Chapter Fifty-Two

Cadeyrn held out his hand to his brother-in-law. "May the gods grant you fortune," he said.

"And you," Edur replied, clasping the hand briefly. "And may we meet again one day in peace." Turning, he mounted his horse and signalled for his men to be ready. Their clothes and armour were dramatically askew, their skin drawn with pig's blood. They were all crowded into the underground storerooms of the fortress, standing above the bolthole. Dymphna stood at the stairway to the upper levels, watching with worried eyes.

"Are you sure he will not be suspicious?" she had asked anxiously when they had told her the plan.

Reaching out, Edur had squeezed her hand comfortingly. "Of course he will be suspicious; it is his way." Pecking her cheek, he murmured, "You need not worry, little one. All will be well."

Still her eyes bore a haunted shadow as the rebel Krasians descended down the tunnel. When all had disappeared, Cadeyrn signalled for the guards to close the bolthole and cover the entrance. Taking Dymphna's arm, he led her up the stairs. They could hear the planned theatrics coming from the battlements. The alarm rang, and soldiers rushed about in confusion. Not a soul sought to go after the former prisoners.

Erastus and Randon awaited them at the top of the stairs, and the four fell into step. "When will Tormad attack?" Cadeyrn asked.

"Tomorrow morning, in all likelihood," Erastus answered. "Our spies report that his soldiers have been increasingly restless, and they spent the better part of last night sharpening weapons and exercising their mounts."

"Are our own men prepared?"

"As much as they'll ever be."

Cadeyrn turned a questioning gaze to Randon, and the Wolf nodded. "My tribe is always ready for battle," he said.

The king nodded. "Have them get as much sleep now as they can. Every able man is to be out of his bed by an hour before dawn. See that all the women, the children and the old are within by that time."

"Except for Bryony," Randon commented with a slight tilt to his lips.

"Aye, except for her." There was humour in Cadeyrn's voice as he said it.

"I'll see it done, Sire," Erastus said, and with a bow, parted company with them. The remaining three came to a halt at the end of the hall.

With a smile, Cadeyrn held out his arm to Randon. "I thank you, for bringing your tribe here to fight with us."

"For all our efforts, I fear our numbers will make little difference in this war," Randon replied, but he clasped Cadeyrn's arm anyway.

"It is enough that you, the greatest warriors in the Mingorian Lands, fight beside us. It will give my own men strength and assurance, and strike fear into the hearts of our enemies."

"We can only hope."

With a nod, Randon turned and strode away.

Cadeyrn felt Dymphna slip her hand into his. They watched as the Wolf chief disappeared down the hall. "He is very humble," Dymphna commented. "For a Wolf."

"Well, he is human, love."

Sweat coated Lupe's body as he entered Bryony's room. He had spent the better part of the afternoon in the practice courts, drilling with Wolf and Outsider alike. None had stood idle there this day. Like a foreboding wind, the coming battle hovered in the air over the fortress. Bending over the small table that stood beside the brazier, he splashed water onto his face. By Reule, he would give anything to be able to bathe, but the fortress had limited resources for such standards of cleanliness.

With a resigned sigh, he snatched up a cloth and dried his face.

Bryony sat contemplatively on the bed, watching Lupe as he soaked the cloth and wiped the sweat from his neck, then discarded his shirt and did the same with the rest of his upper body. She pondered what to do as she observed him. She had left Sierra with her aunt earlier, when only the vaguest ideas of her plans were floating about her head like so much fluff. Like everyone else, she could feel the upcoming battle, so close, so soon, so dangerous.

She shivered, and pulled her knees to her chest. The movement caused the sheets to rustle, and Lupe turned around, noticing her for the first time since entering. His hand paused in the motion of wiping the sweat from his shoulder.


She met his eyes, but didn't move. Apprehension nibbled at her insides, making her unsure of how to proceed. What should she say to him? How? Should she even say anything at all?

Seeing the conflict in her eyes, Lupe lowered the cloth and stepped forward. He noted the way her eyes tracked his movements, and his heart began to pound. "Bryony," he said again, his voice rougher, deeper.

