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From Wrath to Ruin
by Justin Enos

Overview


In the great city of Hohvenlor, a rivalry between two powerful merchants has simmered for many years. Now, the son of one merchant, spurned by the daughter of the other, vengefully stokes the fires of that rivalry. Soon, retribution follows retribution until the conflict threatens to turn the streets of Hohvenlor into a battlefield. Into the midst of this inferno of hostility comes Tijodrin, a man who is no stranger to violence and bloodshed. Exiled from his homeland for reasons he keeps to himself, Tijodrin wanders the land as a mercenary, selling his skills with a blade to those who have the coin to pay. Within the walls of Hohvenlor, Tijodrin finds no shortage of enemies and faces danger from many corners. Can he survive the endless plotting of the vindictive merchants and the swords of their bloodthirsty henchmen, as well as the lurking daggers of the shadowy assassin's guild?
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Description


Chapter 1



It was the last night of the annual harvest festival, and the cavernous banquet hall of the merchants’ guild was overflowing with guests. Beneath the high, vaulted ceilings they gathered, dressed in their fanciest clothes and adorned with their most dazzling jewelry. Iron braziers blazed fiercely on dark-timbered walls hung with elaborate tapestries. Overhead, on gaudy chandeliers, hundreds of beeswax candles lent their light and subtle aroma to the huge room.

Every one of Hohvenlor’s merchant families was represented, from the simplest of traders to the powerful merchant lords. A few dull bankers and stoic lawyers trailed alongside their richest clients, just in case their advice or opinion was required. The guild alderman, bearing with him his own small cluster of favor seekers and flatterers, wandered among the throng, shaking hands and sharing toasts.

News and gossip was exchanged, partnerships forged, deals brokered, illicit assignations planned. Liveried servants drifted through the hall, bearing silver platters piled with sweet desserts, while to quench thirst and dull senses, they brought dark ales, thick meads, and a large variety of expensive wines.

Amid the finery of the assembled guests was one young man more ostentatiously attired than most. He wore a thick doublet and leggings of black velvet, generously trimmed with cloth-of-gold. His cap and half cape were of black silk and edged with sable. The belt and shoes he wore were of soft, black calf skin, with diamonds glittering on the buckles of both. More gemstones sparkled on ringed fingers, and a ruby the size of a thumbnail hung on a heavy gold chain about his neck. He circled the room slowly, a goblet of deep purple Ilohrian wine in one hand, the other tucked into his bejeweled belt.

Not yet twenty, the young man was handsome and he knew it. He had a long, aquiline nose and a strong, square jaw. His wavy black hair and crystal blue eyes drew many admiring glances from the women in the hall. The young man was not distracted by these other women, however; his attention was focused solely on one.

He watched as she moved gracefully around the room, pausing briefly to converse with one party or another. She inclined her head to some, smiled brightly at others, allowed a fortunate few to lightly kiss her hand. If she was aware of his presence, the weight of his stare, she gave no sign of it. And his were far from the only eyes that followed her. He waited impatiently until she drifted off to the edge of the banquet hall, near the patio.

It was an unseasonably warm night, and the patio doors had been opened wide onto the darkened garden beyond.

There she stood in the doorway, hands clasped in front of her, staring out into the shadows. Hair the color of spun gold fell over pale shoulders left tantalizingly bare by a simple, yet elegant gown of green silk. The only jewelry she wore was a pair of small emerald earrings set in silver clasps. The raw beauty she possessed needed little enhancement.

“Dathina,” the young man murmured, coming up behind her and grazing her elbow with his hand.

“Eriston,” she said evenly, stiffening at his touch and taking a small step away from him.

“You have not responded to my letters. Nor has your father responded to my proposal.”

Eriston moved around so that he was standing in front of her. They were of the same height, though his eyes met hers only for a moment. His gaze quickly dropped to travel down the length of her silk-encased body, pausing lewdly when he reached the swell of her breasts and the curve of her hips.

“Do my words not please you?” The innocence with which this was asked was ruined by his lecherous stare.

Dathina’s eyes, as green as her gown, flashed in irritation. “Nothing about you pleases me, as I have made clear on many occasions.” She crossed her arms defensively over her chest. “Our fathers have been rivals, nay, enemies, since before you or I were born. How could you possibly imagine that mine would either desire or consent to a marriage between us? Especially as I myself do not desire it?” She shook her head in mock disbelief. “As for your letters, the only use I have for them is as kindling for the hearth fire.”

Eriston scowled, his fingers tightening around the goblet of wine. “I could have any woman I want, Dathina. You should be flattered I chose you.”

Laughter spilled from her full lips, drawing glances from nearby guests. “Flattered?” she exclaimed incredulously. Her eyes twinkled with scorn as they roamed over Eriston. “Look at you! How much of your father’s hard-earned coin did this ridiculous costume cost? You are a spoiled, pampered fop. You care only about yourself and your appearance. Perhaps these other women are interested.” Dathina waved vaguely over her shoulder. “I most certainly am not.”

Eriston stepped closer to her, anger contorting his features. “How dare you speak to me that way!” His raised voice drew more attention from their neighbors.

“You’re drunk,” Dathina scoffed, sniffing the air between them. “As is usual, I imagine.”

She turned to walk away, but Eriston grabbed her arm and held her fast.

“Take your hand off me.”

“You will be mine, Dathina. You and your father will see the sense of it.”

“Never,” she hissed. “Leave my family and myself alone.”

She tried to pull free from Eriston’s grasp, but he only tightened his grip and pulled her nearer. Dathina responded with a loud slap that had dozens of eyes turning to stare in their direction.

“You are nothing but a foolish boy, Eriston, a boy trying to play a man.” She shook off his suddenly slack hold. “Do not touch me again.”

With that, she stormed off into the crowd, many of whom were twittering in shocked amusement. Eriston flushed brightly in anger and embarrassment, his cheek burning from the slap. Trying to ignore the stares and snickers, he spun on his heel and strode out into the empty patio. He drained the last of his wine before tossing the goblet away. It fell soundlessly on the thick grass of the garden.

Eriston’s jaw clenched and his hands tightened into fists as a fierce fury surged through him. Behind him, in the hall, he imagined he could still hear Dathina’s mocking laughter, see the snide smiles of the other guests. He had to restrain himself from turning around and lashing out at them. Instead, he focused all of his ire on Dathina and her father.

How dare they refuse him? Who did they think they were? For months, he had been wooing her, an untold number of flower bouquets and small gifts along with his many letters. Her silence had been galling enough, but now this very public refusal. It was too much. Dathina would regret humiliating him like this. Eriston’s face reddened anew as he recalled the scorn in her eyes.

There were few merchant families who stood above his own in either wealth or influence. Certainly not any of those smug eavesdroppers behind him and not the Vandens. Someone of their station did not say no to someone of his. He would make Dathina and her father pay for their insolence. His own father should have crushed Amund Vanden long ago. I will do what my father has been unable—or unwilling—to do for so long. I will see you both

on your knees. You will beg for my mercy.


Thick clouds filled the night sky, blotting out the moon and stars and shrouding the harbor in heavy darkness. The wind was blowing gently from the west, down from the cold mountains and out to sea, carrying with it a faint mist of rain. Hohvenlor’s harbor was vast, capable of holding over five hundred ships, and at this time of year, it was near full. Tonight, it was a maze of black shadows bobbing lightly at anchor, planks groaning and halyards creaking.

At the southern end of the harbor, lay a large, four-masted vessel. She had eased out of the dry dock only days before and was still awaiting her maiden voyage. On board the grand ship was a skeleton crew of a dozen men to guard her decks. They were bored and restless, and the inclement weather had them huddling in their cloaks. As they stood listlessly at their posts, their tired eyes were all turned toward land. None of them saw the three longboats approaching from the seaward side of the ship.

On muffled oars they glided slowly, stealthily, across the ebony surface of the water. There were thirty men aboard, clad in black, with faces and hands begrimed with soot. As they drew nearer, the longboats changed course to come at the ship bow on, where two massive anchor chains disappeared into the water. The first longboat bumped soundlessly up against one of the chains and four of the men swiftly climbed up the slick iron links to the hull of the ship. Pulling themselves up to the railing of the main deck, they paused, peering about to ensure that they were unobserved, and then over the railing they went.

The two guards asleep under the quarterdeck were roughly bound and gagged before they even knew what was happening. A long moment passed as the four raiders scanned the main deck, noting the positions of the other guards. Then they secured three rope ladders to the deck railing and tossed them down to the waiting longboats. Immediately, the remaining men began ascending the ladders to join their comrades. Drawing iron-studded cudgels, they crept across the deck, the whispers of their bare feet on the wooden planking swallowed by the night.

Amidships, another pair of guards fell with barely a sound. They were quickly trussed and left where they were. As the raiders approached the poop deck, they could see faint pinpricks of orange, and the night breeze brought with it the scent of tobacco smoke. Beneath the raised platform of the helm were the officer’s quarters. There were three doors but only one with a sliver of dull light around its edges.

The leader of the raiding party, a broad-shouldered man with a short chin beard, gestured his men forward in a rush. He and two other men wrenched open the cabin doors while the rest swarmed up the steps to the helm. In the captain’s cabin, the bearded leader surprised a man in rough-spun nightclothes in the midst of a cheap bottle of wine. His cudgel cracked against the man’s skull, knocking him senseless to the floor. Above, on the poop deck, shadows clashed with shadows as the last of the ship’s guards were subdued with muted thumps and grunts.

