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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"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."

Hadrian paused in his own efforts to switch boots and scowled at his partner. "You realize they'll probably execute him for treason?"

Royce nodded. "Which will neatly eliminate the only witness."

"You see, that's exactly what I'm talking about," Hadrian sighed and shook his head.

Royce could see the familiar melancholy wash over his partner. It appeared too often lately. He could not fathom his friend's moodiness. These strange bouts of depression usually followed successes, and frequently led to a night of heavy drinking.

He wondered if Hadrian even cared about the money anymore. He took only what was needed for drinks and food and stored the rest. Royce could understand his friend's reaction if they were making a living by picking pockets or robbing homes, but they worked for the king now. It was almost too clean for Royce's taste. Hadrian had no real concept of filth. Unlike Royce, he had not grown up in the muddy streets of Ratibor.

He decided to try and reason with him. "Would you rather they find out and send a detachment to hunt us down?"

"No, I just hate being the cause of an innocent man's death."

"No one is innocent my friend. And you aren't the cause…you're more like…" he searched for words, "the grease beneath the skids."

"Thanks. I feel so much better."

Royce folded the uniform and, along with the boots, placed it neatly into his saddlebag. Hadrian still struggled to rid himself of the black boots that were too small. With a mighty tug he jerked the last one off and threw it down in frustration. He gathered it up and wrestled his uniform into the satchel. Cramming everything as deep as possible, he strapped the flap down and buckled it as tight as he could. He glared at the pack and sighed once more.

"You know, if you organized your pack a little better it wouldn't be so hard to fit all your gear," Royce said.

Hadrian looked at him with a puzzled expression. "What? Oh-no, I'm…it's not the gear."

"What is it then?" Royce pulled on his black cloak and adjusted the collar.

The fighter stroked his horse's neck. "I don't know," he replied mournfully. "It's just that-well-I thought by now I'd have done something more-with my life, I mean."

"Are you crazy? Most men work themselves to death on a small bit of land that isn't even theirs. You're free to do as you choose and go wherever you want."

"I know, but when I was young I used to think I was-well-special. I used to imagine that I would triumph in some great purpose, win the girl, and save the kingdom, but I suppose every boy feels that way."

"I didn't."

Hadrian scowled at him. "I just had this idea of who I would become, and being a worthless spy wasn't part of that plan."

"We're hardly worthless," Royce corrected him. "We've been making a good profit, especially lately."

"That's not the point. I was successful as a mercenary, too. It's not about money. It's the fact that I survive like a leech."

"Why is this suddenly coming up now? For the first time in years, we're making good money with a steady stream of respectable jobs. We're in the employ of a king for Maribor's sake. We can actually sleep in the same bed two nights in a row and not worry about being arrested. Just last week I passed the captain of the city watch and he gave me a nod."

"It's not the amount of work; it's the kind of work. It's the fact that we're always lying. If that courier dies, it'll be our fault. Besides, it's not sudden. I've felt this way for years. Why do you think I'm always suggesting we do something else? Do you know why I broke the rules and took that job to steal Pickering's sword? The one that nearly got us executed?"

"For the unusual sum of money offered," Royce replied.

"No, that's why you took it. I wanted the job because it seemed like the right thing to do. For once I had the chance to help someone who really deserved to be helped, or so I thought at the time."

"And becoming an actor is the answer?"

Hadrian untied his horse. "No, but as an actor, I could at least pretend to be virtuous. I suppose I should just be happy to be alive, right?"

Royce did not answer. The nagging sensation was surfacing again. He hated keeping secrets from Hadrian and it weighed heavily on his conscience, which was amazing because he never knew he had one. Royce defined right and wrong by the moment. Right was what was best for him-wrong was everything else. He stole, lied, and even killed when necessary. This was his craft and he was good at it. There was no reason to apologize, no need to pause or reflect. The world was at war with him, and nothing was sacred.

Telling Hadrian what he learned ran too great a risk. Royce preferred his world constant, with each variable accounted for. Lines on maps were shifting daily and power slipped from one set of hands to another. Time flowed too fast and events were too unexpected. He felt like he was crossing a frozen lake in late spring. He tried to pick a safe path, but the surface cracked beneath his feet. Even so, there were some changes he could still control. He reminded himself that the secret he kept from Hadrian was for his friend's own good.

Climbing on Mouse, his short gray mare, Royce thought a moment. "We've been working pretty hard lately. Maybe we should take a break."

"I don't see how we can," Hadrian replied. "With the Imperial Army preparing to invade Melengar, Alric is going to need us now more than ever."

"You'd think that wouldn't you? But you didn't read the dispatch."

Chapter 3

The Miracle

The Princess Arista Essendon slouched on the carriage seat buffeted by every rut and hole in the road. Her neck was stiff from sleeping against the armrest and her head throbbed from the constant jostling. Rising with a yawn, she wiped her eyes and rubbed her face. An attempt to straighten her hair trapped her fingers in a mass of auburn knots.

The ambassadorial coach was showing the same wear as its passenger, having traveled too many miles over the last year. The roof leaked, the springs were worn, and the bench was becoming threadbare in places. The driver had orders to push hard to return to Medford by midday. He was making good time, but at the expense of hitting every rut and rock along the way. Drawing back the curtain, the morning sun flashed through gaps in the leafy wall of trees lining the road.

She was almost home.

Dirt, floating in the flickering light that revealed the interior of the coach, coated everything in a fine layer of dust. A discarded cheesecloth and several apple rinds covered a pile of parchments spilling from a stack on the opposite bench. Soiled footprints patterned the floor where a blanket, corset, and two dresses nested along with three shoes. She had no idea where the fourth was and only hoped it was in the carriage and not left in Lanksteer. Over the last six months, she felt as if she had left bits of herself all over Avryn.

Hilfred would have known where her shoe was.

She picked up her pearl-handled hairbrush and turned it over in her hands. Hilfred must have searched the wreckage for days. This one came from Tur Del Fur. Her father gave her a brush from every city he traveled to. He was a private man and saying "I love you" did not come easy, even to his own daughter. The brushes were his unspoken confessions. Once, she had dozens-now, this was the last. When her bedroom tower collapsed she lost them and it felt as if she lost her father all over again. Three weeks later this single brush appeared. It had to be Hilfred, but he never said a word or admitted a thing.

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