Bryony's tongue flicked out to wet her lips. She should say something. She should. "I –"

His kiss silenced her. She suddenly found herself lying on the bed, surrounded by Lupe. Her Lupe. She returned his kiss eagerly, her hands running down his back. He moved into her touch, pulling back just far enough for their eyes to meet in a timeless understanding. Then their lips joined once more as they tumbled into oblivion.

"I love you," he whispered in her ear a long time afterwards.

Bryony squirmed closer, nestling her head against his shoulder. He was covered in sweat again, as was she, but she doubted either of them had the energy to rise and wash. Smiling, she pressed a kiss against his skin, gratified by his twitch. "I love you, too," she murmured.

"And when this is over…" His voice trailed off.

"We'll go home to the Den. Together. With Sierra."

Lupe closed his eyes and allowed his head to fall back against the pillows. Home. It sounded good.

A shadow lurked on the edge of the forest as the first rays of dawn caressed the horizon. Today would be the day. He could feel the tension in the air, the coiling anticipation in his belly. Oh, it would come today. Revenge. Justice. Satisfaction. All of it. Today.

He moved his fingers along the handle of his dagger, smiling at the irony as he thought of the one who had given him the weapon. Such sweet, perfect justice.

There would only be one, fleeting chance. He would need to be quick, alert, but that was no problem, for he had been awaiting this day for a long time, and neither time nor fatigue would rob him of this final opportunity.

The winds howled around him, stirring the tree branches and whipping his hood back. Coldly, Mladen smiled. Oh, yes. Revenge would be sweet indeed.

Edur could not keep his eyes from twitching about as he strode to the camp towards his saddled horse. Despite his brave words to his sister and her husband, he was starting to get nervous. What if those captured with him on the hunt had informed his father or Jorma or Omri of his treasonous intentions? What if the men didn't rally behind him? What if he died before he could play his part?

Dragging in a deep breath, Edur forced his thoughts to calm. His story of escape had been accepted with no more suspicion than was Tormad's habit. Jorma had tried to use his return to postpone the attack, but had met with no success but that Tormad declared he no longer cared which line of attack his heir rode in.

Cadogan give me strength, Edur prayed as he pulled himself atop his mount. He caught the eye of Janek and a few others who had been prisoners at Vengag until last night. They all nodded at him in assurance.

It will work. It must work.

Tormad was mounted now, Omri beside him. Jorma was nowhere to be seen. Edur looked about nervously. His brother might not have much courage, but he could be brutal in getting what he wanted. And if what he desired was their father's good opinion, what better way than to expose the second prince's treason? But Jorma soon emerged from his tent and dragged himself onto his horse. Judging from his sour expression, Edur guessed that the Krasian heir had no idea of what his younger brother was planning.

Omri gave a signal and the Krasian army jerked into motion. They cleared the forest soon, and there before them was Vengag. As the troops slid into their proper formation, Edur chose his own spot. He remained near enough to his father to avoid suspicion, but far enough away to enable his parting.

Janek appeared beside him, his company behind him.

"How many do you think we can be sure of?" Edur asked in an undertone.


"Many could mean a lot of things, Janek."

The captain smiled. "Your father's army has never had much use for him."

"Except the certainty that if they live through this, they'll be welcomed back to their homeland. If they follow me, but my father manages to escape back to Kras, every one of them will be exiled on punishment of death."

"Then we had best make sure he doesn't escape, hadn't we?"

Despite Janek's assurances, Edur was coated with a nervous sweat as Vengag loomed nearer. He shifted, and realized his breath had become a quick rasp, but he found that he couldn't slow it.

"My prince, we must move soon," Janek urged.

Edur eyed the hill he had designated as the place he would act. "Soon," he said.


Edur glanced around to see if anyone had heard the captain. No one was watching them with any real interest. "Keep your patience, Janek."

"You're dallying."

He was. Badly. But if he did this…

"My prince, you promised your sister."

He had. He had promised Dymphna he'd help her husband. Damn the gods, if Tormad won, Dymphna would be doomed. If she wasn't killed, she'd be given to Lamech! Edur's heart began to race. They were drawing even with the hill. He should have acted before now; it would have given him more room to manoeuvre. Damn him and his hesitation. Janek was watching him closely.

"I'm going," he growled through clenched teeth.

With a flick of his reins, he was off. The hill was steep, but his mount took it easily. Behind him, he could hear Janek and the other former captives following him, and further back, the confused sound of the Krasian army.