The bound guards were all dragged to the bow and lowered into one of the longboats which was promptly cut adrift. The other two longboats were hauled up and lashed to the deck railings. The leader began calling out orders, softly but firmly, to his men, all experienced sailors. With practiced speed they carried out their tasks, preparing the captured ship for sail. The anchors were winched up, the rudder was unlocked, the enormous sails unfurled and set. Soon, the first gusts of wind were tugging at the great sheets of canvas. At the helm, the leader slowly brought the ship about, and within moments, they were moving steadily toward the open waters of the sea.

As they passed the squat form of the keep guarding the harbor entrance, lanterns and torches could be seen flickering along the walls. Predawn departures were not uncommon, so the watchmen in the keep were more curious than concerned. A few shouted challenges issued from the walls, but they were unintelligible and the ship passed by unheeding. As they left the calm waters of the bay behind them, the bearded leader allowed himself a small sigh of relief. The difficult part of their mission was complete. All that was left was a very short voyage, the first and last voyage that this ship would ever make.


The harbormaster noticed the ship’s absence at first light. A message was duly sent to one of the larger warehouses crowding the wharves. A more urgent message was then dispatched from the warehouse to a fine manor high up on the city slopes. Amund Vanden, the old merchant who dwelt there, was roused from his slumber. While much of the city still slept, he and several of his guardsmen saddled their horses and clattered through the quiet streets. Down to the docks they rode, where they boarded two small, swift caravels. One headed north, the other, with the merchant aboard, sailed south, both ships hugging the rugged coastline. It did not take long to find the stolen vessel. The cloud of smoke was visible for miles.

The caravel dropped anchor offshore and Amund was rowed to the beach. He stepped out of the rowboat and into the surf that slapped coldly at his ankles. Before him, languishing in the shallows of this lonely stretch of coast, were the smoldering remains of his ship. The main deck had burned almost completely away, exposing charred ribs and splintered masts that reached forlornly toward the sky. She was to have been the new flagship of his trading fleet; now she was naught but a blackened ruin. He had named her the Tavania, after his late wife, making this loss both financial and personal. Something that Tarent Dennoch would be all too aware of.

There was little doubt in Amund’s mind that his longtime rival, or more likely, his son, Eriston, was responsible. To go to all the trouble, all the risk, of stealing the ship only to destroy it was not the work of pirates or anyone else. This was the Dennoch family sending a message.

This was an act vastly more brazen, and vastly more costly, than anything either of the two merchants had engaged in before. If he was to believe the stories and rumors, both from his daughter and many others, then Eriston was a cruel, amoral man. Tarent would never have stooped to something like this on his own. Clearly Tarent’s son was wielding an unhealthy influence over him.

Was this simply a response to Dathina’s, and his own, refusal of Eriston’s marriage proposal? The young man was addled if he thought Amund was going to let his daughter marry the son of Tarent Dennoch. Or was this something else? Up until now, Eriston had done little to involve himself in his father’s business or in the rivalry he shared with Amund. Perhaps this was his first step. If so, it was a very serious one.

Amund ran his hands through his thinning hair, sighing in angry frustration. He was getting too old for this sort of thing; he lacked the stomach for it. The merchants’ guild and the city watch would have to be notified. He would let them conduct their own investigations. Neither of them would take this blatant piracy lightly. As much as he may want to punish this act of destruction personally, he could not afford an escalation. Who knew what else Eriston was capable of? Who knew how far he was willing to go? I will let the city authorities deal with this reckless act of thievery, while I will do what I can, what I must, to protect my business, my family, just in case. Reboarding the rowboat, Amund ordered the oarsmen back to the caravel with a troubled heart.


The squall that had been battering the Blue Mistress all morning was at last beginning to abate. For hours, the captain and crew had been doused with cold rain and colder sea spray as the wide-bodied merchant vessel had pitched and rolled in the rough ocean swells. They were eight days out of Skoden, their holds laden with tanned elk hides and thick wolf pelts, casks of salted cod, bales of raw wool and a host of lesser trade goods.

His experienced eyes taking in the skies around them, the gruff captain barked out orders to his first mate. Though soaked to the bone, the crew carried out these orders with more spirit and efficiency than usual. They knew that with fair winds they would soon reach their home port.

Standing on the poop deck behind the captain and the helmsman was a man set clearly apart from the rest of the crew by both his inactivity and his appearance. He stood with his feet widely spaced to brace himself on the unsteady deck, his strong hands firmly grasping the railing. A long oilskin cloak that almost succeeded in keeping him dry shrouded a tall frame that was lean but muscular. His hair, which the rain had plastered to his skull, was shoulder length and so pale as to appear almost white. His skin, which had once been fair, was now bronzed from years of living in climes warmer and sunnier than his own. An intricate pattern of dark-blue tattoos, runes, and ancient script, danced along his hairline from forehead to ear. Another small strip decorated his chin, and the backs of his hands were covered with mystic symbols. Eyes that were the color of the storm clouds above stared not at where the ship was going but rather where it had been. For while the sailors’ home lay ahead, Tijodrin’s home, which he had not seen in almost five years, lay behind them. Five long years as an outsider, an outcast, an exile.

The journey from Skoden to Hohvenlor was a long one due to the necessity of skirting the Shattered Isles. The savage storms that frequently ravaged the Isles, and the treacherous whirlpools scattered among them, made ordinary sea travel all but impossible, forcing ships to give them a wide berth. This journey marked the closest Tijodrin had come to his homeland in those five years, but even from the height of the crow’s nest, he had seen nothing but the thick mists that clung to the very edges of the Isles.

How he longed to see the high, windswept mountains with their perpetual mantles of snow, the roaring waterfalls that tumbled down from the lofty peaks. He wanted to hunt in the thick dark forests, stalking bear, boar, and stag. He wanted to walk the quiet stately halls and sheltered grounds of his family’s estate. He wanted once again to feel the exhilaration of piloting his skyship between the many cities of his people. That wish, though, could not be; not now, not ever. He had seen much of the wider world, but all he really wanted to see were his own lands.

Above him, the skies were beginning to clear and the rain was fading. A ragged shanty broke out among the sailors, and the captain ordered the sails let out to their fullest. With a strong and steady wind at her back, the merchant ship leaped forward and began carving through the sea with vigor. With a deep sense of melancholy, Tijodrin watched as the ship’s wake carried him further and further away from his home.


Chapter 2


By early afternoon, two days later, the Blue Mistress was comfortably settled in her assigned berth in the great harbor of Hohvenlor. Sunlight shimmered brightly off the placid waters of the bay, while overhead, gulls and terns wheeled about, their shrill cries piercing the air. Surrounding the Blue Mistress was a swarm of local vessels, while larger ships bearing the flags of a dozen different nations were dotted about the bay: everything from coracles, fishing skiffs, and small galleys to sleek warships, lateen-sailed caravels, and huge, triple-decked galleons. Trade was the lifeblood of the city, and goods from all corners of the known world flowed into its markets.

The crew had already begun to haul up the cargo as a pair of harbor officials stepped aboard. They greeted the captain with perfunctory nods, accepting the ship’s manifest from him, and then began to inspect both it and the cargo. Tijodrin picked up the two packs containing his meager belongings, called out a brief farewell to the captain and first mate, then strode down the gangplank.

As he moved briskly along the weathered dock, Tijodrin stared through the forest of ship’s masts to the city beyond. Hohvenlor was the capital of the kingdom of Athlorn and one of the largest cities in the world. The city lay sprawled across a long, narrow hill that rose from the banks of the River Averell. The massive, crenelated outer walls were built of smooth, pale stone, stood more than sixty feet high, and were wide enough for five horsemen to ride abreast along their length. The walls were supported by thick buttresses, and at regular intervals, they were studded with enormous square towers.

Halfway up the sides of the hill, the city was girded by a second wall almost as formidable as the first. Sturdy buildings of stone and timber covered the hillside, crisscrossed by a network of cobbled streets, alleys, and steps. There were only a few buildings over three stories tall, and hardly any over four, but here and there the spires of some grand temple or monument, or the tower of some ambitious lord, rose above the rooftops. Also filling the city’s skyline were the many trees that dotted Hohvenlor’s streets, its public gardens, and the private gardens of its wealthier residents. At the summit of the hill, the majestic fortress of the Athlornian kings kept a stern watch over the city. Fierce battlements topped its soaring walls, while its eight mighty towers seemed to pierce the very sky.

To the south, a rocky headland separated the bay from the Averell. At the tip of the headland perched Seaguard Keep, its towers bristling with catapults and bolt throwers. North and west of the city, the land climbed in a series of steep ridges covered by rich farmland and thick forests. Surmounting the ridges and looming over all else was the row of sheer stone peaks known as the Pillars.

Between the walls and the waters of the harbor was a dense thicket of buildings, most of which catered to the great industry of trade. There were the large warehouses and offices of the merchant lords as well as the small shacks and drying sheds belonging to the local fishermen. Lining the quays were cheap inns and flop houses, ale shops, and brothels, everything that was required to satisfy the needs of the hordes of sailors and poorer travelers that passed through Hohvenlor.

As he reached the end of the dock, Tijodrin’s gaze was drawn to the offices of the Tholenian merchants’ guild, which stood aloof and apart from the rest of the structures crowding the harbor. The wide docking platform next to the guild office was empty, for which Tijodrin was thankful. By their own laws, Tholenian merchants were not allowed to enter inside the city walls, but there was always the chance of encountering one of his countrymen in the quayside area. In all the times he had come to Hohvenlor, it had not happened, and he dreaded the moment were it to occur. He did not wish to see the pain and humiliation of his exile mirrored in a stranger’s eyes.

Stepping down from the salt-stained planks of the quay, Tijodrin gladly put his booted feet back on solid ground. Before him, the square stone slab of Harborwatch Tower jutted out into the edge of the bay, connected to the city walls by a high parapet. In its shadow lay the fish market, which at this time of day was deserted, but for a few touts ambling about and a handful of laborers lounging in the shade waiting to be hired for some menial task.

