Free Corvus by Paul Kearney

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Authors: Paul Kearney
not?” Rictus replied. He stood up, the wine loosening his brain.
Looking around the homely room, he realised that this place had always been a
refuge for him, and he hoped it always would be. But Corvus had been right -
and Fornyx too.
    He would live and
die with a scarlet cloak on his back.

    Hal Goshen. In old Machtic the name
denoted a gateway, and in the centuries since men had settled there, that was
what it had been, commanding a gap between stone and water.
    The Gosthere
Range, a jagged, rocky, bare-headed line of high hills or low mountains, threw
out a long spin here, some two hundred pasangs from north-east to south-west.
At the end of it, on a wide flattened knob of high ground, the city had been
built. It overlooked the ancient highway that connected the eastern portion of
the Harukush with the western, and was a scant fifteen pasangs from the sea.
    The lowland ground
between coast and mountain hail been fought over for generations, and was the
root of Hal Goshen’s prosperity. It had deep, black soil which might yield two
good crops a year, if the weather were kind, and down on the shore to the south
were scores of fishing villages and small towns whose menfolk counted
themselves citizens of the city on the hill, and voted in its assemblies. The
port of Goshen itself was the largest of these, linked to the hilltop city by a
fine road. It had one of the best natural harbours on the southern seaboard,
and a prosperous fishing fleet was based there.
    An army travelling
west across the Harukush would find the land narrowing between the mountains
and the sea, until the grey tufa walls of Hal Goshen were before it, like the
cork in a bottle. To drink the wine of the west, that cork would have to be
    A company of men
stood on the high ridge northeast of the city and halted there to take in the
wide sweep of the world before them. It was bitterly cold, and snow was blowing
across the ridge in clouds as hard and heavy as sand, pluming off the peaks of
the mountains behind them in long banners across a pale sky, blue as a robin’s
    Corvus seemed to
feel the cold more than most. He was buried in a thick cloak, highlander’s
felt, and held the hood close about his mouth.
    “There she lies,
the door to the west. I hope we shall not have to knock too hard,” he said.
    Rictus scanned the
open country to the south of the city, the scattered farms, so much closer
together than in the highlands. A taenon of earth here would be a mere tithe of
the expanse a man would need to support a family in the high country. Even with
autumn well into its stride, the place had a prosperous, comfortable look,
lined with vines and well-spaced olive trees, the woods cut back, the wetlands
drained, neat tufa walls everywhere; a thousand years of labour or more. A
tamed landscape, this; a fat pigeon waiting for a hawk.
    “It does not seem
to me that the men of Hal Goshen are much panicked by your army,” Fornyx said.
Snow had greyed his beard and eyebrows. He looked pinched, almost as grizzled
as Rictus.
    “Our camp is eight
pasangs back to the east,” Corvus said, his gaze fixed hungrily on the city. “But
I hey know we’re here. They closed their gates eight days ago, and brought what
provisions they could within the walls. The road to the port has been cut by my
    “I see no burnt
farms or uprooted vines,” Rictus said.
    “That is not the
way I make war,” Corvus told him. “I mean to possess this city, and the lands
around it. I do not intend to capture a wasteland.”
    “Then how do you
feed your men?” Fornyx asked, genuine surprise in his voice.
    “Trains of supply
wagons are sent to me from my eastern possessions,” Corvus said. “That is why I
am able to keep campaigning with winter coming on. We do a certain amount of
foraging when we are on the march, but in general I find that it is best not to
despoil a country whose inhabitants you wish to conciliate.”
    “It could

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