Warbreaker Prime: Mythwalker Chapter Nine
The following is a draft chapter of Brandon’s unfinished novel Mythwalker from 2001. Brandon later repurposed some elements of this story into Warbreaker, Mistborn, and The Way of Kings.
Devin tossed a pinch of mayseed into the pot, one hand stirring while the other added spices. He had stopped wondering how he knew what the soup needed; he moved with instinctual precision, letting his hands move almost of their own volition.
His ability still baffled him. He had cooked back in the village—his mother’s socializing had often left him to prepare meals. The dishes he had made back then had been nowhere near as delicious as those he had consistently produced for the rebel camp. Nearly a week had passed, and that first stew had proven itself to be more than a fluke.
“Ix, stir this please,” Devin requested, moving to check on the bread.
The shadowling stepped forward, taking the stirring spoon from Devin and doing as requested. He had somewhere found himself an apron that matched Devin’s, and he approached his stirring with the same calculating curiosity that defined his nature. He watched his hand move, concentrating fully on his motions, as if there were something to be learned from even this most simple of actions.
Devin bent over to peer in the crude brick oven. He still didn’t understand the creature. Some of the other camp members still regarded Ix with fear, but most of them were more amused than anything else. Devin himself had taken a liking to Ix. There was a simple innocence about the shadowling—a childlike desire to prove himself—that reminded Devin of his own life. He remembered well his childhood attempts to gain attention—attempts to prove himself more than just average.
Those times, it appeared, were over. Devin reached his metal rod into the oven, turning the bread pans, then stood, wiping his brow. The camp had changed during the week since Devin arrived. Its occupants seemed more loose, more comfortable. The new members, while still not completely trusted, weren’t shunned either. Several men, including Hine, sat a short distance away, involved in a game of coins. They laughed easily, now, and fingers no longer strayed towards weapons when winnings were made.
It can’t just be the food, Devin thought with a frown, turning to chop some vegetables. Ix continued to stir, occasionally shooting Devin looks, as if searching for affirmation that he was stirring correctly. A few good meals couldn’t have this much of an effect on a group, could it?
Devin didn’t have the answer. One thing was certain, however, Hine had been right—Devin’s place in the camp was secure. It was an odd feeling for Devin, especially at first. He had never been invaluable before. When he had played with the other boys, they hadn’t really seemed to care whether he was there or not. He hadn’t been distinctive in any way—he hadn’t been the strongest, the fastest, or the quickest of tongue. The orchard had been the same—Devin’s work had been valuable, but he himself had been unimportant.
He didn’t know where he had learned to cook, but the ability was certainly a gift from Hess himself. For the first time in his life, he felt appreciated. The men didn’t want anyone else to cook for them—they wanted Devin. It was a wonderful feeling. In addition, his place as camp chef had given him a perfect chance to talk with the men, to get to know them. The rebels had accepted him as one of them almost immediately, and they often stood nearby while Devin was cooking, talking with him and hoping for some sort of between-meal pastry or morsel.
The more Devin learned about the men, the more he realized he had been wrong in his first assessment of them. True, they were essentially thugs—Devin hadn’t quite been able to figure out how they supported themselves, but he was certain it wasn’t legal, and they definitely didn’t consider themselves rebels. However, every man he spoke with had a story, and their stories sounded remarkably like Devin’s own.
Teko, a tall man who was missing one hand, had been a craftsman until he had been fingered by a minor Kkoloss Lord as being a thief. His trial had consisted of the Lord bearing witness against him, followed by the sentencing. Teko hadn’t even had an opportunity to speak for himself. Vallam, a shorter man who always played nervously with a knife, had been a worker in a cleanfield until his Lord had needed a few extra oarsmen in his galley. Vallam had been ‘recruited’ and taken away from his family, then spent the next five years working in the galleys. He had tried to escape a dozen times, and had eventually been successful. He had returned to his village to find his family had died from disease three years before. Now he lived as a fugitive.
Most of the men had similarly unpleasant tales to tell. Devin listened to their words with fascination. As sad as the stories were, the oddest thing about them was the familiarity Devin sensed in their faces. In many ways, these men reminded him of the orchard workers he had known back in the village. They told him stories of wives and children, of lives spent in perceived mundanity. They might have been thugs and outlaws, but they were still men.
A sound approached from behind, drawing Devin’s attention. Voko stood a short distance away, eyeing the bread Devin had just put into the oven.
“As your assistant cook,” Ix confided, “I must warn you that he will attempt to take some of our food.”
