Tom Lloyd: The Dusk Watchman

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Tom Lloyd The Dusk Watchman
  • Название:
    The Dusk Watchman
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    Фэнтези / на английском языке
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The Dusk Watchman: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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The small man glanced back at Isak. ‘I do not want to promise too much in advance, but there is a common saying: “a burden shared is a burden halved”.’ He scratched at his chest where the witch of Llehden had burned the heart rune into his flesh. ‘I am hoping the same does not go for gifts.’

There were three of them, two captains and a major, filthy and bedraggled in their torn uniforms. Buttons and braiding had been ripped away, most likely removed when they were disarmed, and they’d been relieved of any money they might have had. One of the captains was in a bad way, his right arm as poorly splinted as the gash in his shoulder was stitched.

Only one looked up when Doranei approached, but it was enough for him to see the misery of a cowed dog.

Ignoring the Ruby Tower Guardsmen surrounding him, Doranei advanced on the officers and squatted beside them. There were two Brothers behind him, Cedei and Firrin; neither were close enough to save him if the mob went for him, but they all knew the remaining regiments would be butchered if they did any such thing.

‘The Menin’s dead,’ he started in a quiet voice.. ‘You came here as allies of his, against your will, I’m sure.’

The battered captain nodded briefly, and returned his gaze to the ground.

‘So we don’t care much about you right now — no one wants the effort of imprisoning or slaughtering you all — but you’re soldiers and you know how easily that can turn. You all killed a lot of our countrymen getting here.’ He waited a few moments to give them time to think about that, then continued, ‘So this is me asking nicely so I don’t have to bother showing you how nasty I can get: tell me everything you know about Sergeant Kayel and the child, Ruhen.’

The captain’s fear fell away for a moment. ‘That scar-handed bastard? Gladly — the kid too. There’ somethin’ unnatural about the pair of ’em; the duchess is my liege, but when that Ruhen’s around she ain’t all there.’

Without warning a soldier leaped from the huddled mass, a short knife in his hand. For a moment Doranei didn’t react to the sudden movement, his exhausted body failing him, then he saw the knife-tip pass him by and something went click in his head as he saw the man reaching for the captain. Doranei launched into the slimmer man and knocked him sideways, then scrabbled to get his fingers around the man’s wrist. They crashed together into the injured captain, who cried out as they flattened him.

The Byoran twisted underneath Doranei, trying to kick him off, but the King’s Man hooked one leg under him and let his greater size do the work for him. Once he had a good grip on the man’s wrist he pushed forward, lying nose-to-nose on top of the attacker while stretching his arm up away from his body. The Byoran wrenched around and managed to turn onto his front, trying to bite Doranei’s arm until he smashed an elbow into the back of his head.

The blow seemed to drive the frenzy from the Byoran and gave Doranei time to bend his knife-hand back behind his shoulder. A quick twist and the man’s fingers opened, releasing the knife with a yelp that turned into an agonised howl as Doranei increased the pressure and felt the man’s shoulder pop out of its socket. That done, he pushed himself upright again, leaving the wailing man on the ground as he drew his black broadsword.

‘Anyone else fancy being a martyr to a false god?’ he demanded, raising the sword. His ragged voice was thick with hatred and the crowd of soldiers shrank further back, some falling over each other to get away. He saw the fight was gone out of them. Not even the brutal treatment of one of their own could make them raise a hand against him. Doranei turned and found Firrin right behind him, sword drawn, with Cedei two paces behind.

‘Take this one — I’m sure the king’ll be interested to meet a fanatic,’ he said, giving the prone Byoran soldier a nudge in the ribs. As Firrin hauled the man up Doranei saw the fear in the captain’s eyes. He realised the man was watching his own men, expecting another attack to follow as soon as he was left alone. ‘You’re coming with me,’ he announced, and grabbed the man’s arm, pulling him away until they were clear of the mob. There he released the Byoran officer and gestured for him to keep walking with him as he sheathed his sword again.

‘There’ll be more of them, waiting for me,’ the officer whimpered.

‘Don’t you worry about that. Tell me the truth and if it checks against our intelligence, you won’t be going back to them — not until we win this war.’

‘What? But-? I’d look like a traitor, selling out the whole Circle City!’

‘Bit late now,’ Doranei said, grabbing the man by the arm and stopping him short. ‘Your only other choice is me beating the fuck out of you ’til you tell me what I want to know. Don’t be surprised if I kill you, I ain’t in the best o’ moods and I can always ask the same of your major afterwards.’

The Byoran’s head drooped. ‘What is it you want to know?’

‘Like I said: Kayel and the child — how do they act, how do they speak, how old is the child now. And how did you mean “ain’t all there”?’

‘That’s it?’

Doranei laughed. ‘We just battered the best of your army and the Circle City ain’t got many special defences to speak of — got any secrets our spies don’t already know?’

The Byoran just looked blank at that and Doranei started walking again. ‘Exactly. Either you’re a better liar than I am, or you don’t know anything else of use. So tell me about Kayel.’

‘I don’t understand him myself,’ the Byoran said with a miserable shake of the head. ‘He’s mad, vicious to the bone, that one-’

‘I’ve met the bastard; tell me something I don’t know.’

‘Well that’s just it,’ he captain insisted, ‘it doesn’t make sense — Kayel’s not one to take orders; he’s not one to take shit or even leave alone anyone who looks at him in a way he doesn’t like. But he follows that weird brat’s every word like he really is the saviour they’re saying.’

Doranei stopped short. ‘Kayel’s taking his orders? You mean he’s taking the duchess’ orders when Ruhen’s near her?’

‘No, not just then; it’s whether or not the duchess is around. That’s what has half the quarter persuaded Ruhen’s everything those white-cloaks, Ruhen’s Children, claim he is. He’s growing faster than any normal child, could only be by magic, but Kayel don’t look ensorcelled. That man’d rather cut out his own eyes than think any man’s his better, but he jumps when that shadow-eyed bastard says, just as quick as any of the rest of us.’

Doranei gave a cough of surprise which turned into a painful wheeze as the aching muscles in his back reminded him of their presence. ‘“Shadow-eyed”?’

‘Aye, that child’s got shadows in his eyes, drifting like clouds on the breeze.’ The Byoran shivered at the memory.

‘Shadows in his eyes,’ Doranei whispered hoarsely, ‘and Ilumene’s his errand-boy. Fires of Ghenna, the boy’s no instrument-’

‘Nope,’ the Byoran agreed, puzzled by the name he didn’t know but eager to be helpful, ‘the little bastard’s in charge sure enough, and by now I’d guess half the Circle City’s willing to accept him as their saviour.’

Doranei had started running blindly until his brain caught up with him and he tried to work out where King Emin would be at this hour. The Byoran captain followed him like a lost puppy until they came upon a nobleman, who wisely decided not to object when Doranei left the Byoran in his charge. He directed the King’s Man to where he’d seen the king’s party last. Unnoticed by Doranei, more than a few Narkang soldiers had grabbed weapons in his wake, looking in vain for the danger as they followed him, but he jolted to a stop as he passed another Brother, the thief Tremal.

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