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There were a number of stories I was forced to cut (for length) from Crown of Vengeance, but I think the one I regretted most was this one. Throughout the story we see Elven society from the POV of nobles and Lightborn--but very rarely from the people to whom Vieliessar's Kingship will make the most difference: the Commons...



The queen came riding and sang the song of freedom,
The queen came riding and truth was on her tongue.
The High cried out against it, but truth was on her tongue.
Truth forever. Landbond free.


—Tunonil Landbond, The Song of Freedom, Crown of Vengeance p.226


Tunonil had no right to style himself "of Caerthalien", even though he'd been born there and could trace the generations of his line back as far as Lord Prince Bolecthindial could. His ancestors had been farmers and herders, horse-grooms and servants, huntsmen and falconers, their fortunes rising and falling through the passing centuries. His people had never been great servants, just as they had never been great land-owners. The highest distinction any of them had attained—so far as Tunonil knew—was his: possession of one of the unfruitful border steadings, where the independence of possessing land was paid for in danger from bandits and border raiders, and by the ruinous tithings that could take up to half the harvest coaxed from the barren ground.

But if Tunonil had that, he had one thing more.

He had a history.

He could neither read nor write, and he kept his tallies with notched sticks and knotted cords, as all of his neighbors did. But his mother—who had left her life as a Landbond on a farm many miles to the west to come here to her husband's steading—had taught him the songs that held the story of his ancestors, and Tunonil had crafted his own songs and added them to the collection.

They weren't the fine songs that Storysingers told over in the Lord Prince's great hall, and no child of Tunonil's lineage had ever needed to be told to keep the songs a secret. Anything the commons had, the nobles would take, and anything they couldn't take, they would spoil, and the true way to spoil a song was by spoiling the singer. Tunonil had no desire to have his tongue torn out—or worse—for a song. And so, when the songs were sung, or passed, it was done carefully, to others who had as much to lose as the teacher of those songs.

Tunonil had taught them to his youngest daughter, but the songs had died with her.

Light's Chosen held the wonder-glow within their blood, the Magery to make barren lands fruitful, bring rain in a dry year, ease the birthing of ewe or alfaljodthi, cure illness, heal wounds. Such as Tunonil knew of their ways by distant rumor, for the great lords held Light's Chosen close, so that such a one could not spill the wonder-glow over his own parents or her own kin without the great lord's permission. Tunonil didn't hate Light's Chosen for withholding their gifts. They had no more choice about that than he did about giving his tithe-grain and tithe-lambs. But it meant when winter came, and sickness came, sickness didn't touch the great lords, and even the Farmholders might beg to be attended by one of Light's Chosen. But the Landbonds and the folk of the border steadings, they must take what Leaf and Star gave. And that was little enough.

He'd never meant to go into the wood and take the hare. But all the grain was gone save the seed grain they must have for spring. The chickens were gaunt and sickly, and Tunonil prayed each sunset to Pelashia, Mother of Children, that all three goats would survive until the new grass came, for if the two she-goats each dropped a kid, and all lived, they might be able to use one of them as part of next Harvest's tithe. Or even trade one for saplings that in time might grow to be an orchard. He'd gone to the wood to gather firewood—it was the right of those who held the border steadings—and to dig roots, or strip bark from one of the trees, or gather acorns if he could find some.

He'd been crouched at the base of a tree, too cold to shiver, when he'd looked up and seen the hare. Fat and curious, sitting up on its haunches staring at him. His hand had still been curled over the flat dull blade he'd been using to dig in the frozen earth. He'd flung it without thought, filled with anger at the sight of a fellow creature neither cold nor hungry. The blow hadn't killed the hare, but it had stunned it. He'd pounced on it and broken its neck before it could flee.

Tunonil had sat beneath the tree for a long time, the cooling body across his knees. This alone was enough to buy death for him and everyone at his steading. The Lord Prince's law was plain: those who lived near his woods might gather fell timber. But they could cut no tree nor slay neither bird nor beast. He'd thought of throwing the body from him and pretending the moment had never happened.

But his family was hungry, and the hare was food.

And so he did not.

