Read Brotherhood of the Wolf Online

Authors: David Farland

Brotherhood of the Wolf (10 page)

BOOK: Brotherhood of the Wolf
11.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

He studied the creature. “Thank you,” Gaborn said, taken aback. “But I'm not familiar with this breed. What do you do with them?”

Myrrima glanced at Iome, to see the Queen's reaction to her pup, and was astonished. There was such a glare of rage in her eyes that she could barely contain herself.

The Duke had not missed her look. “Hear me out,” he said to Gaborn. “I do not offer these pups lightly, Your Highness. You have taken endowments from men, and I know that as an Oath-Bound Lord you feel some reluctance in doing so. Indeed, though many have offered to serve as your Dedicates this past week, neither you nor the Queen has taken endowments. Yet we must prepare for whatever is to come.”

Myrrima was startled to hear Groverman repeat aloud the thought that had been preying upon her but an hour before.

“It's a grave decision,” Gaborn agreed. His eyes were haunted, full of pain. Myrrima had agreed to take endowments of glamour and wit from her sisters and mother. She understood the price of guilt that came from committing such an atrocity.

“I will not take another man's strength or stamina or wit lightly,” the King said. “But I have been considering whether to do it, for the welfare of the kingdom.”

“I understand,” Groverman said honestly. “But I ask milord, milady, to consider the propriety of taking endowments from a dog.”

Iome stiffened. “Duke Groverman,” she hissed, “this is an outrage!”

The Duke looked about nervously. Now Myrrima recognized the breed. Although she had never seen such pups, she had heard of them. These were pups raised for endowments—dogs strong of stamina, strong of nose.

“Is it any less of an outrage to take endowments from a man?” Groverman countered defensively. “It takes the endowments of scent from fifty men to equal one from a dog, they say. I believe that my pups' noses are a hundred times better than a common man's nose. So I ask you, which is better, to take endowments of scent from a hundred men, or from one dog?

“As for stamina, these pups are bred for toughness. For
a thousand generations, the Wolf Lords have fought them in the pits, so that only the strongest survive. Ounce for ounce, no man alive can provide you a better source of stamina.

“Metabolism and hearing too can be gained from such dogs, though I fear my pups are too small to give brawn. And whereas a man must give an endowment willingly and therefore can often fail to transfer an attribute completely, if you feed these pups and play with them for a day or two, they will develop such an undying devotion to you that their attributes can be transferred without loss. No other animal loves man as completely, will give themselves to you as wholly as these pups.”

Iome looked so furious, she could not speak. To take endowments from a dog was considered an abomination. Some high-minded kings would have thrown the Duke into the nearest moat for suggesting that the pups be so used for endowments.

Gaborn himself was an Oath-Bound Lord, and Iome was the daughter of an Oath-Bound Lord. An Oath-Bound Lord swore only to take endowments from those vassals who gave them freely. Such vassals would be men or women who had some great attribute, such as a quick wit or tremendous stamina, but often lacked the other necessary attributes to be good warriors. Knowing that they couldn't serve their lord as warriors, they might opt to give their wit or stamina into their lord's use, subjecting themselves to the indignity of the forcible for the greater good of those around them.

But not all of the lords in Rofehavan were Oath-Bound. Gaborn's own father had once considered himself a “pragmatist.” Pragmatists would often purchase endowments. Many a man was willing to sell the use of his eyes or ears to his lord in return for gold, for many a man loves gold more than he loves himself. But Iome had told Myrrima that even Gaborn's father had eventually given up his pragmatic ways, for King Orden could not always be sure of a man's motives when selling an attribute. Often a peasant
or even a minor lord who suffered from heavy debts would see no way out, and would therefore try to sell an endowment to the highest bidder.

Gaborn's father had been confronted by the realization that his own pragmatic ways were unscrupulous—for he could never be completely certain what drove a man to sell his endowments. Was it greed? Or was it hopelessness or plain stupidity that led a man to trade his greatest asset for a few pieces of gold?

Indeed, Myrrima knew that some rapacious lords hid their lust for other's attributes beneath a cloak of pragmatism. Such lords would gladly accept endowments in lieu of payment for taxes, and time and again, in such kingdoms, whenever a king raised the taxes, the peasants were forced to wonder what he really sought.