Devin smiled, nodding as Voko approached. The squat Guardsman was interesting to Devin—the man talked with an intellectual edge to his voice, using words and phrases like the scribes the orchard had employed. Voko claimed to be a simple warrior, but Devin doubted a Guardsman would last long if he were as clumsy as Voko.
“Ho, Dev,” Voko said with smile. “And what delectable treat have you devised for us this afternoon? Something, perhaps, that I might sample and pronounce fit?”
“Nothing special, Voko,” Devin assured. “Just a simple soup.”
“Nothing is simple when you prepare it, Dev,” Voko said, snatching a spoon and swiping a bit of soup from beneath Ix’s dissatisfied eyes.
“Ah, wonderful,” Voko complimented. “Dev, your ability to cook is a gift from Hess himself.”
“Some don’t seem to think so,” Devin mumbled, leaning over to pull the loaves of bread from his makeshift clay oven.
Voko raised an eyebrow, then followed Devin’s gesture. A short distance away, Quin stood beside his tent, watching Devin with calculating eyes.
“You mean Quin?” Voko asked.
“He does not like Devin because Devin is very good at cooking and he did not think that Devin would be,” Ix explained unnecessarily.
Voko smiled at the shadowling man, then he turned to Devin and shrugged. “I wouldn’t worry about him, Dev,” Voko said. “He doesn’t seem to mind your cooking when dinner time actually arrives.”
That much was true—Quin might dislike Devin personally, but he was never reluctant to eat what Devin produced. Still, the enormous Eruntu had been watching Devin with increasing hostility.
“I don’t know, Voko,” Devin said, placing another batch of bread into the oven, “I’ve tried not to antagonize him, but . . . Well . . .”
“Don’t worry about it,” Voko noted, winking as he reached for a piece of bread. He grabbed it quickly, but squeezed too hard, smashing the entire loaf in his Kkell-enhanced hands. He breathed a slight sigh, then tore himself off a chunk. “I know his type, kid. He’ll probably try something, but we’re keeping an eye on you.”
“Well, I’m still worried,” Devin noted.
Voko shrugged, popping the bread in his mouth. “Dev, my friend, I have dined at the finest restaurants in the Holy City. I never tasted anything half as good as a simple loaf of bread from your hands. Don’t worry—Quin won’t dare remove you.”
Devin nodded, but on the inside he wasn’t so confident. It’s not that simple, Devin thought with a sigh. The truth was, he didn’t know how to react to Quin—he didn’t know what to do when someone disliked him. It was an uncomfortable feeling, one Devin was not accustomed to. His mother sometimes told him he worried too much. However, from Devin’s experience, those who avoided worrying simply spent their days depending on those who took care of things.
Devin pulled off his baking gloves and walked over to check on his stores of flour and saltmeat. He had spent hours cataloguing all of the ingredients and storing them as best he could. However, there was little left to bother with—the camp was quickly running out of food.
“We’re all most out of supplies,” Devin noted. “We’ll run out tomorrow.”
“The men of the camp are . . . resourceful, if nothing else,” Voko noted, helping himself to another piece of bread. “I suspect Quin is already planning a raid.”
Devin frowned, standing again. He didn’t like the concept of a raid—he might have come to understand these men, but he didn’t necessarily agree with their lifestyle. Of course, what else could they do? If they left the forest and tried to find their way to the mainland, they would quickly be discovered. The only way for them to survive was by taking from others.
“It’s stealing, Voko,” Devin said disapprovingly.
Voko chuckled. “I think you’ll find that helping oneself to another’s property is one of the most justifiable crimes a man can commit. Trust me.”
“That makes their actions all right?” Devin asked.
“No,” Voko said with a wink. “But that does make them understandable. And sometimes, understanding is all we need.”
Devin frowned, but Voko seemed to think his explanation was a good one. So, Devin just shook his head and turned to Ix. The shadowling continued to stir, as instructed, his eyes focused on his work.
“That will do, Ix,” Devin said. “Ring the bell, please.”
Ix did as instructed, ringing the bell to announce that lunch was finished. All around the camp men began to appear, coming from tents and forest paths, rushing forward to get into line. Hine, Voko, Ralan, and Meeve immediately walked around the table to help with the serving. Devin didn’t know what to do with the four—they didn’t even ask him if he wanted help, they just stepped up to work as if he had given them orders to do so. This day, however, he was happy for the aid—he still had bread to finish cooking.
“Step back,” a rumbling voice ordered. Quin stepped forward, thrusting his bowl toward Hine. “I lead here; I eat first.”