"Edur!" Tormad was bellowing. "Where in Cadogan's name do you think you're going?"

At the top of the hill, Edur whirled his horse about. His blood was pounding in his ears as his eyes ran over his father's army. It was fortunate the wind was to his back, for even with that, his voice might not reach every man there. Though his ribs seemed unusually tight, he forced himself to breathe deeply. He should have thought of what to say before this. He had been an idiot to forget to do that, to not even think to do that.

Cadogan grant me words, he thought desperately.

"Edur, what is this foolishness?" Tormad was demanding.

Those rallied behind Edur shifted uneasily in the face of the emperor's rage. "My prince, you must speak soon," Janek urged.

Say something, you fool!

"I will fight!" Edur blinked at his words, then mentally shook his head. Gods, he hadn't meant to start that way. They were words from a childhood game he hadn't played in years. Hastily, he tried to fix his mistake.

"I will fight," he began again, "only to protect what is mine." Good. Now it didn't sound like he wanted this battle against the Falgrese. "When I trained you, I taught you to do the same. There is nothing in this land that is mine, except for my sister, who I have seen safe and sound." He glanced at his father, whose face was contorted in fury.

"It is time to go home," Edur announced. Then he turned and made his way down the other side of the hill, heading for Smithy Pass, and the ships there that would take him back to Kras.

Cadeyrn watched from the battlements as Edur rode away from his father. The second prince of Kras had told Cadeyrn of his plan, saying that he refused to raise arms against his countrymen. Cadeyrn had agreed to it readily, but had not expected such an effect. Tormad was furious. Even from this distance, Cadeyrn could hear the emperor yelling after his son as Krasian soldiers began to follow him. Beside him, Dymphna was nearly twisting off his arm with both her hands. He turned to her and kissed her softly. "I must go now." He tried to pull away, but she only clung to him more tightly.

"No. He'll kill you."

"I'll be well guarded, love. Please, it must be done."

"Then I'm going with you," she stated stubbornly.

"Dymphna." He put his free hand to her belly and regarded her meaningfully. "You must stay here."

With a soft sob, she flung her arms around him and held him tight a moment. "I'll never forgive you if you don't come back."

Pressing his face into her hair, he whispered, "Neither will I."

He pulled away from her then and made his way down to the bailey. She followed him dejectedly. Most every soldier at Vengag, including the Wolves, awaited him there. Swinging up onto his horse, he nodded at the guards on the battlements. The portcullis was raised and the drawbridge lowered, and the Falgrese army poured out.

Tormad had unsheathed his sword and was swinging it angrily about him. Fleeing soldiers avoided him as they hurried after Edur, but a few had not escaped. The emperor was screaming curses at them, at his sons, and at his general. Not all soldiers had followed Edur, however. They, too, were crying treason. Small fights and skirmishes had broken out. Omri was the first to see the approaching Falgrese.

"Sire –" he began to say, but stopped short when Tormad raced past him sword at ready as he galloped towards the Falgrese. Those soldiers still loyal to Tormad, seeing his charge, broke off from their own petty tussles and followed suit.

"Damn blind patriots," Cadeyrn muttered disgustedly. Yet he readily let down his visor and drew his sword. "Falgrese, attack!" he yelled.

The Krasians met them with a nerve-racking crash. Bryony, at the head of her company consciously allowed her mind to go numb. She'd pray for these souls later. Right now, she couldn't allow herself the luxuries of guilt or remorse. Drake suddenly lurched beneath her and her eyes widened in surprise as he gave way beneath her. She barely had enough time to kick free of the stirrups and move away from the collapsing body of her horse.

She was blinking up at the grey sky, not sure what had just happened, when a dagger came down, aimed at her heart. She grasped the wrist and twisted, wresting the dagger from her attacker and rolling to her feet. The weapon felt familiar in her hand and she looked down at it. It was the dagger she had given to Mladen.

She looked up at him now and straightened. Her eyes slid close for the briefest of moments. "I told you," she said, "that if I ever saw you again, I would have no reason for mercy." Below her breath, she added, "Sergio, forgive me."

The dagger flew through the air and landed square in Mladen's chest.

