Read Dagger Online

Authors: David Drake

Tags: #Fantasy - General, #Fantasy, #Fiction - Fantasy, #General, #Science fiction, #Fiction

Dagger

Dagger
Book Jacket
Series:
Thieves' World [5]
Rating:
Tags:
Fantasy - General, Fantasy, Fiction - Fantasy, General, Science fiction, Fiction

SUMMARY:
Caravan master, warrior extraordinaire, Samlor hil Samt had come to the foul city of Sanctuary to protect his niece's claim in a secret inheritance. Yet something dark and savage lurked in the shadowed streets--born of the mystical dagger Samlor dared to wield.

Drake, David - Thieves World - Dagger.htmSanilor stepped forward and swung at the demon ...

He chopped for a wrist. Instead of slipping through like light in mist, the caravan master's steel clanged as numbing-ly as if he had slashed an anvil. The demon seized the blade and began to chitter in high-pitched laughter. All of the demon but its right leg had pulled free of the wall. That leg was still smokily insubstantial, but the claws of the left foot cut triple furrows in the concrete as they strained to drag the creature wholly out of the stone. The left hand—

forepaw—

was reaching for Samlor's face while the right gripped

his knife . . .

Don't miss these other exciting tales of Sanctuary T": the meanest, seediest, most dangerous town in all the worlds of fantasy. . . .

THIEVES' WORLD

(Stories by Asprin, Abbey, Anderson, Bradley, Brunner, DeWees, Halde-man, and Offutt)

TALES FROM THE VULGAR UNICORN (Stories by Asprin, Abbey, Drake, Farmer, Morris, Offutt, and van Vogt)

SHADOWS OF SANCTUARY

(Stories by Asprin, Abbey, Cherryh, Mclntyre, Morris, Offutt, and Paxson) STORM SEASON (Stories by Asprin, Abbey, Cherryh, Morris, Offutt, and Paxson) THE FACE OF CHAOS (Stories by Asprin, Abbey, Cherryh, Drake, Morris, and Paxson)

WINGS OF OMEN

(Stories by Asprin, Abbey, Bailey, Cherryh, Duane, Chris and Janet Morris, Offutt, and Paxson)

THE DEAD OF WINTER

(Stories by Asprin, Abbey, Bailey, Cherryh, Duane, Morris, Offutt, and Paxson)

SOUL OF THE CITY

(Stories by Abbey, Cherryh, and Morris)

BLOOD TIES

(Stories by Asprin, Abbey, Bailey, Cherryh. Duane, Chris and Janet Morris, Andrew and Jodie Offutt. and Paxson)

AFTERMATH

(Stories by Asprin, Abbey. Brunner, Drake, Morris, Offutt, and Perry)

DAGGER

DAVID DRAKE

m

ACE BOOKS, NEW YORK

This book is an Ace

original edition, and has

never been previously

published.

DAGGER

An Ace Book/published by arrangement with the author

PRINTING HISTORY

Ace edition/April 1988

All rights reserved. Copyright © 1988 by David Drake.

Cover art by Gary Ruddell.

This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part,

by mimeograph or any other means, without permission.

For information address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

200 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016.

ISBN: 0-441-80609-0

''THIEVES' WORLD" and "SANCTUARY" are trademarks belonging to Robert Lynn Asprin and Lynn Abbey.

Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,

200 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016.

The name "Ace" and the "A"

logo are trademarks belonging

to Charter Communications, Inc.

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 10 987654321

To

Bob Asprin,

who in October 1979 asked, "Have you read Thieves' World yet?"

CHAPTER 1

"You NEED A dagger, caravan master," said the stranger to Samlor hil Samt as he began to bring a weapon slowly out from under his cloak.

The man hadn't spoken loudly, but there were key words which rang in the air of the Vulgar Unicorn. Weapon words were almost as sure a way to get attention in this bar as the mention of money. Conversation stopped or dropped into a lower key; eyes shifted over beer mugs and dice cups.

Samlor was already in the state of tension which gripped any sane man when he walked into this bar in the heart of Sanctuary's Maze district. More than the word "dagger" shocked him now, so that his right hand slipped to the brass pommel and hilt—

of nondescript hardwood, plain and serviceable like the man who carried it—

of the long fighting knife in his belt sheath.

At the same time, Samlor's left arm swept behind him to locate and hold his seven-year-old niece Star. She was with him in this place because there was no place safer for her than beside her mother's brother . . . which was almost another way of saying that there is no safety at all in this life. Almost: because for forty-three years, Samlor hil Samt had managed to do what he thought he had to do, be damned to the price he paid or the cost to whatever stood between him and duty.

