Read The Queen's Blade Prequel I - Conash: Dead Son Online

Authors: T C Southwell

Tags: #cat, #orphan, #ghost, #murderer, #thief, #haunted, #familiar, #eunuch

The Queen's Blade Prequel I - Conash: Dead Son (32 page)

BOOK: The Queen's Blade Prequel I - Conash: Dead Son
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That night,
Blade was surprised when Borass himself came to deliver the balance
of his fee, settling onto the bench opposite with a furtive glance
around the room. Borass pushed a bag of coins across the table, and
Blade hefted it before tucking it into his jacket. Borass ordered a
mug of ale and stared at Blade with disconcerting intensity. The
assassin leant back and sipped his wine.

Borass leant
forward. “Did you kill him?”

Blade frowned.
“Why would you ask that?”

“Because
according to the criers, no one could have, yet someone did.”

“A testament to
my skill.”

“If indeed it
was you.”

“If you doubted
it, why did you pay the balance of my fee?”

Borass
shrugged. “Someone did.”

“Yet you doubt
me.”

“How could
you...?” Borass shook his head. “No, you won't tell me, I know. I'm
impressed, though. They're calling his killer the Invisible
Assassin.”

Blade inclined
his head. “That's one of my titles.”

Borass drained
his ale in a few gulps. “Then you'd best change your haunt. The
Trobalons are out for revenge.”

“No one ever
seeks vengeance on the assassin, only his employer.”

“You don't know
the Trobalons, obviously.”

Borass rose,
and left Blade gazing after him with a faint frown. This,
apparently, was one of the drawbacks of being the Dance Master. The
Trobalons would expect whoever had paid for Grelath's death to have
hired the best assassin in the city, which laid the blame on
Blade's doorstep. While most would not try to kill the Dance
Master, perhaps the Trobalons were angry enough to do it. Without
proof, however, they might think twice. Nonetheless, he decided to
lie low for a while, and take Borass' advice. He had enough goldens
to keep him in wine and lodgings for some time.

Half a
time-glass later, Blade looked up when a shadow fell on his table.
Talon stood over him, his expression grimly proud. He sat opposite
and signalled to the serving wench. Blade eyed him without
enthusiasm and inclined his head.

“Elder
Talon.”

“Dance Master.
You've done well for yourself. Grelath's death must have been
expensive.”

“I'll wager you
wish I still shared my fees with you.”

“Indeed,
assassins don't bring in much in their first two years.” Talon
leant closer, his eyes scanning Blade's face. “You did it, didn't
you? You used the disguise.”

“That's none of
your business.”

Talon smiled.
“I knew it. The whore, Jishi, that was you.”

Blade glared
across the room, wishing he could tell Talon to leave, rudely, but
his code constrained him. Elders were respected, especially by
fully-fledged assassins. The serving wench brought Talon a cup of
wine, and the elder sipped it.

“You need to be
careful,” he said. “The Trobalons are a dangerous bunch, and once
they've sorted out their internal wrangles over inheritance,
they'll seek revenge. You're their prime suspect, and while they'll
think twice about killing you, they may try to beat your employer's
name out of you.”

“Everyone knows
assassins won't reveal it.”

“Yes, but they
may still try, and take a great deal of satisfaction from your
injury.”

“They have no
proof.”

Talon shook his
head. “They don't need it. No one's going to punish them for
torturing an assassin. The Watch will turn a blind eye, even if
they did it at a guardhouse. You've got to be careful, and -”

“I know. Change
my haunt, lay low.”

“Yes. I'm glad
you've realised that.”

Blade sighed.
“I'm not a fool, Talon.”

“Just an
overconfident youngster. Look at you. You still look nineteen.”

“But I'm
not.”

Talon sipped
his wine. “Good. I wouldn't want you to meet a sticky end. Your
reputation is growing formidable. You've earned your new
title.”

“And you're
basking in my glory.”

“I am. I now
have three apprentices who all want to be like you.” Talon snorted.
“They never will be, though, they're all too busy wenching,
drinking and playing tosspot.”

“I would have
been too, if I'd had that option.”

“Yes. But
instead you've become the best Jondar assassin ever, perhaps the
best in all Jashimari. You should be proud. I am.”

