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Shadowblade: (A Dance of Fire and Shadow Book 1) – Chapter 11


MASTER,

Once again your knowledge of my failings proved accurate.

I was too entranced by the woman’s beauty to notice the signs that she had sold herself to the Blade.

Aware of our desperate need, I took a chance to train her despite the potential risk.

I am sending her on a mission as a test. Deris is watching her as I no longer trust my own judgement on this.

Please, can we meet soon?       M.

.

.

I walk back to the camp as afternoon shadows lengthen, my hands and arms warm and aching in the aftermath of this new form of rock-dancing. Deris doesn’t even look tired. Not for the first time I wonder why he seems to regard me with less hostility and suspicion than I have been picking up from the others.

“Deris, where are you from? I haven’t heard your accent before.”

“Western mountains. We are forest dwellers like the Sylvani.”

Something doesn’t quite fit. I have heard the western forest is bigger and wilder than the one on this side where my tribe lives. The few Samarian villages in the west usually hug the forest margins and their people trade mainly with the capital.

“I’ve only met a few people who came from that region and they don’t sound like you do.”

He gives a slight shrug. “My ancestors fled the Rapathian invasion of the Western Isles three generations ago. Refugees.”

“So you’re––” I can’t help but look at his ears, half hidden by his shoulder-length dark hair. They might be a little more pointed than mine but…

He notices and tries to hide the tense frown.

I look away self-consciously. “Sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter. Everyone does that. There is no reason for us to fear it now we are living in Samaran, but my people still react a little. Some kind of shared culture or memory of the persecution I suppose. The true elves knew what would be in store for them and took ship into the west soon after the Rapathians defeated our armies. No-one knows where they might have landed or even if they survived.

“The half-elven stayed on their land for a few years but the persecution became impossible to live with. Not only because we were regarded as unwanted foreigners in our own country but also because we were seen as potential slaves just waiting to be branded and chained. A few survivors managed to navigate the straits to the west coast of Samaran.”

I’m astonished and impressed. “That must have been an incredible feat of sailing! Every tale I have heard tells of the reefs and currents––”

His face is drawn. “Barely a fifth of the boats made it through.”

“Oh.” It seems inadequate to say ‘sorry’ again. “Is that why you’re a bit more tolerant than the others of my… problematic background?”

He gives a mirthless laugh. “Maybe. My ancestors were singled out and persecuted not just because they were different from our new Rapathian overlords, but because they were stronger, faster, better archers and swordsmen.”

“And better climbers who could see in the dark?”

He shrugs again. “That too I suppose. The invaders wanted to regard us as inferior but they were actually jealous, afraid of what the Fae can do. Not surprising they tried to use us. Or if that failed, wipe us out. They saw us as a potential threat to their dominance. They only defeated us in the first place because they outnumbered us ten to one.”

“So… You’re wondering if the persecution will start again now the Rapathians have invaded Samaran?”

There is resignation in his reply, yet beneath it I can hear an undercurrent of defiance from a warrior determined to defend the country that gave his people sanctuary––or die trying.

“Of course it will start again. As soon as their spies discover where my people are. Unless we stop them.”

Now I understand what it is I sensed in Deris that makes him subtly different from the others. I have never met any of the Fae before. They are known to keep to themselves, establishing their own communities in the wildest parts of the forests and mountains. The stories about them are many but each account tends to contradict the others. Maybe some are spread by the Fae themselves, to ensure that the location of their havens remains a mystery.

“So when the Eldrin react suspiciously to me, you understand how it makes me feel, because it happened to your own people?”

“Could be.” His brow furrows as he tries to make sense of the contradiction. “I can see why people are suspicious. If only we could be sure you wouldn’t turn on us the way other adepts did.”

I walk on in silence. I don’t want to admit that the surveillance I am living under sometimes makes me itch to retaliate, but I guess with his background Deris already knows this. And we both know that with the fate of our conquered kingdom hanging in the balance, the Eldrin can’t risk it all by trusting one person too much, in hope that I might become a useful weapon.

