The King Excerpt

The Dead of Night

Fire burned in the fountain of Dyven’s town square. The blackened granite fish, which once bubbled water from its mouth, rose up above the flames to gasp at the starry sky. Two Gwythian soldiers ambled across the cobblestones, accompanied by random chimes from pottery shards strewn beneath their feet. Their long shadows made haste from the flickering light and charged ahead of them up the street.

Hugh retreated into the welcoming darkness of an al-ley. He hugged the wall with his back and held his breath. It stretched his belly wound to stand so erect, but he held his tongue as blood seeped through the bandages.

This was the first time he’d dared to leave his hole in the wall. He had wandered the streets of Dyven since his youth, but now they were as strange to him as hell to an angel. If he had not stumbled across the fountain, he would still be lost amid the gloomy labyrinth of gutted buildings, broken walls, and rubble-clogged streets.

He scolded himself for leaving without Aeth, as the Gwythies strolled into the alley. The first soldier stopped and halted his companion. He stared directly at Hugh, whose entire body clenched.

The second soldier looked about. “What?”

The first soldier handed his spear to the second and shuffled into the shadows, fiddling with his drawers.

“Oh, not again!” the spear-carrier groaned.

“What?”

“Didn’t ya go, back a’the tavern?”

“Well, the decurion forced me to drink all them ales.”

“Oh yeahr. I caught a wink at his knife in yer back.”

The man relieving himself in the shadows guffawed. “Ha-ha!”

“Wha’s ole Rusty Bottom so worried ‘bout anyways?”

“The execrution—execution detail.”

“What, that?”

“It’s less than a day off.”

“So why don’t Hereweald just kill the kelpie-woman and let’s be done about it?”

“There are procedures, my friend. Pro-ced-ures.”

“Twaddle.” The second soldier rested one spear in the crook of his arm and put both hands around the other to demonstrate his proposal. “The prince walks in, grabs her scrawny neck, and wrings it like a goose. End o’procedures.”

“Ya can’t do no noble lady like that!”

“Why not?”

“Lady Cyndyn must be made an example of. ‘Sides, I don’t think Hereweald is done wif her yet.” The man laughed and punctuated his words by thrusting his hips back and forth, in crude mockery of lovemaking.

“Example of? You think after what we done to ‘em, these wretches are gonna care ‘bout her?”

“Look, you an’ me will spit on the trollop’s grave when this is done, but to them people she was their—”

The first soldier looked down at the knife protruding from his chest. His drunken eyes had not seen the quick hand that had taken it from his belt, nor the man in the shadows who wielded it. He stared at it and said, “Knife.”

His companion turned to him. “She was their knife? What does that mean?”

Hugh’s voice replied from the darkness. “It means I put the knife in the right spot.”

At that moment, his dark form leapt from the shadows. Though the second Gwythian had two spears at his disposal, neither was of any service. In his surprise, he dropped one and tripped on the other. He fell back against the wall of the alley with the man from the dark-ness upon him.

The Gwythian hit the wall with a crack. His eyes popped open as the blade went in, but his attacker corked his scream behind a firm hand. He struggled in vain to pry at his assailant’s steel grip. With each hanging moment, the soldier’s blood spilled out on the cobblestones.

The man from the shadows released his prey and fell to one knee, holding his middle. The soldier slid to the ground, just inches from his face. He stared up at his killer and whispered, “Who are you?”

Hugh looked him in the eye. “Someone who loves Lady Cyndyn.”

Hugh stood as the Gwythian sighed his last breath. He then staggered around the corner, entered the market square, and scanned the buildings to get his bearings. It was difficult. The houses and shops here were in unrecognizable ruin. They had received special attention from the vengeful Gwythies. However, the Turret of the Guard, which had loomed over the skyline of this neighborhood for years, still stood. Upon sighting the tower, Hugh started across the square.

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