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Authors: Thomas M. Reid

Sapphire Crescent

BOOK: Sapphire Crescent
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The Sapphire Crescent

By Thomas S. Reid


Flamerule, 1362 DR

Xaphira Matrell stumbled into a narrow alley and against the back wall of a net ender’s rough wooden shanty, where

she slumped down behind a small stack of barrels, her left leg throbbing in pain. In the near-darkness of the moonlit night, she held still, hoping the clammy mists and the shadows of her hiding place were deep and dark enough to keep her concealed from pursuit. The salty scent of the bay was heavy, tantalizing her with the nearness of the quay, where she could gain refuge aboard a ship in the harbor.

Beyond her hiding place, along the fog-shrouded street that went past the alley and down to the docks of Arrabar, a trio of armed watchmen jogged into view, their booted feet slapping loudly on the damp cobblestones. They paused there, peering into the alley

uncertainly. Xaphira held her breath and tightened her grip on the crossbow in her hands, ready to fire if it became obvious that she had been spotted.

One of the soldiers muttered something low and unintelligible to his companions, who both shook their heads. Just when it seemed that the trio was about to move closer and begin searching, a shout, muffled by distance and the muggy air, turned their attention away from Xaphira’s location. They turned and sprinted out of sight. When the woman could no longer hear the sounds of their footsteps on the street, she sighed heavily in relief and closed her eyes.

The immediate danger past, the woman’s attention was forcibly turned once more to the excruciating pain in her thigh, where she could see the silhouette of a crossbow bolt protruding from it. She knew she was going to have to yank the missile free, yet she hesitated. It was not so much out of fear of the pain. That she could handle. It was the fear that she would cry out and give away her hiding place that stayed her hand for the moment.

She leaned back, brushing aside the rivulets of sweat that drenched her face, keeping them clear of her eyes. Then she closed those eyes in weariness and sorrow and slumped against the rough wooden wall of the shanty, half listening for the inevitable sounds of soldiers coming into the alley and thinking back to the beginning of the evening, when her nephew had first approached her with his terrible news.

“Aunt Xaphira,” Vambran Matrell said softly, his voice tight with fear as he approached his father’s younger sister. “I think I killed someone.”

Xaphira Matrell gasped softly as she jerked her head to stare at her nephew. He was standing beside

her on a secluded patio overlooking the Lord of Arrabar’s gardens, a finely crafted crossbow in his hands, the stock inlaid with silver and lapis. The matching quiver with its blue-fletched bolts hung by its strap from one shoulder. She recognized the weapon instantly, a recent gift from an uncle. Two of his friends—Adyan Mercatio and Horial Rohden, both proud scions of merchant families themselves— flanked him, staring with wide, round eyes. Behind her, inside the Generon, the palace of the Lord of Arrabar, the din of other guests attending Eles Wianar’s annual Night of Ghosts festival began to fade as the twelve-year-old boy’s words made the blood pound in the young woman’s ears.

Xaphira grasped Vambran by the shoulders and held his gaze firmly.

“How?” the mercenary officer said, clenching her jaw and fighting to keep her voice low so that no one could hear. “Where?”

The younger man’s face was faintly illuminated by both a series of rounded, pierced silver lanterns sitting in a row along the top of the balustrade and the waxing moon shining down upon the port city arrayed below them. Even in the dim light, the woman could see that his visage was grave and pale.

“It was an accident,” Vambran whispered fiercely as the implication of his own deed hit him squarely. “We were just shooting plantains out of the trees, I swear!” he insisted, pointing down into the palace gardens below. “We didn’t mean to…”

The boy’s words faded away as he understood the futility of explanations,

“Are you certain?” Xaphira asked her nephew, locking eyes with him still. “Or is it just a trick of the festival? Someone playing at ghosts?”

Vambran shook his head and replied, “No. I fired a shot, and we heard it hit someone; they yelled in pain. We ran to see what happened and found a man.”

“He’s over there, in the trees,” Horial offered softly, pointing down into the orchard that was part of the garden.

Xaphira groaned to herself, lamenting her nephew’s ill fortune. And foolishness.

Shooting blindly into trees….

“Has anyone else seen you?” she asked, straightening and peering around the balcony to see if other guests were near. “Was anyone else down there in the gardens with you?”

