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Jaleigh Johnson - The Howling Delve

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Название:
The Howling Delve
Автор
Издательство:
неизвестно
ISBN:
нет данных
Год:
неизвестен
Дата добавления:
25 август 2018
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Jaleigh Johnson - The Howling Delve

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"Father!" Kall screamed as he clumsily dodged a swipe from Balram's foot. "Stop! Help me!"

Balram kicked him in the ribs, knocking the air from Kall's lungs. He tried to curl into a ball, but Balram kicked him again. Kall's arm went numb. He lurched back, reaching desperately, but his father didn't seem to hear anything going on around him.

"If you do not resist, I will tell your father you died defending him," Balram promised, and the reassurance, the sincerity in his voice sent a horrible chill through Kall. He scooped up a handful of mud and hurled it into Balram's face.

The guard captain staggered back, and Kall ran-out of the garden, through the main hall and the double entry doors. He stopped when he saw Haig's horse standing on the track leading from the estate. His ribs burned-hard breathing sent a fire raging over them.

He stumbled to the horse and crawled up the animal's back. It neighed and balked, but eventually settled as Kall draped himself over its back and kicked its flanks. The horse sprang to life, but Kall didn't even glance at the direction it chose. He half-expected a hailstorm of arrows to follow him out the front gates. He buried his face in the horse's dark mane and waited, but he felt only the fire in his ribs and an awful, searing pain in his heart.

CHAPTER FOUR

Esmeltaran, Amn

12 Eleasias, the Year of the Sword (1365 DR)


Balram spat mud. The boy wouldn't get far. He raised his sword to the east tower, signaling Meraik. The man saluted and disappeared from view.

"Captain." Dencer hurried to him. He cast a wary glance at Morel, who crouched beside the fountain next to Haig's body floating in the water.

"Speak," Balram said, and added pointedly, "Kall yet lives."

"Forgive me, Captain," Dencer said, and lowered his voice. "Haig interfered. My arrow missed the boy."

"And found its way into my son," Balram said grimly.

"Forgive me," Dencer pleaded.

Balram regarded the man for a long time. "Bring my son home to me, Dencer," he said finally.

"I have already seen to it," Dencer said, visibly relieved. "Someone has healed him."

The Harper, Balram thought. "Begin a count of who is dead and who is merely wounded. If you find witnesses, silence them."

Dencer nodded and departed. Sheathing his sword, Balram went to Dhairr. The lord clutched the Harper's pin in his fist and watched the body float in the fountain. He looked up at Balram like a lost child.

His mind is shattered, Balram thought. This will be easier than I could have hoped.

"Come away, my friend," he said. "It isn't safe for you here."

Dhairr stood unsteadily. He allowed Balram to lead him from the garden, up the stairs to his office. He paused along the way, murmuring, "Kall?"

Balram fixed an expression of sorrow on his face. "I am sorry, my lord. I'm afraid your son was in league with the Harper. I cannot be certain, but he may have helped the assassins gain entrance to the house."

"To kill me. . " Morel's face turned ashen. "He is only a boy. The guards-he said they were traitors-"

"A lie," Balram said smoothly. He draped an arm over Dhairr's shoulder and pressed the object he'd been palming into the cloth of the lord's cloak and through, piercing the skin below his collarbone with a needlelike point.

Dhairr stiffened and tried to brush the stinging object off, but Balram held him fast, waiting for the magic to seep into his blood. When he was sure, he drew the object-a small, silver broach set with a square amethyst-out of Dhairr's skin and pinned it neatly to his cloak, as if it were an ornament that had always been there.

He supported Morel the rest of the way up the stairs and into the office, putting him in a chair. He took the one across the desk and waited, watching the magic swirl like winter clouds in his friend's eyes. Abruptly, Dhairr's vision cleared, and he sat up.

"Are you well, my friend?" Balram asked.

"Aye," Dhairr murmured, pressing both palms to his forehead. "What happened?"

"The wounds the Harper inflicted nearly overcame you," Balram said, rising. "I will send a servant in to tend them."

Dhairr touched the drying blood at his shoulder and temple. "The wounds, yes." He looked up at Balram. "I killed him?" he asked uncertainly.

"You slew the assassins who stalked you twelve years ago," Balram assured him. "Be at peace, my friend. You are safe."

"Safe," Dhairr repeated. He settled uncertainly in his chair as Balram strode from the room. When he was alone, he murmured, dazedly, "Kall."


Daen sat at the bottom of the stairway, his legs tucked up against his massive belly like a dam holding the floodwaters at bay.

"It appears you're finally learning, Kortrun," he remarked as Balram stopped and glared down at him.

The guard captain gritted his teeth. "My attempt failed," he said, "as you see."

"Spectacularly," Daen agreed, "but just as well. Now you can get on to the real business."

Had Balram not held the faint hope that the Shadow Thieves might give him another chance, he would have sliced open the fat rogue's belly where he sat. "What might that be?"

"Learning what it means to walk with us," Daen said, his manner turning serious. "How long do you think we would be able to continue our operations if we conducted our affairs in the manner you just displayed?"

"The Shadow Thieves object to the use of assassins?" Balram scoffed. "On what grounds? Morality?"

