Book II of the Pagans Trilogy.
This novel of intrigue, violence and betrayal in the land of our Stone Age forefathers is a magnificent successor to the author's The Stone Arrow. Here, spurring the Flint Lord's drive for conquest, is his passion for his beautiful, decadent sister, a drive and a passion which lead inexorably to catastrophic consequences.
Fodich felt his fingers move. He touched the hard spikes of gorse. He closed his hand and made it bleed.
He was alive.
He was cold.
Needles of rain hurt his back where the flesh was open, rain in he wind like the soldier spikes in his palm.
Fodich was hallucinating. They had nearly killed him, tied him to a ladder and rendered him useless, and thrown him away to die. Night had come, yet in his head it was still morning and he was at the ladder. That first moment had not ended. All day it had been with him, receding, coming back, filling his mind. In his mind he was still hanging by his forearms, and it was if he had lived no other life but this, known no sensation but pain, seen nothing but the wooden rung before his eyes. The whole of his existence had become this silent, dreaming agony after the lash. He luxuriated, spread his wings, drifted in the mist, and heard his screams as at a distance.
Far above him, Brennis Gehan Fifth came to the window. He pushed aside the shutter, opening it into the wind, and looked down into the outer enclosure of the fort, beyond the spiked top of the inner palisade which surrounded his own residence.
He tapped his fingernails on the rough wooden sill. At the new year, a month away, he would be thirty, but he looked older: a man of middle height, strongly made, his blond hair left uncut since the summer. Where his beard ended, flecked dark and light, the form of his cheekbone angled into a plane which changed shape as he opened his mouth and revealed his teeth. But he did not smile. As he stood watching, dressed in sealskin and lynx, the soft leather of his tunic flapping at his neck, only his eyes showed that thoughts were passing. His eyes were luminous, clear, and grey; and they saw everything that was happening below. A slave was being punished. He was the source of the screaming that had brought Gehan to the window. The man, stocky, in his early thirties, had been tied to a ladder leant against one of the workshops. Two overseers were flogging him, watched by an ordered crowd of two or three hundred people: men, women, children, dressed in animal skins and tatters, none properly clad against the blusters of rain-bearing wind driving in from the marshes and the sea. They were slaves, and they had been brought to watch. Many of the men were still grimed with the chalky soil of the mines.
The slave had been stripped to the knees. His back was being flayed. With each new blow he writhed as if he would break the ladder, only to sag in the moment before the next stripe was made.
Brennis Gehan, the fifth Lord of Valdoe, studied the progress of the punishment with a detached interest. He observed particularly the reactions of the other slaves: those who were watching, mulishly or in sympathy; those who had turned away; the faces of the children.
A girl’s voice came from the chamber behind him. “What is it?”
“Nothing to worry about.”
She came and joined her brother. She was eight years younger, with waist-length blonde hair tied at the neck. In texture her hair was like his, but it was paler, and in the regularity of her features could be discerned a resemblance, of attitude rather than shape: her eyes were bluer, her mouth softer, her brow more sensitive; but, unlike her brother, she had allowed her face to remain expressive and alive. He was intellect; she was emotion. She drew her furs to her chin and watched without speaking.
A heavy man in sheepskins was supervising the punishment, arms folded. From time to time some of his words reached the window.
“… see Fodich now. He did not even reach the trees … away from the hill … and the hounds … let this serve you all …”