Reaching the Harbor Gate, Tijodrin joined the steady stream of people all waiting to enter the city. At the wide mouth of the gateway stood a squad of green-cloaked city watchmen in heavy ring mail and bearing long halberds. They gave Tijodrin hard looks but waved him through just the same.

He moved slowly through the huge corridor of stone, re-emerging into the golden sunlight and onto Crown Road. The broad, flagstoned avenue led from the Harbor Gate and marched through the heart of the city, leading up to the fortress itself. Along the way, it was fronted by the best shops and inns, the offices of the powerful money lenders and counting houses, and many fine apartments and larger dwellings. Most of the building walls that faced the street were brightly painted or tiled over, and colorful signboards and tradesmen’s symbols hung from above their doorways.

The street was congested with two-wheeled carts, four-wheeled wagons, and porters all piled high with goods. The din of horseshoes and cartwheels on stone rang harshly in Tijodrin’s ears after so many quiet days at sea. Peddlers walked the street loaded with merchandise that they pitched noisily to shopkeepers, residents, and passersby. Some of the side streets were even more cluttered, with vendors and makeshift stalls, scribes and tinkers squatting on doorsteps, liveried servants and messengers hurrying to and fro on various errands. Though Tijodrin well knew there were darker, meaner streets about Hohvenlor, this display of wealth and prosperity was the city’s public face and the only one most visitors ever saw.

Before long, he reached the clamor of the main market square, a wide space bordered on three sides by numerous grand buildings, including both the merchants’ and artisans’ guilds as well as the imposing temple of Eitan, the patron deity of Athlorn. The fourth side of the market was open to Crown Road, and the motley collection of stalls, tents, and tables that filled the square were in danger of spilling out into the avenue. The noise of the street was quickly drowned out by the shouted claims of the many vendors and of voices raised in hard bargaining.

Tijodrin kept to the edge of the teeming market, ignoring the hawkers and watching instead for the pickpockets and cutpurses who would be roaming the crowd in numbers. More than once, he slapped away hands tugging at his sleeve, not caring if it was an attempt at distraction by some light-fingered street urchin or simply an overeager vendor. Continuing on, Tijodrin quickly turned onto the Street of Arches and gladly left the chaos of the market behind him.

Halfway down this quiet, well-maintained street, he came to the Silver Dolphin, a modest, three-storied inn surrounded by a low wall. The wide entry through the wall bore a beautiful arch of black iron fashioned in the shape of a leaping dolphin. Tijodrin entered the grass- and cobble-covered yard, which was partially shaded by an old hickory tree. To the right stood a small carriage house and stables and a narrow passageway that led to the garden at the rear of the inn. The front door of the inn was propped open, and he strode over the threshold and into the common room.

Four rows of trestle tables and benches occupied the center of the room, while a dozen small tables were arrayed along the walls. One wall was dominated by a massive fireplace of rough fieldstone, the other by a long, polished oak bar. Large windows on two sides of the room kept it well-lit and well ventilated.

“Welcome back, my friend!” the booming voice of Rodwin, the owner of the Silver Dolphin called out. He came out from behind the bar, setting down the tankard he had been cleaning and drying his hands on his apron.

Rodwin was just shy of forty, a stout, jolly man with thick, black hair and a drooping mustache. His round, fleshy face seemed always to bear a smile, and his eyes always held a glint of good humor. Tijodrin shifted his packs to one shoulder and extended his hand to Rodwin. The innkeeper grabbed Tijodrin’s hand in both of his meaty paws and pumped it heartily.

“Good to see you again.”

“You as well,” Tijodrin said, returning Rodwin’s smile.

The innkeeper’s wife, Aneka, poked her head out of the kitchen to greet him with a wave of her flour-coated hands. She was as plump and good-natured as her husband. It was their friendly demeanor, as well as her marvelous cooking, that kept a steady stream of customers coming through their door.

“I can smell the salt of the sea on you. By which ship did you arrive?”

“The Blue Mistress.”

“Ah yes...,” Rodwin frowned in concentration. “Captain Ralby’s vessel, correct?”

Tijodrin nodded in reply. The innkeeper’s knowledge of Hohvenlor’s ships and their masters was as impressive as always. Letting go of Tijodrin’s hand, Rodwin reached out to take one of the packs from him. At the same moment, Adar and Alar came padding over, their paws clicking loudly on the smooth slate floors.

The tradition of keeping hearth hounds was so old that no one was quite sure how it had started, but every inn and tavern in Hohvenlor had at least one. Many, like the Silver Dolphin, had two. If nothing else, it provided Rodwin and his fellow innkeepers with good night watchmen. These were large herding dogs with thick fur the color of ash. They were brother and sister and guarded the hearth at the Silver Dolphin as their sire had done before them. Both dogs nuzzled at Tijodrin’s hand, and he rewarded them with scratches behind their ears. They were usually indifferent to everyone other than Rodwin and Aneka but had taken to Tijodrin upon his initial visit, and even after his nearly year-long absence, they had clearly not forgotten him.

“You came from Skoden?” Rodwin asked, leading his guest across the common room toward the staircase.

“Aye.”

“How was the journey?”

“Stormy, but otherwise uneventful.”

“It has been a rough season so far. Many a ship has arrived in our harbor fairly limping.” Rodwin huffed his way up the first flight of stairs, his breath getting heavier with each step. “These damn stairs are growing steeper by the day, I swear it.”

“What happened to your nephew?”

Rodwin and his wife had no children of their own but employed a number of relatives from both sides of their family.

“Wastrel,” the innkeeper gasped, shaking his head. “Just like his father.”

He let out a long wheeze when they reached the top of the stairs, fumbling in his pocket for a key. Finding it, he opened the first door on his right and breathlessly waved Tijodrin inside.

It was the same room he had stayed in on his previous visits, small and sparse, but more importantly to him, clean and quiet. There was a very comfortable bed and a simple round table with a stool beside it. The double window was thrown open and overlooked the garden below. Rodwin placed the pack he was carrying on the floor near the foot of the bed. Tijodrin placed the second pack beside it.

“Any idea how long you will be staying with us this time?” Rodwin asked, mopping at his sweaty brow.

“No. I have one minor errand to attend to today. After that, I will be seeking further employment.”

“Hmm, I will see what I can do for you in that regard.”

“Thank you.”

“Anything else you need at the moment?”

“Only a bath,” Tijodrin smiled ruefully.

“I will have one drawn for you down the hall at once. Will you be joining us at dinner?”

“Of that you can be certain.”

“Good, good. Until later, then.”

Smiling broadly, the innkeeper backed out of the room, pulling the door shut behind him. Tijodrin could hear him whistling merrily, but tunelessly, as he tramped back down the stairs.

Unpacking his spare clothes, Tijodrin vigorously shook them out before hanging them on several pegs by the door. Then he took out his mail shirt and sleeve shield, unwrapping them from their cotton coverings and laying them on the table. A brief inspection assured him that they had remained untarnished by the salty air, but he doubted that his sword had been quite so lucky. Removing a small stoppered bottle of oil and a square of rough silk from one of his packs, he carried them over to the stool. Sitting down, he slid his sword out of its scabbard and laid it across his knees. Dribbling a few drops of oil onto the silk, Tijodrin slowly began to clean the blade, wiping it from crossguard to tip.

It was a traditional Tholenian broadsword, four fingers wide, with a long haft so that it could be used effectively with either one hand or two. The sword was beautiful in its simplicity. No gems studded its pommel, no gilding or gold filigree gleamed upon it. It was a sword made for the hand of a warrior not the hip of some dandy. The weapon had been in his family for generations, bequeathed to him by his father the day he became a skyrider. The sword and his sleeve shield, given to him by his skyriding clan on that same day, were the only things he had left of his old life. That and the memories.

It was first his grandfather, then his father, who had taught him how to use the sword. Even before it became apparent that he possessed the talent required of a skyrider and would need proper weapons training, Tijodrin’s father felt strongly about developing his son’s skill at arms. A renowned master had been brought to the estate to tutor Tijodrin in all manner of weaponry, but his father remained responsible for some of his schooling with the sword. He was a great teacher, but a hard one. Tijodrin suffered far more scoldings, and far more bruises, from him than he had from the weapons master. His father had not wished for his son to be the soft, idle sort of noble that so many of his friends and peers would grow to become.

Though in his youth Tijodrin had often bridled at the strictness of his father, in more recent years he had grown quite appreciative of the physical and mental discipline his father had instilled in him. He wondered what his father would make of the man he was now, the man he had become after five years of living by his sword and his wits.

Tijodrin sheathed his sword and put away the oil and cloth. He sniffed at the clothes he was wearing. After more than a week on the Blue Mistress, it wasn’t just the sea he could smell. It was time for that bath.


Half an hour later, freshly scrubbed, Tijodrin padded back to his room, where he changed into a clean tunic and trousers. Over this, he pulled on his mail shirt and sleeve shield. His sword went into a baldric that ran across his shoulder, while his long knife was tucked into a belt sheath. From one pack, he removed a battered leather wallet bulging with letters, which he secured between his mail shirt and tunic. Sliding on his sturdy boots, Tijodrin made his way downstairs and out of the inn, promising Rodwin he would return in time for dinner.

In the fading light of the afternoon, Tijodrin strode further down the Street of Arches before turning east down a winding side lane and a series of short steps. Soon, the fine shops and dwellings were replaced with shabby tenements, squalid workhouses and storefronts with no name or sign to indicate what sort of shadowy business went on inside. The streets narrowed so much that two people could scarce fit between the buildings. Overhead, upper floors shouldered outward until they almost touched, blocking out most of what little daylight remained. Refuse of every description was littered about, and weeds sprouted up amid paving stones that were uneven, cracked, or missing altogether.

