The Trial of Corin of Westfyr

by K.J. Khan

“You know, batono, that the Lady is a Wind-Kissed One.”

Corin looked at the old man from across his cup of mulled wine, not willing to answer at once. It was a cold night, and he had invited the guide to share the main tent with him and his men. He’d expected Gregory to refuse in favor of sleeping outside—“Aeolians don’t feel the cold as others do, batono—but to Corin’s surprise and satisfaction he had accepted. Gregory had delivered the acceptance with his usual gravitas, and spent much of the evening meal watching his young host with the same solemnity Corin could see in his eyes now.

Corin turned his attention back to his wine, smiling to himself. “You know, you’re the third person to tell me that, Gregory.”

The old man’s eyebrows lifted a fraction of an inch. “And does it not make ye consider your decision, batono?”

Corin, out of politeness, did his best to conceal his humor and exasperation. It didn’t seem to matter how often he explained that there was no decision for him to consider: his lord had given him an order, and he would obey.

“I’ll ask you the same thing I asked the others, old one. What does ‘wind-kissed’ mean?” In the corner of his vision, he saw Taha, his second, raise his hand slightly as though cueing the old man’s reply.

“Know ye not, batono?”


Gregory made a sound with his teeth. “Tis ill luck to say.”

“So I’m told, Gregory, so I’m told.”

Taha snorted, not bothering to hide his scorn. The wind-kissed one; the wind’s maid; Lady of the storm’s mark: the king’s niece had no end of epithets, which no Aeolian could be prevailed upon to explain. Corin’s men had made their own guesses the evening the betrothal was announced, their suggestions growing bawdier with each toast. The Aeolians worshiped a deity represented by the four winds, but Corin worried the terms might be euphemisms for a deformity. Truth be told, he’d not been pleased when his lord, King Argur, gave the pronouncement. Corin had just started to endear himself to a certain young woman’s family, only to have the encouraging prospect shunted aside by duty dressed as an honor.

“What a reward for conquering the Eastland Plains,” Taha had remarked upon first hearing. “A cold fish of a foreign wife.”

It didn’t help that it was uncustomary for Westfyr to make marriage alliances, but for Aeolia the king had made exception. Lady Bronwyn was—or rather, had been—the prime candidate to succeed her uncle, and Argur felt a royal heir was a fit enough demand to make. The Aeolians, independent as they were, were a small nation, whose neighbor, Vresuli, had lately become aggressive. Their alliance with Westfyr was one of necessity, and the king’s demand for Bronwyn made that clear to both.

Gregory stared at Corin’s face as though to see if his words were being heeded, but Corin had said all that he cared to on the subject.


Wind-kissed, Corin decided, was the Aeolian word for bitch. He told Taha as much the day after the wedding.

Taha gave his characteristic bark of a laugh. “Bad night, was it?”

“‘Bad’ does not even begin to touch it.”

Corin and his men had arrived at the Aeolian excuse for a capital—a settlement, they might have called it in Westfyr—the day before, whereupon Corin was informed that his nuptials would take place before the sun set.

He had stared at the old king, taken aback. “I was told the wedding would not take place for another week.”

The king’s stern countenance showed no concern. “The first blossoms of the year opened this morning. It is the most auspicious day for marriage.”

There was, it turned out, nothing more to be said. The flowers had spoken, and would not be disregarded due to travel weariness or an unprepared bridegroom. Several hours later, after a bath and what little rest could be afforded, Corin stood in the great hall and awaited the appearance of the still unseen bride. The Aeolians stood at attention, their clothing bright and their faces like stone. The eyes of all made it clear that he, the stranger, was taking their future queen, and that the wedding held no emotion for them beyond that.

At last she came, veiled as custom demanded, to stand across from him. Her unadorned hair fell around her like a copper sheath, and Corin looked at the visible portion of her face and saw his suspicion was both founded and false. There was a physical mark on her face. One eye was brown, but the other iris glowed a milky white-blue, set off from the rest of the eye by a thin blue-black line on its outer edge. Above the eye, one half of the arching brow was white, as though the color had faded midway. But to call the difference a deformity was not fair. Even veiled, her face showed intense beauty, but it was a beauty that went hand-in-hand with the strange, and was even swept to new heights by it.

