Free Sample – Dagger’s Breath

Here’s a piece of something new I’m working on. It will probably be a novelette or novella, somewhere in the 20-30,000 word ballpark. Hope you enjoy it. 

 

Dagger’s Breath

Remarin’s feet slid on the slick cobblestones as he rounded the corner, threatening to send him sprawling into the street and under the wheels of a cartload of whiskey barrels. Scrambling madly and bowling over a rotund matron loaded down with laundry, the young thief regained his footing and dashed off down a dark alley. He ducked into a darkened doorway as four mailed, spear-toting guards barreled down the street. Remarin sagged with relief , but kept to the shadows as he crept slowly to the mouth of the alley.

Remarin peered back the way he’d run, ducking back into the shadows as two more heavyset guards came into view at more a trot than a sprint. They clattered past, chainmail and breastplates shattering the stillness of the night with their cacophonous rattle. Remarin stayed frozen until they were long past, then exited the alley and walked casually back the way he’d come.

That was close, Remoron. The voice in his head was dry as burnt toast, and Remarin glanced down at his belt. The black hilt of a dagger hung there, a small ruby set into the pommel. In the heart of the ruby a small light flickered, as if there was a flame dancing within the gem.

“Trand, you’re back. I thought I left you in the belly of the first guard.” Remarin whispered, long practice allowing him to converse with the dagger with the barest hint of lips moving.

I’m not that easy to get rid of. We’re stuck with each other until you’re dead or I’m released from this stupid curse. 

“Or I smelt you down into earrings for that good-looking tavern wench from two towns back. What was her name again?” The dagger didn’t answer. Grateful for the silence, Remarin turned a corner off the main merchant’s thoroughfare and headed toward the poorer section of Landfall. Here one could find a pub with a room to let, a man in an alley with goods of undisclosed provenance, or a good street brawl if that’s what one was looking for. Remarin was in search of none of that. He found what he was looking for just a few short blocks from the merchant’s district, in a nondescript building nestled between a bustling pub and a shuttered laundry. He knocked twice on the door, waited for three breaths, then knocked twice more.

The door opened and a wizened man of maybe five feet in height stepped back to allow the thief entrance. “Welcome back, Remarin. I trust you have my goods?”

“I have the jewel, Salvar. I assume you have my money?”

“I have everything you’re entitled to, thief. Hand over my gem and I’ll fetch your payment.” Something in the little man’s tone rung false with Remarin, and out of the corner of his eye he saw the gem flash brighter than normal in the dagger’s hilt.

“Not to be suspicious, Salvar, but let’s see the payment first.” Remarin stepped slowly back until he could feel the door against his back heel. He couldn’t hear anything out of the ordinary, and that alarmed him even further. At this time of night, the tavern next door should be raucous, full of the sounds of drunken fighting and off-key warbling from the horrible bard they kept chained up by the fireplace. But tonight, nothing. Not a scrape of a chair, not a single slurred bellow for more ale, not even the twang of an out of tune lute.

Something’s amiss here. The voice in his head now sounded worried, as though the dagger actually cared what happened to Remarin.

“Really? And here I thought the tingling along my spine just a draft.” Remarin whispered.

Salvar, for his part, was playing the role of affronted shopkeeper to the hilt. “Why, Remarin, I’m amazed at your lack of trust! How many times have we done business? How many times have I moved merchandise of questionable ownership for you? And how many times have I given you fair market value for goods that I couldn’t move for weeks, even months? And now you choose to mistrust me? I may as well turn my back on you so you can pull the dagger out and stab me through the heart again!”

“It’s not that I don’t trust you, Salvar. It’s that I don’t trust anyone. A trusting thief very quickly ends up as a dead thief, and I have no interest in becoming a dead thief. Now where’s the money?”

The corrupt little pawnbroker fidgeted for a long moment before reaching behind the counter. His hand came up with a dagger, and Salvar let out a yell “He’s running!”

Remarin whirled around and shot the bolt of the door. He grabbed the heavy wooden plank that leaned beside the door and set it into the two iron holders, securing the front entrance for a few moments at least. He turned back to Salvar and drew his own dagger. “You know you can’t best me in a knife fight, Salvar, why even try?”

“Because I’m being paid very handsomely to deliver your dead body to the gates of a particular mansion tomorrow morning, and if I don’t kill you, I don’t get paid.” Salvar said, waving his dagger around in an almost-convincing display of knife work.

“I admire a man who sticks to his principles, Salvar. Even if those principles are killing me. For that, I’ll let you die quickly.” Remarin changed his grip and flicked the dagger across the room. The ruby-hilted blade tumbled end over end to bury itself in the hollow of Salvar’s throat. “Sometimes it’s very useful having an enchanted weapon around.”