This was the Warrens, the most disreputable area in Hohvenlor. A haven for thieves, cutthroats, and a host of other criminals. Hooded eyes watched him from doorways and windows—footpads sizing up a potential victim and whores sizing up a potential customer. Tijodrin returned their stares with bold ferocity. The footpads retreated into the shadows to await easier prey, while the whores responded with lewd suggestions and flashes of pale flesh.

Eventually, he came to a small open space that could only very generously be called a square. It was an area of dirt and patchy brown grass with bits of rotting wood, broken masonry, and other debris strewn about. The middle of the square was currently occupied by the prone figures of two men, whether dead or merely passed out Tijodrin could not tell. Four buildings surrounded the area, and a more ramshackle collection of structures could hardly be imagined. A tenement that looked abandoned and in danger of falling in on itself, a dank bawdy house with rusty iron bars over its lone window, and two taverns as decrepit as any he had ever seen. It was to the tavern on the left that Tijodrin turned his attention.

The Withered Man occupied the whole of a single-story building that leaned drunkenly against the larger building behind it. Thrown together with roughhewn timbers, it’s few windows were all heavily shuttered and its door was a patchwork of several pieces of mismatched wood. The rag-draped skeleton on the crooked sign out front was desperately in need of a fresh painting. Scowling, Tijodrin strode across the square to the tavern and pushed through the flimsy door.

If the outside was a wreck, the inside was even worse. Candles burned weakly in wall lanterns and on some tabletops, while the sunlight barely peeked through the shuttered windows. The fireplace in the corner had partially collapsed and was now only useful as a resting place for a mangy brown dog. The bar was nothing more than a sagging plank of pine laid across some empty ale barrels. A short, bald man stood behind it, staring suspiciously at Tijodrin. The air was thick with the acrid smell of skral, the cheap narcotic so popular here in the northern lands. Half a dozen men sat at the battered tables scattered around the room, puffing on large pipes of the stuff, each in varying states of oblivion. Tijodrin wrinkled his nose in disgust as the clouds of skral were not quite enough to mask the odor of stale beer and unwashed bodies. The man that he was looking for was easy to spot as he had been unflatteringly, and thus accurately, described.

Obrik sat at the least worn of the tables, one cluttered with half-empty plates and several wrapped blocks of skral. He was a corpulent man with a double chin drooping over the collar of his tunic, a tunic that had once been fine but was now stained with wine and sweat. He was chewing noisily on something, and his greasy beard held the crumbs of at least one meal. A scrawny girl wearing a thin cotton shift was slumped against Obrik’s shoulder. Tijodrin could not help but notice the collection of bruises that covered her arms.

Standing on either side of the table were two huge men in loose trousers and leather jerkins. Short stabbing swords and thick, curved daggers hung from their belts. Seeing Tijodrin’s gaze fall upon their master, the heavily muscled giants uncrossed their arms, their hands falling to sword hilts. One of them lumbered around to stand in front of the table.

Tijodrin withdrew the leather wallet and stepped purposefully toward the table.

“Letters from Harnir of Skoden,” he announced over the giant’s shoulder.

The hulking bodyguard turned his head in Obrik’s direction, and the fat man responded with a grunt. The bodyguard shifted to one side, just enough to allow Tijodrin to get past. Placing the bulging wallet on the table, he pretended not to notice the bodyguard taking up position directly behind him. Obrik glared up at him through bleary eyes as if Tijodrin had interrupted something more important than another unneeded meal. Belching loudly, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“An islander,” he muttered, easing his bulk forward and resting his elbows on the table.

Next to him, the girl stirred from her slumber and gave Tijodrin a yellow-toothed smile. She could not have been more than twelve or thirteen.

“Didn’t think they let your kind wander out of the guildhall.” Obrik’s sneering tone implied a strong support for that particular restriction.

Tijodrin said nothing, only regarded Obrik impassively. Opening the wallet and removing the letters, Obrik jabbed his finger at the empty chair opposite him.

“I’ll stand,” Tijodrin said flatly. He did not wish to spend any more time in this man’s presence than was necessary.

Obrik’s eyes narrowed, but he shrugged and started sifting through the letters, carefully checking the wax seals on each of them.

“You know Harnir well?” He asked, tapping a dirty fingernail on the parchments.

“Well enough.”

What Tijodrin knew was that Harnir was a minor merchant who traded in information as much as in goods. He was also a smuggler, a fence, and possibly, even a spy. As unsavory as he was, Harnir had a certain amount of honor, of decency. The same could not be said of this foul person in front of him.

“Everything seems to be in order,” Obrik muttered again, sounding almost disappointed. He tucked the letters back in the wallet and slipped it inside his filthy tunic. “I am surprised Harnir would trust an islander. I have always heard that your ilk are dishonest.”

“Perhaps you have also heard that we do not take kindly to insults,” Tijodrin replied, his eyes growing cold.

The warning in those eyes went unheeded. Obrik said something in a dialect that Tijodrin did not understand, but by the way the girl and the two bodyguards laughed, it was clearly crude and at his expense. Tijodrin gave the fat man a small smile, though it was anything but friendly. It was a smile that promised malice. Slowly, and with obvious reluctance, Obrik withdrew a small handful of silver coins from his belt pouch and slapped them on the table. Tijodrin scooped them up and placed them in his own pouch.

“Care to spend any of that now?” Obrik leered, jerking his thumb at the skinny girl.

She rewarded Tijodrin with another wan smile and pushed a few loose strands of tangled hair out of her eyes. Making no attempt to hide the expression of contempt and revulsion on his face, Tijodrin started to turn away from the table. A hand like a slab of granite came down on his shoulder, holding him firmly in place.

“I did not dismiss you,” Obrik growled.

“I do not require permission from the likes of you.”

“Arrogant cur! You would be wise not to disrespect me in my place of business!”

“Were I you, I would not be so quick to claim this cesspit.”

As Obrik’s face darkened in anger, Tijodrin sensed a surge of movement from behind him. He hunched his body forward so that the fist intended for the back of his skull found only air. Grabbing the edge of the table with both hands, Tijodrin shoved it into Obrik’s ample chest. Then he swept up the chair and turned to swing it at the bodyguard behind him.

The chair was poorly made, shattering against the man’s body and doing nothing more than momentarily stunning him. Tijodrin was on the man as quick as a panther. He unleashed a pair of punches to the bodyguard’s stomach that had him doubling over. As the man’s head came down, Tijodrin’s knee came up, cracking the bodyguard’s jaw like an eggshell.

Pushing the collapsing guard away from him, Tijodrin moved to face the second guard. The giant had drawn his short sword and was advancing on Tijodrin with loud curses. Tijodrin brushed aside the sword with his sleeve shield, then drove the heel of his hand into the bodyguard’s nose, crushing it in a spurt of red. A heavy clout from the sleeve shield smashed against the bodyguard’s head, knocking him to the floor.

Meanwhile, Obrik had pushed the table away and was shouting for aid. From one of the tavern’s back rooms came the hurried thumping of booted feet. With a swift kick, Tijodrin sent the table smashing into Obrik’s body again, then turned to face the new threat.

Three more men burst into the room, their steel already bared. Tijodrin’s sword hissed ominously out of its scabbard as the men charged him in a mad rush. He knocked aside the first blade, letting the attacker’s haste carry him past. Ducking under the swing of the second man, Tijodrin lunged forward, his blade sliding easily between the man’s ribs and plunging out of his back in a gout of blood. In one fluid motion, Tijodrin pulled his sword free and spun to catch the descending blow of the third swordsman. With a deft flick of his wrist, he sent his opponent’s weapon clattering to the floor. Before the man could react, Tijodrin’s sword was chopping clear through his forearm. Screaming in pain, the man stumbled back against the wall, spewing crimson.

The first swordsman came after Tijodrin again, swinging his weapon hesitantly. Dodging to the side, Tijodrin brought his sword flashing down to slice through the back of the man’s ankle. He dropped his sword and fell shrieking to the floor, his bloody foot flopping uselessly. Tijodrin silenced him with a hard crack to the side of the head with the flat of his blade.

The two huge bodyguards were now beginning to recover their wits, and their feet. The first wobbled upright, groaning and clutching at his shattered jaw. Tijodrin sent him back to the floor with a brutal kick that cracked his kneecap. A second kick cracked at least one rib. The other giant flailed wildly at Tijodrin with his short sword, his face a mask of blood. Tijodrin lunged swiftly at him, his sword piercing the man’s shoulder. Another clout to the bodyguard’s head with the sleeve shield tumbled him down onto his comrade.

Springing over the fallen pair, Tijodrin brought his sword whistling down in a two-handed blow that hacked Obrik’s table in half. Kicking aside the broken halves, he placed the tip of his sword under Obrik’s bulging chin. Rage and fear battled in the man’s eyes as his henchmen’s blood trickled down the length of the blade to stain his throat.

Beside him, the girl was curled up in a ball, whimpering softly. The barman and the other patrons were cowering out of sight, while the mongrel in the ruined fireplace slept on. There were no further sounds of reinforcements, only the painful moans of the wounded and the dying.

“Our business here is concluded,” Tijodrin said in a low, menacing voice. “I want no further trouble from you or I will return and burn down this fetid hovel with you still inside.”

Slowly and deliberately, Tijodrin wiped his sword across the shoulder of Obrik’s tunic, removing the remaining blood from the blade. With one last withering look around, he carefully backed toward the door, not sheathing his sword until he was outside the tavern.



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About the author


Justin Enos currently lives in Portland, Oregon. From Wrath To Ruin is his first novel. He is hard at work on Tijodrin's next adventure - Under A Shadow Of Sorcery.