What truly demanded Corin’s attention, however, was the look the eyes held. If the people considered him a thief, the Lady Bronwyn looked at him as a hawk does the archer who shot it. The rage in the bi-colored eyes defied even his apathy; when the king motioned for them to take hands, she moved first and dug her slender nails into the flesh of his palm, as though daring him to show pain.

It was simple enough to swear fidelity to her by Karishkhali, the Aeolian god, but his voice nearly faltered when he swore by his house and his family name. Oaths sworn by the elder code were binding—regardless of hostilities.

They retired to the bridal chamber like wine and oil rudely poured into the same vessel. Corin had diplomacy enough not to leave the room, but he had no intentions for the night but sleep, and doubted his bride was in any hurry to contradict.

There were two rooms to their chambers: a bedroom and a sitting room. Bronwyn vanished into the sitting room and Corin watched her go, grateful to see the matter had been settled without words. He stood by the bed to change out of his fine clothes and was startled to hear his wife speak.

“Do you expect me to sleep in the same bed as you?”

He kept his attention on the highly important task of folding his shirt. “There’s a couch in the other room that you’re welcome to.”

You sleep in it.”

The muscles in the back of Corin’s head pulsed with weariness and the wine he’d taken at dinner. Her voice, low as it was, held an edge that wound the knots tighter.

He turned to her. The veil lay aside now and the face it showed was clear and smooth and in the prime of mid-twenties. Anger had flushed her prominent mouth to the same copper as her hair, further emphasizing the sharp beauty of her jaw and chin, and the delicate line of her nose.

Their eyes met and a challenge split the room.

Corin smiled in a tight-lipped grimace and seated himself, bare-chested, on the pelt-strewn bed. “See, I was going to share the bed, but now you’ll have to ask nicely, princess.”

Bronwyn’s white eyebrow twitched like a magician’s tell. “I’ll not be bedded by anyone, especially not a Westfyrian. I don’t care what the alliance says. You’re not to touch me.”

“And what,” Corin ground his teeth behind his smile, “makes you think I would want to?”

His taunt provoked a half-hissed gasp. “How dare you! I am no mere princess, warlord. I bear the kiss of the wind.”

Corin slid himself neatly into the bed. “I don’t care if you’re the damn wind’s whore, I’m not giving you the b—”

It took Corin a moment to realize the resounding crack that followed was made by his own head smacking against the headboard. He tried to raise his hands in defense, but his hands refused to move, and it was only then that he became aware of the enormous force now pressing against his chest and arms, pushing him into the headboard and making it difficult to draw a breath.

Bronwyn stood in the center of the room, one hand extended and trembling as she guided the wind that raced around her and made her copper hair fly like a metallic train.

Corin gave a whispered curse and tried to move, but the wind proved too strong to resist and he only taxed his half-crushed lungs. His eyes, equally furious, met those of his wife, and they stared at each other in breathless hatred across the wind-tossed room.

“Let us be clear of something, you and I,” Bronwyn said, her voice no louder than what was necessary to be heard. “You have power over me, yes, but it is the power of a man holding a knife to a bear’s cub. For the safety of my people, for my uncle, do I bend my head to you. But should you drop the cub…” she lessened the wind just enough for his head to lull forward, then thrust him back with another crack against the headboard, “…it is you who are the man—and I the bear.”

She snapped her hand down to her side and left the room in a final whirl of her bridal dress. The wind stilled at once, and Corin slumped down onto the blankets, his coughing and cursing mingled together. His chest felt tight and bruised, and his head rang. Neither injury was serious, but the shock and anger left him shaking like a boy come from his first battle.

“Witch!” he shouted at the closed door, not caring who else heard, and the hoarseness of his voice enraged him all the more. “Stay in there and rot!”


Early the next morning, Corin slipped from his quarters to visit the Aeolian temple. Like most Westfyrians, he was a pluralist. Local deities were to be expected, as was the need for appeasement.

