Honoured Enemy

Chapter 1
The fire was soothing.

Richard Kevinsson sat by the corner of the fireplace, boots off, luxuriating in the near-painful sensation of his feet thawing out. Rubbing his hands, he extended them towards the flames.

Gregory and the Tsurani with the missing eye shouldered through the crush around the fireplace and heaved armfuls of logs into the roaring flames. Steam coiled up from a heavy iron kettle filled with stew, suspended in the fireplace. A few of the men, Richard included, had hesitated at first to eat it. It was, after all, a meal that the mpredhel had been cooking and who knew what was in it - though Tinuva had reassured the Kingdom soldiers that stories of moredhel eating things indigestible to humans were myth only - but old beliefs were hard to ignore. Eventually, ravenous hunger won out over squeamishness and the men - both Kingdom and Tsurani - had gathered around, holding out tin cups and earthen mugs while the bubbling stew was dished out.

A freshly-killed stag had been found hanging outside the garrison house as well, and as fast as pieces of it were cooked in the open fire men snatched them out and devoured the venison, the first hot cooked meat both sides had tasted in days.

Many of the men were now fast asleep, curled up on the wooden planked floor. Of those awake, some were smoking, a few playing cards, others were just sitting about the fireplace.

Richard watched as two Tsurani played a game with intricately carved pieces of ivory on a small chequered piece of cloth. One of the players, as if sensing his gaze, looked up. Their eyes held for a second.

The Tsurani's hand drifted to his side, resting on the hilt of a dagger, his eyes locked with Richard's. The young soldier quickly averted his gaze and there was a gruff laugh, not from the Tsurani but from a Kingdom soldier sitting beside him who had been watching the silent interplay.

'He'll cut your throat from ear to ear, boy.'

It was Darvan, one of the 'old men', of the unit, recruited when Dennis and the others from Valinar formed the Marauders. He had his shirt off, and was hanging it up to dry, revealing a cross-hatching of battle scars on his forearms. One shoulder was slightly hunched from a broken collarbone that had not healed straight.

Darvan spat into the fire.

'You just lost face, boy. You lowered your eyes. In their lingo that means you are nothing but a cowering worm. Those bastards are laughing at you now.'

Richard spared a quick glance back at the two Tsurani, both of whom were leaning over their game, whispering to each other. Neither was laughing, but Richard wondered if they were talking about him.

'Bet they're saying how you don't have any manhood below your belt. I wouldn't let them get away with that, boy: it's bad for our company. You showed yourself a coward once before, are you going to do it in front of the Tsurani as well?'

Richard shifted uncomfortably.

Hearing him move, both of the Tsurani glanced up at him.


Alwin Barry stepped between them and the Tsurani. 'Shut the hell up,' he hissed, his voice barely a whisper.

Darvan grinned.

'We're in a bad enough fix as is without you egging the boy on to a fight.'

'They stink up this place,' Darvan growled. 'I say let's kill the bastards in here now, then go out and finish the rest.'

'Captain's orders. We stand down for the night.'

'The Captain-' Darvan started to say more but Alwin's hand shot out and grabbed Darvan by the throat, stilling his voice.

'You want to fight come morning?' Barry whispered, his voice filled with menace and his eyes boring into Darvan. 'Fine. We do it when the captain says so and not before. For now, leave this boy alone. Use him to start any trouble, and I'll kill you myself.'

Turning his back to the Tsurani, who were watching the exchange with open curiosity, Darvan could barely croak out words, with Alwin's hand around his throat. 'This boy?' he asked, pulling Alwin's hand from his throat. Still whispering, he added, 'We all know he's a coward. Jurgen died to save this piece of offal. And for what?'

Richard flushed, feeling as if every eye inside the room had suddenly shifted to him. Honour was now at stake.

His heart began to race, and though he was sitting next to a furnacelike fire, a cold chill swept through him. Then came the memory of all the dead in that cold frozen