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Book details

Genre:FICTION

Subgenre:Fantasy / General

Language:English

Pages:366

eBook ISBN:9781483598017

Paperback ISBN:9781483598000


Overview


In the great city of Hohvenlor, a rivalry between two powerful merchants has simmered for many years. Now, the son of one merchant, spurned by the daughter of the other, vengefully stokes the fires of that rivalry. Soon, retribution follows retribution until the conflict threatens to turn the streets of Hohvenlor into a battlefield. Into the midst of this inferno of hostility comes Tijodrin, a man who is no stranger to violence and bloodshed. Exiled from his homeland for reasons he keeps to himself, Tijodrin wanders the land as a mercenary, selling his skills with a blade to those who have the coin to pay. Within the walls of Hohvenlor, Tijodrin finds no shortage of enemies and faces danger from many corners. Can he survive the endless plotting of the vindictive merchants and the swords of their bloodthirsty henchmen, as well as the lurking daggers of the shadowy assassin's guild?

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Description


Chapter 1



It was the last night of the annual harvest festival, and the cavernous banquet hall of the merchants’ guild was overflowing with guests. Beneath the high, vaulted ceilings they gathered, dressed in their fanciest clothes and adorned with their most dazzling jewelry. Iron braziers blazed fiercely on dark-timbered walls hung with elaborate tapestries. Overhead, on gaudy chandeliers, hundreds of beeswax candles lent their light and subtle aroma to the huge room.

Every one of Hohvenlor’s merchant families was represented, from the simplest of traders to the powerful merchant lords. A few dull bankers and stoic lawyers trailed alongside their richest clients, just in case their advice or opinion was required. The guild alderman, bearing with him his own small cluster of favor seekers and flatterers, wandered among the throng, shaking hands and sharing toasts.

News and gossip was exchanged, partnerships forged, deals brokered, illicit assignations planned. Liveried servants drifted through the hall, bearing silver platters piled with sweet desserts, while to quench thirst and dull senses, they brought dark ales, thick meads, and a large variety of expensive wines.

Amid the finery of the assembled guests was one young man more ostentatiously attired than most. He wore a thick doublet and leggings of black velvet, generously trimmed with cloth-of-gold. His cap and half cape were of black silk and edged with sable. The belt and shoes he wore were of soft, black calf skin, with diamonds glittering on the buckles of both. More gemstones sparkled on ringed fingers, and a ruby the size of a thumbnail hung on a heavy gold chain about his neck. He circled the room slowly, a goblet of deep purple Ilohrian wine in one hand, the other tucked into his bejeweled belt.

Not yet twenty, the young man was handsome and he knew it. He had a long, aquiline nose and a strong, square jaw. His wavy black hair and crystal blue eyes drew many admiring glances from the women in the hall. The young man was not distracted by these other women, however; his attention was focused solely on one.

He watched as she moved gracefully around the room, pausing briefly to converse with one party or another. She inclined her head to some, smiled brightly at others, allowed a fortunate few to lightly kiss her hand. If she was aware of his presence, the weight of his stare, she gave no sign of it. And his were far from the only eyes that followed her. He waited impatiently until she drifted off to the edge of the banquet hall, near the patio.

It was an unseasonably warm night, and the patio doors had been opened wide onto the darkened garden beyond.

There she stood in the doorway, hands clasped in front of her, staring out into the shadows. Hair the color of spun gold fell over pale shoulders left tantalizingly bare by a simple, yet elegant gown of green silk. The only jewelry she wore was a pair of small emerald earrings set in silver clasps. The raw beauty she possessed needed little enhancement.

“Dathina,” the young man murmured, coming up behind her and grazing her elbow with his hand.

“Eriston,” she said evenly, stiffening at his touch and taking a small step away from him.

“You have not responded to my letters. Nor has your father responded to my proposal.”

Eriston moved around so that he was standing in front of her. They were of the same height, though his eyes met hers only for a moment. His gaze quickly dropped to travel down the length of her silk-encased body, pausing lewdly when he reached the swell of her breasts and the curve of her hips.

“Do my words not please you?” The innocence with which this was asked was ruined by his lecherous stare.

Dathina’s eyes, as green as her gown, flashed in irritation. “Nothing about you pleases me, as I have made clear on many occasions.” She crossed her arms defensively over her chest. “Our fathers have been rivals, nay, enemies, since before you or I were born. How could you possibly imagine that mine would either desire or consent to a marriage between us? Especially as I myself do not desire it?” She shook her head in mock disbelief. “As for your letters, the only use I have for them is as kindling for the hearth fire.”

Eriston scowled, his fingers tightening around the goblet of wine. “I could have any woman I want, Dathina. You should be flattered I chose you.”

Laughter spilled from her full lips, drawing glances from nearby guests. “Flattered?” she exclaimed incredulously. Her eyes twinkled with scorn as they roamed over Eriston. “Look at you! How much of your father’s hard-earned coin did this ridiculous costume cost? You are a spoiled, pampered fop. You care only about yourself and your appearance. Perhaps these other women are interested.” Dathina waved vaguely over her shoulder. “I most certainly am not.”

Eriston stepped closer to her, anger contorting his features. “How dare you speak to me that way!” His raised voice drew more attention from their neighbors.

“You’re drunk,” Dathina scoffed, sniffing the air between them. “As is usual, I imagine.”

She turned to walk away, but Eriston grabbed her arm and held her fast.

“Take your hand off me.”

“You will be mine, Dathina. You and your father will see the sense of it.”

“Never,” she hissed. “Leave my family and myself alone.”

She tried to pull free from Eriston’s grasp, but he only tightened his grip and pulled her nearer. Dathina responded with a loud slap that had dozens of eyes turning to stare in their direction.

“You are nothing but a foolish boy, Eriston, a boy trying to play a man.” She shook off his suddenly slack hold. “Do not touch me again.”

With that, she stormed off into the crowd, many of whom were twittering in shocked amusement. Eriston flushed brightly in anger and embarrassment, his cheek burning from the slap. Trying to ignore the stares and snickers, he spun on his heel and strode out into the empty patio. He drained the last of his wine before tossing the goblet away. It fell soundlessly on the thick grass of the garden.

Eriston’s jaw clenched and his hands tightened into fists as a fierce fury surged through him. Behind him, in the hall, he imagined he could still hear Dathina’s mocking laughter, see the snide smiles of the other guests. He had to restrain himself from turning around and lashing out at them. Instead, he focused all of his ire on Dathina and her father.

How dare they refuse him? Who did they think they were? For months, he had been wooing her, an untold number of flower bouquets and small gifts along with his many letters. Her silence had been galling enough, but now this very public refusal. It was too much. Dathina would regret humiliating him like this. Eriston’s face reddened anew as he recalled the scorn in her eyes.

There were few merchant families who stood above his own in either wealth or influence. Certainly not any of those smug eavesdroppers behind him and not the Vandens. Someone of their station did not say no to someone of his. He would make Dathina and her father pay for their insolence. His own father should have crushed Amund Vanden long ago. I will do what my father has been unable—or unwilling—to do for so long. I will see you both

on your knees. You will beg for my mercy.


Thick clouds filled the night sky, blotting out the moon and stars and shrouding the harbor in heavy darkness. The wind was blowing gently from the west, down from the cold mountains and out to sea, carrying with it a faint mist of rain. Hohvenlor’s harbor was vast, capable of holding over five hundred ships, and at this time of year, it was near full. Tonight, it was a maze of black shadows bobbing lightly at anchor, planks groaning and halyards creaking.

At the southern end of the harbor, lay a large, four-masted vessel. She had eased out of the dry dock only days before and was still awaiting her maiden voyage. On board the grand ship was a skeleton crew of a dozen men to guard her decks. They were bored and restless, and the inclement weather had them huddling in their cloaks. As they stood listlessly at their posts, their tired eyes were all turned toward land. None of them saw the three longboats approaching from the seaward side of the ship.

On muffled oars they glided slowly, stealthily, across the ebony surface of the water. There were thirty men aboard, clad in black, with faces and hands begrimed with soot. As they drew nearer, the longboats changed course to come at the ship bow on, where two massive anchor chains disappeared into the water. The first longboat bumped soundlessly up against one of the chains and four of the men swiftly climbed up the slick iron links to the hull of the ship. Pulling themselves up to the railing of the main deck, they paused, peering about to ensure that they were unobserved, and then over the railing they went.

The two guards asleep under the quarterdeck were roughly bound and gagged before they even knew what was happening. A long moment passed as the four raiders scanned the main deck, noting the positions of the other guards. Then they secured three rope ladders to the deck railing and tossed them down to the waiting longboats. Immediately, the remaining men began ascending the ladders to join their comrades. Drawing iron-studded cudgels, they crept across the deck, the whispers of their bare feet on the wooden planking swallowed by the night.

Amidships, another pair of guards fell with barely a sound. They were quickly trussed and left where they were. As the raiders approached the poop deck, they could see faint pinpricks of orange, and the night breeze brought with it the scent of tobacco smoke. Beneath the raised platform of the helm were the officer’s quarters. There were three doors but only one with a sliver of dull light around its edges.

The leader of the raiding party, a broad-shouldered man with a short chin beard, gestured his men forward in a rush. He and two other men wrenched open the cabin doors while the rest swarmed up the steps to the helm. In the captain’s cabin, the bearded leader surprised a man in rough-spun nightclothes in the midst of a cheap bottle of wine. His cudgel cracked against the man’s skull, knocking him senseless to the floor. Above, on the poop deck, shadows clashed with shadows as the last of the ship’s guards were subdued with muted thumps and grunts.