The Aeolians were startled to see him. The two acolytes, busy cleaning the floor when he entered, stopped what they were doing and ran at once for the priest. The older man entered some minutes later, in no particular hurry, but with eyes lit in unmistakable curiosity.

“Yes?” he asked, voice soft. He gave no deferential address. Within this hall, he outranked even the Aeolian king.

Corin had been studying the gilded symbol above the sacred fire, and now took an unconscious half-step back from it.

“Tell me about Karishkhali.”

The priest watched him for a long moment. His clothing was simple, thought Corin, for the highest member of the clergy.

“What is it you wish to know?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what questions to ask.” Corin struggled to recall what Gregory had mentioned on the journey. “You believe he controls the four winds of the earth, correct? ‘Lord of the four winds’?”

The priest continued to watch him, a smile pulling at his mouth. “He is not lord of the four winds, any more than he is the winds themselves. He is lord of everything. The winds are merely his symbols.” He raised his hand to the metal work Corin had been examining: four compass points, intertwined with knotwork patterns that had no beginning or endpoint. “Like the wind, he may come in wrath… or he may come to refresh. He may extinguish fire, or kindle it. You cannot see him, cannot keep him out, any more than you can keep breath from your lungs. But you can see the results of his working. Understand?” The priest waved his calloused hand before the fire, making the flame wobble.

Corin frowned. “You act for Karishkhali?”

“All work is done under the auspices of Karishkhali, in that all life comes from him. But all will give account for their work, great or small.”

“And how does the Lady Bronwyn fit in all this?”

The priest tilted his head. “What of the Lady?”

“She’s wind-kissed, isn’t she? Tell me what this means.”

The priest studied his face yet again, then bowed and whispered something into the fire. “Karishkhali has marked her with his favor. She is the special envoy of his power.”

There it was, the much-evaded answer. Corin, feeling cynical, wondered if the wedding had been sped along to prevent his inquiring of the one Aeolian who would answer his question.

“How do I live at peace with him? Or with the Lady?”

The older man shook his head. “Of her, I know not. But he does not seek appeasement. He seeks to be acknowledged as lord.”

“Delightful,” muttered Corin.


The emissaries remained in Aeolia for the seven marriage feasts. With that duty fulfilled, they left the capital ahead of schedule. The rushed wedding had removed any need to remain longer.

Corin, thus far, had kept his wife’s power to himself. He didn’t fear disbelief. He had a reputation for sensibility and composure. Should he reveal the Aeolian as some sort of holy witch his soldiers would believe him, to a man. Rather, Corin feared what might happen once they had been told. King Argur had wanted the match to foster an alliance, and Corin didn’t wish to damage said alliance on the first day. He owed it to his lord to at least get the girl back to Westfyr, though he hoped the time would come when the alliance was no longer needed and annulment could be arranged. There would be no consummation meantime—of that he could be sure.

The Aeolians turned out in droves to watch them go—or rather, to send off their Lady. The women lining the streets sang a dirge as the Westfyrian party passed; the verses continued through the crowd without pause, so that the song never left off until they passed through the city gates.

Bronwyn rode beside him, stone-faced. She did not speak nor look back until the city had receded so far off that the mountains threatened to swallow it. Only then did she turn, and Corin noticed unshed tears in her eyes.


Halfway through the voyage, while they were stopped for the night, Corin’s guard entered with news that one of the Aeolian women must speak to him.

Corin, surprised, ordered that she be admitted. The woman, one of Bronwyn’s handmaids, lowered her hood and studied him with a cryptic, Aeolian gaze.

Corin nodded to her. “You have a message?”

The woman bowed low. Her eyes, when they again met his, held a sort of knowing look. “Not a message, batono. I bring news for you, valuable news.”

“Say it, then.”

She looked at the guard, and Corin, after a moment’s irritation, beckoned her closer. He could tell by her face that she’d rather he dismissed the man entirely, and for that reason he didn’t. As it was, she spoke in a tone scarcely above a whisper.

“You know of the Lady’s powers, batono.”

“I’m acquainted.”

