loading...
Home > Blood Song (Raven's Shadow #1)

Blood Song (Raven's Shadow #1)
Author: Anthony Ryan

Part I

Raven’s shadow

sweeps across my heart,

Freezes the torrent of my tears.

Seordah poem, author unknown.

Verniers’ Account

He had many names. Although yet to reach his thirtieth year history had seen fit to garner him with titles aplenty: Sword of the Realm to the mad king who sent him to plague us, the Young Hawk to the men who followed him through the trials of war, Darkblade to his Cumbraelin enemies and, as I was to learn much later, Beral Shak Ur to the enigmatic tribes of the Great Northern Forest - the Shadow of the Raven.

But my people knew him by but one name and it was this that sang in my head continually the morning they brought him to the docks: Hope Killer. Soon you will die and I will see it. Hope Killer.

Although certainly taller than most men, I was surprised to find that, contrary to the tales I had heard, he was no giant, and whilst his features were strong they could hardly be called handsome. His frame was muscular but not possessed of the massive thews described so vividly by the story tellers. The only aspect of his appearance to match his legend were his eyes: black as jet and piercing as a hawk’s. They said his eyes could strip a man’s soul bare, that no secret could be hidden if he met your gaze. I had never believed it but seeing him now I could see why others would.

The prisoner was accompanied by a full company of the Imperial Guard, riding in close escort, lances ready, hard eyes scanning the watching crowd for trouble. The crowd, however, were silent. They stopped to stare at him as he rode through, but there were no shouts, no insults or missiles hurled. I recalled that they knew this man, for a brief time he had ruled their city and commanded a foreign army within its walls, and yet I saw no hate in their faces, no desire for vengeance. Mostly they seemed curious. Why was he here? Why was he alive at all?

The company reined in on the wharf, the prisoner dismounting to be led to the waiting vessel. I put my notes away and rose from my resting place atop a spice barrel, nodding at the captain. “Honour to you, sir.”

The captain, a veteran Guards officer with a pale scar running along his jawline and the ebony skin of the southern Empire, returned the nod with practised formality. “Lord Verniers.”

“I trust you had an untroubled journey?”

The captain shrugged. “A few threats here and there. Had to crack a few heads in Jesseria, the locals wanted to hang the Hope Killer’s carcass from their temple spire.”

I bridled at the disloyalty. The Emperor’s Edict had been read in all towns through which the prisoner would travel, its meaning plain: no harm will come to the Hope Killer. “The Emperor will hear of it,” I said.

“As you wish, but it was a small matter.” He turned to the prisoner. “Lord Verniers, I present the Imperial prisoner Vaelin Al Sorna.”

I nodded formally to the tall man, the name a steady refrain in my head. Hope Killer, Hope Killer…“Honour to you, sir,” I forced the greeting out.

His black eyes met mine for a second, piercing, enquiring. For a moment I wondered if the more outlandish stories were true, if there was magic in the gaze of this savage. Could he truly strip the truth from a man’s soul? Since the war, stories had abounded of the Hope Killer’s mysterious powers. He could talk to animals, command the Nameless and shape the weather to his will. His steel was tempered with the blood of fallen enemies and would never break in battle. And worst of all, he and his people worshipped the dead, communing with the shades of their forebears to conjure forth all manner of foulness. I gave little credence to such folly, reasoning that if the Northmen’s magics were so powerful how had they contrived to suffer such a crushing defeat at our hands?

“My lord.” Vaelin Al Sorna’s voice was harsh and thickly accented, his Alpiran had been learned in a dungeon and his tones were no doubt coarsened by years of shouting above the clash of weapons and screams of the fallen to win victory in a hundred battles, one of which had cost me my closest friend, and the future of this Empire.

I turned to the captain. “Why is he shackled? The Emperor ordered he be treated with respect.”

“The people didn’t like seeing him riding unfettered,” the Captain explained. “The prisoner suggested we shackle him to avoid trouble.” He moved to Al Sorna and unlocked the restraints. The big man massaged his wrists with scarred hands.

“My lord!” a shout from the crowd. I turned to see a portly man in a white robe hurrying towards us, face wet with unaccustomed exertion. “A moment, please!”

The captain’s hand inched closer to his sabre but Al Sorna was unconcerned, smiling as the portly man approached. “Governor Aruan.”

