Hylas has returned to his homeland, and the fate of the world rests on his shoulders: He must find the prophesized dagger of Koronos and keep the Crows from wielding it in battle, or they will rule the land forever. But he must also locate Issi, his lost sister, to keep her safe from the impending war. Torn between his duty and his family, Hylas and Pirra split up to conquer their tasks. But fate has many surprises for them, and neither challenge is as straightforward as it seems. Aided by Havoc the lioness, Echo the falcon, and many old friends, Hylas and Pirra must defeat the Crows once and for all—or lose everything trying.
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Hylas hauled on the oars and the coast of Messenia loomed closer. They’d set off under cover of darkness, but the wind had torn away the clouds, and now the Moon was shining as bright as day.
Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Pirra’s pale, tense face—and behind her, the rocky headland they had to reach. To the left lay a misty sweep of marshes; to the right, dark towering cliffs. On top of these, he made out the red fires of a lookout post and the black forms of Crow warriors cutting across the flames. His spine prickled. He could almost feel their arrows between his shoulder blades.
Every splash of the oars, every slap of waves against the boat, sent his heart racing. Sound travels farther at night, especially over water. Surely the Crows would hear?
Even if they didn’t, it was only a matter of time before they spotted the little rowing boat. It must stand out like a black leaf on a silver Sea: a black leaf in which crouched a boy, a girl with a falcon dozing on her shoulder, and a very seasick lion.
Havoc sat in front of him, miserably panting. Ropes of spit hung from her jaws, and her flanks were heaving. Earlier, she’d vomited all over him. His tunic stank, and behind him, Pirra was breathing through her mouth.
Now the lioness was gazing with longing at the cool black water. Hylas prayed that she wouldn’t decide to leap in for a swim; the warriors on the cliff wouldn’t fail to hear that.
Havoc lurched to her feet, rocking the boat so violently that it nearly capsized.
“Havoc, keep still!” hissed Pirra.
“Get down!” whispered Hylas, desperately trying to restrain the lioness while gripping both oars in one hand. But Havoc was twice his size and many times stronger; she easily shook him off.
The commotion woke Echo, who flew skyward with loud indignant squawks.
“That’s all we need!” breathed Pirra.
Hylas gave up on Havoc and grimly applied himself to the oars.
To his relief, she seemed to have forgotten about her swim: She was pricking her ears, eagerly snuffing the air. They were nearing the headland at last.
At its tip, Hylas spotted an overhang; maybe they could hide the boat underneath. As he maneuvered closer, he saw Pirra take a scrap of gold from her pouch and drop it over the side, her lips moving in a silent prayer to her Goddess. He guessed what it was: Help us find Issi, and the dagger of Koronos . . . Help us vanquish the Crows . . . In his head, he said his own prayer to the Lady of the Wild Things. He tried to take comfort from the wedjat amulet on his chest.
A distant splash out to Sea—and for a moment, he forgot about the Crows and eagerly scanned the waves. Dolphins had been in his thoughts since they’d reached these waters, but so far he’d spotted none. And now, no silver back arched out of the waves, and he caught no pfft! of dolphin breath.
The prow bumped against rock, and Havoc leaped soundlessly onto the headland, twitching her tail and panting with relief. Pirra went next with the rope, then Hylas. Together they wedged the boat beneath the overhang, hating the echoing scrape of wood against stone. As Hylas bent to secure the boat, he glimpsed a small black sea cave farther in; that must be why the echoes were so loud.
“Looks like there’s a path up this ridge,” murmured Pirra.
He didn’t reply. That smell on the wind . . . The tarry, eye-watering stink of mastic bushes. He hadn’t smelled that in two years. Two long years on the run, and at last he was back.
He had the strangest sense that everything that had happened to him since: being a slave in the mines of Thalakrea, seeking Pirra on Keftiu, finding and losing the dagger in Egypt—that none of it had been real. He felt as if he were twelve years old again, on that terrible night when the Crows had attacked his camp and killed his dog Scram, and his sister Issi had gone missing . . .
Pirra touched his shoulder and he jumped. “Hylas, are you all right? Are you having a vision?”
“No, I . . .”
“Then come on, or we’ll be spotted!”
Rocks were rough beneath his bare feet. Thorns scratched his shins. No sound came from the warriors on the cliff.
To his left, a thin mist hid the marshes. He had no idea how far they stretched inland, or how to get past them, or where to go after that. He’d grown up in Lykonia, on the other side of the mountains; he knew nothing of Messenia. Except that it was vast and ruled by the Crows; and that somewhere in its vastness, his sister might be hiding—if she was still alive.
He and Pirra had paid the ship’s captain well to bring them to Messenia, but as the coast had risen into view, the captain had refused to take them any farther.
“Too dangerous,” he’d growled. “There’s fierce fighting between the Crows and the rebels, both here and in Lykonia.” Instead, he’d steered as close to the cliffs as he dared, then he gave them the rowing boat and wished them luck. “Though I don’t give much for your chances, the Crows are everywhere. Don’t look to the peasants for help; they’re too frightened, they’d only turn you in. And whatever you do, stay out of the marshes, not even the Crows go in there. The Marsh Dwellers used to be friendly, but since the Crows came, they’ve changed, they’ll kill anyone who ventures in . . .”