Hine paused, staring at the large bandit with unimpressed eyes. “And what about Master Skeer?”
“I’m certain Quin would be happy to deliver a bowl to Master Skeer, Hine,” Voko suggested, still munching on his bread—he had devoured nearly half the loaf.
“Of course,” Hine responded, serving Quin two bowls of soup.
Quin eyed the bowls with a grumble. Then, huffing, he accepted both of them and trudged toward Skeer’s tent—the supposed rebellion leader spent most of his time inside the tent, planning and scheming.
“I don’t understand,” Devin confessed, stepping back a bit to make room for Meeve as the boy helped serve.
“Understand what, son?” Hine asked.
Devin nodded toward Quin’s lumbering form. “Why does he let the masquerade continue? Quin doesn’t seem the type to let another man be in charge, even in name only.”
Hine shrugged. “What is the penalty for banditry?”
Devin frowned. “I’m not certain,” he admitted.
“A thief’s hand is cut off,” Voko put in. Of the four, he was the least helpful. After spilling two bowls of stew on his first day serving, he had decided that he was better off just standing to the side and ‘supervising,’ as he put it.
Hine nodded. “What is the penalty for leading a group of bandits?”
“Death?” Devin guessed.
Hine nodded, serving a bowl of soup. “Does it still seem so odd?” Hine asked.
Devin regarded Skeer’s tent—or the ‘Pavilion of Freedom,’ as the wiry man had dubbed it. It did make sense. As long as Skeer was around to take the punishment for leading the group, Quin could live a little more easily. Even still, the large man must get annoyed with Skeer. Quin had sent Skeer on a suicide mission, after all.
The men moved through the line, eager to taste Devin’s most recent offering. In the back, Ix had moved to stand in line as well. The shadowling stood with an uncomfortable stance, obviously trying to fit in with the rest of the group. He would try to break into conversations, and would laugh uncertainly when those around him did so. Devin shook his head—he knew from experience that most of the laughter was at Ix’s expense. The shadowling had become a constant source of amusement for the camp’s men.
Eventually everyone had their helpings, and Devin was able to join Hine and the others on their customary log. The soup was good, he decided, though it could have used a bit more pepperbrush.
“Hey, son,” Hine said, interrupting Devin’s musings. “We’re going to train after lunch. You’re welcome to join us.”
Devin took another sip of soup, then paused, regarding the grizzled soldier. “No,” he finally said. “I don’t think so. I don’t want to antagonize Quin.”
Devin finished his soup in silence. Over the last few days he had learned one thing above all others—that people, whether Eruntu, Skaa, or Kkoloss, were more complicated than he had assumed. Back in the village, he had presumed to know those around him. He had felt fairly confident in his ability to understand their motivations and his feelings. How naive he had been.
Thieves had turned out to be real men, leaders had turned out to be fools, Lords had turned into tyrants, and quiet boys from inconsequential orchard villages had become murderers.
A nudge from Hine brought his mind back to the camp. The warrior nodded toward a latecomer to lunch—a thin Eruntu named Selle. The man had just scurried into camp from the forest. However, instead of going to get himself a bowl of soup, Selle rushed immediately toward Quin’s tent.
Devin frowned. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“Scout,” Hine informed, setting his bowl aside.
“You can tell?” Devin asked with surprise.
Hine nodded. “They all move the same. Besides, he’s not like the rest. He spends most of his days away from the camp—watching the roads, I’d suspect.”
Devin watched Quin’s tent for a moment, mulling over what sort of information the scout could have brought. Then, however, his mind was drawn toward another topic: Hine.
The older warrior sat watching the tent, a suspicious expression on his face. If he noticed Devin’s scrutiny, he didn’t respond. Over the last week, Hine had proven himself a receptacle of practical wisdom. Hine was cool-headed, calm, and capable. What had landed such a competent Guard in the detention cart?
Devin hadn’t asked Hine about his past, and the older warrior hadn’t volunteered any information. Something else bothered Devin as well—why did Hine seem determined to do what Devin said? For some reason, Hine acted as if Devin were his superior—and so, therefore, did the other three former Guards. Why didn’t Hine take leadership for himself? He was a little brusque, true, but he was obviously skilled. He would make a fine leader.
Conversations had started around the camp just after Selle entered Quin’s tent—apparently Hine wasn’t the only one who had noticed the scout’s arrival. They didn’t have long to speculate. A few moments later Quin himself strode out into the sunlight.
“We have a target, men,” he announced. “Get ready.”