1

2 David Drake

The stranger shouldn't have called him "caravan master. " That's what he was, what he had been ever since he had determined to lift his family from poverty, despite the scorn all his kin heaped on him for dishonoring Cirdonian nobility by going into trade. But no one in Sanctuary should have recognized Samlor; and if they did, he and Star were in trouble much deeper than the general miasma of danger permeating this place.

There were people in Sanctuary who actively wished Samlor dead. That was unusual; not because he'd lived a life free from deadly enemies, but because fate or the Cirdonian caravan master himself had carried off most of those direct threats already.

When he bedded his camels at night on the trail, Samlor walked the circuit of the laager prodding crevices and holes with a cornel-wood staff flexible enough to reach an arm's length down a circuitous burrow.

If there were a hiss or an angry jarring of fangs on the staff, he either blocked the hole or, as the mood struck him, teased the snake into the open to be finished with a whip-swift flick of the staff. That was the only way to prevent beasts and men from being bitten when they rolled in their sleep onto vipers sheltering against mammalian warmth.

The caravan routes were a hard school, but applying the lessons he learned to human enemies had kept Samlor alive longer than would otherwise have been the case.

Sanctuary, though, was a problem better avoided than solved—

and insoluble

besides. Samlor had no intention of seeing and smelling the foulness of this place ever again, until the messenger arrived with the letter from Samlane. It could have been a forgery, though the Cirdonian script on the strip of bark-pulp paper was illegible until it had been wound onto a message staff of the precise length and diameter of the ones Samlor's family had adopted when they were ennobled seventeen generations before. But the hand was right; the message had the right aurai of terse presumption that Samlor would do his sister's will in this matter—

And the paper was browned enough with age, despite having been locked in a banker's strong room. The document might well have been written before Samlane

DAGGER 3

died with her brother's knife through her belly and through the thing she carried in her womb.

Samlor couldn't imagine what inheritance could be worth the risk of bringing Star back to Sanctuary, but his sister had been foolishly destructive only of herself. If the legacy which would come to Star at age seven were that important, then it was Samlor's duty as the child's uncle to see that she received it.

It was his duty as the father as well, but that was something he thought about only when he awakened in the bleak darkness.

So he was in Sanctuary again, where no one was safe; and a man he didn't know had just identified him.

Star put a hand on her uncle's elbow, to reassure Samlor of her presence and the fact that she understood the tension.

The trio of punks by the door glanced sidelong with greasy eyes. They were street toughs, too young to have an identity beyond the gang membership they proclaimed with matching yellow bandanas and high boots that made sense only for horsemen. They were dangerous. Like baboons, they stank, yammered, and let vicious hostility toward outsiders serve in situations where humans would have found intelligence to be useful.

Four soldiers, out of uniform but obvious from the way their hair was cut short to fit beneath helmets, sat at a table near the bar with a pimp and a woman. The pimp gave Samlor and the situation an appraising look. The woman eyed the caravan master blearily, because he happened to be standing where her eyes were more or less focused.

And the soldiers, after momentary alertness at the possibility of a brawl, resumed their negotiations regarding a price for the woman to go down on all four of them in the alley outside.

There were a dozen other people in the tavern, besides the slope-shouldered tapster and the bar maid—

the only other woman present—

who slid between tables,

too tired to slap at the hands that groped her and too jaded to care. The drinkers, solitary or in pairs, were nondescript though clothed within a fair range of wealth and national origin.

4 David Drake

They could be identified as criminals only because they chose to gather here.

"I don't need a dagger," said Samlor, releasing Star to free his left hand as his right lifted the wedge of his own belt knife a few inches up in its sheath.

"I have my own."

There was nothing fartcy about Samlor's weapon. The blade was a foot long with two straight edges. The metal had no ornamentation beyond the unsharpened relief cuts which would permit the user to short-grip the weapon with an index finger over the crosshilt. It was forged of a good grade of steel—

though again, nothing

exceptional.

Recently, a few blades of Enlibar steel had appeared. These were worked from iron alloyed with a blue-green ore of copper which had been cursed by earth spirits, kobolds. The ore could be smelted only with magical means, and it was said to give an exceptional toughness to sword blades.

Samlor had been interested in the reports, but he'd survived as long as he had by sticking to what he was sure would work. He left the experiments with kobold steel to others.

"You'll want this anyway," said the stranger, lifting his dagger by its crosshilt so that the pommel was toward Samlor.

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