It was a full sennight before he returned to the woodland, but when he went he brought a long coil of strong goat-hair line, and his knife was sharp.

One of the songs he'd from his mother, who had it from others long before, told of the setting of snares. His first attempts failed. His later ones did not. That winter everyone at the steading ate well. Nor did Tunonil stop going to the wood when springtide came. Meat made the long hours in the fields possible. Even bearable.

Soon he no longer worked in the fields by day. Tunonil rose when the sun set and ranged through the woods by night. From his labors came warm fur coverlets to sleep beneath, berries and honeycomb and succulent mushrooms to flavor stews. He traded with the nearer steadings—for salt, for seed, for butter.

If he hadn't taken the deer, perhaps no one would ever have noticed.

It wasn't the absence of the deer from the woodland, for the Lord Prince and his nobles never hunted so close to the border. It was its presence in Tunonil's larder. Or perhaps it wasn't even that. Perhaps it was that he didn't look half-starved and exhausted when he walked a day and half a day to the Manor Farm to leave his tithe-grain for the lord's servant that Harvest. In truth, he couldn't say why the knights came to his steading. Perhaps it was for no reason at all, only sport.

He had thought them safe, for there were three full days of peace between the time he returned from paying the Harvest tithe and the day the knights came. He should have remembered the earliest of his lessons: that safety lay only in the Vale of Celenthodiel where the Flower Queen ruled. It was a bright clear day when the knights came, when they entered his mother's house, breaking and spoiling everything they touched, even food. They found the fur coverlet upon his mother's bed and they found the haunch of venison in his wife's larder. After that, they made his family—brothers, sisters, children—spread the midden thin upon the ground. The bones it held were burnt and broken, but that didn't matter. They were bones, and the steading didn't hold such wealth that its inhabitants could eat meat even once a moonturn.

Tunonil didn't even dare to beg, to say the guilt was his alone, for that would only bring the wrath of the knights down more heavily upon them all. And so he stood silent as they stripped him Tunonil naked, and tied his hands together with rope, and lashed that rope to the saddle of one of their horses, and dragged him away. He ran for miles behind the knight's horse, until he could run no more, and then he was dragged until his tormentor tired of the sport. There where he lay, he was beaten until his blood ran, and his ears were cropped, and he was left for dead.

He didn't know why he survived. He thought—after—it would have been kinder if he hadn't, but there was no kindness in the world. The Sky Reivers were not kind, nor was a mother protecting her children. But he still lived when a gleaner returning home from paying her tithe found him, and bundled him into her cart, and carried him to her tiny hut at the wood's edge, and there she fed him and nursed him and kept him alive. By the time the fever and the sickness had passed, Harvest had become Rade. He would not stay, though Cathron all but begged him. He needed to see his family again.

But he never did.

When he reached it, he saw what Cathron had tried to spare him. The steading they had all tended and cherished so carefully was burnt to ash and cinders. The well had been fouled. Even the stubble of the fields had been set alight. Nothing remained of his life. Nothing.

He didn't know why he retraced his steps to Cathron's hut, for he didn't wish to live. He didn't even want revenge. To dream of revenge was as impossible as imagining himself Light's Chosen, or noble. He sat silent upon her tiny hearth into the dead of winter, and one day, Tunonil looked down to see his fingers braiding a snare.

This time he was careful. He took no game larger than hares, or birds, or squirrels. He left offerings from his hunts at the farmhouses of the poorest smallholders, and strewed his own leavings deep in the forest, where they would draw no attention.

And when, one day in the early spring, Cathron died, he took her there as well, for he didn't know what else to do.

He would have laid down beside her and hoped to die, but Cathron had two blankets and a metal cooking-pot and a wooden bowl and two mugs and a knife, and there were those who might yet get use out of such things. So he went back to her hut for the last time, and loaded up her cart for the last time, and set out for the border once more to make her death-gifts to those to whom they might mean life.

And there he heard a mad marvelous tale. A tale of Vieliessar of Oronviel, who swore she would be Great King, who promised justice and law that would fall upon the shoulders of nobles and commons alike, who swore she would welcome all who came to her.

And Tuonil went to see. And once he had seen, he stayed.