The captain had also told them that a dolphin had been seen in these waters. “Swimming back and forth along the coast,” he’d said in awe, “as if it’s—waiting for someone.” Hylas’ thoughts had flown to Spirit, the dolphin they’d befriended two summers before. He’d kept watch from the ship, leaning overboard, whistling softly for his friend, and several curious dolphins had swum closer—but not the big one with the scars on his nose.
The hot, tarry night wind brought him back to the headland. Forget about Spirit, he told himself. What could Spirit do against the Crows?
But he still longed for the dolphin to appear.
He and Pirra hadn’t climbed far when it occurred to him that Havoc hadn’t yet passed them. She should have; she was hungry and she must be eager to hunt.
He glanced back—and his stomach turned over. “Havoc!” he whispered urgently. “Come here!”
“Havoc, no!” breathed Pirra, beside him.
The lioness ignored them. She was still on the tip of the headland, gazing at the water that rocked so temptingly within reach.
The lure proved too strong. As Hylas started down to her, Havoc leaped in with an enormous splash. It was far louder than any fish could make. If that didn’t bring the warriors, nothing would.
The night wind hissed through the thornscrub. Waves slapped the rocks. No shouts came from above.
Havoc surfaced sleekly, slitting her eyes with pleasure: She was cool again, and clean! Once back on the rocks, she shook herself noisily, then bounded past Hylas and Pirra and vanished into the scrub.
Still no sounds from the cliffs. With pounding hearts, Hylas and Pirra resumed their climb, hoping to find some way along the left flank of the headland, then past the marshes . . .
Echo swept over their heads and lit onto a boulder right in front of Pirra. The falcon was agitated, half spreading her wings and glaring with gaping beak. She flew off again, uttering shrill eck-eck-ecks.
“What is it?” whispered Hylas. “What’s she seen?”
Pirra stood tensely, peering at the top of the headland. “Someone’s coming!”
“I heard a splash!” shouted a man’s voice, muffled through the rocks.
“We’re on the coast, you idiot,” sneered a second man. “Things splash. Waves. Fish.”
“This was much bigger than a fish.”
Hylas and Pirra swam deeper into the sea cave at the back of the overhang. They’d reached it in a headlong scramble, but once they’d slipped inside, it occurred to Hylas that it might turn into a trap, not a hiding place.
The cave was deep, and too narrow for him and Pirra to swim abreast. He led the way, easing past slimy rocks and prickly sea urchins.
The water grew abruptly colder: He guessed that the Sun never reached this far in. They came to a dead end and huddled together, rocking in the swell and breathing the stink of rotting seaweed. It was shallow enough to stand, but the roof was so low, there was only just space to keep their heads above water.
Hylas strained for the sound of feet coming closer, but all he heard was the echoing slap of the Sea. In the gloom, Pirra’s eyes were wide and dark. Her long hair clung in black snakes to her throat, and her lips looked black too.
Ahead of them, the cave mouth was a disc of moonlit Sea so small that he could blot it out with his fist; the cave was deeper than he’d thought. He glimpsed the prow of the rowing boat. He prayed it wouldn’t drift loose and betray them to the Crows.
Cold was seeping into his bones; he had to clench his teeth to stop them chattering. Beside him, he felt Pirra shivering uncontrollably.
Suddenly, she stiffened and clutched his arm. “Did you hear that?” she mouthed. “They’re climbing down toward us!”
He heard it too: the clatter of pebbles and scrape of feet as Crow warriors made their way down the headland.
At that moment, something soft and slimy brushed against his flank. Stifling a cry, he tried to push it off, but now it was slithering up his chest. It was smooth and boneless, yet alarmingly strong. He thought of giant eels with teeth that never let go, not even if you cut off their heads. He drew his knife—but Pirra grabbed his wrist and shook her head urgently.
“Octopus,” she hissed in his ear.
Hylas struggled to keep still while the creature’s snake-like limbs gripped and sucked their way up his chest and onto his shoulder. He turned his head, and two bulging black eyes stared into his. The octopus seemed to realize that he wasn’t a rock, turned pale with fright, and plopped back into the water.
Pebbles rattled, and the scrape of feet came closer. It sounded as if the warriors were climbing all the way to the point.
Pirra gave a twitch and a muffled yelp. “Something stung me!” she whispered.
Hylas felt a burning pain on his calf, then another on his thigh. Desperately, he jabbed underwater with his knife. Pirra was doing the same, her lips peeled back in a grimace.
Pain seared his palm, and a squelchy mass shot through his fingers, leaving them on fire. Jellyfish, he thought.
“Jellyfish!” breathed Pirra.
At the mouth of the cave, more pebbles fell with a splash.
“Did you hear that?” cried a man’s voice, shockingly loud. By the sound of it, he was at the edge of the overhang. If he knelt and peered underneath . . .
“So what?” jeered the other man. “Whatever it is, it’s a long way out!”
Pirra was curled into a ball, frantically trying to fend off the jellyfish without making any noise. Hylas tried to shield her with his body, while scraping away the creatures with his knife. In his mind, he saw the Crow warriors crouching above them. He saw their black rawhide armor and the cruel glint of bronze spears. He could almost smell their oniony sweat and the bitter reek of the ash they smeared on their skin . . .
This time, he too heard the splash, far out to Sea.
“There!” cried the first warrior. “Now d’you hear it?”
“Who cares about that?” snarled the second one. “I heard something closer . . .”
More pebbles rained down from the overhang.
“Something’s down there,” said the second man. “And it isn’t a fish.”
Excerpted from "Warrior Bronze"
Copyright © 2017 Michelle Paver.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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