"Gods' laughter, no," Daen said. "We kill without hesitation. . and without flair," he pointedly added, "unless the need arises. Only then do we draw attention to ourselves. Violent displays of death-dealing we do not require. We rely on Tethyr for that sort of high entertainment. I don't mind admitting, I despaired of you learning this lesson before it was too late." The rogue didn't appear the least concerned. "But rather than accept failure, you have turned your unfortunate mistake into a venture with promise. Lord Morel is now little more than a corpse, and you are holding his hand, directing him where to turn."

The description, however apt, sent an unexpected shudder through Balram. "And you prefer this.. state of being?" he asked.

"Absolutely," Daen said. "Morel can keep making his baubles and increasing his fortune; you will continue to siphon the excess to your cause and, ultimately, to ours."

Balram pictured the look of childlike confusion in Morel's eyes and suppressed a wave of revulsion. "For how long?"

At that, Daen's gaze hardened. "As long as is required to convince me that you are worth my time and effort. Although, if it concerns you, I believe that Morel will perish of either the magic you used or the afflictions of his mind-perhaps both-long before his years catch up to him."


Aazen opened his eyes to the slanted wood ceiling of his room. A dull ache was all that remained of the searing pain in his shoulder. Blinking sleep away, he slid to a sitting position and rubbed a hand over the wound. It had closed completely, leaving the flesh smooth-a pink blemish in the surrounding pale.

His room-he was home, in Morel house. Aazen listened intently for the sounds of battle, for wounded cries, but he heard nothing. What had become of Kall and the assassins?

Footsteps echoed on the stairs-the familiar, purposeful tread of his father. Aazen pulled the quilt up to cover his healed wound, realizing immediately it was a useless gesture. Someone-Haig? — had brought him home-washed the blood from his skin. Likely his father had already seen the evidence of the magical potion.

"He cannot fault me," Aazen murmured. "I was unconscious. I was not responsible for what was done to me." He repeated the words like a protective charm. "He cannot blame me."

"You're awake." His father entered the room and perched on the edge of the bed. "Much has happened that we must discuss."

Aazen immediately sat up straighter. His father issued commands. He rarely offered to discuss anything with him, as one man would to another. "Kall and I were attacked at the lake," Aazen said, "by Dencer and men of Morel."

"I know," his father said calmly. "I orchestrated the attack."

Aazen opened his mouth, but no sound issued. He thought his father must be jesting, but by the look in Balram's eyes, Aazen knew he was not. Fear uncurled in his belly like an oily serpent. He swallowed and asked, "Why?"

"To slay Lord Morel and his son, to show our strength to the Shadow Thieves, that we might eventually gain a place among them," Balram explained. When Aazen only gaped, he went on, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you what I intended. I realize Kall is your friend. Dhairr was mine. Nothing about this decision was simple, Aazen, but I am trying to secure our future-your future. My actions were justified."

Aazen nodded automatically. He had heard such reasoning from his father before. When he awoke facedown on the floor of his room with a loose tooth or swollen lips, or when his belly burned from lack of food two days after some transgression, the actions were always justified. "Is Kall… are they dead?" he asked, striving to keep emotion out of the question. "Haig was with us-"

"Haig is dead," confirmed Balram, "but not by my hand. Dhairr killed him."

"Why?" Aazen hid his horror beneath confusion, which wasn't difficult. Morel, kill an ally? It made no sense.

"Haig was a Harper," his father explained. "Morel has reason not to care for them. Dhairr still lives, but he is no longer a concern. He is under my control and believes his son to be a traitor. Kall, however, escaped. I do not know where."

Relief nearly caused Aazen to swoon. His friend was safe.

"Men loyal to me are searching for him right now," Balram continued. "The boy has seen too much to live." His gaze fixed intently on his son's face. "That's why I need your help, Aazen."

Aazen's fear intensified. "What can I do?"

"Nearly all of your time is spent with Kall. You must have secret places, hidden grounds for whatever foolishness the two of you concoct. Do not deny it," he warned softly as Aazen started to shake his head. "Kall has no other family, nowhere to run except such a place. If we do not find and silence him, if he manages to reach the authorities in Esmeltaran, they will learn what I have done.

"Think, boy," he said, mistaking Aazen's hesitation for a lapse of memory. "You must know a place. We have to hurry. If I am caught, I will be killed."

Aazen frantically searched for a way out of his father's trap. His heart thudded wildly against his ribs. Betray Kall? It was unthinkable. Yet if he didn't, his father would be taken away, and it would be Aazen's fault. "I… I know of a place," he stammered.

Balram's face lit with an ugly smile. "Where?"

He would have to tread very carefully, Aazen thought, or his father would sense the ruse. The serpent in his belly threatened to rise up and choke him, but Aazen forced down the fear and guilt. "Near the lake-the Veshpel estate." He named a house that had burned in mid-Tarsakh. He waited a breath and added, as if it were of no consequence, "Many of us go there to explore the ruins."

The spark of triumph in his father's eyes dimmed. "Will it be occupied, at this time of day?" Balram asked.

"Possibly," Aazen said, and in truth, many of the local boys his age spent their free time among the blackened stones. But Kall would not go there for safety, of that he was certain. The estate was too near Morel house and too open to the world. There were better places to hide.


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