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 The Kin-Caid

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Jade DragonSpectre
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Female Number of posts : 806
Location : England, UK
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Registration date : 2009-01-24

PostSubject: The Kin-Caid   Tue Apr 14, 2009 7:50 am


I would have posted this in the Ardus anthology but it seemed too long and I did not want to jam up the thread. This was a writing task I set myself when my other project ground to a standstill. Any comments or suggestions to improve are appreciated.

Basically this tells the story of what happened after Karis and Valere left the Jester's Lute.



The Kin-Caid



All around, the Kin-Caid were stamping their feet against the earth and chanting in unison. Death! Death!

“No! It was an accident!” Manacles of flesh and bone clamped around Valere’s arms, digging into his flesh. “Have you never killed before?” he shouted.

The crowd parted, revealing the stage. Sitting on the throne there was a man he had hoped never to see again. Was it him? It was not the expression of affection he remembered from his childhood. There was no recognition in his father’s eyes, only a cold disappointment. Slowly, he shook his head and pointed to the side.

A pyre had been constructed. It had been waiting for him. Standing around the edges, familiar faces were illuminated in the light of their burning torches. Qurin. Rosalin. Merdan. Loric. The hands tore his shirt away. He was moving towards the pyre and he was powerless to stop it. Valere fought, but the hands were too strong. He was not strong enough.

“Father! No!”

He now held a torch as well. “You are no child of mine. My son is dead.”

The words echoed loudly, mingling with the bloodthirsty chants of the Kin-Caid. His father threw the first torch. Smoke tainted the air. He looked. Karis was already standing on the pyre. Instead of fighting, she just looked at him. Such faith. She even smiled.

The flames roared. Now the look in her eyes begged him to save her. He could not reach her. Could not fight. Could not move. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Her utter despair crushed down on him, driving him into the floor. Karis shook her head as the flames engulfed her. The smile faded and she started to scream as she burnt. Valere buried his head in his hands, screaming for it to stop.

“This is your fault, Valere...” his father’s voice echoed.

Death! Death!

“Val...”

He looked up. It wasn’t possible. God, how could she still be alive?

“Val!”

There was a hint of panic in her voice now. The pain was too much. He was burning too. Burning and screaming.

“Can you hear me?”

The scene shattered. He lurched upright, breathing heavily. Balgurn beach stretched out into the fog, perfectly grey after the ferocity of the fire. Barrages of wind and icy sea spray raked along his skin. Karis knelt at his side, untouched by fire.

“You were dreaming...” She rested a hand on his shoulder. “Only a nightmare.”

He slumped back onto the sand, staring up at the ashen sky. “Then why have you not woken me?” he replied bitterly.

For weeks his waking hours were plagued by dread and depression. Now he could not even find refuge from his thoughts and memories in his dreams. There was no escape. During the last few days, as they drew closer to Balgurn, he had lost the strength of mind needed to hold the Nightmares at bay. They haunted him every time he walked through the waters of the Dream Realm. They dragged him down and stalked his dreams every time he closed his eyes. It was always the same dream. Or was it a premonition? Valere unclenched his fists and saw the bloody half-moons he had gouged into his palms.

Karis picked up her bag and stood. “We should not linger here any longer.”

“Are you so eager to die?” he asked.

Although she presented a calm and controlled exterior, he had watched her wake trembling many times in the last few days. He had warned her of his grim predictions, but she was set on this path.

“You cannot run from them forever. If we do not return and face the consequences of your actions, the Kin-Caid will hunt you and you will suffer worse for it.” She scraped her hair back and looked at him. “We must take the honourable path. Our father is a... reasonable man.”

Karis sounded as if she truly believed what that he would help him. She saw the best in people, even their father. He saw only the cold face in the nightmare.

“We can make amends. I understand that you parted on bad terms –“

“That is stating it mildly, do you not think?”

“You are his son. Despite all you have done, he loves you.”

Valere snorted and gazed unseeingly up at the sky.

***


For hours the twins wandered along the base of the towering cliffs of Balgurn, looking for a break in the rock wall. Eventually they found a narrow crevice and followed it inland, climbing over boulders and leaping between rocks when the water became too deep.