The portly man halted, wiping sweat from his face with a lace scarf. In his left hand he carried a long bundle wrapped in cloth. He nodded at the captain and myself but addressed himself to the prisoner. “My Lord. I never thought to see you again. Are you well?”

“I am, Governor. And you?”

The portly man spread his right hand, lace scarf dangling from his thumb , jewelled rings on every finger. “Governor no longer. Merely a poor merchant these days. Trade is not what it was, but we make our way.”

“Lord Verniers,” Vaelin Al Sorna gestured at me. “This is Holus Nester Aruan, former Governor of the City of Linesh.”

“Honoured Sir.” Aruan greeted me with a short bow.

“Honoured Sir,” I replied formally. So this was the man from whom the Hope Killer had seized the city. Aruan’s failure to take his own life in dishonour had been widely remarked upon in the aftermath of the war but the Emperor (Gods preserve him in his wisdom and mercy) had granted clemency in light of the extraordinary circumstances of the Hope Killer’s occupation. Clemency, however, had not extended to a continuance of his Governorship.

Aruan turned back to Vaelin. “It pleases me to find you well. I wrote to the Emperor begging mercy.”

“I know, your letter was read at my trial.”

I knew from the trial records that Aruan’s letter, written at no small risk to his life, had formed part of the evidence describing curiously uncharacteristic acts of generosity and mercy by the Hope Killer during the war. The Emperor had listened patiently to it all before ruling that the prisoner was on trial for his crimes, not his virtues.

“Your daughter is well?” the prisoner asked Aruan.

“Very, she weds this summer. A feckless son of a shipbuilder, but what can a poor father do? Thanks to you, at least she is alive to break my heart.”

“I am glad. About the wedding, not your broken heart. I can offer no gift except my best wishes.”

“Actually my lord, I come with a gift of my own.”

Aruan lifted the long cloth-covered bundle in both hands, presenting it to the Hope Killer with a strangely grave expression. “I hear you will have need of this again soon.”

There was a definite hesitation in the Northman’s demeanour before he reached out to take the bundle, undoing the ties with his scarred hands. The cloth came away to reveal a sword of unfamiliar design, the scabbard-clad blade was a yard or so in the length and straight unlike the curved sabres favoured by Alpiran soldiery. A single tine arched around the hilt to form a guard and the only ornamentation to the weapon was a plain steel pommel. The hilt and the scabbard bore many small nicks and scratches that spoke of years of hard use. This was no ceremonial weapon and I realised with a sickening rush that it was his sword. The sword he had carried to our shores. The sword that made him the Hope Killer.

“You kept that?” I sputtered at Aruan, appalled.

The portly man’s expression grew cold as he turned to me. “My honour demanded no less, my lord.”

“My thanks,” Al Sorna said, before any further outrage could spill from my lips. He hefted the sword and I saw the Guard Captain stiffen as he drew the blade an inch or so from the scabbard, testing the edge with his thumb. “Still sharp.”

“It’s been well cared for. Oiled and sharpened regularly. I also have another small token.” Aruan extended his hand. In his palm sat a single ruby, a well cut stone of medium weight, no doubt one of the more valued gems in the family collection. I knew the story behind Aruan’s gratitude, but his evident regard for this savage and the sickening presence of the sword still irked me greatly.

Al Sorna seemed at a loss, shaking his head. “Governor, I cannot…”

I moved closer, speaking softly. “He does you a greater honour than you deserve, Northman. Refusing will insult him and dishonour you.”

He flicked his black eyes over me briefly before smiling at Aruan, “I cannot refuse such generosity.” He took the gem. “I’ll keep it always.”

“I hope not,” Aruan responded with a laugh. “A man only keeps a jewel when he has no need to sell it.”

“You there!” A voice from the vessel moored a short distance along the quay, a sizeable Meldenean galley, the number of oars and the width of the hull showing it to be a freighter rather than one of their fabled war ships. A stocky man with an extensive black beard was waving from the bow, marked as the captain by the red scarf on his head. “Bring the Hope Killer aboard you Alpiran dogs!” he shouted with customary Meldenean civility. “Any more dithering and we’ll miss the tide.”

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Sinclairs series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
» Fixed series
Most Popular
» A Thousand Letters
» Wasted Words
» My Not So Perfect Life
» Caraval (Caraval #1)
» The Sun Is Also a Star
» Everything, Everything
» Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)
» Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)
» Cold-Hearted Rake (The Ravenels #1)
» Norse Mythology