The bound guards were all dragged to the bow and lowered into one of the longboats which was promptly cut adrift. The other two longboats were hauled up and lashed to the deck railings. The leader began calling out orders, softly but firmly, to his men, all experienced sailors. With practiced speed they carried out their tasks, preparing the captured ship for sail. The anchors were winched up, the rudder was unlocked, the enormous sails unfurled and set. Soon, the first gusts of wind were tugging at the great sheets of canvas. At the helm, the leader slowly brought the ship about, and within moments, they were moving steadily toward the open waters of the sea.

As they passed the squat form of the keep guarding the harbor entrance, lanterns and torches could be seen flickering along the walls. Predawn departures were not uncommon, so the watchmen in the keep were more curious than concerned. A few shouted challenges issued from the walls, but they were unintelligible and the ship passed by unheeding. As they left the calm waters of the bay behind them, the bearded leader allowed himself a small sigh of relief. The difficult part of their mission was complete. All that was left was a very short voyage, the first and last voyage that this ship would ever make.


The harbormaster noticed the ship’s absence at first light. A message was duly sent to one of the larger warehouses crowding the wharves. A more urgent message was then dispatched from the warehouse to a fine manor high up on the city slopes. Amund Vanden, the old merchant who dwelt there, was roused from his slumber. While much of the city still slept, he and several of his guardsmen saddled their horses and clattered through the quiet streets. Down to the docks they rode, where they boarded two small, swift caravels. One headed north, the other, with the merchant aboard, sailed south, both ships hugging the rugged coastline. It did not take long to find the stolen vessel. The cloud of smoke was visible for miles.

The caravel dropped anchor offshore and Amund was rowed to the beach. He stepped out of the rowboat and into the surf that slapped coldly at his ankles. Before him, languishing in the shallows of this lonely stretch of coast, were the smoldering remains of his ship. The main deck had burned almost completely away, exposing charred ribs and splintered masts that reached forlornly toward the sky. She was to have been the new flagship of his trading fleet; now she was naught but a blackened ruin. He had named her the Tavania, after his late wife, making this loss both financial and personal. Something that Tarent Dennoch would be all too aware of.

There was little doubt in Amund’s mind that his longtime rival, or more likely, his son, Eriston, was responsible. To go to all the trouble, all the risk, of stealing the ship only to destroy it was not the work of pirates or anyone else. This was the Dennoch family sending a message.

This was an act vastly more brazen, and vastly more costly, than anything either of the two merchants had engaged in before. If he was to believe the stories and rumors, both from his daughter and many others, then Eriston was a cruel, amoral man. Tarent would never have stooped to something like this on his own. Clearly Tarent’s son was wielding an unhealthy influence over him.

Was this simply a response to Dathina’s, and his own, refusal of Eriston’s marriage proposal? The young man was addled if he thought Amund was going to let his daughter marry the son of Tarent Dennoch. Or was this something else? Up until now, Eriston had done little to involve himself in his father’s business or in the rivalry he shared with Amund. Perhaps this was his first step. If so, it was a very serious one.

Amund ran his hands through his thinning hair, sighing in angry frustration. He was getting too old for this sort of thing; he lacked the stomach for it. The merchants’ guild and the city watch would have to be notified. He would let them conduct their own investigations. Neither of them would take this blatant piracy lightly. As much as he may want to punish this act of destruction personally, he could not afford an escalation. Who knew what else Eriston was capable of? Who knew how far he was willing to go? I will let the city authorities deal with this reckless act of thievery, while I will do what I can, what I must, to protect my business, my family, just in case. Reboarding the rowboat, Amund ordered the oarsmen back to the caravel with a troubled heart.


The squall that had been battering the Blue Mistress all morning was at last beginning to abate. For hours, the captain and crew had been doused with cold rain and colder sea spray as the wide-bodied merchant vessel had pitched and rolled in the rough ocean swells. They were eight days out of Skoden, their holds laden with tanned elk hides and thick wolf pelts, casks of salted cod, bales of raw wool and a host of lesser trade goods.

His experienced eyes taking in the skies around them, the gruff captain barked out orders to his first mate. Though soaked to the bone, the crew carried out these orders with more spirit and efficiency than usual. They knew that with fair winds they would soon reach their home port.

Standing on the poop deck behind the captain and the helmsman was a man set clearly apart from the rest of the crew by both his inactivity and his appearance. He stood with his feet widely spaced to brace himself on the unsteady deck, his strong hands firmly grasping the railing. A long oilskin cloak that almost succeeded in keeping him dry shrouded a tall frame that was lean but muscular. His hair, which the rain had plastered to his skull, was shoulder length and so pale as to appear almost white. His skin, which had once been fair, was now bronzed from years of living in climes warmer and sunnier than his own. An intricate pattern of dark-blue tattoos, runes, and ancient script, danced along his hairline from forehead to ear. Another small strip decorated his chin, and the backs of his hands were covered with mystic symbols. Eyes that were the color of the storm clouds above stared not at where the ship was going but rather where it had been. For while the sailors’ home lay ahead, Tijodrin’s home, which he had not seen in almost five years, lay behind them. Five long years as an outsider, an outcast, an exile.

The journey from Skoden to Hohvenlor was a long one due to the necessity of skirting the Shattered Isles. The savage storms that frequently ravaged the Isles, and the treacherous whirlpools scattered among them, made ordinary sea travel all but impossible, forcing ships to give them a wide berth. This journey marked the closest Tijodrin had come to his homeland in those five years, but even from the height of the crow’s nest, he had seen nothing but the thick mists that clung to the very edges of the Isles.

How he longed to see the high, windswept mountains with their perpetual mantles of snow, the roaring waterfalls that tumbled down from the lofty peaks. He wanted to hunt in the thick dark forests, stalking bear, boar, and stag. He wanted to walk the quiet stately halls and sheltered grounds of his family’s estate. He wanted once again to feel the exhilaration of piloting his skyship between the many cities of his people. That wish, though, could not be; not now, not ever. He had seen much of the wider world, but all he really wanted to see were his own lands.

Above him, the skies were beginning to clear and the rain was fading. A ragged shanty broke out among the sailors, and the captain ordered the sails let out to their fullest. With a strong and steady wind at her back, the merchant ship leaped forward and began carving through the sea with vigor. With a deep sense of melancholy, Tijodrin watched as the ship’s wake carried him further and further away from his home.


Chapter 2


By early afternoon, two days later, the Blue Mistress was comfortably settled in her assigned berth in the great harbor of Hohvenlor. Sunlight shimmered brightly off the placid waters of the bay, while overhead, gulls and terns wheeled about, their shrill cries piercing the air. Surrounding the Blue Mistress was a swarm of local vessels, while larger ships bearing the flags of a dozen different nations were dotted about the bay: everything from coracles, fishing skiffs, and small galleys to sleek warships, lateen-sailed caravels, and huge, triple-decked galleons. Trade was the lifeblood of the city, and goods from all corners of the known world flowed into its markets.

The crew had already begun to haul up the cargo as a pair of harbor officials stepped aboard. They greeted the captain with perfunctory nods, accepting the ship’s manifest from him, and then began to inspect both it and the cargo. Tijodrin picked up the two packs containing his meager belongings, called out a brief farewell to the captain and first mate, then strode down the gangplank.

As he moved briskly along the weathered dock, Tijodrin stared through the forest of ship’s masts to the city beyond. Hohvenlor was the capital of the kingdom of Athlorn and one of the largest cities in the world. The city lay sprawled across a long, narrow hill that rose from the banks of the River Averell. The massive, crenelated outer walls were built of smooth, pale stone, stood more than sixty feet high, and were wide enough for five horsemen to ride abreast along their length. The walls were supported by thick buttresses, and at regular intervals, they were studded with enormous square towers.

Halfway up the sides of the hill, the city was girded by a second wall almost as formidable as the first. Sturdy buildings of stone and timber covered the hillside, crisscrossed by a network of cobbled streets, alleys, and steps. There were only a few buildings over three stories tall, and hardly any over four, but here and there the spires of some grand temple or monument, or the tower of some ambitious lord, rose above the rooftops. Also filling the city’s skyline were the many trees that dotted Hohvenlor’s streets, its public gardens, and the private gardens of its wealthier residents. At the summit of the hill, the majestic fortress of the Athlornian kings kept a stern watch over the city. Fierce battlements topped its soaring walls, while its eight mighty towers seemed to pierce the very sky.

To the south, a rocky headland separated the bay from the Averell. At the tip of the headland perched Seaguard Keep, its towers bristling with catapults and bolt throwers. North and west of the city, the land climbed in a series of steep ridges covered by rich farmland and thick forests. Surmounting the ridges and looming over all else was the row of sheer stone peaks known as the Pillars.

Between the walls and the waters of the harbor was a dense thicket of buildings, most of which catered to the great industry of trade. There were the large warehouses and offices of the merchant lords as well as the small shacks and drying sheds belonging to the local fishermen. Lining the quays were cheap inns and flop houses, ale shops, and brothels, everything that was required to satisfy the needs of the hordes of sailors and poorer travelers that passed through Hohvenlor.

As he reached the end of the dock, Tijodrin’s gaze was drawn to the offices of the Tholenian merchants’ guild, which stood aloof and apart from the rest of the structures crowding the harbor. The wide docking platform next to the guild office was empty, for which Tijodrin was thankful. By their own laws, Tholenian merchants were not allowed to enter inside the city walls, but there was always the chance of encountering one of his countrymen in the quayside area. In all the times he had come to Hohvenlor, it had not happened, and he dreaded the moment were it to occur. He did not wish to see the pain and humiliation of his exile mirrored in a stranger’s eyes.

Stepping down from the salt-stained planks of the quay, Tijodrin gladly put his booted feet back on solid ground. Before him, the square stone slab of Harborwatch Tower jutted out into the edge of the bay, connected to the city walls by a high parapet. In its shadow lay the fish market, which at this time of day was deserted, but for a few touts ambling about and a handful of laborers lounging in the shade waiting to be hired for some menial task.