“But what you perhaps might not know: she needs the wind’s presence in order to harness it. If there is even a breeze, she may summon and grow it into a gale. But if the air is still, the Lady has no power.”

Again, she searched his face for a response, and again Corin reflected Aeolian stoicism back to her. This could be a lie and thus a trap for him. But the messenger’s manner made him think it genuine. He felt a sudden pity for his wife. To go to a foreign country with enemies even in your own party…

“I see,” he answered. “Is that all?”

She opened her mouth, hesitated, then closed it again. “Yes, batono.”

“Thank you.” He kept his voice dry. “You may go.”


Marriage to Bronwyn did not go any easier in Westfyr. Westfyrian couples typically had separate quarters for each spouse, and so he could live apart from her without the arrangement appearing strange. Even so, her presence in the house brought an uneasiness to his days. Corin felt like he’d taken up residence with a spider, a quiet, undemanding houseguest who nevertheless could turn up unawares and inflict a painful bite. For the most part, she remained in her chambers with her Aeolian handmaids, but the two came together for any public dinner—which, given Corin’s rank, was all too often. Bronwyn did not speak unless first prompted, but when prodded into engaging, the results were terse and formal. She did not want Westfyrian friends, nor even Westfyrian acquaintances.

“Listen,” advised Taha, “build her another house. You have the means. Put her away and forget she’s there. Take a mistress with the promise of a proper title when this charade has finished. You don’t owe the Aeolian anything more than that.”

“I can’t,” Corin answered, and meant it. He couldn’t deny that he’d thought of taking another woman—what did Bronwyn care?—and had even gone to the house of a certain courtesan with that intent. But the oath he’d sworn had followed and galled him, and he’d left with all such plans abandoned. He came from a traditional family; to break an oath was an unforgivable thing.

So when the king extended an invitation to meet with him—alone—he couldn’t help but hope for a way out of the marriage that would leave his character intact.

When Corin arrived, the servants ushered him not to the hall, but to the personal dining room of the king, separate from the rest of the court. The room was small but lush, hemmed in with Westfyr’s famous tapestries, and with low gilt settees around a ponderous table. Corin had only spoken with the king face-to-face on two occasions: when he’d received his commission as a general, and at the banquet announcing his betrothal. Both times, he’d been one guest among many. Now it was he and the sovereign, and Corin felt an unexpected apprehension.

There seemed no initial cause for concern. King Argur was young, only a few years older than Corin, and he had a reputation for taking pains in private meetings to come across as an older brother or mentor. The façade might have been well-intended, but it was still a façade, and Corin wished Argur would stop speaking as if they were old friends.

“You’re from the Kentin province, correct? Your parents still live there?”

“My family does live there, my king. But my parents have both passed, may they rest.”

“Oh. Yes. I forgot. But your family estate remains there?”

“Yes, sire. In the hands of my brother.”

“He’s the eldest, then?”

“Yes, my king.”

“And has he had the chance to meet your wife?”

Corin had no desire for his family to travel over a hundred miles to be slighted. “No, my lord.”

“It’s only been a month, I suppose. How is your wife?”

Corin hesitated. The answer required tact, which was not always his gifting. “I… believe she’s homesick, my king.”

Argur laughed, settling back in his seat. “Homesick.”

Corin nodded, startled by the response and forgetting he must answer aloud.

“She will not act as a wife in any regard, she is rude to you and all our people, and for this you say she is homesick?”

He met the king’s gaze but did not answer, unsure of what to say. Argur didn’t look angry. On the contrary, he appeared satisfied, perhaps even pleased.

“You know, viceroy Hanti recommended you for the match. He said, ‘Corin will put up with her, long as you need, and without any reason beyond the order.’”

Corin wondered what he’d done to anger Hanti. “Of course, my lord.”

Argur laughed. “‘Of course,’ he says. Come, Corin, you must have been baffled by such a backhanded honor. Don’t deny it, I know you were. But you’ve passed such testing, Corin, and have at last reached the real reward.”

“My lord?”

Argur pushed aside their empty plates, revealing the map engraved on the polished cedar surface. “Have you not wondered at my choice of allies? Look.” He ran a hand over the small dominion of Aeolia, then passed on to her much greater neighbor. “You know, Corin, how long Vruseli has coveted our ally’s mountain pass.”