Worst of any lord, of course, were the Wolf Lords. Since a vassal had to be “willing” to give an endowment before an attribute could be transferred, the Wolf Lords constantly sought ways to make men more pliable. Blackmail and tortures both physical and mental were the Wolf Lords' coin. Raj Ahten had blackmailed King Sylvarresta into giving away his wit by threatening to kill his only daughter, Iome. After King Sylvarresta complied, Raj Ahten then had forced Iome to give her own endowment of glamour, rather than to watch her witless father be tortured, her friend Chemoise be murdered, her kingdom taken from her. Raj Ahten was thus the most despicable kind of man—a Wolf Lord.

The euphemism “Wolf Lord” had been coined to name those men of such relentless rapacity that they stole attributes even from dogs. In dark times past, men had done more than take endowments of scent, stamina, or metabolism from dogs; some had taken even endowments of wit. It was said that doing so increased a man's cunning in battle, his thirst for blood.

The very notion of taking endowments from dogs had therefore become anathema in Rofehavan. Though Raj Ahten, Gaborn's great enemy, had never stooped to take an endowment from a dog, he was called a “Wolf Lord” still.

Now, Groverman dared affront Iome by begging her to become a Wolf Lord.

“So long as a man does not take a dog's endowment of wit, it is not a bad practice,” Groverman said as if encouraged by the fact that no one argued with him. “A dog that has no sense of smell makes a fine pet. So long as one has a good dog handler to care for the animal, it can be well maintained. Even loved. It will give you its sense of smell, even as your children wrestle with it on the floor.

“Indeed, I have calculated the number of farmers and tanners and craftsmen and builders and clothiers that it takes to sustain a Dedicate. I figure that it takes the combined labor of twenty-four peasants to care for a single human Dedicate, and another eight for a Dedicate horse. But it only takes a single man to care for each seven Dedicate dogs. It makes for a frugal trade.

“For a king at war, fine dogs are as necessary as arms or armor. Raj Ahten has war dogs in his arsenals—mastiffs with endowments. If you will not let these pups serve as Dedicates to your warriors, consider at least that they could give endowments to your own war dogs.”

“This is an outrage!” Iome said. “An outrage and an insult!” She looked at Gaborn pleadingly.

“It is meant as neither,” Groverman said. “I mention the possibility only to be practical. While you were dining, I stood for half an hour outside your door, and you never knew it! Had I been an assassin, I might well have set an ambush for you. But if you had an endowment of scent from a single dog, you'd have no need to see me or hear me to know that I hid outside your door.”

“I will not be called a ‘Wolf Lord,'” Iome objected. She set her pup on the floor. It wandered over to Myrrima, sniffed her leg.

She scratched its ear.

Gaborn seemed not to be perturbed by the proposal. Myrrima wondered if it was because of his father's influence. His father had always been recognized as a prudent man.
Could a man of principle be both an Oath-Bound Lord
and
a Wolf Lord, she asked herself.

“Your Highness,” Duke Groverman urged Gaborn, “I must beg you to consider this. It is only a matter of time before Raj Ahten sends his assassins. Neither you nor your wife is prepared to meet an Invincible, and it is already noised about that Your Highness has sworn to be an Oath-Bound Lord. I don't know how you plan to stand against Raj Ahten. Indeed, the lords of Heredon worry about little else. But it may be that you will stand in sore need of Dedicates, if you refuse to pay men for their endowments.”

Gaborn thoughtfully stroked the fat ball of fur under its nose. The pup growled and bit hard on Gaborn's thumb.

“Take your mongrels and get out of here,” Iome told Groverman. “I want no part of it.”

Gaborn smiled fiercely, looking from Iome to the Duke, then merely shook his head. “Personally, I have no need of endowments from dogs,” Gaborn said. Turning to Iome, he said, “And if you will not be a Wolf Lord, then so be it. We can still train the pup to bark at strangers, and keep him in your room. The pup will be your guard, and perhaps in its own way, it can save your life.”

“I'll not have it in my sight,” Iome said. Myrrima picked up the Queen's pup protectively. It nuzzled its head between her breasts, then just stared in her eyes.

“So our choice is made,” Gaborn said to Iome. “But as for the troops, Groverman is right. I'll need scouts and guardsmen with strong noses to sniff out ambushes. I'll let my men choose whether it be a compliment or curse to be called a Wolf Lord.”

Gaborn nodded acceptance of the gift to Groverman. “My thanks to you, Your Lordship.”