Reaching the Harbor Gate, Tijodrin joined the steady stream of people all waiting to enter the city. At the wide mouth of the gateway stood a squad of green-cloaked city watchmen in heavy ring mail and bearing long halberds. They gave Tijodrin hard looks but waved him through just the same.

He moved slowly through the huge corridor of stone, re-emerging into the golden sunlight and onto Crown Road. The broad, flagstoned avenue led from the Harbor Gate and marched through the heart of the city, leading up to the fortress itself. Along the way, it was fronted by the best shops and inns, the offices of the powerful money lenders and counting houses, and many fine apartments and larger dwellings. Most of the building walls that faced the street were brightly painted or tiled over, and colorful signboards and tradesmen’s symbols hung from above their doorways.

The street was congested with two-wheeled carts, four-wheeled wagons, and porters all piled high with goods. The din of horseshoes and cartwheels on stone rang harshly in Tijodrin’s ears after so many quiet days at sea. Peddlers walked the street loaded with merchandise that they pitched noisily to shopkeepers, residents, and passersby. Some of the side streets were even more cluttered, with vendors and makeshift stalls, scribes and tinkers squatting on doorsteps, liveried servants and messengers hurrying to and fro on various errands. Though Tijodrin well knew there were darker, meaner streets about Hohvenlor, this display of wealth and prosperity was the city’s public face and the only one most visitors ever saw.

Before long, he reached the clamor of the main market square, a wide space bordered on three sides by numerous grand buildings, including both the merchants’ and artisans’ guilds as well as the imposing temple of Eitan, the patron deity of Athlorn. The fourth side of the market was open to Crown Road, and the motley collection of stalls, tents, and tables that filled the square were in danger of spilling out into the avenue. The noise of the street was quickly drowned out by the shouted claims of the many vendors and of voices raised in hard bargaining.

Tijodrin kept to the edge of the teeming market, ignoring the hawkers and watching instead for the pickpockets and cutpurses who would be roaming the crowd in numbers. More than once, he slapped away hands tugging at his sleeve, not caring if it was an attempt at distraction by some light-fingered street urchin or simply an overeager vendor. Continuing on, Tijodrin quickly turned onto the Street of Arches and gladly left the chaos of the market behind him.

Halfway down this quiet, well-maintained street, he came to the Silver Dolphin, a modest, three-storied inn surrounded by a low wall. The wide entry through the wall bore a beautiful arch of black iron fashioned in the shape of a leaping dolphin. Tijodrin entered the grass- and cobble-covered yard, which was partially shaded by an old hickory tree. To the right stood a small carriage house and stables and a narrow passageway that led to the garden at the rear of the inn. The front door of the inn was propped open, and he strode over the threshold and into the common room.

Four rows of trestle tables and benches occupied the center of the room, while a dozen small tables were arrayed along the walls. One wall was dominated by a massive fireplace of rough fieldstone, the other by a long, polished oak bar. Large windows on two sides of the room kept it well-lit and well ventilated.

“Welcome back, my friend!” the booming voice of Rodwin, the owner of the Silver Dolphin called out. He came out from behind the bar, setting down the tankard he had been cleaning and drying his hands on his apron.

Rodwin was just shy of forty, a stout, jolly man with thick, black hair and a drooping mustache. His round, fleshy face seemed always to bear a smile, and his eyes always held a glint of good humor. Tijodrin shifted his packs to one shoulder and extended his hand to Rodwin. The innkeeper grabbed Tijodrin’s hand in both of his meaty paws and pumped it heartily.

“Good to see you again.”

“You as well,” Tijodrin said, returning Rodwin’s smile.

The innkeeper’s wife, Aneka, poked her head out of the kitchen to greet him with a wave of her flour-coated hands. She was as plump and good-natured as her husband. It was their friendly demeanor, as well as her marvelous cooking, that kept a steady stream of customers coming through their door.

“I can smell the salt of the sea on you. By which ship did you arrive?”

“The Blue Mistress.”

“Ah yes...,” Rodwin frowned in concentration. “Captain Ralby’s vessel, correct?”

Tijodrin nodded in reply. The innkeeper’s knowledge of Hohvenlor’s ships and their masters was as impressive as always. Letting go of Tijodrin’s hand, Rodwin reached out to take one of the packs from him. At the same moment, Adar and Alar came padding over, their paws clicking loudly on the smooth slate floors.

The tradition of keeping hearth hounds was so old that no one was quite sure how it had started, but every inn and tavern in Hohvenlor had at least one. Many, like the Silver Dolphin, had two. If nothing else, it provided Rodwin and his fellow innkeepers with good night watchmen. These were large herding dogs with thick fur the color of ash. They were brother and sister and guarded the hearth at the Silver Dolphin as their sire had done before them. Both dogs nuzzled at Tijodrin’s hand, and he rewarded them with scratches behind their ears. They were usually indifferent to everyone other than Rodwin and Aneka but had taken to Tijodrin upon his initial visit, and even after his nearly year-long absence, they had clearly not forgotten him.

“You came from Skoden?” Rodwin asked, leading his guest across the common room toward the staircase.

“Aye.”

“How was the journey?”

“Stormy, but otherwise uneventful.”

“It has been a rough season so far. Many a ship has arrived in our harbor fairly limping.” Rodwin huffed his way up the first flight of stairs, his breath getting heavier with each step. “These damn stairs are growing steeper by the day, I swear it.”

“What happened to your nephew?”

Rodwin and his wife had no children of their own but employed a number of relatives from both sides of their family.

“Wastrel,” the innkeeper gasped, shaking his head. “Just like his father.”

He let out a long wheeze when they reached the top of the stairs, fumbling in his pocket for a key. Finding it, he opened the first door on his right and breathlessly waved Tijodrin inside.

It was the same room he had stayed in on his previous visits, small and sparse, but more importantly to him, clean and quiet. There was a very comfortable bed and a simple round table with a stool beside it. The double window was thrown open and overlooked the garden below. Rodwin placed the pack he was carrying on the floor near the foot of the bed. Tijodrin placed the second pack beside it.

“Any idea how long you will be staying with us this time?” Rodwin asked, mopping at his sweaty brow.

“No. I have one minor errand to attend to today. After that, I will be seeking further employment.”

“Hmm, I will see what I can do for you in that regard.”

“Thank you.”

“Anything else you need at the moment?”

“Only a bath,” Tijodrin smiled ruefully.

“I will have one drawn for you down the hall at once. Will you be joining us at dinner?”

“Of that you can be certain.”

“Good, good. Until later, then.”

Smiling broadly, the innkeeper backed out of the room, pulling the door shut behind him. Tijodrin could hear him whistling merrily, but tunelessly, as he tramped back down the stairs.

Unpacking his spare clothes, Tijodrin vigorously shook them out before hanging them on several pegs by the door. Then he took out his mail shirt and sleeve shield, unwrapping them from their cotton coverings and laying them on the table. A brief inspection assured him that they had remained untarnished by the salty air, but he doubted that his sword had been quite so lucky. Removing a small stoppered bottle of oil and a square of rough silk from one of his packs, he carried them over to the stool. Sitting down, he slid his sword out of its scabbard and laid it across his knees. Dribbling a few drops of oil onto the silk, Tijodrin slowly began to clean the blade, wiping it from crossguard to tip.

It was a traditional Tholenian broadsword, four fingers wide, with a long haft so that it could be used effectively with either one hand or two. The sword was beautiful in its simplicity. No gems studded its pommel, no gilding or gold filigree gleamed upon it. It was a sword made for the hand of a warrior not the hip of some dandy. The weapon had been in his family for generations, bequeathed to him by his father the day he became a skyrider. The sword and his sleeve shield, given to him by his skyriding clan on that same day, were the only things he had left of his old life. That and the memories.

It was first his grandfather, then his father, who had taught him how to use the sword. Even before it became apparent that he possessed the talent required of a skyrider and would need proper weapons training, Tijodrin’s father felt strongly about developing his son’s skill at arms. A renowned master had been brought to the estate to tutor Tijodrin in all manner of weaponry, but his father remained responsible for some of his schooling with the sword. He was a great teacher, but a hard one. Tijodrin suffered far more scoldings, and far more bruises, from him than he had from the weapons master. His father had not wished for his son to be the soft, idle sort of noble that so many of his friends and peers would grow to become.

Though in his youth Tijodrin had often bridled at the strictness of his father, in more recent years he had grown quite appreciative of the physical and mental discipline his father had instilled in him. He wondered what his father would make of the man he was now, the man he had become after five years of living by his sword and his wits.

Tijodrin sheathed his sword and put away the oil and cloth. He sniffed at the clothes he was wearing. After more than a week on the Blue Mistress, it wasn’t just the sea he could smell. It was time for that bath.


Half an hour later, freshly scrubbed, Tijodrin padded back to his room, where he changed into a clean tunic and trousers. Over this, he pulled on his mail shirt and sleeve shield. His sword went into a baldric that ran across his shoulder, while his long knife was tucked into a belt sheath. From one pack, he removed a battered leather wallet bulging with letters, which he secured between his mail shirt and tunic. Sliding on his sturdy boots, Tijodrin made his way downstairs and out of the inn, promising Rodwin he would return in time for dinner.

In the fading light of the afternoon, Tijodrin strode further down the Street of Arches before turning east down a winding side lane and a series of short steps. Soon, the fine shops and dwellings were replaced with shabby tenements, squalid workhouses and storefronts with no name or sign to indicate what sort of shadowy business went on inside. The streets narrowed so much that two people could scarce fit between the buildings. Overhead, upper floors shouldered outward until they almost touched, blocking out most of what little daylight remained. Refuse of every description was littered about, and weeds sprouted up amid paving stones that were uneven, cracked, or missing altogether.