“But there are many, some among Vruseli’s own army, who have inhaled too much incense from the priest’s sacred fire. Their king would like to subsume this province into the protection of his rule, but he can hardly attack when even some of his own generals are afraid to upset Karishkhali.”


“They think he has chosen the lady. Your Bronwyn. And that to attack the homeland of his chosen would incur his wrath.” He nodded at Corin, bidding him to continue.

Corin stared at him. “The alliance with Aeolia… It was to clear the way for Vruseli to invade, by removing Bronwyn from the country?”

Argur smacked his thigh in satisfaction. “Close, friend, close! Removing her was the first measure. Now we must kill her.”

“Kill her?”

“Yes, brother. The superstitious will not attack while she lives. She must be removed. Do this, and I have a place for you on my council. You will be one of the seven who help me rule Westfyr, and you may choose a true bride from any of Westfyr’s noble families.” Argur smiled at him, beneficent, delighted in his beneficence. “How is that for reward, Corin Bardonin?”

“My king, I…” Sweat dripped down Corin’s face. He felt sick and stifled, as though the air had suddenly gone putrid.

“Speak. Go on.”

“I cannot.”

Argur paused, stunned at first. His face did not change, but the look in his eyes sharpened. “Don’t tell me,” he said, and his voice was soft with mockery, “are you afraid Karishkhali will come get you?”

Corin bowed his head. “My lord, I… I swore an oath to the woman.”

“An Aeolian oath, on Aeolian gods.”

“No—my lord—I swore the oath as I would here. By my family name, by the heads of my house, by my father, may he rest.” He had sworn by the same when he took a place in the royal army. He did not say as much now, but saw by his king’s face that he knew it. “It would be Westfyrian code that I broke. The elder code.”

A smile flicked across Argur’s mouth, belying the undercurrent still present in his eyes.

“Now, see?” he ventured at last. “I have chosen my generals well. An honest man, who can find, eh? I should consider myself blessed that you so revere our codes.” He leaned forward. “But your oath to your king, to Westfyr, comes first. For your country’s sake, you must kill this woman.”

Corin’s dry throat made his reply sound choked. “Then why did you let me swear a second oath to the contrary?”

Argur’s hand swept the table, knocking aside the goblets in a spray of wine, and struck him a savage blow to the side of the head. Corin’s ear rang, but he tried to keep his expression unmoved as the king leaned across the table and spoke low and fast in his face.

“I need Vruseli on my side, Corin. Maybe you haven’t been watching, but their soldiers outnumber ours four to one. They’ll move against Aeolia first, but once they take the pass their eyes turn to us next. They’ve given me terms to ally with them now: kill the woman, and do so without stepping on the toes of the religious. I cannot just dispatch her and make a martyr. I cannot send an assassin—what would it look like, to have the most important foreigner killed in our own capital? I need you, her husband, to kill her in your own defense.”

“In my own defense.”

“Yes. There are rumors, aren’t there? That she has sorcery? It’s no secret she detests you and this place. Why shouldn’t she, in her desperation? Make it seem you had died by some accident so that she, the widow, could return home?”

Argur threw himself back into his seat, as though depleted at once of all the effort of anger. His voice, when he again spoke, had returned to its former softness.

“This is about the fate of Westfyr, and I’ll be damned if I lose the country because some rustic fool wouldn’t break his promise.” He expected a reply, and his expression tightened when none came. “Is the command understood?”

Corin met the king’s gaze, the spilled wine flecked across his clothing like blood. “Understood.”

“Good.” Argur turned his attention abruptly to the nearby tapestries. “I told Vruseli we’d need to wait at least a month, but they’re growing impatient. Tomorrow’s acceptable if circumstances arise, but kill her tonight, if you can.”


Corin left the palace, and the air in the valley-bound city lay stagnant around him. His own face felt like a clay mask on his skull, one that grimaced and moved at the bidding of another force. He watched every branch as he passed, every pendant, but nothing stirred. No breeze came to absolve him or postpone. Instead, the evening seemed to press him onward to the quiet house where Bronwyn waited.

