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Authors: Dan O'Sullivan

The Fallen (Book 1) (57 page)

BOOK: The Fallen (Book 1)
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Daoine Maithe Book 3

CHILD OF
A GUARDIAN AND OF THE FREE

 

Chapter 1

Kalinya

 

Kalinya knelt on the ground beside his mother’s body. His mouth moved as if he was straining to speak to her, but his whispers were incoherent. He lifted her hand and squeezed it with dirty fingers but she continued to stare unseeingly heavenward. He leaned backwards and tried to drag her body into a sitting position, but he was a thin boy, and although his mother was also a slender woman, she was far too heavy for him to move.

‘Please?’ he whispered desperately, leaning over her dirty and bloodied face. ‘Mama? Say something.’ He touched her lips with his finger and tried to open her mouth. ‘Mama? Wake up mama! Please wake up! Please! Please mama!’ His voice rose frantically and he patted his mother’s face. His pleas turned to quiet sobs and he lay on the ground and snuggled against her still warm body. The sound of voices, out of sight but approaching, made him jump to his feet.

‘Mama,’ he whispered, staring miserably down at her body and a renewed fountain of tears rushed down his cheeks. He could hear the footsteps coming closer and he knew that at any second someone would walk around the corner of the building and they would see his mother’s dead body. He backed slowly and quietly into the small, dark gap between two buildings and crouched, his eyes fixed on his mother. Two men approached. The first was a small, wiry man. He had a pleasant, likeable face and an almost permanent smile on his lips. His hair was neatly clipped and his face sported the shadow of a
beard. He wore the typical mid-calf length, baggy pants commonly worn by his people, and the conventional long, open vest. His clothing was entirely black and even in the moonlight he seemed to disappear into the darkness. He crouched beside the woman’s body and glanced up at his companion. This man was tall and corpulent. His fair hair was styled in large curls and he was dressed in similar pants and shirt but in garish yellow.

‘Is she dead Guli?’ asked the fat man.

‘Let’s double check, shall we?’ said Guli. Without warning he drew a knife and slammed it up under the woman’s ribs. The boy hidden in the shadows crammed his fist against his mouth as silent screams wracked his body. ‘She’s dead,’ said Guli coldly, wiping his knife on the woman’s hair. He glanced up at Graedy’s nervous face. ‘Hold yourself together Graedy. Remember, for me this is just a job - nothing else. The job’s been done.’

‘But who killed her?’

‘You don’t need to know that.’

‘What do we do with her now?’ The fat man peered around nervously.

‘You know, for someone in your position, Graedy, you aren’t showing a huge amount of intelligence,’ said Guli, standing up. ‘You know nothing about this.’ There was a slight noise behind him and he swung around, holding his knife with blade upwards in front of his body. He smiled dangerously and lowered the knife. ‘Come on out kid,’ he said encouragingly. ‘We won’t hurt you. Is this your mother?’

The child turned and darted further back into the darkness and Guli dived after him, cursing angrily as the boy leapt nimbly through a low window and disappeared. Guli pulled himself through the window and dropped silently to the floor. He looked around. A small shadow darted through the open doorway at the far end of the long room. Guli rushed across the stone floor, and flung himself through
the doorway and into the street. He continued down the street for some way, looking into every possible hiding place, before he resigned himself to the fact that the child had escaped. With a grunt of annoyance he sat himself down on an old disused barrel. It was some time before Graedy caught up to him.

‘We have to find him,’ said Guli.

‘Kalinya’s just a child, surely-’

‘He saw both of us with his mother’s body.’

‘But he didn’t actually see one us kill her, did he?’

‘No. And I supposed he’ll have no objection to seeing me sticking a knife up her guts just to make sure she was dead?’

‘Oh. So what do we do?’ Graedy turned red with distress.

‘I’ll find him. How far can a child go with no food, no gold, and well…
nothing at all?’

‘How will you find him?’

‘We know where he lives. Even if he tries to run, he’s bound to go home to get some food. I’ll be waiting for him.’

‘Good. Good.’

‘As far as I can see, the child is the only loose end that needs trimming.’

‘So do you think everyone else is in place?’

‘I’m sure they are.’

‘And the woman?’

‘The woman will be there.’

‘And the extra staff?’

‘In place.’

‘And the intensifier?’

‘Don’t worry, there’s enough intensifier in there that when it goes up in flames, there will be no stopping it. It will be fast and fierce.’