Are you claiming that there are times that it is not useful to have me around? Trand’s voice echoed in Remarin’s mind and he crossed the room to pull the dagger out of Salvar and wipe the dagger on the dying man’s tunic.

“Yeah, Trand. Like when you’re talking. I could definitely live without talking to my weapons.”

You’re just mad that I’ve got a bigger vocabulary than you do. And there are two of them behind the door. 

“I knew that.” Remarin grumbled, pulling open the door that led to Salvar’s storeroom. A pair of surprised mercenaries stood there, hands on sword hilts and shields at their sides. Remarin drew his rapier and ran the first one through the throat in one fluid motion. The second charged the slight thief, knocking him over and adding to his growing collection of bruises. Remarin grabbed the man’s ankle and dragged him to the floor before he could reach the front door and open it for his reinforcements, then clambered up the man’s back and slit his throat with a spare dagger he drew from his boot.

“Is that all of them?” Remarin gasped. Trand remained silent. “Trand, are there any more of them?” Nothing. Remarin sighed. “Fine. I’m sorry. I didn’t know there were two of them in the storeroom, I could only hear one. You saved my ass. Again. Are you happy now?”

No, but if you let me stab something else I might be able to recover from your appalling lack of faith in me. There are four outside, but no more in the building.

“Then I’ve got enough time to loot the place and sneak out the back way.” Remarin replied. He wiped his dagger down, slid it home in his boot, sheathed his rapier and commenced to pilfering any valuables the mercenaries might have had on their persons. He gathered up a couple of necklaces, three good rings and one jeweled earring, understanding that most mercenaries kept their savings in jewelry since it was easily portable.

Salvar’s body proved as worthless as the man’s loyalty, yielding nothing worth stealing, but Remarin knew where the pawnbroker stored his gems and gold. The thief moved soundlessly up the stairs to Salvar’s bedroom and flung open the door. He stepped quickly to the center of the room, flipped back the corner of the rug and pried up the false floor at the edge of the bed. He’d cased Salvar’s home and shop many years ago when they first began to do business, just in case something like this ever happened. “Better safe than sorry, I always say.”

No you don’t. You always say something remarkably stupid like “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Well you could end up dead or trapped inside a magical dagger for a thousand years, that’s what could happen!

“Shut up, Trand.” Remarin said, filling his purse with jewels and what coins he had room for. He barely felt the air shift above him, but dove for the floor in time to avoid the brass candlestick swinging at his head. The startled burglar flipped onto his back and got his arms up in time to block the return strike before his brains got smeared all over the floor. The blow had little force behind it, and Remarin easily disarmed his attacker and sprang to his feet. He drew back a fist to continue the fight, but hesitated when he saw the dirty face of a young boy staring up at him.

“What in the Seven Hells is this?”

That is a child, Remoron.

“I hate you. You know that, right?” Remarin hissed.

He turned his attention back to the child that had almost bashed his brains out. “Who are you? What are you doing here? And why did you attack me?”

“I’m Kit,” the child answered, his jaw set and his fists tight at his sides. “Salvar had me tied up here, dunno why. And I attacked you because that’s what you do to thieves. You bash ‘em.”

“Well let’s have a little less bashing and a little more talking.” Remarin looked the boy up and down. His close-cropped blonde hair was dirty, and longer than was the fashion, and his clothes were little more than rags, but there was intelligence shining in those blue eyes, and a ferocity that Remarin found . . . well, amusing if he were to admit it to himself.

“Nothing to talk about. Salvar’s dead. There are men beating down the front door to kill you and I think they’ll probably do that or worse to me. Can we run away now?” Remarin revised the boy’s age upwards at his words, then heard the loud crash of a door splintering downstairs.

“Yes, I think running away now is a grand idea. Do you have good boots?”

“No, just these scrappers.” Kit pointed to his feet, which were wrapped in layers of rags that provided warmth, but no traction.

“Toss ‘em. We’re taking the High Road, and you’ll fall to your death in those. Barefoot is better than bad shoes up there. Now come on.” Remarin flung open the window and looked out into the street. So far their little adventure hadn’t attracted any outside attention. More likely, Salvar had paid off anyone he thought would scream for the watch, so as long as the fighting stayed in the house no one was going to say anything. He stepped out onto the narrow ledge and stretched for the eaves. His fingers found the slimmest purchase, and he pulled himself up onto the roof. He lay flat on his stomach, reaching down for the boy.

“Kit, can you grab my hand?” Remarin whispered.

