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Chapter Twenty-four

The last of the captured guardsmen were dragged in under Hurthang's watchful eye, searched for weapons, and securely bound. There weren't many, and those who survived were beaten men in every sense of the word. They knew the penalty which awaited those who lent themselves to the service of the Dark Gods, especially among hradani, and they sat white-faced and silent. The only good thing about their situation was that Bahnak disliked torture even when the law prescribed it. That wouldn't save them from the full rigor of the punishment prescribed by hradani law, but at least the Prince of Hurgrum wouldn't make their deaths still worse out of personal vengeance.

Bahzell had no choice but to leave the details to Hurthang, for he himself had the wounded to care for. He wasn't happy about Kaeritha, for the blow her helmet had turned had left her stunned and unfocused. She seemed a bit vague about where she was or who Bahzell might be, but aside from that she appeared unhurt. And however concerned he might be, there was little he could do for her-or, for that matter, Vaijon-immediately, in light of how many others had taken life-threatening wounds. He was forced to turn his healing ability to those most in need of it, and he had little time in which to do it. They couldn't be certain none of Sharna's worshipers had escaped, and if a Bloody Sword hradani informed one of Prince Churnazh's army posts that a company of Horse Stealers was wandering about in his territory it was unlikely any questions would be asked until after the invaders had been dealt with. Should any of Bahzell's kinsmen survive the experience, the Bloody Sword who'd called in the army would probably face some rather pointed inquiries of his own, but it was unlikely there would be any survivors. Which meant Bahzell couldn't afford the dazed, disoriented euphoria which healing all of their injured people would have plunged him into, so walking wounded would simply have to look after themselves until he could be certain they'd made a clean getaway.

And then there were the warriors not even a champion of Tomanak could heal. Of the fifty-four Horse Stealers who'd sworn Sword Oath and followed Bahzell on the raid, seventeen had died. Nine more who would have joined them would live because of Bahzell's aid, but seventeen, all of them kinsmen, remained a grievous total.

Hurthang also saw to organizing their withdrawal while Bahzell dealt with the wounded, but he was aided by Brandark and Gharnal. None of these Horse Stealers would ever again look upon Brandark with suspicion, not even Gharnal Uthm^agson. Or, perhaps, especially not Gharnal Uthm^agson. Gharnal had watched Brandark deal with Crown Prince Chalghaz, and it was Gharnal who found him a sack to put Chalghaz's head in afterward. He offered it without a word of apology for his earlier distrust, but Brandark understood the gesture… and the warrior's arm clasp which had come with it.

Yet however much they might want to avoid bothering Bahzell with details, none of the others knew what to do about the sanctuary itself. All of them sensed the palpable miasma of evil which clung to its tunnels, though some were more sensitive to it than others. But even the least sensitive recognized the malevolence of the hideous mosaics which adorned its walls, and no one could mistake the clotted blood which crusted the altar or the atrocious instruments of torture hanging on the "chapel's" walls.

"Begging your pardon, Bahzell," Hurthang said finally, shaking Bahzell gently to recall him from the daze into which healing so many near-fatal wounds had sent him, "but it's time we were going."

"Ah?" Bahzell's head jerked up, and he blinked. He stared at his cousin for several seconds, then shook himself. "Aye. Aye, you've the right of it there." He reached out and clapped Hurthang on the shoulder, then stretched enormously. "My sword-?" He blinked again and looked around, then grinned sheepishly as he felt the familiar weight on his back where he'd put it after healing the last of the seriously wounded.

"Aye, you've your sword, right enough," Hurthang allowed, "but we've no least idea where Vaijon's has gotten to. We've looked high and low, and not a sign of it can we find."

"It wasn't after being stuck in yonder beastie?" Bahzell asked in surprise, jerking a thumb back in the direction of the tunnel where the demon lay.

"That it wasn't, and it's a puzzle to me where else it could be. I saw him stick it in the thing my own self, but unless it's buried under its carcass somewhere-?"

He shrugged and Bahzell frowned. His own memory was less than crystal clear, yet he felt certain he'd seen the gems that studded Vaijon's sword hilt flashing against the demon's hide in the torchlight well after the creature was dead. He started to turn back down the tunnel himself, then stopped. Hurthang was right about the need to leave, and if he said the others had searched for the sword, there was no reason to believe Bahzell would somehow spot something they'd missed. Especially through the befuddling aftereffect of so much healing.

"Have you told Vaijon?" he asked instead, and Hurthang nodded.

"Aye, I told the lad. Mind, I think that arm of his is after hurting a deal worse than he's wishful to let us guess, but his mind's clear enough, and he said as how we should leave it be." Bahzell raised an eyebrow, and Hurthang chuckled. "He says as how he's willing enough to be trading even a fancy bit like that for his first demon."

"Is he now?" It was Bahzell's turn to chuckle. "All right, then. Are the others ready to be gone?"

"Aye. I've the worst hurt-and our dead-in the sleds, with teams told off to pull 'em, and I've bid Vaijon and Kerry ride as well. They're neither one fit to be staying on their skis. I've seen to all that right and tight enough, but I've no idea at all, at all, what we should be doing about this place-" Hurthang waved at the tunnels "-before we go."

"We do what you'd do with any wound gone bad," Bahzell said grimly. "There's enough barrels of oil and brandy down in their storerooms. Set the lads to breaking them open, and see to it that that filthy 'chapel' of theirs is after being well doused."

"If you say to," Hurthang agreed in a dubious tone. "But I'm none so sure that'll be enough, Bahzell. This place is solid stone and earth; I'd not think any fire we can set with all we have to work with could finish the stink I'm smelling."

"It'll not be that sort of fire," Bahzell told him. Hurthang glanced at him frowningly and started to ask another question, then shrugged. After what he'd already seen, he supposed this was as good a time as any to start taking a few things on faith, so he simply turned away and began bellowing fresh orders.



Chapter Twenty-Three | The War God's Own | * * *



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