing their shields for defence, those behind them using their swords over shoulders or between the waists of the outer defenders, using them only when necessary to defend the outer wall of warriors.
Still the women and girls remorselessly attacked. Here and there a soldier fell to a rock and was pulled into the comparative safety of the circle and replaced by a warrior from behind. Here and there a girl or woman doubled over as blood flowed from sword wounds.
These people had been beaten into less than animals.
Into objects, thought Hevne. No. Less than objects, for objects had value. These crushed women and children had no value to the Fire Lords, except as weapons.
They had been trained to dig their shallow trenches, trained to lie unmoving beneath the turf for... for how long? The biting of insects and the gnawing of small animals left bloody wounds on their skin, suggesting they hid beneath the dirt for hours...
implying the flotilla were expected?
A black thought rooted in Hevne's mind. Was there a spy on Kamkarra?
These were the women and girls left alive by the Fire Warriors. These were the women and girls who were taken as slaves in their own homeland, who had been forced to watch the remaining males of their families tortured and slain.
None could speak of the incessant physical and mental brutality that erased their mental strength; none could speak of the degradation and humiliation that robbed them of all semblance of self worth, and none could speak of the loathing they nurtured and which had no direction until it was harnessed to the perverse aims of the Fire Lords.