The camp burst into motion, men scrambling for their weapons and tying on crude pieces of armor. Devin turned away from the action, noticing Hine’s eyes. The warrior was watching Devin speculatively.
“I want to see this,” Devin decided.
“As do I,” Hine agreed. He turned and gestured toward Meeve. The boy nodded enthusiastically, then dashed off toward Devin’s tent. He returned a few moments later with the swords Devin had taken from the Kkoloss he had slain back in the Guard complex. Hine took one and Devin accepted the other with a hesitant hand. He had purposely avoided touching a weapon since that day. In a little over a day’s time, he had gone from being an innocent to the slayer of Kkoloss, Eruntu, and Skaa alike. He had no desire to repeat such an incident.
However, he also knew that it would be foolish to go into a potentially dangerous situation without a weapon. He strapped the longsword to his waist. It felt right—like he had worn one for his entire life, rather than just the last few weeks.
Voko and Ralan didn’t have swords, but they had crafted themselves wooden cudgels during their week stay in the camp. As the four prepared, an eager Ix joined them. Voko and Ralan barely gave the shadowling a look—after spending a week together, Ix had lost most of his oddity.
“We’re with you, Dev,” Voko said.
Ralan nodded in agreement.
“As am I,” Ix said, holding a cudgel that was a poor approximation of Voko’s weapon. “We are comrades, and so therefore we look forward to the opportunity of growing together and learning to rely on one another through the shared danger brought on by violent confrontation.”
Devin shot a look at Hine, who just shrugged. The large warrior seemed to take Ix in stride—as if the shadowling were no stranger than any number of a dozen other things that had happened to him recently.
“What about your arm, Ix,” Devin said, pointing at the shadowling’s bandaged arm.
Ix looked down and pulled the bandage off of the wound. Devin started—the wound had healed completely. Ix’s dark skin bore a small discolored scar, but otherwise there was no sign of the large cut he had taken just a week before.
“Hess!” Voko noted. “That certainly healed quickly, didn’t it?”
Ix suddenly looked chagrinned. “I have done something wrong,” he assumed with embarrassment.
“No, Ix,” Devin assured. “It’s just that your wound . . .”
“I placed a bandage on it,” Ix explained with his innocent voice. “We humans place bandages on our wounds, and when we remove them, the wound is no longer there. Is that not the way it works?”
Devin just shook his head. “Never mind,” he mumbled. The camp was nearly ready, a group of men gathering at one end of the clearing. Devin nodded to his companions, then wandered over to join the group. Quin eyed Devin, looking down at the sword.
“We’d like to join the raid,” Devin said. “I assume our swords are welcome.”
Quin regarded Devin speculatively. Several of the men around him paused, watching the two with uncomfortable eyes. Stories of Devin’s prowess with a blade had circulated thought he camp despite Devin’s attempts to quash them. In fact, Devin’s attempts at being unassuming had only seemed to increase his reputation amongst the men. Hine reported that Devin was one of the favored topics of conversation in the camp—the quiet, helpful cook who was at the same time a master swordsman. No matter what Devin did, he couldn’t keep the stories from circulating.
However, as much as he disliked the rumors, they did have their usefulness. If Quin refused Devin the opportunity to go on the raid, then the rest of the men would assume that Quin was afraid of him.
“Fine,” the large man eventually said. “Just keep out of the way. You’re little more than a child.” As Quin spoke, Devin caught a hint of something in his eye—curiosity. Could it be that the harsh man was as interested in seeing Devin perform as the rest of them?
And what if I can’t? Devin wondered. I shouldn’t be able to even use a sword, let alone defeat trained warriors. It doesn’t make any sense. A part of him hoped that his mysterious ability would refuse to manifest itself. One way or another, he knew that eventually he would disappoint the rebels. They expected far too much of him. They didn’t understand—he was just Devin.
“What!” a voice suddenly cried. Skeer stumbled out of the Pavilion of Freedom, awkwardly stepping out into the light. “A raid? Why wasn’t I informed?”
“We didn’t want to interrupt your planning,” Quin said smoothly.
“Nonsense!” Skeer declared. “I will stand at our head. Rebels, unite—onward, to declare our glorious cause!” Skeer grabbed his sword and scrambled to the front of the crowd of men.
Quin regarded the lanky man with a barely tolerant look. “Let’s move,” he finally ordered.