#


They shall not defeat her. Half the Wheel of the Year had passed since he had left Cathron in the forest, and this day Tunonil lay beneath one of the baggage carts of Lord Prince Vieliessar's supply train wrapped in two heavy blankets against the Jaeglenhend chill. Many of the others—landholders and Farmholders and craftworkers and even Light's Chosen—had despaired when the High King's enemy seized them. Tunonil had suffered too many disasters in his life to despair. He knew one thing many of them had forgotten: you survived or you died. There was no middle ground.

He did not wish to survive as what he'd been before—a creature so lowly the great lords didn't even have a name for him. The High King said he was her equal. The High King had promised him truth and justice.

Tunonil would fight.

And he would not fight alone. Aradreleg Lightsister had been many years in great halls. When the supply train had been taken, it was she who said to all the Light's Chosen they must give their House as "Farcarinon". Tunonil had heard, and didn't know why she should say so, for he'd never heard of House Farcarinon, but when they had reached the camp of the enemy, and the servants of the enemy came to choose among them as Tunonil had once chosen among seed-tubers, that name was on the lips of all the Light's Chosen. The Light's Chosen of the enemy—and even their knights and princes—came and shouted and threatened, and none of the High King's Light's Chosen would name another House as the place of their birth. Tunonil held fear in his throat at the sound of their anger, for he had learned much in the moonturns since he came to serve the High King, and knew that her Light's Chosen had cast off their great protections to serve her.

But the enemy still feared her, or feared the Sky Reivers, or feared Mother Pelashia, for her Light's Chosen were not harmed. Pavilions were set for them—not their own, but the great Healing Tents—and it was Aradreleg who said the tents wouldn't be for the Light's Chosen, but for those most in need. It was a good word in a good hour, for snow had come moonturns out of season, and the night was cold.

Because of the High King's words, Aradreleg Lightsister spoke to him as an equal, and so Tunonil knew the wonder-glow of Light's Chosen couldn't reach out to strike down their enemies as it had before. It had taken him a full day of captivity to convince the others to fight as if they were highborn knights, but seeing the servants of the enemy lords come among them to torture and kill convinced many that it was better to fight—and die of it—than wait to be enslaved again, for Tunonil knew now that their slavery was not life. It was only a slower death.

And so they took torches from the stores in their captured wagons, and the Light's Chosen kindled them. They crept through the camp of the enemy lords, invisible as commons always were, and set their torches to every tent they passed.

They weren't able to burn the tents of the enemy to ash as the knights of the War Prince of Caerthalien had burned Tunonil's steading, and when the fires were quenched many wept with the bitter taste of failure upon their tongues. Tunonil didn't despair, though the day of their failure was a day of death, for it was always the way that the anger of princes could only be drowned in blood. Though the great lords seized few of those who had set the fires, they cared not who they took for their punishment, and many who had not even known of the plan were taken along with those who had. But none among them was questioned, merely tortured as if their screams of agony were some healing balm.

And through this uncertainty and fear, Aradreleg Lightsister walked not just among her own, but through the whole encampment of the enemy, going where she would as if by right. And so when the High King's people huddled together in the falling snow to share what food they were let to have, Aradreleg said the High King had won her way to freedom, and her armies were yet unslain. She could not speak this word to all at once, for thousands bided here as prisoners. And so each whom she told was sent to tell ten more, and those ten would each tell ten, and so it would be that the message would pass from mouth to ear the whole length of their strange village.

But when Tunonil rose to his feet to go, Aradreleg Lightsister held up her hand and bid him stay. "Tomorrow the great army rides forth," she said quietly. "And we ride with it."

"They must return our mules and oxen if that is true," Tunonil said, and Aradreleg Light's Chosen smiled.

"Even so," she said. "And tomorrow it will snow, and behind us in the long train will be the herds of beasts, and komen to guard them. And no bespelling of ours can touch the Alliance beasts. But it can touch our own. And a herd is a herd. Where some go, all will wish to go."

"They will bring them back as they did before," Tunonil said, wondering what lay within her thoughts.

