David Dalglish: A Dance of Ghosts

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David Dalglish A Dance of Ghosts
  • Название:
    A Dance of Ghosts
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    Little, Brown Book Group
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    Фэнтези / на английском языке
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David Dalglish

A Dance of Ghosts


Kadish Fel wore a rut into the dirt floor as he paced in the center of the large warehouse. The smell of dust overwhelmed his nose, and he sneezed often. All around were giant squares of hay stacked to the ceiling, hay Kadish would sell to the outlying farms come winter. He kept his hands clasped behind his back, for it was the only way to keep himself from drawing his swords and twirling them as a nervous tic. But drawn weapons wouldn’t do, not when he needed his ambush to succeed.

“Not sure I’ve ever seen you so nervous,” said Carlisle, a squat man who helped Kadish with the more brutal affairs of his Hawk Guild. “You really think Darkhand will be that frightening in person?”

Kadish stopped his pacing, just for a moment.

“You know his reputation,” he said, running a hand through his auburn hair.

“Aye, I do,” laughed Carlisle. “But I also know people love telling tales, and that the tales get larger with the telling. This guy lives three kingdoms away, and every story making its way here probably went through many tellings before ever reaching us.”

Carlisle reached into his pocket, taking out a pinch of snuff and snorting it.

“Besides,” he continued, rubbing his eyes as they watered. “I don’t care if this guy’s the biggest shit in all of Mordeina; he’s still coming into our city. Our home. That arrogant prick dies tonight.”

Kadish looked to the rafters, to the tops of the mountains of hay. Hidden above were nearly twenty members of his Hawk Guild, every last one armed with crossbow bolts tipped with poison. On the ground were ten more, their daggers ready. In but a moment, Kadish could bring the wrath of his entire guild upon the man he was soon to meet for the first time. Yet he still felt he was the one in danger.

Muzien the Darkhand, no matter how bloated his reputation, no matter how far he was from home, was still a man to fear.

“Perhaps he won’t show,” Kadish said as the minutes crawled, midnight passing and the truly late hours arriving. “He might have anticipated our ambush.”

Carlisle sat down on a single bundle of hay, grunting and shifting at its lack of comfort. He took another hit of snuff, then shook his head.

“Or maybe he’s abandoned coming into Veldaren altogether. That Victor fellow, how long ago was it, three weeks…”

“Five,” said Kadish.

“Five, right. Whatever. Victor’s men thrashed the Sun Guild, drove ’em out of the city like they were rats on a ship. Fuck, even the fabled Grayson Lightborn got his ass killed. Perhaps Muzien took one look at our city and decided he didn’t want to share his right-hand man’s fate?”

“Then why set up this meeting if he was just going to turn tail and slither back to Mordeina?”

Carlisle spit.

“He’s an elf. Who says he has to make sense?”

Kadish shrugged. Well, Carlisle did have a point there. Still, the reputation the Darkhand carried …

“No,” Kadish said. “The Sun Guild isn’t finished with our city just yet. He’s here, in Veldaren. And he’ll be here for our meeting, even if he makes us wait a few hours.”

“What makes you so certain?”

Kadish crossed his arms and leaned against one of the nine support beams throughout the middle of the building. The wood was rough and splintered, but his long brown cloak kept him safe from its discomfort. His brow furrowed, and he let his voice drop in hopes that only Carlisle, and not the rest of his hidden men, would hear.

“Because a man with a reputation like Muzien’s doesn’t get it through accident,” he said. “He gets it by working his ass off for it and making sure nothing tarnishes it. He’s like Thren in that regard, except even better if we’re to believe the stories. By Karak, I think every child alive has heard the tale of Muzien’s Red Wine.”

Carlisle snickered.

“Well,” he said. “Make sure you don’t drink anything that elf offers you, then, eh?”

“Indeed. But my point is, calling us here for a meeting and then flaking … all it takes are a few whispers by me and everyone hears of his cowardice, his unreliability. He won’t allow it, no matter how petty. He wants us afraid, every single one of us. I have a feeling we’re not the first he’ll talk to tonight.”

“Perhaps,” said Carlisle. “But we’ll sure as shit be the last he talks to.”

“I pray we are.”

With a sudden bang, the worn door blocking the only entrance to the building smacked open. Despite the many hours of waiting, despite his fear of the unknown guildmaster of the Suns, Kadish felt relief that the time had finally come. In through the door walked two hard-looking men dressed in dark grays and tightly fitted clothing. Daggers gleamed from their belts. They wore no cloaks, instead bearing the four-pointed star sewn just above their hearts. From what Kadish had learned, the rings in their ears signified solo kills, and each man had at least a dozen hoops and studs. They strode in without pause, their eyes scanning every corner of the room. Kadish swallowed, trusting his men to be adequately hidden.

And then in stepped the Darkhand. He was tall, and despite the long dark coat he wore, it was striking how slender an elf Muzien was. That slenderness belied a smooth strength, for each step he took was carefully weighted, every twitch of his muscles like that of a feline predator. His hair was a dark umber, the front of which was hooked into two braids and tied behind his head. From his hips swayed two swords, mimicking him in length and slenderness. Upon entering the building, Muzien glanced about the place, seeing the tall stacks of hay, and smirked. That done, he brought his attention to Kadish as he moved to join his two acquaintances. The moment those cool blue eyes settled on Kadish, he felt his scrotum tighten, felt the air around him thicken. Kadish had met hard men, had spent decades among those who viewed life as something to trade and fuck and cut short without a second thought.

He’d not seen eyes quite like Muzien’s. Beneath that gaze, Kadish felt like an insect seeking an audience with the boot about to crush him beneath its heel.

“Wel … welcome to Veldaren,” Kadish said, gathering his senses. He expected better of himself, and he used his wounded pride to find the strength to stand a little taller, and let a bit of mockery enter his voice. “I pray you won’t be staying long?”

Muzien stood several feet opposite Kadish, with his bodyguards on either side. His long, pale fingers slowly twirled a gold band on the index finger of his left hand, which, true to his name, appeared to have been crafted out of coals instead of flesh.

“I’ll stay until my task here is done,” he said, openly staring at Kadish. Disliking the cryptic answer, Kadish felt himself snap.

“Not sure that’s wise,” he said. “Your kind ain’t wanted here, Muzien. You think your little trick with your ears fools anybody?”

Muzien tilted his head slightly to one side, as if amused. The tops of his ears, where there should have been the distinctive upturned curve of his race, were instead two mutilated scars.

“What was done to my ears was not done for you, nor the wretches who fill this city,” the elf said. His voice was deep and aged. “Nor do I care if I am unwanted. That did not stop my Sun Guild in Mordeina, and it shall not stop us here. Now please, I’ve come to hear your answer, not your pathetic attempts at insult.”

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