The target was a medium-sized carriage of moderate wealth. It traveled down one of the forest roads, accompanied by ten pack animals and a dozen Guard members. Devin looked closely; the men all wore Green. House Ddoven, then. What was their Kkell power? The Guards were muscular, but not to the extent of those of House Sserin.
“What are we going to do?” Devin whispered toward Quin.
Quin grunted beside him. “What else?” the large man said. “Attack!” he ordered.
The bandits around Devin surged forward, dashing down the slope to engage the Guards. The sounds of cursing came from below as the Guards readied themselves against the attack. The Guards carried longswords but, oddly, didn’t have shields.
Hine and the others watched Devin. The rest of the camp had already run down the embankment and joined the battle. They outnumbered the Guardsmen, but the Guards were obviously better warriors. The rebels would need all the help they could get.
“All right,” Devin finally said. “We’ve been living off the camp’s food, it’s our duty to help replenish it. Just don’t kill anyone. Try and make for those pack animals and get away with them.”
“Right,” Hine said nodding to the other four.
“Meeve, you stay here,” Devin said, holding his sword tightly. Could he still fight? Or, had the mysterious ability gone as quickly as it appeared?
“What?” Meeve complained. “I want to—”
“No,” Devin said with a firm shake of his head. “You haven’t trained enough. You can fight later, after Hine’s instructed you a little longer.”
“Yes, sir,” Meeve said with dissatisfaction.
Why should he stay behind when I go down? Devin accused himself. He’s had as much training as I have. In fact, he should know that. Why is he listening to me?
But the boy did as Devin said. Devin himself took a deep breath, nodded to Hine, and dashed down the embankment. Voko, Ix, and the tall Ralan followed, holding their cudgels at the ready.
All around them combatants raged. Warriors from both sides were already down, some groaning, others completely silent. Devin wove through the affray, avoiding confrontation. Men grunted and yelled from either side, but Devin ducked their attacks or missteps, dashing toward the skittish pack animals.
At the last moment, however, a group of guards stepped forward to stop him. Devin attempted to dodge to the side and go around them, but the first Guard in the group—a determined man with firm eyes—anticipated him. Devin had no choice but to bring up his sword and defend himself.
Here we go . . . He almost closed his eyes in chagrin as his sword came out.
His hand seemed to move on its own, whipping forward to parry his opponent’s blow. Devin pushed forward, easily blocking his opponent’s blows. He battled the Guard with expert precision. Devin tried to dissect his own moves, an attempt to figure out how he did what he did, but it was as if he had two minds—one fought, the other sat in confusion.
It quickly became apparent who would win the swordfight. The determined Guard continued to battle, but he also continued to retreat before Devin’s fluttering blade. Devin held himself back, however, refusing to deliver the final blow. As he fought, Devin saw images in his mind. He saw Guards and Kkoloss being slaughtered with no opportunity to defend themselves. He saw himself, killing a defenseless Skaa, simply because it had been in the wrong place.
In a way, this Guard was in the same position. No matter how he fought, he couldn’t stand against Devin. Devin could have killed him a dozen times over. But he didn’t want to. The Guard was only doing what he was ordered to—he didn’t deserve Devin’s retribution.
What can I do? Devin thought with frustration. He could come to no conclusion. And, unfortunately, he didn’t have time to worry about it. He was in the middle of a battle. He couldn’t afford moral dilemmas at the moment.
He decided that the only thing he could do was wound the man. Trying not to think about how his actions would leave the man unable to work as a Guard and support his family, Devin struck for the man’s thigh.
And, incredibly, his sword hit some unseen force and was pushed slightly to the side. Devin looked down with amazement—a mistake. His opponent’s sword whipped forward, prepared for this possibility. Devin barely managed to duck backward, catching the Guard’s blade on his hilt.
What was that? Devin thought with confusion. He continued to fight, quickly regaining control of the battle. He struck again. Like before, his sword was pushed slightly to the side, missing its target.
This time, however, Devin noticed something. As he struck, his opponent waved his free hand—the hand that should have held a shield. As he did so, Devin’s sword was pushed away.
Of course! Devin thought, gritting his teeth. Ddoven’s Kkell power.
He wasn’t certain what it was—the other Houses were only rarely mentioned back in the orchards. The workers barely heard of important news, such as the Emperor’s impending wedding. Most orchard workers would never meet a man from another country, let alone see another Kkell Power in action.
Whatever Ddoven’s power was, it could somehow push Devin’s sword away. Devin continued to fight, trying to prepare for another strike. Somehow, his mind knew how to compensate for the resistance. Eventually, after several more tries, he managed to strike in a place where the sword, even pushed away, still cut into the Guard’s thigh.