"White sheep in white snow, and the whole of the Alliance spread out over two leagues of march? The herders will fear punishment, and the komen will fear ambush, and the Lord Princes will argue with each other, for Lord Vieliessar's army rode north, but Lord Vieliessar rode south," Aradreleg Light's Chosen said. "And so the herders will try to repair the loss without sending riders to the head of the train."

Tunonil frowned, for this was truth, yet he could not see how knowing it helped them or the High King.

"It will be the hour before dawn, and there will be snow," Aradreleg said, and her voice held triumph. "You and I, we shall steal back our supplies."

Tunonil shook his head. "It is no simple thing to move a great train of wagons, Lightsister. Nor is it a quick one. If you will hear, there is in my heart a way of doing this that will bring the High King's possessions and the High King's army once more together."

#


The flight of the Light's Chosen of the High King sent the War Princes into confusion—as Tunonil had known it would—and the whole baggage train stood motionless for half the afternoon while the enemy attempted to discover which way they had fled. They even set Heart-Seeing upon several of the High King's people, thinking it was possible one of them had overheard some plotting, but this was a plot woven between Aradreleg and Tunonil alone, and he had shared it with no one.

The evening of the day the Light's Chosen of Lord Prince Vieliessar escaped their captivity was a hard one for those who still remained prisoners, for once again the servants of the great princes came to question them. Of all Lord Prince Vieliessar's people, only Tunonil knew the whole of the plan that he and Aradreleg Lightsister had settled between them, for Tunonil knew full well that there were spells to force secrets from an unwilling tongue, and few would keep silent when brothers or children were threatened. But if their enemies got no answers to their questions, many more would die, so Tunonil had made certain that all of the High King's people had some truth with which to make answer. It was a simple matter to start a rumor by asking a question of this one or that, and by the time the rumor had spread through the captives twice over, no one knew where it had started, and each was certain they had gotten it from someone who'd been told it by one of the Light's Chosen—but no one could remember quite who.

"Light's Chosen have fled north, for Lord Prince Vieliessar's army holds Jaeglenhend Great Keep. They seek sanctuary there, among the High King's army..."

Every prisoner, from craftworker to Farmholder, told the same story. Those who questioned them didn't wish to believe the words of commonfolk, though they would have accepted the tale had it come from even the poorest hedge-knight. But all of noble or gentle birth who had been held prisoner had been slain, and Light's Chosen were fled.

That night there was no food given to the people of the High King, nor were they permitted to set the Healing Tents for their shelter. They were herded to a stretch of ground a mile outside the camp lest they steal food or blankets from the supply wagons, and the place they were left was ringed about with clouds of bright wonder-glow so they could be plainly seen. There they huddled together for warmth, for the night was cold. Some spoke of trying to escape, even though there was no place for them to go. Others said angrily that the High King and the Light's Chosen had abandoned them, and they should go to the stewards and chamberlains of the great nobles, and beg to be taken back, for at least then they would have food and a place. Tunonil knew that Fear was a greater prince than any who sat warm and sated in the silken pavilions. But all he said to any who would hear that the High King had given her oath to each of them. Have patience, he said. Endure. Rescue is coming.

It was hard to endure the next day, for they were all cold and hungry, and they were worked like animals. The ground was muddy, and the wagons were heavy, and so they must be unloaded, and the axles scraped free of mud, and teams of oxen and mules unhitched and shifted about each time they got stuck...and then the wagons must be reloaded again. Progress that day was meager, and the great Lord Princes argued among themselves over whether they should strike north to take the High King's army, or south to capture the High King. They argued so loudly that even Tunonil could hear that their Light's Chosen couldn't use the wonder-glow to track the High King, and so they must use huntsmen...and hope to trace a track days old that ran over ground that had been frozen then, and was mud now.

That evening they were fed, though a bowl of thin gruel wasn't enough to slake the hunger of bodies that had labored hard all the day, and that night they were let to set up the great tents for shelter. The next day was much the same in misery and labor, though at least by then the earth had dried enough that only the heaviest wagons became stuck. On that day a force of knights set out to the south, with wagons and Light's Chosen following behind them, and the greater part of the enemy army turned north.