The ground sloped uphill until they squeezed through a crevice and emerged on a mountainside. Valere blinked in the sudden light and waited for his eyes to adjust to daylight. When he could see, his eyes fixed on a point ahead. A crow perched on a rock, watching them with one shiny beetle-eye. They were the omens of death on the island and the emblem of more than a few clans. It opened its hooked beak and cawed.

Valere scowled, picked up a rock and hurled it at the bird. The move was so violent it almost overbalanced him. The crow shrieked, took flight and then perched on a rock further away, ruffling its feathers. It opened its beak again and gurgled. He stalked forward and kicked the floor, spraying a barrage of gravel and rocks until it flew away. He watched it disappear into the distance with narrowed eyes, ignoring his sisters scrutinizing gaze.

After a moment, Karis turned her attention their surroundings. “I remember this place,” she said quietly. “We are close now.”

She turned left and started walking away. He breathed a curse and followed at a distance, hands deep in his pockets.

***


“Admit that you are lost,” Valere called, sitting on a rock and scraping his heel along the earth. The sole of his boot peeled away.

Karis was crouching further down the slope, examining a small plant. Valere tilted his head back to look at the sky and wondered why he had allowed her to persuade him to return to Balgurn. He scowled. Had he been drunk when he gave in to her persuasion? Thinking back, he recalled that it had been in a tavern in Raytha, several days after Qurin had committed suicide when she had found him and asked him to accompany her. He had been hiding, but she always knew where to find him. He looked at his gloomy surroundings, scowled and kicked a rock. It rolled down the mountainside.

Karis straightened. “People passed this way not long ago. It could be the Kin-Caid.”

He rolled his eyes and looked back in the direction they had come from, thinking that it was not too late to turn back. Surely living like this, as miserable as it was, was better than not living at all.

Karis came to stand nearby. “I shall go first and make the peace. I will tell the good news of your return to our father. The valley cannot be far. Will you wait here?”

He looked at her. “As you said, it could be them, but it could be any other clan who roam this godforsaken island.” He stood. “Since you have insisted on this suicide mission I have no choice but to die with you. The gods played their cruel trick when we were in the womb.” He folded his arms. “The first of many,” he muttered.

“You cannot blame the gods for all of your misfortune, Valere. They are not conspiring against you as you seem to believe.” She placed her boot against a rock and retied her laces. “All of this trouble you have brought upon yourself. You competed for Rosalin’s affections at the cost of Qurin’s sanity -”

“How was I to know his mind was so weak?”

“I know that his death was not your intention, but he would live now if it were not for your actions. To you, it was just a game. You did not love Rosalin as he did – you did not love her at all. Your pride and self-indulgence motivated you, and your inability to concede –“ Karis stopped and shook her head. “The gods had no hand in this.” She lowered her foot to the floor. “We cannot run or hide any longer. I am trying to help you. I cannot see another way to do so but this. If you know of an alternative solution, please, share it.”

He turned his back to her and started walking down the path, hands deep in his pockets.

***
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Jade DragonSpectre
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PostSubject: Re: The Kin-Caid   Tue Apr 14, 2009 7:51 am


***


The ground sloped down into the Caid valley. The watchmen observed their passing in silence. The twins passed between the wooden huts and entered the settlement. Men sat around the campfires, sharpening weapons and eating. It had not changed since he had left. Many of the men were familiar. Valere drew his sword as they approached.

Karis stepped away from his side and held her hands out before her. “Halt. We wish to speak to our father.”

They laughed. “You’re ’bout a week too late,” one said.

“Too late? I do not understand...” she replied, frowning.

Valere looked between them, reading the truth from their expressions. Karis knew it too, but she was shaking her head. She had pinned all of her hopes to their father. Now he watched the knowledge that she had led them to their doom crush down on her. It was not the fate he had foreseen, but he knew that they could expect no more mercy from the man that would have inherited the throne.

“We shall take you to see Regent Merdan.” He looked at Valere. “Get him.”

The mercenaries darted forward, circling him. One gripped a handful of his hair. Valere’s head was yanked back and a jagged blade rested against his throat. He allowed them to take the sword from his hand and throw it away.

“You will come quietly?” the lead mercenary asked Karis.