The Guard grunted—there was resignation in his eyes. He had seen a superior ability, and had simply been trying to hold on as long as he could. He dropped to the ground as Devin pulled his weapon free. The man retained hold of his weapon, anticipating the final blow.
Devin didn’t deliver one. He ducked away, shooting a look backward to check on the others. Ralan was obviously looking after Ix—the tall warrior had pulled the shadowling to the side, where they together fought a single warrior. Hine stood back to back with Voko, each fighting a Guard. As Devin watched, the short Voko downed his opponent with a blow to the head, then retrieved the guard’s longsword. Voko shot Devin a grin, then nodded toward the pack animals.
Devin nodded in agreement. If he could make off with the goods, then Hine and the others could retreat. Devin dashed forward, slipping past Quin, who was bellowing as he swung threateningly at a nearby Guard. The pack animals were a sturdy bunch, though even their training wasn’t enough to prepare them for combat. They shuffled nervously, pulling at the lines that tied them to the back of the carriage.
Devin whipped his blade forward, slicing the lines free. He rushed past, reaching out to grab the fallen reins and pulling them after him as he dashed toward the forest.
“What are you doing?” an incredulous voice bellowed.
Devin paused, turning to see Quin and the Guard he had been fighting regarding Devin with angry looks.
“Come on!” Devin said. “I have the goods—we can retreat now!”
“Put those back, boy!” Quin ordered. “Do you want to get us into trouble?”
Devin stood, stupefied. However, before he could demand an explanation, a haughty voice called from the direction of the carriage.
“That will be enough,” it said in Kkoloss.
The fighting stopped immediately. The rebels pulled back slightly and the Guards knelt down to tend to fallen companions.
As Devin watched the window to the carriage swung open, revealing a green-clothed Kkoloss man with bored eyes. The Kkoloss looked over his fallen Guards, then turned toward Quin.
“What are your demands?” the Kkoloss asked in a tired voice.
“Your goods, My Lord,” Quin announced, “and one hundred coins.”
The Kkoloss snorted. “Preposterous. You may have the last pack animal—it has foodstuffs on it to support your miserable lives. And here, take this and be gone.” The Lord flipped a small bag into the mud at Quin’s feet.
“Thank you, My Lord,” Quin said, bowing obsequiously. “Your Lordship is too kind.”
“I know,” the Kkoloss said, pulling closed his window.
“Devin, tie those pack animals back in place!” Quin ordered angrily, retrieving the bag of coins.
Devin did as ordered, frowning with confusion. Quin stepped forward, untying the last animal. The Guards let him do so, watching with disdain as the rebels retreated. Devin nodded to Hine, who was watching with raised eyebrows, then gestured to several fallen rebels. The warrior moved to pick up a groaning man who had taken a wound to the side. Devin checked on another fallen man, Skoron. He was dead. Devin moved to look over the other forms, only locating one who was alive. In all, the battle had cost four lives.
Skeer stood a short distance away, his sword clutched awkwardly in his hand. Devin was surprised that he had even survived—the man had enthusiasm, but little actual ability. As it was, the rebel leader was puffing windedly. He tried to call out at the Kkoloss Lord several times, but he was obviously too weak to do so.
The Guards ignored Devin as he worked, getting back into line, loading their wounded onto pack animals, leaving their dead.
“What is taking so long?” the Kkoloss demanded with annoyance.
The Guards bustled, finishing their preparations to leave as the rebels slowly trailed away. Devin watched it all with amazement. Men who had been trying to kill one another just moments ago now paid no attention to their opponents.
Eventually, the caravan began to move again. At that moment, however, Skeer finally managed to regain his breath. “And remember,” he called after them, “when asked what group brought you ignoble defeat, you will reply the Glorious Eruntu Rebellion!”
The carriage stopped immediately. The area suddenly grew silent as guards stopped marching and the carriage stopped rolling.
Devin paused, turning away from the wounded man he was helping to regard the caravan. The green-uniformed Guards were regarding Skeer with wide-eyed looks. Before, when the caravan had been attacked, the Guards had responded with dutiful resignation. Now, however, their eyes looked frightened—even terrified.
Skeer bore the Guards’ scrutiny uncomfortably, frowning to himself. “Um, that’s right,” he continued, regaining his confidence as he spoke. “We, the Eruntu Rebellion, will see all Kkoloss cast down. Despots, tyrants, thieves! The Eruntu will be free!”