The lands they passed through now were the lush and prosperous ones given to great lords—but the fields here were nothing but stubble, and the trees of the orchards were bare of fruit, and many of them had been cut down. Nor was there one living thing to be seen. No dog, nor duck, nor chicken, nor swan, goat, pig, cow, sheep, horse—or Landbond. The great lords and their servants and their warriors shouted and raged and sought through each manor and farmstead, but even the hay in the barns and the grain and turnips in the foddercribs was gone.

Tunonil wasn't alone in his joy at this, for it was a sign the High King and her great army still lived and fought. But all who rejoiced were careful to keep their happiness well-hidden.

In their fury, the great lords set fire to the manor houses and the farmhouses and the barns and even the huts of the absent Landbonds, and the Lords Komen whose property burned fought with their fellow lords, and the clash of sword against sword was sweet to hear. Some rode forth from the army and didn't return. Others demanded justice of Lord Prince Nilkaran and were struck down by the lords who laid waste to his land.

It was a black day for you, Prince of Jaeglenhend, when you did not surrender to the High King, Tunonil thought in glee.

In his mind, he turned over the phrases that would hold this day in memory for those unborn. It had been a very long time since he'd thought of his mother's songs, and even longer since he'd thought to make a new song himself, but now he felt that desire kindle once more. That evening when the great army of the enemy made camp, a score of the Light's Chosen of the enemy moved among the High King's people, bearing hundreds of them off to the tents of the oppressors. All who had been left behind were certain those who were so taken would never return, but some while later they came back, walking freely and without guards. And each had a soft blanket about his or her shoulders, and their mouths shone with the grease of rich meats and their breaths were fragrant with wine. They swore they had made no betrayal of the High King, but each of them spoke the same words: She is far from here. She has forgotten us. We must beg our masters for mercy. And those who had been left behind laughed at them or pitied them, even though they were cold and hungry, for the stamp of the High King's power was all around them.

On the fifth day they had been prisoners, the Great Keep of Lord Prince Nilkaran was a towering shape upon the horizon. And at midday of that day, every unfettered beast suddenly bolted toward that Great Keep as if pursued by lions.

Lady Aradreleg had told Tunonil the enemy had warded all its own beasts so the wonder-glow couldn't touch them, but where one ran, all would follow, Called nor not. Among the wagons, this beast would strain to follow the call while that one stood obedient, for the teams were no longer matched, and servants came to set wooden blocks upon every wheel, so the carts could not be moved.

But the whole of the herds of Mangiralas had been in the possession of the High King and so had been taken as spoils—among so many horses, panic spread like fire through dry grass, and panic lent the fleeing animals unmatched speed. The goats, the sheep, and the cattle—less swift but just as determined—ran as well. After the first moments of disbelief the herders gave chase, but they were soon left behind. The ostlers who had been pursuing the horses moved to intercept the flocks, but neither they nor their mounts were used to herding—and the flock-guards and herding dogs (those that remained), made the horses skittish as they dashed back and forth between their legs. Dogs and riders worked against each other, scattering the flocks where they meant to bunch and turn them. As for the cattle, they were nearly as swift as the horses—and more dangerous. Rather than risk having their mounts gored by the beasts' sharp horns, the riders let them pass.

The Lords Komen shouted for the Light's Chosen to bespell the fleeing beasts, and the Light's Chosen shouted back that the beasts had been bespelled so they couldn't be bespelled. So the wagons stood motionless, and the komen armed themselves, and the War Princes shouted and argued over what was to be done and how.

As Tunonil watched, a troop of knights rode up to where the livestock fled as the servants stood watching, or walked back toward the wagons, abandoning the chase. Their leader shouted something, but Tunonil couldn't hear it over the noise of horns and drums and shouting. The knight gestured, and the servant shook his head, and then the knight drew his sword and struck. The headless body of the servant fell to the ground, and the other servants scattered like chickens, and in the distance the sheep and goats swirled like a swarm of bees as they moved purposefully toward the castel.