‘Where did you get it?’

‘I didn’t get it.’

‘Where did it come from?’

‘You could be killed for knowing.’

‘Ah. I see.’ He paused in thought. ‘And the Empress?’

‘Magnificently uninformed.
Stop worrying. Everything on your list is complete, thanks to me.’

Graedy sighed heavily. ‘We’re just links in a chain, doing what we do because if we don’t someone will...’

‘Kill you?’ Guli asked curiously, wondering how long it would be before whoever was employing himself, via Graedy, would decide to remove the middle man.

Graedy swallowed nervously. ‘It’s getting out of control. I wish I knew what they were actually planning - I mean, it’s obvious what’s going to happen.
But why?’

‘I have no idea. And it’s going to cost you extra if you want me to kill Kalinya.’

‘Extra?’

‘You employed me to remove certain people from certain places and to ensure many unpleasant tasks were completed on your behalf, or on your superior’s behalf I guess you’d say. I don’t want to know who you are working for, or exactly what you are planning. No. That’s not entirely correct - I have a fair idea of what’s going to happen to the Sanctuary if someone strikes steel on flint, but your reasons are of no concern to me. What is of concern is that killing Kalinya wasn’t on your list. If you want him dead, then you pay me the fee. It’s as simple as that.’

Without comment, Graedy opened his money pouch and dropped two gold coins in Guli’s outstretched hand. Guli waited. Graedy sighed heavily and handed him two more coins. They rose and departed in opposite directions.

Kalinya emerged from behind a pillar supporting a huge brick archway. He climbed back through the window of the old building, mentally thanking whatever person or animal ran from the room earlier, giving him a much needed distraction. He crept through the
darkness between the two buildings. His mother’s body still lay on the ground, but now there were four women of the city guards standing near her and speaking together. He backed away once again. Fear ran through him as he saw his peril. He knew that the man Guli would come after him, and from their conversation it was obvious they meant to kill him. He wondered, if he went down to the city guards, whether they would think he had killed his mother. He was sure if they thought he had killed her, they would lock him away. He had always been afraid of the dangerous looking guards with their hair tied back tightly and their black tunics. He stayed crouched in the darkness and watched miserably as they took his mother away.

A strange determination rushed through him as they carried her body to a waiting cart and lifted her onto the boards. He knew he must flee and that he must do so immediately if he was to survive. And he knew he would need food and water, but after listening to Guli talking to Graedy, he vowed never to return to the tiny home he had shared with his mother. There were very few places he could hide where he wouldn’t be found, and he wondered if he could stow aboard a cart taking goods to another city. He decided that the docks would be the best place to start looking. He let his thoughts rush ahead as he slipped through the shadows towards the docks. There was an ominous growl from his stomach and he wondered if he should steal some food at the first opportunity. Or perhaps he could go without until he reached a safer place. He was accustomed to being hungry and the prospect didn’t particularly perturb him. He knew he could go for quite a while without food. The nights were warm so he was not concerned that he had only the clothing he was wearing and no blankets. He kept his head down and tried to stay in the dark shadows as he crept through the city.

