“You’ll pay for this,” he moaned from where he lay on the ground. “I’ll see you dragged back to Qarath in chains.”
Rome walked past the fallen man without giving him another look, but when he heard the gasp of pain he knew that Quyloc hadn’t been so kind. A sharp kick, probably. Ilus had once dressed down Quyloc in front of all the men and then had him lashed, all because Quyloc did not stand when he went by. Quyloc didn’t easily forget a slight.
Rome held the axe loosely in one hand as he made his way through the camp. The men were gathering as news of his presence spread. They crowded around his path, many fresh off the battle field, armored and carrying weapons. Some were wounded, with bloodstained bandages wrapped around heads and limbs, hobbling out of the medical tents to see what the noise was about. There were scattered cheers as he made his way through them, Quyloc and Tairus close behind, and a number fell in behind him.
When it became clear that he was headed for the walls of Thrikyl the cheers began to die off and bewilderment and concern began to show. Did he mean them to mount a new attack on the impregnable city? Especially now, when they were already bloodied from the day and the sun was slipping close to the horizon? Many of them drew back, whispering among themselves. The Black Wolf wore no armor, his clothes were rags and he carried a strange-looking axe. Had he gone mad?
At the edge of bowshot Rome turned to Quyloc. “Wait here.”
“What are you doing?” Quyloc hissed, trying to keep his voice low enough that the soldiers couldn’t hear. “Are you crazy?”
“Probably,” Rome admitted. “If I am, there’s no sense in you or anyone else getting killed too.”
“I have to agree with Quyloc,” Tairus put in. “I don’t see how getting yourself killed is going to do anyone any good.” He looked back at the massed soldiers, every eye watching intently. “They respect you. Hell, they love you. Talk to them. Maybe they will follow you.”
“And if they do, what then?” Rome asked. “We march on Qarath and besiege it, kill our own people in a bloody civil war?” He shook his head. “No. I have to do this. If it doesn’t work, Rix will get what he wants and no one else dies. If it doesn’t…” What made him think this would work? What did the days in the Gur al Krin do to his brain? he wondered.
Except that the axe seemed to be humming slightly in his hands and he had a feeling he knew what it was capable of.
Alone he started across the empty battlefield, looking at the high stone walls before him. They were massive, a good hundred spans tall. It was said that the walls of Thrikyl had been built by the gods and while that might not have been true, what was true was there were no visible seams in the stone. It might have been raised whole from the very bedrock. Those walls had never fallen.
Rome thought he heard a voice urging him on, perhaps one of the men waiting behind him. Perhaps only his own imagination. He shifted the axe to hold it in both hands. Too light for a proper weapon, but beautifully balanced.
He was halfway to the walls when he heard the hurrying footsteps behind him and knew it was Quyloc. Always Quyloc backed him up, ever since they were boys. Now Rome felt his smile break out. This was the way it should be. With Quyloc behind him there was nothing he couldn’t do. His brawn and Quyloc’s brains. “Just like when we took down Dirty Henry,” he said, but didn’t think Quyloc heard. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that all this ended right here. Now.
Wreckers Gate, book 1 of The Devastation Wars