Now more swords were drawn, and the grudges of many days became bloodshed, and for a moment Tunonil dared to hope the enemy would fight itself and not the warriors of the High King. The battle was hot, and more and more knights joined it, until Tunonil began to hope it would consume all the knights of the army as fire consumes wood. But before that could happen, a great lord in jewel-bright armor rode among them, forcing them to stop and to ride apart, each with the komen of his own House and no other. By that time many already lay upon the ground, and the lord shouted for servants and Healers to attend them.

"They'll have a sad time of it riding to battle without their Lightborn near to bear away the injured," a voice beside Tunonil said.

Tunonil glanced down in surprise. There was a woman standing at the wheel of his cart. Her hair was cropped short, and she wore a bright blue-and-yellow tabard with a black horse upon it. A servant of the lord who had forced the battle to end.

"I would not know, lady," Tunonil said. He looked away, but continued to watch her from the corner of his eye.

The woman smiled. "I am no lady. My parents were farmers like yours, Landbond. But I was too clever to be wise, and so now I serve Malanant, Chief of the Hunt and favored servant of War Prince Manderechiel. There's little to be hunted here, I think—save sheep and goats and my own kind."

"Little hunting, when prey goes boldly to meet the hunter," Tunonil said as if he spoke to no one, wondering why he spoke at all.

"And many will die, for three things the Light cannot Heal: age, death, and fate. It's five miles from this place to Jaeglenhend Keep, and the armies will fight upon the meadows that surround it. It seems hard that Aramenthiali and her allies must ride long miles for aid when Lord Prince Vieliessar's force has it close at hand."

Tunonil considered her words for long moments, for he was what she'd named him: Landbond, unschooled and unlettered, and the riddling games of the great lords and their servants weren't for such as he. But at last he spoke.

"Do you unblock the cartwheels, you will have wagons to drive."

The woman seemed to smile, though her face didn't change. "But if we did that, then the beasts would go where Lord Prince Vieliessar's Lightborn wish them to, not their masters."

"Not if they weren't the High King's beasts, now," Tunonil said. It was a thought that had slowly been growing in his mind since he'd seen how much distance the High King's people would have to cross to reach safety. "If you put your own beasts to your own carts, you could drive them as you would."

"But yours would run off," the woman said—though not as if it worried her.

"Light's Chosen have to stop Calling them sometime," Tunonil said. In his mind was a picture of how he would manage things—hitch the warded beasts to their own wagons, move the wagons where the army wanted them, unhitch the teams and walk them back to the other wagons, and then bring them where they must go. But of this he said nothing.

The woman nodded. "Surely they'll cease weaving their spells of Magery when their cause is lost. It's a good thought. It's a great pity the princes and the Lords Komen don't heed our advice."

She turned and walked away. It was another candlemark at least before the army rode forth. Tunonil watched them march away and wondered if the Sky Reivers would hear the prayer of a Landbond, for if the High King did not win, he didn't know what would become of the High King's people.

#


But by the time the sun that day had set there was victory for the High King, despair for her enemies, and rich feeding for all. The great lords set out bread and meat, milk and beer, and soon Tunonil's stomach was comfortably full, and his thirst was quenched, and tonight he would sleep warm. Best of all things, Aradreleg had come to company him, and tell him the whole tale of the time they had been apart.

She spoke many words very fast, and Tunonil couldn't make a story of them in his head, for he'd never been a swift thinker, wanting to take time to consider a matter carefully before acting. But that did not matter. Only freedom mattered.

Around them people came and went—servants of this lord or that; commonfolk such as he was; others who might be either noble or common, for there was little to distinguish some of them by dress alone. The cheerful noise of hundreds speaking at once had nearly deafened him the first time it had fallen upon his ears, and to see so many gathered in one place had driven him near to panic, for his life until that time had been a life of solitude and silence. Now it was familiar, a sound of home and welcome, though Tunonil still believed there were many who spoke just to delight in the sounds of their own voices.

"And so we have survived a great defeat," Aradreleg said, "and made it our victory, though it is the commons who suffered the most. I know you were punished for our escape—please believe I wished there was some other way."

