Chapter 15 Part 2 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Tennoc awoke alone in his pavilion the next day. He'd been stripped of his armor and bloodied clothing, and lay naked on his cot under blankets and furs. A small camp stove burned nearby warming the winter air; on its hob a can of water heated. He found a towel and scrubbed dirt and blood from his body; goosebumps rose on his wet skin. He dressed in clean clothes, placed a gold circlet set with ruby cabochons upon his head and a fur-lined cloak around his shoulders, and walked outside. Men huddled near fires came to attention as Tennoc passed. He ignored them and left the camp.
Tennoc found Teacher on the rise overlooking the battlefield. Sisters and Friends both Kellish and Tremontine who'd followed their respective armies moved among the dead and wounded. Scavengers human and animal had already moved in as well, gathering weapons, armor and--in the case of the animals--flesh from the dead. Kellish prisoners were digging three large trenches to use as graves; there would be no time to get bodies to Hills before they began to stink. One trench would hold Tremontines, another Kells, and a third the mercenaries who'd fallen; once the victor had become clear, the Western Islanders and Corrishmen had fled northward.
Soldiers were trundling up to each trench with carts full of the dead; they dumped them in, Friends sprinkled salt water over them in lieu of their final baths, and the prisoners shoveled dirt atop them. In a few years the Friends would return to take the bones back to Hills in each country. They would be with their comrades not their families, but their spirits would find rest. As long as one bone, even one tooth, rested in a Hill, so could a man's spirit.
"Where is Fallik of Whitehorse?" said Tennoc.
"Alas, we have not found him, Your Majesty," said Teacher. "I suspect there is nothing left to find. The Kells hated him--many were his incursions across the border. We found his banner and have set it aside to return to Whitehorse and Lord Gonnor. We must hope some of Fallik's bones will find their way into a Hill. However, we have found the bodies of fifteen Kellish lords, including Daevys ar Ulvyn and Bryth ar Brennow."
"Have they been buried?"
"No, sire. The men wished to do to them what had been done to Lord Fallik. I set a watch on them as I was unsure what you wished to do."
"Take me to them."
The bodies had been respectfully laid out on the ground, each man stripped of his armor and arranged on his back, his weapon atop his chest and his arms crossed over it. A cloth covered Ulvyn's split head. Atop Ulvyn's sword rested the battle crown of the Kells, now a mangled piece of metal; Tennoc's axe had nearly destroyed it. He picked up the twisted band. Some of the pearls, blue lapiz and jet set in the gold had been knocked out. It had been Dunnoc's crown, and the crown of many kings before him. Now it was Tennoc's. He handed it to Teacher. "Can you repair it?"
"Oh yes. What do you wish to do? Shall we bury the lords with the rest of the Kells?"
"No." Tennoc called for soldiers; he ordered the men to gather up the dead lords' weapons and banners, and set them aside.
"What are you going to do?" said Teacher. Tennoc gave no answer but ordered the soldiers to stack the bodies in a pile. "Your Majesty, what do you intend?" Teacher asked again.
Tennoc looked back at the camp and found what he was looking for: a cooking fire. He snatched at it, and flames rose in his hands. He swept his arms wide. Magic came easily now after the battle, and fire erupted in a wide arc between his hands. He threw it outward and it rushed at the bodies; the stack burst into flame and soon a sweet stench turned his stomach. "Not a single bone, a single tooth will I leave," he said in a dark voice that sounded alien even to himself. "They can wander the earth forever for what they've done."
"Their spirits may haunt you," said Teacher.
"Their deeds haunt me already."
When the fire finished its work and Tennoc dismissed it, he stirred the ashes with his foot; he found not a single scrap of tooth or bone. He walked away and left the rest of the dead to the Friends, but the weight on his heart remained. Perhaps when he reached Gwynna it would all be over and he might begin to live for more than death.
The towns and cities approaching Gwyrfal were almost glad to see the Tremontines, for the mercenaries fleeing the Forchyll Valley had overrun many of them. Tennoc made sure to go into each one with Cror ar Crymavon and Teacher beside him to speak with the townsmen. Only once did a town resist him; he killed its men singlehandedly and sent the women and children into permanent indenture. He let enough of them escape to spread the word: this powerful new ruler showed mercy if you obeyed him but none otherwise. No resistance came after that.
"The ones responsible for your mother's murder are dead," said Teacher in a gentle voice. "You cannot hold all of Kellen responsible."
Tennoc scowled at his advisor. "Do you question my actions?"
"I wonder at your ferocity."
"I wonder at my forbearance."
"Your actions make a point," said Teacher, "but it is not the point I would have you make."
"That life under your rule will be better than it was before."
"It will be, but only if they obey me. That is my point."
Gwyrfal surrendered without a struggle as soon as Tennoc approached its walls. He rode through the gates, Hanni at his side, just as they had left the city almost two years before. "Mean you first to find our Gwynna, sire?" said Hanni as they rode through the city they'd once called home.
"I have to find Ulvyn's heir first," Tennoc replied.
"We will find the child with our Gwynna, no?"
Tennoc paused. "Perhaps." But he hoped not for her sake.