The Gauntlet Thrown - Chapter Thirty Two


Chapter Six 


Chapter Seven


Chapter Eight 


Chapter Nine


Chapter Ten


Chapter Eleven


Chapter Twelve 

Chapter Thirteen


Chapter Fourteen 


Chapter Fifteen


Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen


Chapter Eighteen


Chapter Nineteen


Chapter Twenty


Chapter Twenty One


Chapter Twenty Two

Chapter Twenty Three

Chapter Twenty Four


Chapter Twenty Five

Chapter Twenty Six


Chapter Twenty Seven


Chapter Twenty Eight


Chapter Twenty Nine


Chapter Thirty


Chapter Thirty One






The Sorii and Haaryd tribes feasted merrily. Haaryd’s warriors presented every horse for sale to the Sorii one by one with great ceremony. There were over a hundred horses, so the process took quite a while and Toryn committed a Thalarii breach of etiquette by falling asleep midway through the ceremony. The fact that he’d consumed a large quantity of a smooth but potent alcohol had not helped. He woke up half-buried by soft furs with a female body curled next to his. His brows lifted in surprise as her blue eyes opened and a smiled curled her lips.

“Do I know you?” he asked and mentally kicked himself. The way his head pounded, he could have been quite active the prior night with no memory of it. Luckily, she was not offended.

“No.” She smiled. Her hair was light brown, bordering on blond, and pulled back in a loose braid that was beginning to come undone.

“Oh,” he said and smiled uneasily. He still had all of his clothing on, so he hoped nothing too serious had taken place. With his luck they would demand some obscure wedding ritual for simply lying next to a woman. He glanced around; dawn just touched the sky. The Thalarii warriors were either passed out in drunken stupors, sitting in groups talking quietly, or riding their horses.

“I am Colina,” the girl said. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him soundly on the lips. Surprised though he was, he enjoyed the act thoroughly before she pulled away.

“What was that for?” he asked. She smiled in satisfaction and gestured to Daryna, who stalked away from camp. He had not noticed her nearby.

“She deserved it.” Colina grinned. “Always she comes here and flirts with our best warriors, acting as if no man can resist her. When we saw her making calf-eyes at you last night, we drew straws to see which of us got the honor of making her pay. I won.”

“Who is ‘we’?” Toryn asked. She smiled again and looked over her shoulder. He reluctantly turned and saw a group of giggling tribeswomen clustered near the main tent. They waved happily at Colina.

“You think being seen in my bed would upset her?” he asked and gave the girls a wave which made them squeal happily and race off to their horses.

Colina stood. “Can’t you tell? Daryna wants you, Northman. And she gets very upset when she cannot have what she wants. Even we Sorii know that.” With that, she strolled to the edge of camp and whistled until a dark spotted horse trotted up to her. She mounted with no bridle or saddle, gave him a wave and a dazzling smile and charged away.

Toryn sighed in disappointment. Women! He heard a chuckle and looked over to see Garyn watching him.

“What’s so funny?” he snapped.

“Nothing.” Garyn chortled again as he got up and poked some sticks into the embers of the fire. Toryn could see his shoulders shake as he laughed. He snorted and climbed out of the furs, stretching out the kinks. He felt restless today and wanted nothing more than to be on his way north.

Haaryd approached as if reading Toryn’s mind. “Greetings, Toryn,” he said. “This is as far as we may travel with you, for now we head into our own territory. If you will come with me, I will show you the way to Darii.”

Toryn shrugged on his vest against the chill of the morning, took a slab of half-cooked meat out of Garyn’s hand while passing the fire, and followed the chief. He chewed on the steaming haunch.

Bloodsong had been saddled and awaited him with the chief’s horse. When Toryn approached, the stallion stretched out his nose to see if Toryn had brought him any treats and recoiled with a snort as he encountered the meat in Toryn’s hand.

“Sorry.” Toryn grinned and tossed the bone to Haaryd’s dog, which was never far from the chief. The mongrel snapped it up with a slight wag of his tail. Toryn wiped the grease from his hands and mounted.

They had not ridden far before Mikyl and Daryna joined them. Mikyl looked at Toryn with the same measuring gaze of the previous day and Toryn, likewise, studied him. There was something about the young man that set Toryn’s teeth on edge, apart from the fact that the man was possibly better looking than him. Possibly. By just a small margin. His black hair gleamed somewhat more brilliantly than Toryn’s and his blue eyes were riveting.