Her words were a great riddle to him, and in Tunonil's experience, riddles were a waste of time. A thing was, or it was not: if it was not, it wasn't a problem, and if it was, it wasn't a riddle. But at last he found the sense in them, and was startled into laughter. "Mistress, you have seen my ears are cropped for poaching. You know me for Landbond. Why should I not believe? Who in all the land would waste their breath lying to me?"

And Aradreleg laughed as well, but softly. "And soon the High King will return to us," she said. "And we will fight again, all of us together."

"For the High King," Tunonil said slowly, for still in Tunonil's mind was the puzzle of how to make a song of this day and all the days that had come before it. "We could all still die," he added, for that was also a true thing.

"Yes, Tunonil," Aradreleg said. "We could." But her eyes danced with joy and her mouth smiled.

#


There were many sennights between that battle and the next, and they were filled with cold and hunger and uncertainty. All that time, Tunonil turned over in his mind the words of the song he meant to make, for the thought of it had come to fill as much of his thoughts as the progress from planting to harvest once had.

Even when the High King spilled forth from her hands another great deed and brought them to the ancient place of their ancestors, her work was not yet accomplished, for she must once again show to her foes that she was High King in truth. And so the day came when Tunonil stood shivering in the pre-dawn cold, even though he stood between two great warhorses whose warm bodies sheltered him from the wind. He'd spent most of his life cold and hungry; these things didn't bother him. This morning there had been hot beer-and-water for all who wanted it, but nothing more—Master Dirwan said it was safer to fight on an empty stomach, for if you took a belly-wound you were less likely to puke up your guts and drown in your own sick.

All who stood to battle here this day knew some of the High King's folk waited, not to fight, but to help the wounded to safety if they could. And to do yet more, for all had vowed that there would be no glad harvest of battle-wealth for the enemy in the chance of their victory, and on the eve of battle all the Landbond had sworn a vow together. When the Lord Princes had held them in bondage in Jaeglenhend, the children of the Landbonds lived when the lords' children had died, for the great princes looked upon the Landbond children and reckoned them as harvest to come. But the people would give the High King's enemy no babes, no children to raise up as less-than-cattle. Many hands stood ready to send the children to the Warm World if the day went against them.

The High King had said in the hearing of all that those who drove her wagons and set her tents were warriors as truly as any who rode a horse and carried a sword. And those words had warmed him, but when he came to know there would be but one more battle, the most important of all, Tunonil had gone to Dirwan, master of the foot-knights, and said he must fight now with a weapon in his hands. Nor was he alone in this: more had come to Master Dirwan than there were pikes to arm. Today some would carry spears, some only sharpened staves, some would take the line armed only with a strip of leather and a bag of sling-stones. But they would fight.

Culyrre hadn't understood Tunonil's need, and his heart had been sore with that confusion for many days. But Tunonil had said to Culyrre that it was good for Culyrre not to know such a need, for Culyrre must stay with the wagon so the team could be comforted by a familiar hand and voice. Today Culyrre had said he would see Tunonil when night came, but Tunonil didn't think that would be so. Yet whether the High King won or lost this battle, her word to the Landbonds must not be lost. For sennights Tunonil had been making a song in his head. A small song, a low song, not proper for great lords and hall-feastings. A thing for Landbonds to sing. And to remember.

In a year like any year a queen came riding and her name was Vieliessar, Queen of All--

She came to bring her word to herder, to farmer, to outlaw--


Tunonil clutched his spear tightly. There were two pikes ahead of him, three spears behind. The wall still stood before them, and the enemy lay beyond it, invisible, but the frozen ground gave back sounds as if it were stone, and two nights gone, Master Dirwan had made a picture with colored stones in a box of sand and said all must gaze upon it so they might see where they would stand, and where all the High King's army would stand, and where the array of the enemy upon the plain of wind and dust might well stand.

To lord and to Light's Chosen came her word, a true word--

Last night the High King had left her great feast of great lords to come to where the pike-wielders and archers kept their own feasting. She'd known him, spoken his name, clasped his hand to wish him battle-fortune as if Tunonil weren't a Landbond with cropped ears but a prince of the land. She said she would hold no one coward, nor ever let them be spoken of as coward while she lived, did they choose now not to stand against the enemy komen come the dawn. Their oaths she would give back, so none would be foresworn. The High King would not permit talk of promises and pledges that night, so none might be shamed as the feast was held. And when morning came, all who had received the High King's word of oath-freedom came to their captains to take up their weapons and stand in their places.