She looked at Valere. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Truly I am.”

He stared back, but seeing the fear and guilt in her eyes, could not bring himself to be angry. This was what he had warned her about. He had not expected a happy outcome. He was as much to blame and any additional misery he inflicted on her he would have to share in for the last few moments of his life. Valere looked away.

Karis nodded and walked at the man’s side, head bowed. The feel of the hands restraining Valere and forcing him along was horribly familiar. He twisted and fought, but as the dream had foreseen, the grip was unbreakable.

They arrived the heart of the camp. The young man sitting in a carved wooden throne was not the one the dream had predicted. He was thinner, with blond hair instead of dark and a crooked nose. But the face was no less familiar.

Merdan twirled the gold medallion around his neck. “Welcome home. It has been too long,” he said.

Karis inclined her head. “Well met, Merdan,” she said quietly.

Even now, with death staring her in the face, she maintained her manners. Valere shot her a disbelieving glance. He had no intention of being polite, but there was a quiet dignity in the way she stood, calmly staring back at the enemy.

Valere stopped struggling with the two men trapping his arms and looked at his stepbrother. “Not long enough for my liking.”

Merdan nodded, rose from the chair and came to stand before them. “As insolent as ever, I see. Some things never change. Is that any way to greet a brother, Val?”

“You are the unwanted son of my father’s harlot. You are no relation of mine.”

Merdan stared at him for a moment and then turned. “It is always a pleasure to see you, dear Karis.”

She turned her head away slightly. “Where is my father?”

“Your father fell in battle seven days ago, fighting the Kin-Hara.” As a tear rolled down her cheek, Merdan brushed her hair back from her face and tucked the strands behind her ear. “He was a great leader, loved by us all. We mourn his passing -”

Valere snorted. “The throne is not yet cold and you have seated your unworthy backside upon it.”

Merdan nodded. One of the mercenaries stepped forward and hit Valere. The ground slammed into his back and he lay blinking at the sky for a moment before he was hauled upright and forced to kneel again. Karis swayed at his side, clutching her cheek.

“I resent that comment, Val. I was a better son to your father than you ever were. He met his death in the battle that you brought upon us. Your actions ended a decade of allegiance between us and the Kin-Hara. You abused your gift and drove Qurin insane. You killed him.”

Karis bowed her head. “Qurin’s fate was tragic – but accidental. Guilt rests heavily on my brother’s conscience. Please allow us to make amends -”

“Amends? Can you raise the dead?” Merdan interrupted. “Many men lost their lives because of his actions. He deserves to die.”

“Would that not make you guilty of the same crime?” She clasped her hands before her. “Murder is a crime that many here are guilty of. More death will not undo what has been done. Nothing can, but we came here to try. I can see that we are no longer welcome, even as prisoners. You can lead the Kin-Caid. If you wish it, we will live in exile.”

“No. I wish him to die. It is a fitting punishment for his crime.”

“I have committed no crime and his death would kill me also,” Karis said.

They stared at each other for a moment until Merdan looked away. He crouched down and faced Valere. “You are unworthy,” he said. “You do not have the self-denying heart to lead the Kin-Caid.”

“And you do not have the -” Valere spat and then smirked as red splattered the other man’s shirt “- blood.”

Another punch almost knocked him senseless. Darkness gnawed at the edges of his vision and a ringing sound pounded in his ears. When he could see and feel again, he was looking at the ground and the cold edge of a knife rested against his throat.

“Blood is so easily spilt. Yes, I will spill your noble blood over the valley and prove myself superior – I will prove myself worthy to lead. It is a shame that your father is not here to witness it.”

“Executing my brother as he kneels powerless in the dirt proves only your weakness,” Karis said. There was a cold edge to her voice and he could sense her anger. “Are you scared to allow him even a small chance?”

There were mutterings amongst the crowd. Valere looked up at her and half-smiled. She nodded in response. In the edges of his vision, he saw several of the mercenaries nodding. The Kin-Caid looked at each other and then at Merdan, waiting for an answer.

He clenched his fists. “Bring him to the stage.”