He turned his attention to the boy who'd brought in the pups, and Myrrima realized that the gift did not consist merely of dogs, but of the boy. He was a dark-haired lad, rangy. Like a wolf himself.

“Tell me, what is your name?” Gaborn asked.

“Kaylin,” the boy answered, dropping to one knee.

“These are fine dogs. You are their keeper, I take it?”

“I been helping.” The boy's language was uncouth, but his sharp eyes marked his intelligence.

“You like these puppies?” Gaborn asked. The boy sniffed and blinked back a tear. He nodded.

“Why are you so sad?”

“I been watchin' 'em since they was born. I don't want nothin' to happen to 'em, Yer Highness.”

Gaborn met Groverman's eyes. The Duke smiled and nodded toward the boy.

“Then, Kaylin,” Gaborn asked, “would you be willing to stay in the castle, and help care for them for me?”

The boy's mouth dropped in astonishment. As Myrrima had guessed, Groverman had not forewarned the child of the possibility.

Gaborn merely smiled pleasantly at the Duke. “How many of these pups can you provide me with?”

The Duke smiled. “I've been letting them breed at will now for four years. I smelled trouble brewing. Would a thousand suit Your Highness?”

Gaborn grinned. It was a princely wedding gift, in spite of the fact that Iome looked as if she were about to fly into a rage and tear out the Duke's hair.

“You think we could have that many by spring?” Gaborn asked. “It seems a large number.”

“Far sooner than that,” Groverman said. “Seven hundred pups are waiting outside—in wagons. The others will be ready within a few weeks.”

Autumn was not normally the best time of year to get pups, Myrrima knew. More births occurred in early spring and summer. These seven hundred had to have been born within the last sixteen weeks or so.

“My thanks,” Gaborn said. He put his pup on the floor and returned to the breakfast table as Groverman left with Kaylin in tow.

The King's pup came and worried at Myrrima's shoe for a moment, trying to drag her foot from her leg, until she gave it a sausage from her plate.

Iome seemed so upset by the presence of the pups that Myrrima offered to put them out with the others. When Iome agreed, Myrrima grabbed the pups and a plate of sausages. She went outside the keep, and found Kaylin on the green, looking somewhat forlornly at a wagon of pups.

Gaborn's new counselor, Jureem, who had served Raj Ahten until only recently, was standing next to the boy with his back turned to Myrrima, giving instructions to Kaylin. To be heard over the yapping of the creatures, Jureem spoke loudly.

“You will of course be tireless in your service,” Jureem said. “The dogs will depend on you for food and water and shelter and bathing. You must keep them strong.”

The boy Kaylin nodded vigorously. Myrrima stopped behind Jureem. She had seen Jureem instructing the household staff over the past few days, badgering a chambermaid here, a horse groom there. Now, she was curious to hear what this former slave from a far country had to say.

“A good servant gives his all to his lord,” Jureem intoned with mock exaggeration in a thick Taifan accent. “He never lets himself tire, never shirks his duty. He must never become weary of performing his tasks well. He serves his lord in every thought and every deed, administering to his lord's needs before they are ever voiced. He gives up his own life—his dreams and pleasures—to serve his lord. Can you do that?”

“But,” the boy said, “I just want to take care of the pups.”

“When you serve them, you
are
serving your lord. That is the task he has chosen for you. But if he should choose a different task for you, then you must be prepared to fulfill his every command. Do you understand?”

“You mean he might take me away from the pups?” the boy whined.

“Someday, yes. If you do this job well, he will expand your duties. In addition to the kennels, he might place you in charge of his stables or ask you to train dogs for war. You might even be called upon to become a guard and bear
arms—for even the Dedicate dogs of the kennels might be a target for Raj Ahten's assassins.

“Watch the King. He works for his people tirelessly. Learn from his devotion. We all live in service to one another. A man is nothing without his lord. A lord is nothing without his servants.” Jureem walked away, hurrying to fulfill some other obligation.

BOOK: Brotherhood of the Wolf
11.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

My Friend the Enemy by Dan Smith
The Beatles Boxed Set by Joe Bensam
In the Arms of a Stranger by Kimberley Reeves
Rapture by Kameron Hurley
Under the Gun (CEP Book 3) by Harper Bentley
Spawn by Shaun Hutson
Shifting Targets by Austina Love
Scandal (Tainted #1) by Aimee Duffy