He took a long route home, and the sun had set by the time he arrived. Like a sleepwalker, he mounted the stairs, then turned down the left hall, away from his own chambers and toward those of his wife. Unlike Westfyrians, the Aeolians rose early, and he could tell by the stillness in the hall that the Aeolian entourage had gone to bed. Bronwyn’s door was locked, but Corin had a second copy of the key, hitherto unused. He entered her chambers without a sound. The door to her inner room lay ajar, and firelight shone from inside. Corin came closer until he could see where she sat, her back to the door. She’d dressed for bed in a stiff linen gown, but had, on some whim, taken up a lyre she’d brought with her and was tuning it. Her copper hair had been braided and twisted atop her head, and the back of her neck glowed a soft orange in the firelight.

Corin touched the knife in his belt. He knew where to strike. The blade would slide between skull and neck and she would die before she knew what had happened. But Argur’s command forbade that sort of death. He must stab her in the front or side; he would have to get his arm around her neck and thrust the knife upward between the ribs, so that the wound would look as though it had been delivered face to face. She would cry out but die before anyone arrived, and it would be better for the staging if the death was heard but he must go now, now before she turned and yet he couldn’t move. Corin had killed before, but this time was different and his body knew it.

Bronwyn stood and turned, still unaware, and at the sight of him she dropped the lyre. It clanged against the floor, snapping a string. Shock showed on her face, but she made no sound except a terse question.

“What are you doing here?”

He heard his own voice answer. “Is it so strange that a husband enter his wife’s chambers?”

Bronwyn continued to stare, and he could tell by her expression that what the handmaiden had told him was true: the night air was still and her powers gone. He came inside and saw her body tense, bracing for an attack.

Now he must kill her, now.

But instead he spoke.

“Do you have a way out of here?”

Whatever words she may have expected to hear, those were clearly not it. “A… what?’

“Some scheme to return to Aeolia? Some way you hoped to annul the alliance?”

She didn’t answer, and looked at him so impassively he almost wondered if she’d even heard. But when he caught her by the arm her face contorted at once in fear and anger.

“Let go!”

Brownyn, if you’ve a way out, tell me, tell me now!”

She was trembling now but still didn’t answer, and after several minutes he let her go and left the room, leaving both sets of doors gaping open behind him.


He’d known, deep down, that he would leave with Argur’s demand unmet. Yet he’d hoped she could have disclosed a plan of her own, another way out besides the two pincers now crushing him. Rest assured, Argur would have his way. Corin knew that if he did not kill her they would both die, and in such a manner as would fulfill the king’s intent. He would be found with his chest crushed in, she with his dagger forced between her ribs. Would she even realize, in those final moments of violence, that it was someone else killing her, and not him?

Corin left the house a second time, saddled a horse, and rode for the city gates. They were already shut for the evening, but the gatekeepers would open to him at any hour of night. He followed the road as it wound out of the valley and into the hills, and passed no travelers on the way. He dismounted at one of the peaks, overlooking the vast lake below. It was windy this high up, and the dunes were covered in tall, coarse grass that swirled and showed white undersides in the breeze. The moon hovered near full, and the light turned the landscape cold and eerie in a not unpleasant way. Corin had inherited his love of such desolate places from his father, and he still came here when he needed solitude. Now, he dropped his horse’s reins and walked within inches of the cliff’s edge. He nudged a rock and watched it fall almost thirty meters to the beach below.

Corin had lived his life by the four tenets of the elder code: honor the dead, honor the king, honor your family, and hold with your life to any sworn oath. If he killed Bronwyn according to Argur’s plan, he would seem to have upheld his oath—some would suspect, but if done right there would be no proof—but he would know, and when he died the spirits of his forebears would turn away, knowing him for an oath-breaker and murderer. If he fled alone, he was a coward and an oath-breaker to his king; if he fled with Bronwyn, a traitor to Westfyr. His only choice was to stay and die with her, but even this seemed weak and tainted. Would he defend himself and her, when Argur’s men came? Bronwyn’s handmaid had surely told her secret to others besides himself, and they would come prepared, in some form, to face her. If he failed to warn and defend her, didn’t he break the spirit of his oath, if not the law? But if he defended himself against the king’s soldiers, didn’t he then betray the king, and Westfyr with him?

