Sunday, 19 February 2012

Extract from Markan Sword - WIP

The following sample is from my current work-in-progress, Markan Sword.


Teven had a small, but select, number of soldiers loyal to him personally.  He had his ways of earning their loyalty, which included extortion, bullying, threats and blackmail.  These men were always discreet and very effective.

Right now, three of them played cards against the guardsmen in charge of the cells.  And playing very badly indeed.

Soldier Lemble, one of Teven's men, had chosen soldiery over mutilation after being caught cheating at cards.  The man's hands were quick, his cheating almost impossible to see.  Lemble had continued his previous career while soldiering, until Teven had found out.

Lemble's instructions had been specific: seek and befriend the senior guard working afternoons.  He'd been given a lot of information, such as the target's name - Fulson - and even the card games the three duty guards liked to play.

And, after a couple of morning ales, passing time before the inconvenience of working afternoons, Lemble had thrown down his challenge.  The three of them against him and two mates, at cards, winner takes all.  Fulson, with his morning ale already having a slight effect, probably thanks to the neat alcohol Lemble had used to "fortify" the man's drink, accepted the challenge.

Even so, in Lemble's view, Teven's instructions seemed strange.  He and his companions must lose the challenge, make it look convincing, and offer to stand the shift for the guardsmen.

'Ranva's breath, but they were soldiers, not guards!

Lemble had made it convincing.  All six sat around the lone table, four light-crystal lanterns in the center, and gambled.  Coins passed to and fro, laughter filled the small room.

The corridor beyond led to the cells.

Two of the guardsmen were eliminated from the card school first, wild cards popping up at random, slipped into the deck by Lemble's quick hands.  Then two of the soldiers surrendered all their coin.

Now just Lemble and Fulson remained.

"You'll be losing next month's money," chortled one of the guards, a skinny beanpole with a scraggly mustache.  Called Dwilt, he had been the first out.

Lemble grinned.  When you finally find out what we're about, you'll be losing more than that, chum.  Aloud, he said: "All in from me."

Grinning, Fulson pushed an equal quantity of coins into the middle.

Lemble glanced at his cards.  Not a single named card, thankfully no wild card (though because they were all up his sleeve, thankfully was perhaps the wrong word), but a good run of six, seven and eight, if of different suits.  A good flush, but that would be beaten by...

"Nine, ten and eleven of Trades," chortled Fulson, reaching out for the coin.

Lemble swore.  "Another round," he said.  "Another."

"You've not got the money!"  Fulson shook his head.

"All right," said Lemble, "here's the deal.  If I win, we three get all our money back and walk away; if we lose, you can disappear the rest of the day and we stand your shift here."

The guardsmen were instantly wary.

"That would be irregular," said Dwilt, still young enough to believe in rules and regulations.

"If anything went wrong, we'd be in deep trouble," said Alew, almost as bad a card player as Dwilt.

Lemble shrugged and exchanged looks with his fellow soldiers.  "What could go wrong?"  he asked.  "You've only got one prisoner."

"Don't offer them that," protested Clyfe, as arranged.  "I bloody hate afternoons.  Rather work nights."

"I want my money back," said Lemble.  "And you two owe me favors anyway."  He continued to shuffle the cards and stared at Fulson.  "What do you say, Fulson?  A free afternoon, or stuck in this stinking dinge-hole?"

The guards held a muttered conversation.  Unsurprisingly, Dwilt proved the most reluctant, but the other two slowly won him around.

Lemble watched, shuffling the pack over and over.

Fulson eventually turned back.  "All right, we accept.  If you lose, we keep your money and you stand our shift."

Lemble winked.  "That's the deal."

"Cheers Lemble," muttered Clyfe, the sarcasm again prearranged.

Lemble dealt quickly.  He had no idea what cards Fulson received, it didn't matter.  He dealt himself an eliminating wild card, the Zeutian of Wands.

The guards would get their free afternoon.

Moments later, Fulson chortled in triumphant pleasure.  Lemble smiled and congratulated the man warmly.  Clyfe looked like he wanted to punch the card sharp.