This was the Warrens, the most disreputable area in Hohvenlor. A haven for thieves, cutthroats, and a host of other criminals. Hooded eyes watched him from doorways and windows—footpads sizing up a potential victim and whores sizing up a potential customer. Tijodrin returned their stares with bold ferocity. The footpads retreated into the shadows to await easier prey, while the whores responded with lewd suggestions and flashes of pale flesh.

Eventually, he came to a small open space that could only very generously be called a square. It was an area of dirt and patchy brown grass with bits of rotting wood, broken masonry, and other debris strewn about. The middle of the square was currently occupied by the prone figures of two men, whether dead or merely passed out Tijodrin could not tell. Four buildings surrounded the area, and a more ramshackle collection of structures could hardly be imagined. A tenement that looked abandoned and in danger of falling in on itself, a dank bawdy house with rusty iron bars over its lone window, and two taverns as decrepit as any he had ever seen. It was to the tavern on the left that Tijodrin turned his attention.

The Withered Man occupied the whole of a single-story building that leaned drunkenly against the larger building behind it. Thrown together with roughhewn timbers, it’s few windows were all heavily shuttered and its door was a patchwork of several pieces of mismatched wood. The rag-draped skeleton on the crooked sign out front was desperately in need of a fresh painting. Scowling, Tijodrin strode across the square to the tavern and pushed through the flimsy door.

If the outside was a wreck, the inside was even worse. Candles burned weakly in wall lanterns and on some tabletops, while the sunlight barely peeked through the shuttered windows. The fireplace in the corner had partially collapsed and was now only useful as a resting place for a mangy brown dog. The bar was nothing more than a sagging plank of pine laid across some empty ale barrels. A short, bald man stood behind it, staring suspiciously at Tijodrin. The air was thick with the acrid smell of skral, the cheap narcotic so popular here in the northern lands. Half a dozen men sat at the battered tables scattered around the room, puffing on large pipes of the stuff, each in varying states of oblivion. Tijodrin wrinkled his nose in disgust as the clouds of skral were not quite enough to mask the odor of stale beer and unwashed bodies. The man that he was looking for was easy to spot as he had been unflatteringly, and thus accurately, described.

Obrik sat at the least worn of the tables, one cluttered with half-empty plates and several wrapped blocks of skral. He was a corpulent man with a double chin drooping over the collar of his tunic, a tunic that had once been fine but was now stained with wine and sweat. He was chewing noisily on something, and his greasy beard held the crumbs of at least one meal. A scrawny girl wearing a thin cotton shift was slumped against Obrik’s shoulder. Tijodrin could not help but notice the collection of bruises that covered her arms.

Standing on either side of the table were two huge men in loose trousers and leather jerkins. Short stabbing swords and thick, curved daggers hung from their belts. Seeing Tijodrin’s gaze fall upon their master, the heavily muscled giants uncrossed their arms, their hands falling to sword hilts. One of them lumbered around to stand in front of the table.

Tijodrin withdrew the leather wallet and stepped purposefully toward the table.

“Letters from Harnir of Skoden,” he announced over the giant’s shoulder.

The hulking bodyguard turned his head in Obrik’s direction, and the fat man responded with a grunt. The bodyguard shifted to one side, just enough to allow Tijodrin to get past. Placing the bulging wallet on the table, he pretended not to notice the bodyguard taking up position directly behind him. Obrik glared up at him through bleary eyes as if Tijodrin had interrupted something more important than another unneeded meal. Belching loudly, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“An islander,” he muttered, easing his bulk forward and resting his elbows on the table.

Next to him, the girl stirred from her slumber and gave Tijodrin a yellow-toothed smile. She could not have been more than twelve or thirteen.

“Didn’t think they let your kind wander out of the guildhall.” Obrik’s sneering tone implied a strong support for that particular restriction.

Tijodrin said nothing, only regarded Obrik impassively. Opening the wallet and removing the letters, Obrik jabbed his finger at the empty chair opposite him.

“I’ll stand,” Tijodrin said flatly. He did not wish to spend any more time in this man’s presence than was necessary.

Obrik’s eyes narrowed, but he shrugged and started sifting through the letters, carefully checking the wax seals on each of them.

“You know Harnir well?” He asked, tapping a dirty fingernail on the parchments.

“Well enough.”

What Tijodrin knew was that Harnir was a minor merchant who traded in information as much as in goods. He was also a smuggler, a fence, and possibly, even a spy. As unsavory as he was, Harnir had a certain amount of honor, of decency. The same could not be said of this foul person in front of him.

“Everything seems to be in order,” Obrik muttered again, sounding almost disappointed. He tucked the letters back in the wallet and slipped it inside his filthy tunic. “I am surprised Harnir would trust an islander. I have always heard that your ilk are dishonest.”

“Perhaps you have also heard that we do not take kindly to insults,” Tijodrin replied, his eyes growing cold.

The warning in those eyes went unheeded. Obrik said something in a dialect that Tijodrin did not understand, but by the way the girl and the two bodyguards laughed, it was clearly crude and at his expense. Tijodrin gave the fat man a small smile, though it was anything but friendly. It was a smile that promised malice. Slowly, and with obvious reluctance, Obrik withdrew a small handful of silver coins from his belt pouch and slapped them on the table. Tijodrin scooped them up and placed them in his own pouch.

“Care to spend any of that now?” Obrik leered, jerking his thumb at the skinny girl.

She rewarded Tijodrin with another wan smile and pushed a few loose strands of tangled hair out of her eyes. Making no attempt to hide the expression of contempt and revulsion on his face, Tijodrin started to turn away from the table. A hand like a slab of granite came down on his shoulder, holding him firmly in place.

“I did not dismiss you,” Obrik growled.

“I do not require permission from the likes of you.”

“Arrogant cur! You would be wise not to disrespect me in my place of business!”

“Were I you, I would not be so quick to claim this cesspit.”

As Obrik’s face darkened in anger, Tijodrin sensed a surge of movement from behind him. He hunched his body forward so that the fist intended for the back of his skull found only air. Grabbing the edge of the table with both hands, Tijodrin shoved it into Obrik’s ample chest. Then he swept up the chair and turned to swing it at the bodyguard behind him.

The chair was poorly made, shattering against the man’s body and doing nothing more than momentarily stunning him. Tijodrin was on the man as quick as a panther. He unleashed a pair of punches to the bodyguard’s stomach that had him doubling over. As the man’s head came down, Tijodrin’s knee came up, cracking the bodyguard’s jaw like an eggshell.

Pushing the collapsing guard away from him, Tijodrin moved to face the second guard. The giant had drawn his short sword and was advancing on Tijodrin with loud curses. Tijodrin brushed aside the sword with his sleeve shield, then drove the heel of his hand into the bodyguard’s nose, crushing it in a spurt of red. A heavy clout from the sleeve shield smashed against the bodyguard’s head, knocking him to the floor.

Meanwhile, Obrik had pushed the table away and was shouting for aid. From one of the tavern’s back rooms came the hurried thumping of booted feet. With a swift kick, Tijodrin sent the table smashing into Obrik’s body again, then turned to face the new threat.

Three more men burst into the room, their steel already bared. Tijodrin’s sword hissed ominously out of its scabbard as the men charged him in a mad rush. He knocked aside the first blade, letting the attacker’s haste carry him past. Ducking under the swing of the second man, Tijodrin lunged forward, his blade sliding easily between the man’s ribs and plunging out of his back in a gout of blood. In one fluid motion, Tijodrin pulled his sword free and spun to catch the descending blow of the third swordsman. With a deft flick of his wrist, he sent his opponent’s weapon clattering to the floor. Before the man could react, Tijodrin’s sword was chopping clear through his forearm. Screaming in pain, the man stumbled back against the wall, spewing crimson.

The first swordsman came after Tijodrin again, swinging his weapon hesitantly. Dodging to the side, Tijodrin brought his sword flashing down to slice through the back of the man’s ankle. He dropped his sword and fell shrieking to the floor, his bloody foot flopping uselessly. Tijodrin silenced him with a hard crack to the side of the head with the flat of his blade.

The two huge bodyguards were now beginning to recover their wits, and their feet. The first wobbled upright, groaning and clutching at his shattered jaw. Tijodrin sent him back to the floor with a brutal kick that cracked his kneecap. A second kick cracked at least one rib. The other giant flailed wildly at Tijodrin with his short sword, his face a mask of blood. Tijodrin lunged swiftly at him, his sword piercing the man’s shoulder. Another clout to the bodyguard’s head with the sleeve shield tumbled him down onto his comrade.

Springing over the fallen pair, Tijodrin brought his sword whistling down in a two-handed blow that hacked Obrik’s table in half. Kicking aside the broken halves, he placed the tip of his sword under Obrik’s bulging chin. Rage and fear battled in the man’s eyes as his henchmen’s blood trickled down the length of the blade to stain his throat.

Beside him, the girl was curled up in a ball, whimpering softly. The barman and the other patrons were cowering out of sight, while the mongrel in the ruined fireplace slept on. There were no further sounds of reinforcements, only the painful moans of the wounded and the dying.

“Our business here is concluded,” Tijodrin said in a low, menacing voice. “I want no further trouble from you or I will return and burn down this fetid hovel with you still inside.”

Slowly and deliberately, Tijodrin wiped his sword across the shoulder of Obrik’s tunic, removing the remaining blood from the blade. With one last withering look around, he carefully backed toward the door, not sheathing his sword until he was outside the tavern.



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About the author


Justin Enos currently lives in Portland, Oregon. From Wrath To Ruin is his first novel. He is hard at work on Tijodrin's next adventure - Under A Shadow Of Sorcery.

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