Not one stood aside.

In my eye Lord and Landbond are one, said Queen Vieliessar, Great Queen of a thousand songs—

My eye sees not Low and High. My eye sees my folk, and they shall be kin, for I, Queen Vieliessar, say it—

Tunonil couldn't say who would win this day—that knowing was for Powers above even the High King, not for him. And so, when the enemy's charge was spent and his work against it was done, Tunonil would cross the field (did he live) and go to where the enemy's great pavilions lay. The tent-servants would be waiting to serve their masters, but the laborers would only be waiting to live or die. Tunonil would have time to teach all of them the Song of Freedom, to speak to them of the High King's dream, to tell them of her touch to his hand.

Some would remember. It would be enough. If the battle was lost, it would be enough.

In the silence, the wall ahead became bright fire kindled by Light's Chosen. Stone turned to water, and curled as a great wave over the injured earth. It made of the plain a great brightness, to give back to the sky the little light of morning.

The war-drums thundered. The war-horns blew. Tunonil edged sideways to look past the shoulders of the pikes standing ahead of him. Across the field he could see the line of komen upon their fine horses. Now they moved forward as if knights and horses were beads strung on one string, with their bright banners belling in the wind. Slow at first, then faster, and then the ground shook at the thunder of their coming. Now Dirwan blew his signal whistle, the sound high and bright, and the captains of twelves and double-twelves echoed the call. Pikes and spears stepped out from among the knights to move onto the field.

Tunonil saw witchlight shimmer in the distance, flickering there and gone a dozen times before vanishing without returning. Dirwan had said Light's Chosen would try to aid them, but as many toiled for the enemy as for the High King, and it would be as if heated water were poured into a jug of snow, leaving behind water neither hot nor cold. He and the other foot-knights walked on until it seemed they would go on until the enemy rode over them. Then the signals blew a second time, and they stopped, setting the butts of pike and spear and stick against the ground to make of themselves a living wall against the armored lords on their warhorses. That line became a column, made itself a spear-point to plunge into the heart of the High King's army.

The queen came riding and sang the song of freedom. Tunonil shaped the words in his mind. The queen came riding and truth was on her tongue. The High cried out against it, but truth was on her tongue. Truth forever. Landbond free.

Then the enemy was on them and the time for songs was past. He saw a pike rake across a horse's throat, saw the knight's sword strike its wielder down, so her head flew from her body. The eye of his heart gave Tunonil the song of the archers as they sent arrow after arrow into the enemy, but the eyes of his body saw nothing he could give name to. He held Master Dirwan's speakings in his mind and didn't try to see komen or horses or even the battle, only places his spear might strike. This was their time, the High King's foot-knights, the High King's chosen. The enemy was packed too close for the great horses to rise up and strike the foot-knights down. Tunonil gave a shout of joy when his spear lodged deep in a destrier's flesh, even though the jolt jarred the spear from his hands. He drew his dagger, slashing at the turmoil of bodies around him until a destrier struck him so hard he fell to the ground. He rolled to his belly and lay still, though every instinct screamed at him to coil himself up into a ball and cower. Lie flat, Master Dirwan had said to all of them. The enemy horses won't attack if they think you are dead.

A hoof struck his shoulder. Another, his ribs. Tunonil closed his eyes and counted in his head as he'd once counted goats, chickens, turnips, handfuls of grain. This many, and the charge would have passed. He knew he wouldn't die until he'd given his song into the ears of the Landbond still held in bondage. He could not.

When he reached the end of his count he sprang to his feet and began to run. Toward the enemy. Toward their servants. Their slaves.

Truth forever. Landbond free.

#

Update

Date: 2015-01-20 01:41 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Any updates or news on when Blade will be available? Love the whole series and have just finished reading them... Again!

Forthcoming:

The next book in the "Dragon Prophecy" series is Blade of Empire. It will be published by Tor Books at the end of 2017.

March 2017

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