Guli sauntered towards Kalinya’s house, wondering how quickly the child might return. The thought of killing a child disturbed him somewhat, but he had other business, and if the child should take some time to return to the house, Guli knew he would need to arrange for someone to wait for his return and kill him when he arrived. He was confident he would still profit from the business. He approached Kalinya’s house warily, knowing the child would flee if he saw him coming, but his caution was unnecessary. The house was empty. He walked behind the house into a small laneway and sat against the wall to wait. In a moment of concern, he wondered if the child would attempt to flee the city without returning to his home. Guli considered this possibility for some time, contemplating how much gold he could coerce from Graedy if he needed to send assassins outside the city. This would incur significant cost and he knew it would be financially preferable to track the child outside the city himself and kill him personally. He was hesitant to leave the house unguarded, but he knew if the child was attempting to leave the city he should try to stop him before he got too far, so he decided if the child did not return soon, he would arrange for someone to watch the home and he would search for the child himself.  For several hours he waited, and then he rose to stretch his cramped muscles, deciding to approach Graedy for an increased fee for what may turn out to be a long and tedious search. He knew Graedy had little choice but to agree to pay the fee. As an Overseer in the Sanctuary, Graedy would not have a large salary, and Guli was certain the only way the Overseer could afford his luxuries was by pilfering money from the Sanctuary Treasury for which he was being paid to account. Guli had hinted on several occasions that he was aware of Graedy’s theft, and the Overseer had reacted so guiltily Guli had been able to use this knowledge to ensure Graedy paid his fee promptly and fully, for fear that Guli should expose his dishonesty. He was also fairly certain he wasn’t the only person manipulating the Overseer. He had been hired on many occasions by Graedy, but he knew Graedy was simply being used. He knew Grady was unlikely to tell him who was behind the string of requests for the forced disappearance of many Sanctuary servants. He suspected it might be one of the Sanctuary Guards. Graedy was not a fighting man and Guli felt sure he could be controlled by the threat of a slow and painful death. He didn’t like not knowing who he was truly working for, and he decided to make it his business to find out. He hunkered down against the wall once again and considered the possibilities. Caution was of paramount importance, he decided. If he was to dig for information, he wanted to be sure he could do so without arousing suspicion. He decided the best course of action might be to ask a price of Graedy that he knew the Overseer would not be able to pay. Then he would watch him and follow him. With a little luck, Graedy would lead him to whoever was manipulating him, and then Guli was confident he could find a way to deal directly with the unknown person. He stood up and strode purposefully away, not looking back towards the empty house.

It was almost midnight when Kalinya reached the docks. He could see no-one, but was well aware that most of the more important carts and water vessels would be guarded, so he remained in the shadows of the warehouses hidden behind abandoned, broken wooden crates, watching the carts hopefully as he waited for dawn. Whilst he had been moving he had managed to stifle the horrible torment of grief and terror, but now the feelings re-emerged with vengeance and he found himself crying again and thinking of his mother, one moment alive and the next moment dead. She had returning from her work when Kalinya went to meet her, to walk home with her. He had ignored her instruction to wait at home until she arrived and he wondered if she would have been killed if he hadn’t been out looking for her. Even though in the bottom of his heart he knew this notion was ridiculous, guilt consumed him. He wished she had never started working at the Sanctuary. There were many women employed there to wash and cook and clean for the
Empress, but few lived within the walls, and his mother was an artist, not a servant. So each night she would walk home through the streets. He wondered for a moment why someone would kill her, and he felt angry and resentful that someone should rob him of the only person he loved and the only person who loved him. He puzzled for a moment over the two men who had first found her body. It seemed to Kalinya that they were looking for her, and that they also wanted her dead. He had no idea who the smaller man was, but the large, blond man was vaguely familiar to him. He could endure the waiting no longer and he suddenly stood up. There was a loud thud as his head struck a piece of wood protruding from the side of the warehouse and Kalinya dropped like a stone, losing consciousness immediately.

When he regained consciousness Kalinya momentarily thought he’d gone blind. He rubbed his eyes vigorously and found his eyes were gummed together with sticky blood which had run profusely from a jagged gash on his head. He felt light headed. By the angle of the sun he could see it was hours past daybreak. The docks were now a site of activity. Men shouted and cursed as they moved their carts around the docks between the water vessels and the warehouses. Women had set up a bunch of little stalls along the side of the warehouses and were crying out to passersby, boasting the exaggerated attributes of their merchandise. Several dogs were fighting over an old piece of meat they had stolen and hundreds of sea gulls lined the docks looking for any discarded fish as the boats unloaded their catch. Kalinya moved around the pile of broken crates and pushed his way through the crowds towards the water. At the northern end of the dock there was a wooden ladder leading down to a rocky ledge which jutted out into the sea. He climbed down the ladder and sat on the rocks, holding his head in his hands in a vain effort to stop it pounding. He leaned forward and took a handful of water and began bathing the cut on his head. It was all he could do
not to shout as the salty water touched the wound, but he continued doggedly until he felt he had removed most of the blood from his face and hair. He reached forward one last time and stopped in surprise. Lying on the sand and covered in water, right in front of his nose was a small silver coin. He reached forward eagerly and scooped it up, hardly believing his luck. With this coin he could buy himself several meals. Clutching the coin in his hand, he dragged himself up the wooden ladder and walked along the docks to where loaded carts were departing. There was a small inside pocket in his vest and he slipped the coin inside, patting it every few seconds to ensure it remained safe. He hesitated when he reached the carts, then approached the nearest of the merchants.

BOOK: The Fallen (Book 1)
3.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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