"Right," said the winner, still grinning from ear to ear.  "We're off then."

Lemble and his companions waited until the guardsmen had left before he turned to the youngest.

"Go get the boss, Vin."

Vin left, returning in minutes.

With Teven.  "Any problems?"

"As hard as pinching choca off a sylph," replied Lemble, "but we managed it in the end."

A smile ghosted across Teven's face.  "So I see.  Wait here, the three of you.  I've arranged witnesses on the far side of the city, so you don't get caught up in the lies those three are bound to spread when they're caught, but wait for me before you leave."

"Will do, Boss," replied Lemble and passed the keys over.

Teven took the keys and one of the light-crystal lanterns.  He ambled along the corridor until he reached the only locked cell.  Unlocking the door, he stepped inside with lantern held high.

These cells were not meant to be comfortable, but a heap of blankets in one corner must hold Yaan.  A smell from the slop-bucket hung in the air, but Teven paid that no mind.  The blankets moved and the prisoner sat up.

Teven waited for the man's eyes to adjust to the light.

"What do you want?"  demanded Yaan.

"I'm your guardian angel," promised Teven.  At least the prisoner did not sound broken.

"You're one of them, General Teven," replied Yaan.  "Certainly unworthy of any trust."

"Really?  After all the arrangements I made to free you?  I hope your hand gets better soon; I've even arranged for a touch-healer to sort it out for you."

"How do you know about that?"

"I have spies in low places everywhere."

Yaan grunted.

"I met with some, ah, colleagues of yours last night," continued Teven.  "Seems they really, really want you dead.  You ought to be more careful who you choose for friends."

"They believe I betrayed them?"

Teven smiled.  "They believe you might, sooner rather than later and, despite all you've done for them, they would rather see you dead than take the risk."

"I can put them right about that," said Yaan.

"So glad to hear it."  Teven smiled.  "Well, I meant what I said; you're free to go.  You've got about three hours before the farmers start to leave the city and seven hours before the guards are due to change in here.  Take the chance, Yaan."

"How can I trust you?"

Teven laughed.  "Perhaps you can't.  Perhaps this is a trick.  Stay, if you wish."

"No."  Yaan stood and extended his left hand.  "Thank you.  And if there is anything I can do for you, let me know."

Teven looked apologetic.  "Actually," he said, "there is something you can do for me."

Yaan waited.  "I hope it won't take you an hour to tell me," he grumped.

Teven's smile returned.  "About three minutes.  Would you like to sit for a few moments?  I'll explain what you can do for me.  In Turivkan's name, of course."


Teven smiled to himself after attending Dervra's evening conference.  Captain Shais was understandably incensed by his prisoner's escape, and threatening dire consequences for his erring guardsmen.

Teven had done something there, so he might end up with three more spies and another organization infiltrated.

He had told Dervra nothing.  No mention of a brand new spy placed high in the rebel camp, and one who mistrusted his former companions.  A man who believed those fellow rebels wanted him dead and that Teven was now his only protector.

But Teven would decide what, if anything, he passed on.

He had always played every side, waiting until it became clear which would prevail.  Every side believed he stood with them.

Teven had betrayed Prefect Adelbard, but also arranged escape for his children.  One of the sylphs had been foolish enough to return to the palace, though that small problem was quickly - and fatally for the sylph - resolved.

Yet Teven had betrayed the location of Adelbard's descendants, though not to Dervra.

And now the game grew interesting again.

Dervra looked and sounded like a man preparing to move on.  Perhaps he was one of the Gifted, or some sort of sorcerer, but Teven remained unconvinced.  And to claim to be one of the Ten was nothing short of suicidal, if such a gang of humans truly existed.

For now, Teven backed every side, as he always had, and waited to see what might happen.  If Dervra stiffened, Teven would loyally hand the rebels to him; if not, then Teven would back the rebels against Dervra.

Until one or the other side moved, Teven remained safe - and uncommitted.


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