“Move, you fools!” a frightened voice screamed from inside the carriage. The Guards snapped into motion, moving from immobility to a quick jog, leaving Skeer behind—looking confused, but proud nonetheless.
“That was odd,” Hine noted, laying his wounded man beside the one Devin was helping. To the side the quiet Ralan was carrying over a third man.
“Agreed,” Devin said quietly.
Skeer simply shrugged, placing his hands on his hips triumphantly. “Well, I guess they’re finally starting to recognize us,” he announced.
Quin stood at the head of the bandits, looking troubled. Devin nodded toward the man. “He doesn’t seem to think recognition is a good thing.”
“Thieves that are identified can be hunted,” Hine mumbled. “It is far better to be inconspicuous.”
A groan from one of the wounded men drew Devin’s attention. The man Hine had helped not only bore the large gash on his thigh, but a cut across the chest as well. His prospects didn’t look good, even though Hine was trying to staunch the blood with a piece of the man’s shirt.
Devin began to shake. His head vibrated in the seizure like a piece of metal slammed against a stone. His hands quivered, his neck hurting form his head’s rapid undulations.
“Devin?” Hine asked with concern. “Son, you all right?”
Devin’s head snapped up. “Here, let me do it,” he said, immediately reaching for Hine’s makeshift bandage. He reached for his canteen, methodically cleaning the wound and binding it. Hine watched with a raised eyebrow as Devin cared for the man’s other wound as well.
“Both of these will need to be sewn back together,” Devin informed. “Find some large branches and make him a litter.”
“All right,” Hine said, standing and nodding for Voko and Ralan to help. Ix just stood, looking down at the wounded men with fascinated eyes.
Devin moved on to the next man. He had a broken arm. Devin moved to construct a splint from the man’s shirt and a pair of small sticks.
“We don’t have time for this,” Quin announced. “That Lord could decide to send troops back to annihilate us.”
Devin snorted, not looking up from his work. “If he’d wanted us dead he wouldn’t have stopped the battle.”
“Are you questioning me, boy?” Quin asked with a firm, unpleasant voice.
Devin paused, looking up. Quin was red in the face from rage. Devin had spoken hastily again, just like the time on the docks, when he had questioned Prince Sarn.
Except, Devin realized, I was right then. Just like I’m right now. Just because Quin has authority doesn’t mean he’s right.
“Yes,” Devin answered simply, tying off the splint. “I am questioning you. You can go, abandoning these men if you wish. However, if you do, don’t ask for my help if next time you’re the one who gets wounded.”
Quin’s eyes grew wide with rage. However, the men around him were more reflective. They had been joking and congratulating each other. Now, however, their eyes were drawn to the wounded. Slowly, one by one, they looked up toward the bodies that still lay in the roadside mud.
Quin turned with a huff, stalking back through the forest toward the camp. Most of the men followed him with subdued steps. Several, however, stayed behind to help Devin carry the wounded.
“I thought it would be glorious, you know? Living in the forest, extorting money from the Kkoloss, no one to tell me what to do. Ouch!”
“Sorry,” Devin said, pulling the stitch tight. The wounded man, Sevn, lay on a makeshift table near the back of the camp. Devin had turned the preparation of the evening meal over to Ix and Ralan, giving them some unfortunately vague instructions on how to prepare a stew.
“Anyway,” Sevn continued, “how was I to know that all I would find out here was someone else to tell me what to do. Ironic, isn’t it? I mean, I dream about the life of a bandit, then I come out here and start dreaming of being a cobbler’s apprentice again. But now, I can’t go back—everyone knows what I’ve been doing. Ouch!”
“Sorry,” Devin said, working on another stitch. He wished he had something to numb Sevn’s skin—unfortunately, he had no idea where to get something like that. He tried not to ponder the fact that he shouldn’t even know how to stitch a wound. So, Sevn had to endure the stitching—the camp didn’t even have any alcohol.
Apparently, Sevn’s method of dealing with the pain was to talk constantly. Of course, as Devin remembered, that was the man’s reaction to everything.
“Ouch!” Sevn complained again. “Do you have to make it pinch so much?”
“Yes,” Devin replied simply.
“You know,” Sevn continued with his constant monologue, “being a bandit wouldn’t be half as bad if I had a bit of Kkell Power for myself. Like your friend there—boy, there’s one with strength.”
Hine grunted, watching Devin sew. “Bah,” he mumbled. “Being strong isn’t half as important as knowing what you’re doing. Don’t wish for strength, son, just practice with that weapon of yours.”
