Chapter 21
The Strength of Loyalty

Emryscaster, The Grey Plains, Pendragon

It would seem the report of Uwncaster's fate had not reached Emryscaster yet, as they were completely unprepared for Cain's men when they emerged from the forest. Most of the men of the garrison were young and untested. They were not prepared to face the savage Goblin war-bands. They lost heart and broke ranks, making for easy prey. The dead were still being tallied, but it would seem that their losses were not so severe as the sack of Uwncaster.
His carriage could not be taken through the untamed wilds of the forest, so Prince Cain was forced to mount a horse for three miserable weeks. He was severely saddle-sore and no unction concocted by his personal physician gave him much relief. The wine helped him take his mind off it, though. He had his carriage taken apart and borne on the backs of the mules and oxen carrying the baggage. Once they were out of the forest, the wainwrights reconstructed it and so he at least did not have to be on a horse anymore, though the pain of his sores made sitting in any fashion uncomfortable.
He heard Bruno's voice outside the carriage say, "Your Highness, Sir Gareth wishes to treat with you."
Cain was quite certain after Uwncaster that none were to be left alive. Why would any survive to treat with him?
"I thought my orders were clear," he said. "Kill him."
"Your Highness, I think you will want to see this first."
What could possibly make not only Bruno but all the other men hesitate in executing his order? Tempted as he was to simply insist on killing the Marshal of the East Quarter, his curiosity was piqued and so he muttered, "Very well," and dismounted the carriage. The act of moving about so delivered fresh pain from his sores. He took his jug of wine with him and swigged from it for whatever relief it might give.
Sir Gareth approached with some twenty men at his back. At least Cain's own men had the sense to have spears and arrows leveled against them should this be a ruse. Bruno also set two rows of a dozen spearmen between the Prince and Sir Gareth's men.
Sir Gareth raised his hook hand and said in a loud voice, "Prince Cain! I have ransomed my life with this man's blood! Will you honor the payment?"
Hanging off his hook was a head, which he then rolled toward the Prince. Bruno stepped forward to inspect it.
"It is Lord Cadoc, Your Highness," he said.
"And why would you slay the commander of the garrison here, Sir Gareth?" Cain asked.
"The battle was lost," Sir Gareth replied. "I will not die here."
"That is for me to decide."
"You know I cannot go back to the King after this. You have come this far. You mean to march on the Sanctuary, do you not?"
"And why would that concern you?"
"There is a man I must kill, to avenge my honor and this right hand," he said, holding up his hook.
Cain knew there was some bitterness between Sir Gareth and Old Thames, his brother's pet knight. Was it truly so great that he would cast all loyalty and rank aside?
"What do you propose?" the Prince asked.
Sir Gareth knelt and held up his sword. The men with him did likewise.
"My sword and my service are yours, Prince Cain, as are these men with me who bear the brand of traitor, only give me the chance that my sword will taste the blood of Sir Thames."
Bruno looked to Cain and asked, "Your Highness?"
This was certainly amusing. While it would have been easier to simply kill them all, it would be more interesting to see the scenario play out.
"Very well," the Prince said. "Your swords and your service I accept, but whether you can avenge yourself or not will depend entirely on whether you can reach your foe first."
"No man will take what is mine," Sir Gareth vowed.
"Then fall in among the sellswords," Cain said, "for that is all you are until you have proven yourself. Serve me well and I may grant you and yours knighthood under my reign."
"As you say, Your Majesty," Sir Gareth replied.
The Prince liked the sound of that. Not even Bruno or Forktongue yet treated him as king. Perhaps those two words even more than Lord Cadoc's head made him glad for his decision to spare the hook-handed knight.