The horse surged forward, hooves pounding against the cold turf and half-melted snow. All Cameron could hear was his heartbeat pounding in his ears. All he could see was the firbolg, its eyes widening as he closed on it.
He threw himself from the saddle, using the horse’s momentum to fuel his leap, Caliburn’s tip aimed at the firbolg’s chest.
The shining blade bit deep into the creature’s breast and it roared again as it ripped arrows from its head and then grabbed for Cameron, still clutching the hilt of the sword he’d been entrusted with.
“Cameron, let go!” Thordin shouted from somewhere behind him. He didn’t listen.
Twisting to avoid the firbolg’s grasping hand, he grabbed its neck with one hand and with every ounce of his weight and leverage he could bring to bear, he shoved the blade in deeper into its breast.
Then the firbolg’s hand closed around him.
Fuck me. Cameron let go of its shoulder and got his other hand wrapped around Caliburn’s hilt, gripping it as hard as he could. If the firbolg was going toss him, he was going to rip that sword right out with him.
Nothing is going to come without a price, you big bastard.
It yanked him sideways and sidearmed him to the left. Cameron felt Caliburn tear free of flesh, heard the firbolg’s cry of pain and rage.
Then he hit the ground and all the air rushed out of his lungs. The blade bounced free of his hand as his head banged against a hidden rock. Stars danced briefly in front of his eyes and he struggled to remember how to breathe even as he fought to maintain consciousness.
Thordin was shouting something at him, but he couldn’t make out the words over the ringing in his ears, the roar somewhere behind his eyes.
Hang on. You’ve got to hang on. He wasn’t sure where the little voice whispering above all of it came from, but he was willing to lay decent odds on it being Neve.
His vision began to clear just in time to see the firbolg over him, lifting one foot as if to squash him like a bug.
Cameron lay there in the mud and snow, momentarily frozen, eyes widening as that big foot started to come down. Time slowed, stilled.
This is it.
Flames suddenly wreathed the firbolg and it roared again, spinning back toward the gate. Cameron sucked in a ragged breath and rolled to his knees, scrambling through the snow to find his fallen sword.
Someone was shouting at him to get out of the way. He wasn’t sure if it was Thordin or if it was someone near the gates. It didn’t matter. Either way, he was too damned close to the thing as the ground erupted around him once again, sending both man and blade flying.
He hit the ground and his world went black.
• • •
Clustered around Terézia’s glass, they watched as it all began to unfold. Phelan and his group’s opening salvo. The arrival of apparent reinforcements. When one of them drew the shining silvered blade out of its scabbard, Aoife gave a little gasp, her fingers digging into the flesh of Terézia’s arm.
“Can you focus on that?” she breathed, eyes round, huge in the dim of the room. “On the sword?”
Terézia swallowed hard. “I can try. How close?”
“As close as you can,” Aoife breathed, staring hard at the glass.
The other woman nodded and took a deep breath. The image sharpened slightly and enlarged, as if it were a camera zooming in on the object. Aoife shivered as it came into focus.
“Gods and monsters,” she breathed. “That’s it. She—she found him.”
“Found who?” Wat asked from the other side of Grey. He was with them in the room, he and Gray, Kes and Terézia and Aoife, the five of them clustered around the desk, around Terézia’s scrying glass.
“Who’s she?” Kes asked in the same voice.
“My cousin Neve,” Aoife said, eyes bright as she stared at the glass. “She was the custodian of the sword. She was supposed to find whoever was meant to carry it, and she did it.”
“What sword?” Gray asked, frowning at the glass.
“The sword. Excalibur,” Aoife said breathlessly. “She found the man destined for Excalibur.”