Sevn shrugged, then grimaced as Devin pulled the final stitch tight. “You have a point, I guess,” he mumbled. He accepted a pair of crude crutches from Ralan, and stood, testing his leg. “It still hurts,” he complained.
“And it’s going to continue to do so,” Devin informed. “You won’t be able to walk on it for a few weeks, at least.”
Sevn sighed, then began to hobble away. Another man took his place, proffering a wounded arm for Devin to inspect. The cut wasn’t as deep, but Devin cleaned it anyway and applied a bandage from the pot he had boiled earlier.
“You know, Hine,” he mumbled as he worked, “you have a point.”
“What’s that, son?” Hine asked, ripping some cloths into more bandages.
“These men,” Devin explained. “They aren’t very good with their weapons. I knew scrants who’d barely been Guards for a week who were better trained.”
“They don’t have any reason to,” Hine explained. “I’ll share a secret with you, son. Men mimic those they respect. Quin doesn’t train, so why should they? Leadership is about more than just spouting orders.”
“Humm,” Devin grunted, finishing with the wound. The man left with a thanks, and Devin realized with surprise that there were no more patients. Once he had seen to the seriously wounded men, the others in the camp had begun coming to him with more minor problems. He had been working on them for several hours.
Hine noted. “You know your healing, son. There were surgeons back in the Guard who didn’t work as well as you. Where’d you learn healing?”
Devin paused, slightly embarrassed. “I don’t know healing, Hine,” he admitted. “I’ve just been learning as I go. No one else was going to help these men, so I figured I might as well try something.”
Hine raised an eyebrow, handing a stack of bandages to Voko. The two shared a look—a look Devin didn’t quite understand.
Devin shook his head, moving to begin cleaning up the bandages, thread, and other healing tools he had improvised. He didn’t mind that Hine didn’t believe him—he didn’t really believe himself either.
“I still don’t understand what happened today,” Devin said, changing the subject. “First we attacked the caravan, then we just backed off.”
Hine shrugged. “I never worked caravan duty, son. But Hess has rules for everything else—why not for getting robbed?”
“It just seems so . . .”
“Contrived?” Voko asked.
“Silly,” Devin corrected. “Why attack if we’re not intending to defeat our opponents?”
“Because the Kkoloss will pay us not to?” Voko said with a shrug, walking with Devin as he went to check on the meal. “Ralan and I worked caravan duty once. It was one of the most annoying jobs I’ve ever done. The Kkoloss don’t mind if they get attacked. In a way, they appreciate it—they claim the bandits do them a favor by killing off their weaker Guards. So, we’d get attacked almost every trip—sometimes twice on a single excursion. The Lord never bothered to count how many of us were killed. He’d just wait impatiently to see if we could repel the bandits. If we couldn’t, then he’d offer them a bribe to go away. The more annoyed he was at the delay, the more he usually offered.” Voko paused for a moment. “I never thought I’d be on this side of the raids. Life is funny, you know.”
Devin walked in silence, barely listening to Voko’s explanation as they arrived at the firepit. Ix stood proudly beside the cauldron of stew, and watched anxiously as Devin tasted it. The stew was actually quite good—it tasted very similar to Devin’s stew. Almost identical, in fact. Devin smiled and nodded to Ix, telling him he had been a good job.
However, his mind was not on stew. He was bothered by several things—the most pressing, however, was Quin. The large bandit had turned even colder toward Devin since the raid, and Devin was again reminded of Prince Sarn. Quin, like the prince, would find a way to pay Devin back for his insubordination.
Hine must have caught him shooting a look at Quin’s tent, for the older warrior lay a hand on Devin’s shoulder. “You can’t pretend any longer, son,” he said quietly. “That man doesn’t like you. The others in the camp look up to you, and that makes you a threat.”
Devin sighed. All those times you wished you were more than just average—well, now you’ve gotten that wish. You can’t have people admire you without having others hate you.
“I don’t know, Hine,” Devin replied, setting the tasting spoon aside. “Why is he forcing me to be his enemy? I don’t have to be.”
“You’re the one who stood up to him today,” Hine noted.
“I . . .” Devin trailed off.
“Either give into his morals, son, or stand up against them. You can make the choice. Unfortunately, you don’t have many other options.”
Devin stood quietly, hand resting on the serving table as he thought. Hine’s words from before came back to him—words about men following those they respect. Devin remembered those leaders he had respected—his captain, the mayor, Hine. Finally, he nodded, making his decision. Hine, are you still going to spar tonight?”
“We could,” Hine said.