Vambran shook his head no.

“Have you told anyone else?” Xaphira demanded. “No,” Vambran replied.

“Are you certain he’s dead?”

“He was bloody,” the boy replied, shrugging helplessly. “When we saw, we just ran.”

“Then take me to him,” Xaphira insisted. “Show me where he is.”

Despite her calm, firm demeanor, Xaphira’s heart was pounding in her chest. She felt pity welling for Vambran, pity mixed with the devastated disbelief that something so tragic could have befallen her family again. She feared they would not recover from another setback.

Waukeen, please let him still breathe, the mercenary silently pleaded. Don’t let my nephew have to live with a death on his hands.

The tiles beneath Xaphira’s boots were slick with humidity as she followed the three boys toward broad, shallow stairs that would lead down into the gardens, leaving the sounds of the party behind them.

Just as the four of them reached the top of the steps, a voice called to them from behind, “Xaphira, there you are.” It was Dregaul, the mercenary officer’s older brother. The functioning head of House Matrell strolled closer as Xaphira and the three boys halted. “I’ve been looking for you. I wanted you to meet someone back inside. He’s a—”

“There’s been an accident,” Xaphira cut in, keeping her voice low and motioning for her brother to do the same.

Dregaul cocked his head to one side quizzically, then his eyes widened slightly in surprise.

“What?” he asked.

“Just come on,” Xaphira said, turning back and gesturing for the boys to lead on. “Someone’s hurt.”

“Oh, by Waukeen, what’s happened now?” Dregaul murmured softly as he fell into step beside his sister. “What’s going on?”

“Vambran might have accidentally injured someone,” Xaphira replied as she and Dregaul followed the trio, staying close as the boys led the way onto the vast expanse of grass that demarcated the beginning of the gardens. “They’re taking me there now.”

“What?” Dregaul said with a strangled cry, stopping and turning to face his younger sibling. “How did this happen? Vambran, what in the Nine Hells were you doing?”

“Shh!” Xaphira whispered insistently. “Keep your voice down or others will find out.” She stared at her brother until he got the point and snapped his mouth shut. “He didn’t know,” the mercenary added.

“Didn’t think, is more like it,” Dregaul hissed. Out of the corner of her eye, Xaphira could see Vambran flinch. “Are you trying to ruin us, boy?” Dregaul added, shaking his head in disbelief. “Pray your victim still lives.”

The five of them continued on, and none of them said a word. Indeed, Xaphira peered around as they progressed, watching and listening for any signs that others were nearby, others who could discover the victim and raise the cry before she and Dregaul could get the situation in hand. The Lord of Arrabar had invited many guests, and the Generon and its grounds were overflowing that night, but thankfully, no one seemed nearby at the moment.

The three boys pushed through a gap in the low, thick fronds of lush undergrowth near a row of plantain trees, and Xaphira could see several hunks of the fruit lying upon the ground there, slashed and pierced where they had been violently removed from the trees themselves. The boys’ targets, she surmised.

“We were back there, shooting,” Adyan began to explain, delivering the words in his usual lazy drawl, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. “When Vambran took a shot, we heard a grunt and came to see what happened. We found him right … here,” the young man finished, pointing toward the bank of a pond a few paces farther ahead.

Xaphira pushed past the boys and brushed aside damp, clinging foliage. She peered into the moonlit evening, followed closely behind by Dregaul. It was, if possible, even more humid among the lush greenery. She could see a form lying still upon the ground, right near the water’s edge. It was a man, very obviously a party guest, judging by the lavish cut and style of his clothing. Then she spotted the fletched end of a crossbow bolt protruding from the man’s chest, a dark stain spreading from it into the white linen shirt the man wore.


Xaphira had hoped against hope that something else had hurt the man her nephew had found, but it was apparently not meant to be. She stepped closer and knelt down, feeling for any signs of life.

“Is he still alive?” Dregaul asked, looming over Xaphira’s left shoulder.

“No,” the woman replied miserably, rolling the body over onto its back.

“Who is it?” Adyan asked quietly from behind, cautiously peering between the two adults at the corpse.

Xaphira started to shake her head, for she did not recognize the man’s features, but at that moment, a call arose from nearby, in another section of the gardens.