“I . . . I think so.” The boy’s voice quavered. Remarin didn’t blame him. If he slipped, the boy would fall to a hopefully quick and definitely painful death on the cobblestones below. The boy stood on tiptoes on the ledge, then on one foot as he strained to grab the thief’s dangling hands, then their fingers locked and Remarin pulled the boy to safety.

“You’re heavier than you look.” Remarin panted as they lay on the roof.

“You’re just weaker than you thought.” Kit replied. The boy scrambled to his feet and said “Which way?”

Remarin rolled to a crouch beside Kit and pointed off to the east. “That way. We’ll follow this line of buildings all the way to the docks, then hop over a couple of alleys and into the attic of a man I know.”

“You mean a thief.” Kit said. Remarin looked at the boy, startled by the accusation in his eyes.

“Not everyone I know is a thief. This man happens to be a shade, I’ll have you know.” Remarin started off across the rooftops, walking toe to heel to keep his steps silent.

“What’s a shade?” Kit asked, matching his steps to the larger man’s.

Remarin sped up to get ahead of the boy, hoping to hide his flush. “A shade is someone who buys stolen goods from thieves.”

“Oh, but he’s not a thief, oh no, mustn’t think that.”

“Shut up, Kitten.”

“It’s Kit. Don’t call me Kitten.”

“If you’re going to follow me around like a puppy, I should call you Spot.”

“Well what am I supposed to call you? Mr. Thief seems a little silly.” Remarin held up a hand and they slowed their march across the rooftops as they crossed a house that the thief knew belonged to a light sleeper with a crossbow and a willingness to punch holes in his own roof in an attempt to skewer “squirrels.”

“Call me Remarin, Prince of the High Road.” He tried for a grandiose bow, but almost lost his balance on the pitched roof and had to frantically windmill his arms to regain his balance.

Call him Remoron, King of the Jackasses.

The boy’s eyes flew wide and he whirled around, looking for the unseen speaker. “Who said that? Where are you?”

“Wait — you heard that?” Remarin put out a hand to steady the boy, whose balance had grown precarious as he looked for the source of the voice in his head.

“Of course I heard it. Someone making fun of your name. But where is he? I don’t see anyone.”

“He’s my dagger.” Remarin said simply. Kit gaped at him, the stared at the dagger, with its softly glowing red hilt.

“Your dagger?”

“Yeah, his name is Trand. He’s trapped in the dagger for a thousand years because he managed to irritate a powerful wizard.”

I irritated him? I seem to recall there being two of us in the wizard’s tower that night.

“Yes, but I’m not the one trapped inside a knife for an eon.” Remarin replied.

Only because I got caught. 

“Proving that I am the Prince of the High Road.” Remarin said, bowing. This time without the balance troubles. “But that doesn’t explain how you heard Trand talking. Who are you?”

“I told you. I’m Kit. I’m nobody special. And aren’t we still on the roof that you were worried about?” Remarin’s eyes widened as he heard a commotion from below.

“Dammit! Run!” The thief and boy sprinted across the slate roof, sending loose tiles to skitter down the rooftop and shatter in the courtyard below. A crossbow bolt erupted through the roof just in front of Kit, causing the boy to skid to a halt and look around wildly.

Remarin dashed back a few steps and grabbed the boy’s arm. “Don’t stop! He needs time to reload. Better to be somewhere else when he does.” The pair reached the end of the row of connected homes and Remarin hung a hard left, pulling Kit after him. No longer running across the relatively level ridgebeams, now the thief and the boy bounded up and down the pitched sides of roofs and leapt from building to building. Remarin looked back once and was relieved to see the terror in the boy’s face had faded to exultation as he reveled in the night’s chase.

This is the best part of the job, he thought. The night air, the freedom, the cash . . .

The people climbing up on the roof ahead of you with swords that want to chop you into kibble. . . Trand’s dry voice snapped Remarin back to the task at hand, and he looked ahead at the pair of guards trying to find their footing in their heavy, hobnailed boots. The chain mail restricting their movement was bad enough, but they didn’t stand a chance of catching anyone with those silly boots on.

Remarin reached into a pocket on his pants and pulled out a string of firecrackers, lighting one and flinging the string at the guards. The small explosives popped to life, blinding the guards and startling them with the pops and bangs. The first guard caught the string in one hand, then threw it back over his shoulder as a pair of firecrackers went off in his hand. He grabbed his injured hand, lost his footing and tumbled over the edge, Remarin never looked back to see what happened to him, just assumed from the resounding crash from the street below that it didn’t end well. The second guard fared a little better, keeping his feet until the firecrackers stopped exploding in his face. By the time the smoke cleared and he could focus on anything other than not falling off the roof, Remarin and Kit were out of sight.

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