Blade glared at
his former mentor. “I'm in no mood for company.”

Talon sighed.
“In other words, 'bugger off'.”

“Something like
that.”

“I've missed
you. And I take little credit for what you've become. You did most
of it. All I did was teach you the basics and give you the tools.”
He gazed at Blade's averted face. “And you're as cold as your name
implies. I was wrong. It suits you perfectly.”

Talon drained
his cup, rose and headed for the door, leaving Blade glaring at his
back. Tiring of all the unwanted attention, the assassin finished
his wine and went upstairs to his room to pack. One advantage to
changing his haunt was that Talon would not be able to find him for
a while. He did not know why, but he disliked the elder assassin's
company. Then again, he disliked everyone's company.

 

***

 

Blade wandered
along a dirty alley, heading home after a night of nursing wine
bottles in the dingy alehouse down the road. His new abode was the
top floor of a run-down double-storey house in the poor quarter, a
step up from the slums, but still dismal and cheap. His stash of
goldens was largely untouched, even though he had not worked in the
two moons since he had assassinated Grelath. He had built a new
platform to practice his dancing skills on, at the edge of the
forest just outside the city. It was larger than Talon's, and
better built, because Blade had paid skilled carpenters to erect
it. Many platforms were secreted around the city, one of the few
signs assassins left of their industry. Apart from ordering wine
from serving wenches in the various taprooms he frequented, he had
not spoken to anyone since his conversation with Talon.

Today had been
much like any other. He had slept until noon, then risen and
strolled to his platform to practice for three time-glasses. Having
worked up a thirst and a paltry appetite, he had chosen a taproom
to reside in for the remainder of the day, and consumed three
bottles of potent red wine on top of a plate of beef stew. His head
swam and his steps meandered down the alley, stumbling in the
refuse. So it was every day, on his return from an alehouse. This
was his life. Empty and pointless, but the wine made it bearable.
Barely. He had so many things he wanted to drown, the freshest
being his encounter with Grelath and the nauseating memory of the
man's tongue in his mouth. It still made his stomach squirm.

Blade turned
into a narrower, dimmer and filthier alley, a shortcut to his
dwelling, and reeled along it. The hair on the back of his scalp
rose, and he glanced around. There was a sharp thud, and darkness
slammed down.

Boots kicked
him, and he writhed, groaning. Pain flared from his arm and one
leg, and his ribs were on fire. He forced open one eye, which
something sticky tried to glue closed. The stench of blood filled
his nose, and his stomach heaved. Clearly his assailants had beaten
him for quite some time while he had been unconscious. Sharp pain
shot from his belly and back. Another boot thudded into his back,
and something bashed his head, making sparkles dance in his eyes.
Deep voices muttered curses and insults, and a cold, wet gobbet hit
his cheek and ran down it. He tried to grope for the dagger in his
left wrist sheath, but his right arm would not obey him, so he
tried the left. A boot slammed into his shoulder, sending him
rolling, then something hit the side of his head, and darkness fell
once more.

 

****

 

Read the
conclusion of
The Queen’s Blade
prequels in the second book,
God Touched
.

About the
author

 

T. C. Southwell
was born in Sri Lanka and her family moved to the Seychelles when
she was a baby. She spent her formative years exploring the islands
– mostly alone. Naturally, her imagination flourished and she
developed a keen love of other worlds. The family travelled through
Europe and Africa and, after the death of her father, settled in
South Africa. T. C. Southwell has written over thirty novels and
five screenplays. Her hobbies include motorcycling, horse riding
and art, and she earns a living in the IT industry.

 

All
illustrations and cover designs by the author.

 

Contact the
author at [email protected]

 

Acknowledgements

Mike Baum and
Janet Longman, former employers, for their support, encouragement,
and help. My mother, without whose financial support I could not
have dedicated myself to writing for ten years. Isabel Cooke,
former agent, whose encouragement and enthusiasm led to many more
books being written, including this one. Suzanne Stephan, former
agent, who has helped me so much over the past six years, and
Vanessa Finaughty, good friend and business partner, for her
support, encouragement and editing skills.

 

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