Lyall didn't notice, though he was nearby, parrying and thrusting instinctively. He tried not to see the faces of the men he killed, but he did, and that nearly killed him. When a Krasian archer knelt atop the hill, he didn't even notice. Weylyn, however, did.

He was fighting not far away, trying to concentrate but unable to keep half an eye on his son. His opponent suddenly broke off with a harsh cry as Weylyn's blade found his shoulder. The Krasian turned tail and ran blindly towards the hill. That drew Weylyn's eye to the archer. The man seemed to be aiming at a random target, but Weylyn followed the aim anyway, and found his heart suddenly in his throat. Reule knew that he was still angry at the boy, but he couldn't lose him again.

Lyall felt the breath knocked out of him as something like a raging bull caught him in the side. He was suddenly pinned to the ground by that same object. Blind and gasping, he shoved the weight away and ripped off his helmet, his ears ringing from the impact. Then he stared. His father lay on the ground beside him with an arrow protruding from the back of his neck.

"Reule," he whispered. "Father?" He shook Weylyn hard. "Father!"

Other had seen the arrow shot as well. Few Krasians were left now, most of them having been either outnumbered or overpowered by the Falgrese. The archer had taken another blind shot and missed before turning tail in an attempt to retreat. A small gang of Wolves and Outsider Falgrese rode after and surrounded him easily. His head fell to the ground with a soft thud and rolled twice before stopping.

Bryony winced and looked away. She sat on the ground, by Drake's corpse, chest heaving and eyes stinging. When Zev rode up and silently stopped before her, she stood without a word and climbed up behind him. She rode back to Vengag soundless crying into her father's shoulder.

An excited air hung over Vengag over the next few days. A feast was held, and the ale lifted spirits. Soldiers were eager to return to their families, and local families to rebuild their lives. However, not all were joyous.

On the second night after Falgrice's victory, Bryony found Lyall in the dilapidated tower that had become his usual haunt. She offered him a full tankard as she sat beside him on the windowsill. He accepted it, but didn't drink. Bryony sipped her own ale silently.

Finally, Lyall spoke. "He died like a warrior."

"Like the truest of warriors," Bryony agreed.

He scowled. "An arrow in the back isn't –"

"He died for his son. The Outsiders believe that dying for another is a deed worthy of the highest honour."

Lyall stared into his ale unseeingly. After a moment, he nodded. "Aye." He lifted the tankard, "To Weylyn of the Wolves, the truest of warriors and the bravest of fathers."

It was time for the Wolves to leave. Their horses were assembled in the bailey, their gear packed and ready. The Falgrese soldiers offered them grudging farewells, and a few heartfelt ones. Bleddyn's new bride, a forthright girl from one of the nearby villages, sat atop his charger with a bright smile. Sierra weaved between the horses, gazing up at them in wonder and ignoring Lupe's frustrated calls. Leidolf hovered anxiously over Lydia and their newborn babe, repeatedly wondering aloud if it was too cold to travel and if they should wait until spring to return to the Den.

A soft falling of snow crunched under their boots as Bryony and Cadeyrn walked side by side down the steps of the forebuilding.

"Are you sure you wish to go?" the king inquired. "You could stay at the palace."

"My place is at the Den," she replied.

Cadeyrn sighed. "You and your stubborn tribe could at least join us at our victory feast in Irow."

Bryony smiled gently and turned to him. "It is our way to be too proud for our own good. One day, we'll sit at your banquet tables without qualm. Today however, be content with merely knowing that you can tell your people to fear not the wolves ever again."

She climbed about her new horse, a parting gift from her company that they had bought from Vengag itself. Lupe, having gotten hold of Sierra, lifted the girl up to sit in front of Bryony. Final farewells were called out as the Wolves made their way across the drawbridge. Sierra squirmed excitedly, straining to see around the horse's head as if she expected the Den to be within sight. Bryony smiled and caught Lupe's eye.

She was going home.

A.N. I know, I know. It's been a horribly long wait, and this is a horrible last chapter. I'm sorry if this offends anyone, but I've just been working on this for so long that I've gotten completely sick and tired of it. So I'm just going to write up the epilogue (yes, there is an epilogue) and then print the whole thing out and stash it away until such a time as my interest is renewedand I can actually stand to work on it again. Now I really must go study for my French exam. Ciao

P.S. The epilogue should be up by Friday night, since I don't have any exams that day.