I’d seen enough of my brother to last me for a lifetime. While he badgered my mother for more willow bark and poppy resin, I wandered into the compound to clean myself up. The fright and exhaustion had dulled a little of my pain, but I needed to drink and lay down.
Before I was through the gates, I heard Cador barking at my mother. “Just put a splint on it or something. You have to fix this, it’s my sword arm. How do you expect me to fight?”
I glanced over my shoulder to see him almost collapse from the pain. The warrior guard from Nyle’s tent came to his aid, lifting his left arm around his neck and supporting his weight.
My mother pleaded with him to be reasonable, but Cador wouldn’t listen. Smirking and shaking my head, I went in search of a little goat’s milk to warm my throat. I washed, packed myself with clean, rolled rags, chewed on some willow bark, and changed my tunic. Clutching my furs, ready to pull over me on the bunk, my mother let herself into my round house.
She wrung her feeble hands in front of her chest and begged. “You have to come and talk to him, Meliora. He won’t listen to me.”
I sighed, doubting that she’d believe me if I told her what her son had done to me during the course of one full day. I dragged myself to my feet and followed her back outside. “It’s pointless me talking with him, mother. He hates me with a passion. You’ll have to treat him alone.”
“I don’t think I have the strength.” She tucked her chin to her chest and focused on the grass.
It was not like her to be coy. I frowned at her alteration in attitude. It was probably true that she lacked the physical strength to saw through flesh and bone. Her weakness of limbs and steady gait had been failing her for some time. It was the most likely reason why she insisted on working me so hard, learning all the herbs and recipes for healing. “Then get one of the men to do it. He’ll never forgive me if I am the one to take his sword arm from him.” Why wouldn’t she look me in the eye?
“He won’t agree to that. If his men see him at his weakest, he’ll lose their respect.”
Was she really asking me to sever my brother’s arm at the shoulder? I must admit, the thought of it tickled me. Apart from the sheer bliss of inflicting such pain on him, it was a fairly safe bet that he’d never fight in a battle or raid ever again, not even if he learnt to use his left hand. Without an honourable death, he would not be permitted to sit by our ancestors with the gods in the Summerlands.
“Fine.” I heaved an exasperated sigh, but I was secretly looking forward to the grisly task ahead. As I reached my mother’s hut, she stopped me at the door.
My mother looked around her, as though she was still thinking things through. Whispering behind her hand, she said; “On second thoughts, wait here a moment until I can get him to agree.”
What was she doing? First she wanted me to talk to him, then she didn’t. I folded my arms in frustration, but let her go in alone. I couldn’t see through the door skins and barely heard their conversation, but my mother convinced him to lay flat on the bunk.
The next I heard, was Cador yelling at his men to leave. They did, tumbling through the opening as though Cernonnus was lurking ready to drag them into the Underworld.
“Meliora!” My mother called. “You can come in now.”
I pushed through and saw what she’d done. Cador was strapped to the bunk, his smashed arm laid out over a wooden bench.
He took one look at me and wailed. “Oh no! Not her. No way.”
My mother cradled her forehead in her palm. “It’s either that or one of your warriors cuts it off.”
He looked for all the world like an angry little boy. Despite being older than me by six summers, he was surlier and more petulant than any child.
I waited for him to make up his mind. After a few moments of listening to him huff and puff without any logical solution, I turned to leave. “Suits me just fine. Let him rot, Mother. Let it blacken his blood until it’s the same colour as his heart. He’ll end his days gibbering nonsense with a fever and an addled brain. Hardly a fitting way for a Chieftain to die, but what do I care?”
I knew that would get to him. He might be able to fool others that he was a brave warrior, but they never saw him whining about his constant gut aches. He spent more time taking my mother’s potions and cures than the rest of the tribe combined.
“Make it clean and quick.” Cador said. He stared up at the roof expecting his pain to be over in an instant.
Mother gave him a length of wood to bite down on, while I readied myself with our sharpest knife. She tightened the strapping around his upper arm and pointed to where she thought I should begin cutting.
My primary incision was swift, slicing through muscle and sinew with relative ease. Cador shook, his teeth clamping down on the twig in his mouth. Blood spurted everywhere, especially when I got close to the bone.
“Hurry, Meliora.” My mother urged. “We can’t let him bleed out.”
I tarried over her words, contemplating life without his violent outbursts and cruelty. My mother disrupted my thoughts with a little shove to my back. Dropping the knife, I grabbed the saw and eased it into the deep cut.
That was when Cador howled. With every forward thrust of the jagged blade, he screamed a bit louder than before. I held my tongue, fighting the urge to crow at his misfortune. I was concentrating so hard, I hardly noticed my own discomfort, but the memories of Morven’s body wouldn’t leave me.
When at last I’d scraped the saw through his bone, and his limb fell to the floor, Cador passed out. It was hardly surprising, given the excruciating pain he must have endured. I thought I’d feel better, having inflicted more agony on him than he could take, but I just felt empty instead.
“He’s unconscious.” I said, trying to hide my disappointment. I turned around to face my mother. She was holding a glowing hot blade from the fire.
“This’ll wake the little kyjyan up. Would you like to seal the wound shut?” She said, offering the knife to me. I looked at her, my mouth falling open in shock. She had never sworn in her life, let alone say a bad word about her son. “What?” She almost smiled. “The men told me what he did to you. I never could abide men who hit women, not least the daughter of Chieftains.”
I grabbed the hot knife from her hand. Perhaps this would satisfy my thirst for revenge after all.
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Three headstrong youngsters. Two worried elders. One foolish quest.
It’s 700BC and tribal Chieftain, Aebba, has made up his mind. His sons must hunt a deadly auroch bull to prove themselves worthy warriors. Will the boys work together to track and slay the head of the herd, or will petty jealousies and rivalry be their undoing?
Their aunt, Meliora, can see the folly in this challenge. She knows all too well the perils they face and the consequences of failure, but can she stop them falling foul of the giant beast?
Begin your exploration of Tribes of Britain Series and immerse yourself in Late Bronze Age action and adventure.
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