Crown Infernal


In which Kai gives the dwarves something to think about,
but finds their thought processes agonizingly slow

Kai’s challenge suddenly seemed very rash. Was it something to do with the after-effects of Vojur's previous assault on his head?

Vojur raised the sword and looked to the Council. Lord Jovan nodded. Vojur brought the sword down sharply. It whistled cleanly through Kai's neck and raised sparks from the flagstone below - but his head did not fall. There were gasps all round. Kai breathed a great sigh of relief. The incredulous dwarves sought a rational explanation. There was the suggestion that the sword was not sharp. Kai recommended that they test it on the chain which had held him, and this was done. It severed the heavy links as though they had been made of parchment.

"If you still do not believe I am innocent of your charges, then strike again," Kai commanded, and bowed his neck again.

Vojur, baffled, took up his stance. Again Kai felt the eerie coldness skim through his neck. The dwarf, angry now, raised the sword yet again.

"Hold!" Kai cried, "You may not strike a third time or you will sustain the damage yourself!"

"Oh! So that is the enchantment - the third strike is the vital one! Then take that, trickster!"

Vojur brought the sword down with all his might. Kai raised his arm to deflect the blow. The blade scythed through his forearm. With a clatter, it fell to the floor - still in the grip of Vojur's hand . . .

Pandemonium broke loose as dwarves ran to the aid of their stricken brother, whose mutilated arm was spurting blood. Other dwarves were staring in frozen horror.

There were cries of "Send for Master Jivot!" and even "Witchcraft!"

In the confusion, Kai acted fast. He put his foot on Kennoseigi's blade lest none misconstrue his actions, then carefully uncurled the dwarf's fingers from around the hilt. Grabbing one of the vials, he uncorked it with his teeth. He poured some of the treacly red fluid over the severed end of the arm, and elbowed his way through the crowd around the fallen Vojur, who was lying on the flagstones, twitching slightly.

The injured dwarf was almost unconscious. Kai poured the remainder of the potion over the raw flesh and bone and replaced the hand, holding the two ends together. By now, the dwarves were overcoming their panic and beginning to take stock of the happenings.

"Fetch me the yellow potion," Kai ordered briskly.

The dwarves looked uncertainly at each other and at Kai.

"Quickly, or he’ll die!" he snapped.

Someone pulled himself together and passed the vial to Kai.

"Make him drink it," Kai instructed him. "I must support his arm until it begins to knit together, then it can be splinted."

The dwarf tilted Vojur's head back and tipped the contents of the vial into his mouth. It took several minutes before it began to take effect, then Vojur groaned and tried to move.

"Lie still," Kai commanded.

His patient seemed only too happy to do as he was bid. He lay with his eyes closed and a pained expression on his face.

"Make way," cried a new voice from beyond the crowd of onlookers.

They parted to allow a wizened little dwarf to pass through.

"What seems to be the trouble?" asked the newcomer. Kai took him to be a physician, presumably the summoned Master Jivot.

"Severed arm," Kai told him tersely. "I've treated it with a powerful unguent which I hope may effect a repair, and also a restorative elixir by mouth." He examined the afflicted limb, and added, "I think you'll be able to splint it in another few minutes. It'll need support for some weeks, I'm afraid."

"You seem to have done a good job there," said Master Jivot. "I don't know what your elixir was, but it seems to be a drop of good stuff," he commented with a twinkle.

Kai looked at Vojur's face. His eyes remained closed, but the pained expression had been replaced with a broad grin. Kai recalled his own experience with the elixir, and could not prevent a grin spreading across his own features.

"Oh it is!" he agreed.

Some time later, when Vojur's arm had been splinted and he had been carried out, decorum returned to the Council Chamber, and Lord Jovan resumed the hearing.

"My fellow Councillors and I have decided that we need more time to consider the events of this evening, and as it is getting rather late, I propose an adjournment until tomorrow morning. Please escort the prisoner back to his accommodation. This hearing now stands adjourned."


Leon was dozing when Kai returned to their cell, but the grating of the key in the lock awakened him readily enough. He yawned and raised himself up on to one elbow as Kai was chained to the wall once more. They waited until Gazda and the two guards had departed, leaving them in silence and darkness.

"Well," Leon began, "how'd it go?"

"The good news is, I'm still alive, despite their best efforts to turn me into a corpse . . . "

"What?!" came a squawk from the blackness.

An impish idea came into Kai's mind. In the turmoil that had surrounded Vojur's unfortunate "accident", Kai had managed to recover possession of the grey stone. His pulled it from its hiding place but kept it enclosed in his hand.

"Oh yes, they decapitated me— Twice," he said, holding the stone under his chin and opening his hand.

An eerie yellow light illuminated his features. He gave an evil laugh. Leon screamed.

"D-don't come near me," begged the barbarian, shuffling away.

The laughter gave way to a warm and reassuringly human chortle.

"Dolt," Kai chuckled. "I said I was still alive, didn't I?"

"Ye-es. You - just took me by surprise - a bit," said Leon, discomfited. "What is that, anyway?"

"It's a glow-stone. I've had it since I was a child. My mother gave it to me when I was troubled by a series of nightmares. She said its light would keep them at bay."

"More likely to cause them, I'd've thought," Leon said with feeling. "Did it work?"

"Up to a point. It didn't stop them becoming reality, though . . . "

"What happened?" Leon asked with interest.

