I knew that their camp was not far from the eastern bank of the River Sid, a short way inland. The Duros were not fond of settling in permanent structures. Their shelters were easily moved from one favoured spot in their region to another, following the herds of wild horses and aurochs on the moors or making the most of the shoals of fish coming close to shore during warmer seasons. Some say that the Duros learnt to ride before they could walk, such are their skills with the ponies.
Before we set off for their camp, some of Blake’s men took care of the dead or dying while others fetched my horse. Cador was given a Duro stallion, and together we rode behind Nyle the short distance along the valley to their summer camp.
The Chieftain’s tent was easily spotted. It was far larger than the rest, with benches and tables set out for his elders and senior warriors. Stale ale and hemp smoke aromas mingled with the acrid smell of sick. Obviously the Duros were as fond of feasting as my brother, and were just as useless at holding their drink.
Blake sat down at the top table, patted the bench next to him and winked at me. Cador gave me a little shove, making it clear that I had no other choice. On Blake’s other side, sat a sickly-looking woman of a few summers more than me. Her hair was thin and lank, her eyes puffy and red. There was no way she was old enough to be the mother of Morven and his elder siblings, and yet she sat in pride of place in the Ruvane chair. If I had to guess, I’d say that she was their Chief’s second wife, and was not faring well in the position.
Nyle wandered about the tables and benches, greeting his friends and fellow warriors, sharing ale and succulent meats from platters set before them. Their women folk brought in the dishes, staying just long enough to ensure that their kin had enough to eat, before retiring from the tent. Did this tribe have no slaves, or were they not trusted with the Chief’s and elders’ food? It made me wonder whether these men considered all women as slaves or chattels, to be bought and traded like tin.
One by one, the Duro elders and horse lords entered and took their places. Cador sat next to me, preventing my escape. He poured himself a cup of ale and pushed it along for me to help myself. I was too intimidated to reach out for the jug. If their wives held such lowly places, what would they do to me for such insolence?
I waited for some sign that their customs allowed me to share in their meal. Old Blake saw my cast down face and hands folded in my lap and elbowed me in the ribs. “Eat, girl. You’re all skin and bone!”
That was when Morven and his sister walked up to the doorway of the tent. They hovered for a moment, taking in the scene before them. Teague looked directly at me, her mouth falling open in disbelief.