Something more than competitive envy made Toryn dislike, Mikyl, however. After all, Redwing was just as handsome and he didn’t cause Toryn to want to strangle him. Well, not often, at any rate. He felt a twinge at the knowledge that he would never have the urge to throttle the Falaran again. He ignored it resolutely and returned his attention to Mikyl.

Perhaps it was the air of unconscious arrogance that Mikyl portrayed. He acted like everyone around him was little more than a servant. Toryn sighed and looked at Daryna, who glared at him as though she could sizzle him into ashes with a glance. He raised his brows and flashed her a winning smile. She stuck her nose into the air and ignored him.

Mikyl’s gaze sharpened.

“Good day to you, Mikyl,” Haaryd said, apparently not noticing the crosscurrents of tension that suddenly filled the air.

“Good day to you, Haaryd-chieftain.” Mikyl smiled, taking his stare from Toryn. “Are you coming to look at the herds?”

“In part,” Haaryd said. He turned to Toryn.

“Darii lies in that direction, Toryn. Travel southwest until you come to the River of Grass. Cross it when you can and follow it until it reaches the coast. Darii will be perhaps three leagues south of the river mouth.”

“You are leaving us?” Mikyl inquired politely. His face gave away nothing. Toryn nodded.

“Indeed. Today, if it is permissible.”
Mikyl smiled, not bothering to hide his pleasure at the words. Toryn was suddenly glad that his brother had beaten courtesy into him, or else he might have been tempted to backhand the whelp.

“Good traveling,” Mikyl said, then turned back to Haaryd. “I see he is riding Bloodsong. Are you finally going to sell him to us, sly fox? We have wanted his blood in our foals for a long time.”

Haaryd was silent for a long moment while he looked off to the horizon. Finally he said, “Actually, I am giving him to Toryn, since he is the one who tamed him.”

Toryn and Mikyl’s looks of astonishment were compounded by Daryna’s shriek of outrage.

What?” she burst out. “Father, you cannot be serious!” The old chief sent her a quelling look.

“I am quite serious. This young man has far more need of Bloodsong’s speed than either the Haaryd or the Sorii tribe.”

“That is absurd!” Daryna snapped, not in the least bit daunted. “He is an outlander. He will probably sell Bloodsong the minute he reaches one of his cities!”

Haaryd gave her an enigmatic look and Toryn looked at her mockingly. The chief turned to Mikyl. “Will you excuse us for a brief moment?” he requested. “I must speak with my offspring.”

Mikyl looked troubled, but he bowed his head gracefully and turned his horse about. When he was out of range of their voices, Haaryd looked at his stubborn daughter, who stared at Toryn in thinly veiled contempt.

“Daryna,” Haaryd said calmly. “You have been to Darii, have you not?” She looked at her father and tossed her black-maned head like the horse she rode.

“Of course, Father. You took me there, yourself.”

“Then you will remember the route. I have decided to send you with Toryn and Garyn to be their guide. You will accompany them to Darii at sun’s rising tomorrow.”

Daryna gasped in outrage. “But Father! You cannot mean that! I will not—!”

“The matter is not open to discussion, Daryna,” Haaryd said in a voice that brooked no argument. “You will go and prepare your things.”

Daryna was still for a brief moment as her face mirrored fear and loathing, as well as surprise at her situation. Then she turned her horse and galloped at full speed back to the encampment.

Toryn cleared his throat. “You really need not send her, my lord,” he said politely. “Garyn and I have traveled half across the world. We should find Darii with no problem.”

Haaryd smiled softly. “That is a very polite way to say you do not want her along, Toryn,” he said. Toryn flushed. “It is not for your sake that I send her. She has become arrogant and vain. Perhaps a journey will take some of that out of her.”

Toryn had no idea what to say, but he tried anyway. “My lord, this is a great honor, but ...”

Haaryd snorted. “Honor, my enemy’s tripes! It is a curse. But I hope Bloodsong will make up for the inconvenience she will cause you. You can send Daryna back when you get to Darii.”

Toryn shook his head when he remembered the chief had given him the stallion. The old fox meant it as payment for putting up with his headstrong daughter, but it was too much. The horse was too fine.

“This horse makes up for every inconvenience I have ever felt,” he admitted. “I cannot accept him.”

“Nonsense. You cannot not accept him,” Haaryd countered. “If Bloodsong helps to get you out of a tight spot one day, then I must give him to you. May you ride the path of Shahar.”

Toryn felt a curious tightness in his throat. “And you, my friend,” he replied to the chief. They smiled in shared comradeship and rode back to the Sorii camp.

