Michael Sullivan: Nyphron rising

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Michael Sullivan Nyphron rising
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    Nyphron rising
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Nyphron rising: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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A pair of soldiers trudged to the road from the trees and grudgingly peered at him with the dull expression common to foot soldiers. They were dressed in red tabards emblazoned with the crest of Sir Breckton's command. As they approached, the larger one chewed a stalk of rye while the smaller man licked his fingers and wiped them on his uniform.

"You had me worried," the rider said with a mix of relief and irritation. "I thought you were highwaymen."

The smaller one smiled. He took little care with his uniform. Two shoulder straps were unfastened, causing the leather tongues to stand up like tiny wings on his shoulders. "Did ya 'ear that, Will? He thoughts we was thieves. Not a bad idea, eh? We should cut us some purses-charge a toll as it were. At least we'd make a bit 'o coin standin' out 'ere all day. 'Course Breckton would skin us alive, if'n 'e 'eard."

The taller soldier, most likely a half-wit mute, nodded in silent agreement. At least he wore his uniform smartly. It fit him better and he took the time to wear it properly. Both uniforms were rumpled and stained from sleeping outdoors, but such was the life of an infantryman, and one of the many reasons he preferred being a courier.

"Clear this mess. I have an urgent dispatch. I need to get through to the Imperial Army command at once."

"Here now, we 'ave orders too, ya know? We're not ta let anyone pass," the smaller said as the larger strolled over and joined them.

"I am an imperial courier you fool!"

"Oh," the sentry responded with all the acumen of a wooden post, and glanced briefly at his partner, who maintained his dim expression. "Well, that's a different set of apples, now isn't it?" He petted the horse's neck. "That would explain the lather you've put on this 'ere girl, eh? She looks like she could use a drink. We got a bucket and there's a little stream just over-"

"I have no time for that. Just get that pile out of the road and be quick about it."

"Certainly, certainly. You don't 'ave ta be so rough. Just tell us the watchword and Will and me, we'll haul it outta yer way right fast," he said, as he dug for something caught in his teeth.


The soldier nodded. He pulled his finger out and sniffed at something with a sour look before giving it a flick. "You know, the password. We can't be lettin' no spies through 'ere. There's a war on after all."

"I've never heard of such a thing. I wasn't informed of any password."

"No?" The smaller soldier raised an eyebrow as he took hold of the horse's bridle.

"I spoke to the regents themselves and I-"

The larger of the two pulled him from his horse. He landed on his back, hitting the ground hard and banging his head. A jolt of pain momentarily blinded him. When he opened his eyes, he found the soldier straddling him with a blade to his throat.

"Who do you work for?" the large sentry growled.

"Whatcha doing, Will?" the smaller one asked still holding his horse.

"Trying to get this spy to talk, that's what."

"I-I'm not a spy. I'm an imperial courier. Let me go!"

"Will, our orders says nothin' about interrogatin' 'em. If'n they don't know the watchword, we cuts they's throats and tosses 'em in the river. Sir Breckton don't 'ave time ta deal with every fool we get on this 'ere road. Besides, who ya think 'e works for? The only ones fightin' us is Melengar, so 'e works for Melengar. Now slit 'is throat and I'll 'elp you drag 'im to the river as soon as I ties up this 'ere 'orse."

"But I am a courier!" he shouted.

"Sure ya is."

"I can prove it. I have dispatches for Sir Breckton in the saddlebag."

The two soldiers exchanged dubious looks. The smaller one shrugged. He reached into the horse's bags and proceeded to search. He pulled out a leather satchel and withdrew a wax-sealed parchment and promptly broke the seal, unfolded, and examined it.

"Well, if'n that don't beat all. Looks like 'e is telling the truth, Will. This 'ere looks like a real genuine dispatch for his lordship."

"Oh?" the other asked as worry crossed his face.

"Sure looks that way. Better let 'im up."

The soldier sheathed his weapon and extended a hand to help him to his feet, his face downcast. "Ah-sorry about that. We were just following orders, you know?"

"When Sir Breckton sees this broken seal, he'll have your heads!" he said, shoving past the large sentry and snatching the document from the other.

"Us?" the smaller one laughed. "Like Will 'ere said, we was just followin' 'is orders. You were the one who failed ta get the watchword afore riding 'ere. Sir Breckton, 'e is a stickler for rules. 'E don't like it when 'is orders aren't followed. 'Course you'll most likely only lose a 'and or maybe an ear fer yer mistake. If'n I was you, I'd see if'n I could heat the wax up enough ta reseal it."

"That would ruin the impression."

"Ya could say it was hot and what with the sun on the pouch all day the wax melted in the saddlebag. Better than losing an 'and or an ear, I says. Besides, busy nobles like Breckton ain't gonna study the seal afore openin' an urgent dispatch, but 'e will notice if'n the seal is broken. That's fer sure."

The courier looked at the document flapping in the breeze and felt his stomach churn. He had no choice, but he would not do it here with these idiots watching. He remounted his horse.

"Clear the road!" he barked.

The two soldiers dragged the branches aside. He kicked his horse and raced her up the road.


Royce watched the courier ride out of sight before taking off his imperial uniform and turning to face Hadrian he said, "Well, that wasn't so hard."

"Will?" Hadrian asked as the two slipped into the forest.

Royce nodded. "Remember complaining yesterday that you'd rather be an actor? I was giving you a part: Will, the Imperial Checkpoint Sentry. I thought you did rather well with it."

"You know, you don't need to mock all my ideas." Hadrian frowned as he pulled his own tabard over his head. "Besides, I still think we should consider it. We could travel from town to town performing in dramatic plays, even a few comedies." Hadrian gave his smaller partner an appraising look. "Though maybe you should stick to drama-perhaps tragedies."

Royce glared back.

"What? I think I would make a superb actor. I see myself as a dashing leading man. We could definitely land parts in The Crown Conspiracy. I'll play the handsome swordsman that fights the villain, and you-well, you can be the other one."

They dodged branches while pulling off their coifs and gloves, rolling them in their tabards. Walking downhill, they reached one of the many small rivers that fed the great Galewyr where they found their horses still tied and enjoying the river grass. The animals lazily swished their tails, keeping the flies at bay.

"You worry me sometimes, Hadrian. You really do."

"Why not actors? It's safe. Might even be fun."

"It would be neither safe nor fun. Besides, actors have to travel and I'm content with the way things are. I get to stay near Gwen," Royce added.

"See, that's another reason. Why do you keep doing this? Honestly if I had what you do, I would never take another job."

Royce removed a pair of boots from a saddlebag. "We do it because it's what we're good at, and with the war Alric is willing to pay top fees for information."

Hadrian released a sarcastic snort. "Sure, top fees for us, but what about the other costs? Breckton might work for that idiot Ballentyne, but he's no fool himself. He'll certainly look at the seal and won't buy the story about it softening in the saddlebag."

"I know," Royce began, as he sat on a log exchanging the imperial boots for his own, "but after telling one lie, his second tale about sentries breaking the seal will sound even more outlandish, so they won't believe anything he says."

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