"It's a long time ago. I don't talk about it," Kai replied with finality. "If you watch, the glow-stone's light changes gradually."

It had indeed developed a warmer, golden glow as they were speaking. Its radiance had also grown noticeably stronger. In the silence that had ensued, they heard footsteps approaching. Kai hastily sat on the stone, plunging them into near darkness again, a darkness that was relieved slightly by a light at the grill.

"What's going on?" demanded Master Gazda. "I 'eard someone screamin'. Fit to wake the dead, it was."

Kai buried his head in the mattress to smother his laughter.

Leon yawned noisily.

"I think it must've been me," he said. "I was having a nightmare. Sorry if I disturbed you, Master Gazda," he finished in dulcet tones.

Kai choked.

"That's all right, Master Leon," the jailor reassured him. "'E's not botherin' you is 'e? I'll see if I can get 'im moved if 'e is."

"No, no, he's no trouble really."

"If you say so, Master Leon. I'll bid you 'goodnight', then."

"Creep! 'Sorry if I disturbed you, Master Gazda,' " Kai said mockingly as the jailor's footsteps faded away, " 'That's all right, Master Leon', 'if you say so, Master Leon' . . . "

"Don't knock it. If that's what it takes to turn the jailor up sweet, then that's what you gotta do - and it cost me."

"Something tells me I'm not the only one who's seen the inside of a cell before . . . ?" Kai commented, retrieving the glow-stone.

"Maybe I have, maybe I haven't. Just 'cause I'm a barbarian, doesn't mean I'm stupid, you know."

He sounded offended. Kai apologized, and it was Leon's turn to laugh. "I'm not that thin-skinned, either," he grinned, "and you still haven't told me what happened."

Kai gave him a brief résumé of the events in the Council Chamber, punctuated by a number of exclamations and comments.

"Haven't exactly led a sheltered life, have you?" said Leon, when he had finished. "Proper little hero, and no mistake."

"Not really. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time - with the right sort of abilities, I admit. I've also been in the wrong place at the wrong time, like in Ashq'arat."

"Or here?"

"Well, we're still in the shit, but we're not worm fodder, yet. At least my memory seems to be coming back. I wish I could remember Valarien's friend though."

"His name already came back - while you were away. Junak, I think you said?"

"Hm, sounds right. Well, perhaps we'll find out tomorrow."


They knew that morning had arrived when Gazda brought them food. They had no means of telling the time accurately. After what passed for breakfast which, as Leon had already observed, was quite good considering, the jailor returned with the two guards. Kai got to his feet. Master Gazda glared at him with contempt, then turned to his companion.

"I'm sorry, Master Leon, but it's you we've come for," he said.

The two prisoners exchanged glances. Leon shrugged and stood up, holding his hands behind him, for the guards had brought manacles again. Kai, looking grim, wished him luck.

"Don't worry," Leon reassured him, allowing a lazy smile to drift across his face, "I've been in tighter spots than this."

Yes, thought Kai regarding that smile, and I bet most of them came in skirts with a bunch of angry brothers close behind . . .

It occurred to him that although Leon was several years younger than himself, his career had probably been every bit as chequered as his own. He felt a certain kinship with the irrepressible fellow. True, he could be maddening at times, but it was impossible to give up hope in his company. Alone, Kai thought, he would probably have plunged into the same morass of despair and self-pity he'd been wallowing in at the Jolly Raven. Alone . . .

Come to think of it, he'd been alone ever since he'd crept out of Castle Malleckay that autumn night nearly eleven years ago. Of course he'd made a few friends as he'd drifted through life - birds of passage mostly, like himself - but he had no close ties. No close ties this side of the Halcyon Ocean anyway.

He'd not thought of those for many a long year until Valarien had shown up. His arrival at the Jolly Raven had been like the little trickle of pebbles that sets off a landslide. Kai found his mind returning more and more often to his homeland. He felt as if it were drawing him inexorably back, calling to him in its distress—

He was not left long to ponder alone. Leon was looking unusually thoughtful when he returned. Once their guardians had departed, Kai brought out the glow-stone.

"Don't tell me," he said, "they've adjourned it again for further discussion."

Leon pulled a sour face.

"Worse. It's adjourned indefinitely."

"What?! They can't!"

"Well they have."


"Ahh. More trouble from your 'friends'. Bad timing there, unfortunately. We seemed to be getting on pretty well I thought. You really gave them something to think about last night. Mostly they seemed to want some kind of verification of your story. Trouble is, someone buggered it up by putting us in the same cell. Naturally, we tell the same story . . . I think it'd be easier to move the mountain than to get through a dwarf's thick skull! Especially when he doesn't want to believe.

"Anyway, before they could come to any sort of conclusion, a messenger arrived calling the younger ones to arms. Apparently, the jackals aren't satisfied with merely holding the pass. They've started sending out raiding parties into the valley, and a group of dwarves on a trading mission got caught out by one. There was one survivor, and we can guess what sort of tale he had to tell, can't we . . . ?

"As a result, the Ratniki - or Radniki, is it? - are launching a major attack force to drive the jackals out the valley and preferably back through the pass. Until that's sorted out, there's no further business . . . "

"But that could take days - weeks even!" Kai exclaimed, aghast. Frustration was writ large across his face. He thumped the side of his fist against the wall.

"Ye gods! Are we to sit here twiddling our thumbs while Laurenna burns?!"

end of chapter

Index Page Chapter 13