Corin nudged another rock and thought of how convenient it would be were he to slip. A few seconds’ fall, what was that? If he quit bracing himself the wind alone might be strong enough to send him over. A fall… a way out.

Then Corin’s horse gave a sudden, shrill scream. The animal was bred for war and normally steady as a wall, and Corin turned at once, expecting to see a lion or a bear. Instead, less than ten paces away stood a man, his long hair twisted behind him in Aeolian fashion, and his clothing that of a priest.

Corin gave a terse grunt of surprise. “What are you doing here?”

The man did not answer. He was broad-shouldered and powerfully built, around the same size as Corin himself. He had no weapon, but something about him made Corin’s flesh shiver.

“Who are you?” he edged forward, away from the cliff. “Why have you followed me?”

Again, he did not answer. Corin, now faced with an opponent, lost all desire to die. He unsheathed his knife, wondering if the Aeolian had been sent by Bronwyn or Argur. He moved further away from the cliff, and to his surprise the stranger let him come, until they stood face to face a dangerous but adequate distance from the edge.

“If you’re here for any other reason besides killing me,” Corin said, “best say it now.”

The Aeolian grinned, then lunged forward and swung at Corin’s head. Corin blocked the punch and slashed out with a strike that should have debilitated the man’s arm. But the strike did not land. With a speed that showed experience, the man caught and twisted Corin’s wrist in a vise-like grip, crushing the tendons and forcing Corin to drop the blade. As he did, Corin swung his other shoulder into and against the man’s body, knocking them both to the ground.

The fight that followed was savage and strange. Corin could not recover his knife, and the stranger did not try. His purpose did not seem to be to kill, but to pin or immobilize Corin, as though in a sporting match. Corin was fully prepared to kill, but the chance never came. He couldn’t get at the stranger’s throat or eyes, and the fight remained a desperate, clawing grapple. Then Corin found the space to drive his knee into the man’s ribs, once, twice, so hard he felt them crack. The stranger cried out and with a sudden effort twisted free, stumbling to his feet. Corin leapt up as well. The stranger stood between him and the fallen knife, but again made no effort to retrieve it.

“Fists up, then,” the stranger muttered, raising his own before his face.

Corin’s blood was high, and he took the first two swings. But the Aeolian blocked one, evaded the other, then delivered a return blow to the jaw that left Corin staggering.

It soon became clear that letting the stranger back to his feet had been a horrendous mistake. Another blow came before he could recover, and then another, and the pace shifted to the stranger attacking, Corin defending. The Aeolian had both the longer reach and the greater speed, and Corin took several more hits, until his mouth bled profusely and his right eye had closed. Worse still, he’d tried to strike at the stranger’s wounded side, but the blow had landed askance and broken something in his own hand. He had to change the pace of the fight or he would certainly lose.

When the next blow came, Corin feigned a stumble and instead lunged into his opponent, catching him around the waist and bringing the fight back to the ground.

But the damage was done. Both men were tired, but Corin exhausted, and dulled from the blows to his head. He kept the upper hand for the first several minutes but was limited by his half-closed vision and injured hand. The Aeolian got his arm around Corin’s neck, crushing his throat in the crook of his elbow, then wrapped his legs around Corin’s waist, immobilizing his torso. Corin could scarcely breathe, and knew the stranger had only to pull his arm tighter and he’d be unconscious in seconds. Corin couldn’t see or reach the man’s head, but he tried, then clawed at his arm instead. The Aeolian grunted in pain but did not let go. The arm drew just a little tighter and Corin stopped struggling, focused only on the little wisp of air still trickling in and out of his lungs. For a moment, the scene was quiet save for both men’s ragged breathing.

Then the stranger laughed, still breathless. “You’re a stubborn one, Corin Bardonin.”