We reach the camp to find Marin alone, waiting for us. I feel curious about everyone’s plans but I know better than to invite an awkward silence by asking where the others have gone.

Marin offers the last of the bread and cheese Kashia brought with her.

“Kashia should be back in Corinium by now. She will be in place to create the diversion you’ll need when you reach the top of the wall. You must be back out of the city before morning, whether or not you succeed in freeing the slaves.”

He keeps glancing up at the sky, as if he is expecting something. Deris and I are about to leave when a hawk flies over the clearing and circles. Marin gives a high-pitched whistle and the bird descends to alight on his outstretched arm, the sharp talons gripping his leather archer’s vambrace. There is a small capsule on one leg. Marin notices my gaze focusing on it.

“So now you know how we exchange messages. Probably better if you hadn’t seen it, but too late now.”

“And that was why you went outside the hut before you had even recovered enough to stand up, wasn’t it?”

He acknowledges I guessed correctly with a slight inclination of his head as he gently strokes the bird’s neck feathers.

“And I can see your powers of observation and deduction are getting sharper.”

He gives me a searching look and for a moment it seems the deep longing is still there, an echo of what passed between us before. Maybe it’s nothing more than a hope that his cautious trust in me won’t prove mistaken. I feel the now-familiar tug of conflict inside. All my focus has to be on finding Alina, whether or not I can conform to Marin’s plan.

I push the distraction away. I am going to find it difficult enough to get over the city wall, without letting my mind wander to other things. I buckle on the harness and check the feel of the twin swords at my back. I haven’t been allowed anywhere near steel during training.

Deris signals for me to follow him and we set off towards Corinium.

We will be there just after dusk.


CLIMBING CITY WALLS with only moonlight to guide my way isn’t easy. A cool breeze whispers around me, brushing against my aching hands as I follow Deris up the steep stone face. The crevices between the stones are thin and I can only get a finger-end of purchase where the mortar has weathered.

The distance is seven times greater than the outcrop we practiced on this afternoon and the pressure on finger tendons is different from anything I have previously experienced. I’m relying on nothing more than hope that the strength in my hands holds out.

Deris’ shadowy outline above me flows gracefully over the lip of the wall and disappears. Nearly there. A few more stretches and my fingers grasp the edge of the battlements. I heave myself over the low parapet and skulk in the deep shadows beside the moonlit sweep of stone paving atop the wall.

I hope Kashia has got her distraction well in place. Then I notice Deris stifling a grin. He tips his head in the direction of an argument floating up from the city streets below. The indignant female voice belongs to Kashia.

I don’t know the man she is busy squabbling with but he is doing an entertaining job of describing in lurid terms what he’s trying to do to her––or would be if she wasn’t fighting him off. Not without some graphic language of her own, switching back and forth from Samarian to Rapathian just to be sure the guards get the meaning. Even I can follow most of it with nothing more than a few common words and phrases picked up from Rapathian traders who occasionally passed through the village in more peaceful times.

The guards are clustered by the low retaining wall trying to peer over the edge, presumably hoping to get a glimpse of the ‘enormous bosoms’ Kashia’s suitor has apparently liberated from their moorings. I hope she has managed to stay in the shadows or the guards will all too quickly discover they’ve been had. Kashia is so fit and wiry it would be difficult to spot her breasts from the top of the wall even in broad daylight.

Deris leads, moving silently away from the guards until we can run unobserved down the narrow stone steps to the paving below. He seems to know every crooked back street and alleyway, while I have only visited Corinium half a dozen times to buy a few specialist items from the market.

We move cautiously, keeping to the shadows. There is more smoke in the air than I remember from previous visits and there are very few people around apart from Rapathian patrols. The invaders seem to be stopping and searching every individual they meet. In the atmosphere of heightened tension that grips this city the amount of hardware the two of us are carrying would almost certainly provoke the guards and see us straight into a fight for our lives.

Deris is about to turn the next corner when he steps back, pushing me behind him. Inevitably, it makes me want to see what has caused the alarm. I wriggle past him and peer around the edge of the building. Then I almost wish I hadn’t.


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