“Rodolpho, where are you?” It was a woman’s call, a cheerful, laughing sound. “Rodolpho, you hide too well. Come out now and take me inside where it’s cooler for some iced punch.”

Dregaul gasped as he heard the mysterious woman’s words.

“By Waukeen,” he breathed softly. “You’ve killed Lord Wianar’s cousin, you fools,” he said, his voice cracking in near-panic as he spun around to stare at the three boys.

Xaphira’s heart fell. She was fond of Vambran. She had been almost fourteen when he was born, and she thought of him as a younger brother. In fact, she had practically raised her nephew herself and felt somewhat like his protector.

And now this, she lamented.

The Lord of Arrabar’s cousin was dead, by the hand of Xaphira’s nephew. However innocently slain, it would be called murder, and Eles Wianar would have his retribution upon the guilty. Upon Vambran.

“Rodolpho! What kind of a rake leaves a lady wandering through his gardens?” The woman called, very clearly closer than she had been previously. “Rodolpho, answer me! This is no longer amusing.”

Xaphira could hear the woman’s footsteps by then, strolling through the orchard toward them. Farther in the distance, others were also calling for the man, moving across the grounds of the palace.

“What were you thinking?” Dregaul demanded quietly, almost pleading, as though an answer might change the situation. Vambran could only shrug helplessly, miserably.

The other two young men stood aghast, utter despair plain in their widening eyes. Adyan’s mouth hung open as he stared back and forth between Dregaul and Vambran, while Horial clutched at his midsection and staggered away a couple of steps, shaking his head in futile denial, looking like he was

about to be sick.

“This can’t be happening,” Dregaul muttered helplessly, his gaze locked on nothing, his stare distant. “The House,” he said, his tone forlorn. “The estate. We’ll lose it all.”

His hands went to his temples, his fingertips first grinding into his skull and running up and through his swept-back, graying hair. The man opened and shut his mouth several times more, unable to find the words he needed.

Xaphira shook her head.

“No,” she whispered firmly, trying to reason out some way to extract Vambran from the situation. “It was an accident. We can explain it to Lord Wianar, have him bring priests, fund a resurrection. Surely he will under—”

“Don’t be a fool,” Dregaul snapped. “You know the game. The family is responsible for killing Lord Wianar’s cousin, and now House Matrell is at his mercy. He will crush us. Or worse, manipulate the situation to his advantage, and House Matrell will be his to use as he wishes. All because my foolish nephew,” Dregaul said, turning back to Vambran, who stood with tears running down his face, “the son of my dead brother, could not be bothered to consider the consequences of his actions. Your uncle Kovrim should never have given you that wretched weapon, and I should never have allowed you to bring it to the Generon tonight. You cannot fathom the doom you have brought upon us all, most especially upon yourself. And I cannot help you.”

He turned away from the rest of them, his shoulders slumped, and he took several paces to distance himself.

Xaphira watched, heartbroken, as Vambran stood silently sobbing, tears running down his face as his hands clenched and unclenched by his sides. She wanted to take hold of him, crush him to her like

she had when he was a small child, but she dared not. She could not take his guilt from him, no matter how hard she tried.

Or can I?

The idea came so suddenly, it nearly knocked Xaphira flat. If her heart seemed to have been pounding before, at that point it felt as though it would burst from her chest. It was a way to redeem Vambran, a way to allow him to reclaim his life—for he was still merely a child in so many ways, and had so much still to look forward to—but at the same time, it terrified the mercenary officer. The implications…

Xaphira acted before she could think, before she could change her mind.

“Wait,” she called to Dregaul.

Xaphira peered through the hedge and could see the woman who had been calling out. She was moving slowly toward them, her head scanning back and forth uncertainly, one hand rapidly airing herself with a fan spread wide. As she peered about, she moved her other hand up and testily brushed aside damp, limp ringlets of hair that had plastered themselves to the sides of her face from the dampness. She had not spotted them. Carefully, silently, Xaphira motioned for her four companions to crouch down, out of sight. She moved close to them.

“There is a way out of this,” she said, her voice barely even a whisper. “For you.”

BOOK: Sapphire Crescent
11.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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