***


Valere’s smile widened at the order. Since the last punch, his focus had been wavering and he could not seem to form coherent words in his mind. But it seemed he had said enough to challenge his stepbrother’s authority, and Karis had done her part when he could say no more. Merdan’s temper combined with his sensitivity about his parentage had made him a puppet – by pulling the strings he could be directed. Now Valere had a chance to fight back. It was more than he had expected on the way. His father’s death had been a favourable turn of events.

The men holding his arms dragged him up the steps and then released him. He fell face down on the stage and closed his eyes. Merdan was saying something to the crowd, but Valere did not waste energy listening to him. Words were no longer important. Words would not help him to survive. He nodded. Karis had tried her peaceful approach, and now it was his way. Violence would end this. The sound of footsteps echoed through the wood.

“Get up,” Merdan demanded.

It was time, but he could not seem to find the energy to move. For once, he did not want to fight. How could he win? Exhaustion pinned him to the floor.

Merdan nudged him with his foot and Valere opened his eyes. Even if he was to die today, it would not be lying at the feet of his wretched stepbrother. Not without breaking his nose at least once more. His arms trembled as he pushed himself off the floor. He knelt, took a few breaths and then staggered to his feet.

They looked at each other for a moment. Then Merdan raced forward. Valere blocked the first attack. Then white stars were scattered across his eyes. The cloudy sky appeared above. He groaned. How had that happened?

Pain battered his ribs. He could not muster the energy to stand again so soon. Valere curled onto his side, putting his back to the attacks. Agony shuddered along his spine. The effort to move seemed too great, especially as the pain was fading anyway. The world was fading too, but it was so painful at that moment that it did not seem like such a loss. Valere breathed out a shuddering sigh. He had tried.

In the crowd, Karis was desperately struggling against the restraining hold of several mercenaries. Time slowed. She stopped fighting. Her eyes widened and her fear intensified, giving him an instants warning.

Valere rolled and fell off the edge of the stage. The impact punched the air out of his lungs. He looked up. Merdan was standing above, tugging a spear out of the wood where he had been lying a second ago.

He turned his head in time to see a mercenary raise his fist and casually backhand Karis. She crumpled.

Valere suddenly found himself standing. It was disorientating. He reached out to the stage to steady himself and instead grabbed his stepbrother’s ankles. He tugged and a dim amusement tainted the cold fury that had possessed him. All of those barroom brawls had not been for nothing. Merdan cursed and fell backwards. His aim was deflected and the spear stabbed into Valere’s shoulder, missing his heart.

He tightened his grip and dragged him off the stage. Then Valere staggered back, clutching his shoulder. Blood soaked his shirt. He pulled the spear out, hissing a curse, then reversed it and stabbed down.

Merdan stared up at him, gurgling. It was a sound eerily similar to that made by the crow earlier. Valere twisted the spear, driving it further into his chest. He placed his boot on Merdan’s ribs and then stamped down, crushing the air from his lungs and ending the sound. His stepbrother’s eyes glazed. Valere used the spear to keep him on his feet as he reached down and took the medallion.

The mercenaries had retreated; their loyalty had ended with their employer’s last breath. Valere staggered to Karis and stood for a moment, breathing heavily.

Once the world had stopped spinning, he knelt and lifted her. His knees trembled and he wondered if he could stand again. Then he straightened, carrying her in his arms. It was another victory. Valere snorted. Blood spurted from his nose and dripped onto his shirt. He chuckled. The smiles around him faded. The expressions of the Kin-Caid ranged from alarm to revulsion. He wondered if his teeth had been knocked out. The hysteria intensified. Tears leaked from his eyes.

“My Lord?” one of the men said, frowning.

Lord? They thought he would lead them? But he could laugh no more; the pain in his ribs was too great. Valere shook his head and stumbled away, pausing to spit blood on the floor.

“Where are you going?”

He ignored their calls. At the edge of the camp he untied two horses and lifted Karis into the saddle of one. She was waking now, frowning and blinking. A line of blood trickled from her lip. He handed her the reins.

“It’s over. Just hold on,” he muttered.

She nodded.

After leaning against the fence for a rest which could have been a few minutes or an hour, he hauled himself into the saddle of the other. The Kin-Caid watched in silence as the horses disappeared into the fog.


The End
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