And Corin thought he must already be losing consciousness, because the man spoke not in the common tongue, nor even in Westfyr’s official language, but in the rural dialect of Corin’s home province.

Corin made the effort to speak. “Who… are you?”

“One who won’t break faith with you, as your king has. You don’t owe it to Argur to die for his lies.”

“Tell me… who you are…”

This time, instead of answering, he pressed his hand over Corin’s injured eye, and it felt as though a spike had been driven into the bruised flesh. Corin cried out, and the cry expelled the last of his air, and he plunged at once into darkness.


Corin woke to see his horse standing over him, snuffling at his face with concern. He sat up despite his body’s protests, looking around him as he did. The moon had risen a little higher in the sky; only an hour or so had passed. Corin would have thought it all a dream, if not for the smashed grasses on the hilltop and the deep ache in his body.

Yet his eye was no longer swollen. Confused, Corin assessed his injuries and found the worst gone: his broken finger, the bad swelling on his face. Pain and weariness remained, but it was manageable, and he mounted his horse without much trouble.


Surely his memory had tricked him. The first blow to the head must have stunned him, and what followed after had been little more than a waking dream.

Then why, he asked himself, did the Aeolian not kill you?

As he returned to the city, he found himself reconsidering the option of fleeing with Bronwyn, looking at it in earnest for the first time. Would it really make him a traitor to Westfyr, if he chose that path to uphold the oath he had sworn to his wife by the elder code? Capture had seemed too likely, and success little more than a joyless, disgraced exile with a wife who despised him. But the more he thought about the idea, the more plausible it seemed. No one would expect such a move. The king had given him the deadline of tomorrow night, and with luck would not summon him until then.

Corin raised his hood before entering the gates, unwilling to show his still-bruised face. He spoke his name and the password, yet noticed how the sentry squinted at him curiously, as though trying to get a clearer view.

At home, he stabled his horse and limped inside. He didn’t know what he should do next, and so sat in one of the chairs of the upper sitting room to rest. He didn’t remember falling asleep, but he must have, for when he opened his eyes he saw Bronwyn standing over him. She no longer wore a nightgown, but a set of Westfyrian traveling clothes, her copper hair hidden away under a man’s hat. She must have been headed for the stairs, but had stopped while crossing the sitting room and now stood over him, her face several shades whiter than normal. At first, he thought it was because he had seen her… but no, he had woken because she stood there, and she stared at him not in fear or guilt but abject shock.

He sat up, stiff and slow.

“I’ve had a fight,” he said, stupidly, because he could think of nothing else to say. “With one of your countrymen. Did you have anything to do with that?”

But Bronwyn didn’t answer. Instead she crept closer, and knelt beside him. He tensed, worried he’d have to fight off an attack for the second time that night. But her eyes, for once, were not hostile, and she studied his face as though unable to reconcile what she found there.

“Have you seen yourself?” she asked, her voice subdued.

He didn’t answer, but got up at once and went to the small mirror in the corner of the sitting room. At the sight of his own face, he cried out, shocked.

His right iris was a white-blue, set off from the rest of his eye by a thin blue line on its rim. He looked back at Bronwyn, at the hope—and fear—in her gaze, and felt the events of the evening fall into chiaroscuro clarity. Impossible, he told himself, yet the mark said otherwise.

He cast back to what King Argur had said, about Vruseli generals who feared that invading Aeolia while Bronwyn lived would incur Karishkhali’s wrath. Would they be doubly afraid, if she returned there with a wind-marked Westfyrian husband?

Bronwyn had crossed the room to his side and now took him by the hand, and he felt the conviction he saw in her rise in him as well.

“If you’re planning to leave,” he said, “you’ll make it farther with someone who knows the way across Westfyr.”

Katie Khan lives in Louisville, KY, with her husband, Tim, and works as a freelance illustrator and tutor. For any linguistics-minded people, there are several words from the Georgian language present throughout the story. Katie spent a year living in the Republic of Georgia (no, not the state, the country), and thinks it’s one of the coolest places on earth. You can see more of her work at

“The Trial of Corin of Westfyr” by K.J. Khan. Copyright © 2022 by K.J. Khan.

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