As expected, when they rode out the next day Daryna acted like a viper that had been stomped. She rebuffed Garyn’s polite questions with snarled replies that left the sensitive man stunned and silent. Toryn she ignored, until they were a couple of hours away from the camp and she could stand the quiet no longer.

“So tell me, foreigner,” she said scathingly. “How did you persuade my father to force me to go on this dreadful trip? And to give you Bloodsong, as well?”

Toryn looked at her in amusement. “You have it wrong, child,” he replied condescendingly. “I would rather have your father’s dog along than you. Perhaps he felt the same way.”

Her rage was something to behold. He had thought her angry before. Her face turned bright red and her eyes narrowed to barest slits. Her fists clenched on the reins and her teeth ground together until he thought bits of tooth would fly out.

How dare you speak to me that way!” she finally exploded at high volume. Poodik, who trailed them afoot, jumped, looked at her in surprise, and cautiously trotted around to put Garyn between himself and the enraged girl. Toryn kept his eyes on the path in front of them.

“I dare whatever I want. Now do be quiet. You are scaring all the game within a thousand miles and I would like to be able to catch some fresh meat on this trip.”

Garyn, barely able to control his laughter, choked suddenly and erupted into a coughing fit. Daryna’s hot gaze swung to him. He managed to stop coughing without killing himself and Daryna turned back to Toryn with her head held high.

“If I must ride in such foul company, I believe I will ride in the lead where the stench will not be so bad,” she said and kicked her mount into a canter. When she was a barely visible speck far ahead of them, she slowed to a walk and rode without looking back.

“I think she got you that time.” Garyn grinned.

Toryn sighed. “She is worse than Alyn. At least the Akarskan wench didn’t mean all the nasty things she said to me.” He was thoughtful for a moment. “At least, I hope she didn’t.”

“This should be an interesting journey,” Garyn noted.

“I could do with a little less interesting. I just want to get on a ship and away from our babysitting duty,” Toryn declared. Garyn nodded and they continued on in silence.

The next week was largely uneventful. Daryna at first refused to do any menial chores such as gathering dried cattle dung for the fire, or cooking, or even fetching water from the small springs they camped near. Toryn retaliated by refusing to let her eat until she “had something more to contribute than a bad temper.”

Apparently, she was not well skilled as a huntress. After two days of attempting to catch her own dinner, she stalked into camp with two skins full of water and prepared a fire. Toryn allowed her to cook their meal without a word and that ended the first battle. He knew she had fought well with her pride, so he kept his mocking grins to himself.

One night they sat around the campfire absently listening to Poodik chattering away in his native tongue. He had conquered his fear of Daryna and now included her in his conversations. She had quickly learned not to ask what his babbling meant, for Garyn usually had no idea.

Toryn watched the red embers snap and sparkle and his mind drifted to nothing in particular. Then, so faint he almost immediately doubted it was there at all, he felt the tiniest whisper of his name being called in his head.

He sprang to his feet.

Brydon! he screamed in his mind, putting his entire will into it. He sent it to the farthest corners of the earth and raced to the top of the nearest hill, mentally yelling mentally Brydon’s name until his brain was numb. There was no reply.

He sank to his knees and barely noticed when Garyn sat down beside him and clasped a gentle hand to his shoulder.

“Brydon,” Toryn murmured dully. They sat listening to the wind for a long time and then Toryn turned expressionless green eyes to Garyn. “He really is gone, isn’t he?”

Garyn nodded and Toryn looked away.

“I’ll be fine,” he said. Garyn stayed for a moment and then went back to Daryna. Toryn stayed on the hill all night, staring at the horizon. He did not even notice when Daryna came and draped a fur-lined cloak across his shoulders. His thoughts were far away.

The next day, things had changed somewhat. Daryna, although she did not exactly speak to Toryn, did not quite ignore him as avidly as she once had. She talked to Garyn frequently and seemed to watch Toryn for any sign of annoyance or jealousy. If so, she was disappointed.

Toryn was short-tempered with impatience. Garyn asked him about it once when he complained about how slowly they were traveling.

“I think Brydon’s body is lying at the base of that mountain, unburied. I plan to lay him to rest properly. Whether in the Redolian fashion or the Falaran way with fire, I haven’t decided.” Perhaps then he would be able to convince himself that Brydon was truly dead.

Garyn heard his words with an expression akin to horror. "I hope this new obsession doesn't lead you down the path to madness," he said carefully. Toryn shrugged off his concern with a ghost of a smile and urged Bloodsong into the ground-swallowing trot that had become their usual pace.


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