Home > First Lord's Fury (Codex Alera #6)(4)

First Lord's Fury (Codex Alera #6)(4)
Author: Jim Butcher

The senior ritualist stared calmly at Varg for several seconds before finally baring his throat just enough to give Varg no excuse to rip it out. Varg did not return the gesture at all. "Master Khral. What now?"

"As every day, Warmaster," Khral replied. "I am here to beg you, on behalf of the people of Narash and Shuar, to turn aside from this dangerous path of binding our people to the demons."

"I am told," Varg rumbled, "the people of Narash and Shuar like to eat."

Khral sneered. "We are Canim," he spat. "We need no one to help us attain our destiny. Especially not the demons."

Varg grunted. "True. We will take our destiny on our own. But obtaining food is another matter."

"They will turn on us," Khral said. "The moment they have finished using us, they will turn and destroy us. You know this is true."

"It is true," Varg said. "It is also tomorrow. I am in command of today."

Khral's tail lashed in irritation. "Once we have separated from the ice ships, we can pick up the pace and make landfall within a week."

"We can make ourselves into meals for the leviathans, you mean," Varg replied. "There are no range charts of the sea this far north. We would have no way to know when we entered a leviathan's territory."

"We are the masters of the world. We are not afraid."

Varg growled low in his chest. "I find it remarkable how often amateurs confuse courage with idiocy."

The ritualist's eyes narrowed. "We might lose a vessel here and there," Khral acknowledged. "But we would not owe our lives to the charity of the demons. A week, then we can begin to rebuild on our own."

"Leave the ice ships," Varg said. "The same ships that are carrying more than half of our surviving people."

"Sacrifices must be made if we are to remain true to ourselves," Khral declared, "if our spirits, our pride, and our strength are to remain pure."

"I have noticed that those who speak as you do are rarely willing to include themselves among those sacrificed."

A furious snarl burst out of Khral's throat, and one paw-hand flashed toward the hip bag at his side.

Varg did not so much as rise from his crouch. His arms moved, shoulders twisting with sinewy power as he flung the Aleran book at Khral. It sailed through the air in a blur of spinning motion, and its hard spine struck the master ritualist in the throat. The impact knocked Khral's shoulders back against the door to the cabin, and he rebounded from it to fall to the cabin's deck, making gagging sounds.

Varg got up and walked over to the book. Its leaves had opened, and some of the delicate pages had been harshly folded. Varg picked it up carefully, smoothed the pages, and considered the Aleran creation again.

Like Tavar, he mused, it was apparently more dangerous than it appeared.

Varg stood by for a moment, as Khral's gagging gradually transformed to labored breathing. He hadn't quite crushed the ritualist's windpipe, which was disappointing. Now he'd have to suffer the fool again tomorrow. After surviving today's conflict, Khral would be unlikely to allow Varg another such opportunity to remove him.

So be it. Some ambitious underling might turn a dead Khral into a martyr. It was entirely possible the ritualist would be more dangerous dead than alive.

"Nasaug," Varg called.

The pup opened the door and considered the prostrate form on the floor. "Warmaster?"

"Master Khral is ready to return to his boat."

Nasaug bared his throat, not quite hiding his amusement. "Immediately, Warmaster." He leaned down, seized Khral by his ankle, and simply dragged him out of the cabin.

Varg gave Nasaug a few minutes to get Khral back into his boat, then strode out onto the Trueblood's deck.

The ship was painted black, as most Narashan vessels were. It offered a stealth advantage when moving at night, and during the day it collected enough heat to enable the adhesive sealing the hull to remain flexible and watertight. It also lent them an air of menace, particularly to the Aleran demons. They were nearly blind at night and painted their own ships white so that they could see a little more clearly during darkness. The very idea of a black ship was alien to them, and darkness was a primal fear for the species. While their blindness and fear might not stop them from attacking, especially with their sorcery at hand, it did prevent any independent individual or small group from attempting to board a Narashan vessel for whatever mad reason it might concoct.

The Alerans were many things, but not stupid. None of them liked the idea of stumbling around in the darkness while the night-wise Canim came for them.

Varg went to the ship's prow and stared out over the sea. They were in waters hundreds of leagues north of any he had sailed before, and the sea was choppy. The weather had remained clear, either as the result of fortune or Aleran sorcery, and the fleet had made the long, slow trek from Canea without serious incident - something Varg would have considered the next best thing to impossible only months before.

The voyage from Canea to Alera was a month's worth of sailing with a moderately favorable wind. It had taken them over three months to get this far, and there were still three weeks' worth of ocean in front of them at their current pace. Varg turned his eyes to the south and studied the reason for their crawl.

Three almost unbelievably enormous ships rode squarely in the center of the fleet, rising like mountains from the sea and dwarfing even the Trueblood into insignificance - but their size was not the most remarkable thing about them.

The ships had been built from ice.

The Alerans had used their sorcery to reshape icebergs calving from a glacier into seaworthy forms, with multiple decks and a vast capacity for their precious cargo - all that remained of once-proud Canea. Makers, females, and pups filled the three ships, and the Narashan captains of the vessels escorting her had orders to spill their crews' blood like seawater if that was what it required to protect the civilians.

The ships had enormous, flat decks, and no mast could stretch high or broad enough to hang enough sail to move the vessel, but the Alerans had managed to overcome the problem with their typical ingenuity. Hundreds of poles with crossbars had been placed on the topmost deck of the ship, and they billowed with every form of cloth one could imagine. They alone would not propel the ice mountains, but Tavar was, correctly, of the opinion that even a small contribution would prove significant over time. Then, too, the wind demons with the Aleran fleet had been tasked with bringing up enough of a breeze to lighten the load on the water demons who truly drove the vast ships.

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