To Murder, Part 3
June 10, 2012 § 1 Comment
Miaran, flanked by the two giant shaggy horses ridden by Karnien riders, followed by two giant shaggy hounds, and preceded by the woman who had been chained to a post in Durgka’s tent, did not question what was happening. He might have been afraid: seeing the enormous grey and black speckled horses breathing gouts of steam in the cold air as they trampled down Naeth while their riders hacked at them with long straight swords or drove spears into them would be enough to terrify almost anyone. Watching those same riders defer to a half naked woman holding a spear across her shoulders had been worse. He was glad for the presence of the dogs. He didn’t expect them to really effectively defend him if anyone decided to kill him. There were many Karnien around, and the woman with the spear could have impaled him on it by now.
No, he simply found comfort in their familiar presence. He’d gone out of the yurt first, knowing that they would be frantic from the horses and the screaming and the fighting, the smell of blood. Had she gone out first, even chained as they were, they would have gone for her and as massive and powerful as they were, he suspected it would not have gone well for them. He reached down his left hand and rubbed the fur behind Lazar’s ears, then Gronth’s. With so much unfamiliar, they clung to him as he did to them. If they were going to die, they’d die together.
Miaran had no idea, but he was in the presence of greatness.
Her name was Hestalia. Of her life, much could be said. By the time of the attack on Durgka’s tribe, she had been a paid killer for 20 years, despite not being much older than thirty. She did not speak of her family, despite the fact that Hestalia was a very Alronian name, and her features carried as much of Tarsan and even Karnien blood. No one persisted in questioning her, because whoever she was, her skills were very real and very valuable. She had been hired to kill Durgka, and had spent two months perfecting her disguise and arranging for her own kidnapping.
Part of her was a trifle annoyed with the starving boy, since by his actions he could have been said to have interfered with her perfect record of kills. But the way she looked at it, Durgka was dead, and it was her spear that had actually killed him. And there was something about the boy’s meticulous planning for the attack, even if he hadn’t planned for an escape, that caught her interest. He was half starved, beaten, and emaciated to the point where it was painful to look closely at his limbs because you could see everything working, even his veins. But you could feed the hungry. Raw talent was harder to find.
In a thoughtful mood, Hestalia walked her motley escort up to where Quanton Majenti waited on her horse. Unlike the Karnien mounts, hers was graceful. long lean limbs built for speed. Hestalia noted how natural the older woman looked on a horse. It paid to memorize all sorts of little details, just in case.
“I take it he’s dead, then?”
“Headless, so I hope so.” The assassin dropped a bundled up fur to the ground, letting it roll towards the Quanton. The head, with the bloody hole where the spear had punched through, kept rolling until it nearly struck the horse’s hooves. The beast didn’t so much as flinch, Hestalia noted, impressed. “Was easier and harder than I expected.”
“How so?” That perfect arch of an eyebrow, Quanton Majenti’s effortless manner projecting slight interest and complete control at the same time. Her gaze flickered over to the looming stick figure flanked by the two dogs. Hestalia had found the way he’d managed to steal the dog’s loyalty very interesting, because Naeth dogs were renowned for their tenacity and were quite willing to kill, or die, for their masters.
“Yes, him.” The younger woman planted the spear point in the ground and leaned against it, letting her muscled arms grow tense. “I was just about to unlock my chains and kill the fat bastard and his latest bedmate when he snuck in, found a place to hide, and stabbed his owner in the back and the throat. They would have eventually been fatal wounds, although Durgka might have killed him before he died himself. I decided to stab him in the head and make sure he didn’t.”
“That withered wreck fought a Naeth duke?”
“He’s stronger than he looks. I suspect if he wasn’t he’d be dead. Anyway, since he’s the one who stabbed that human sow first, I figured he deserved some of the reward.”
Neither of them bothered to address that all she would have had to do was say nothing and leave the boy, and she could have collected the whole reward for herself. The Quanton pursed her lips thoughtfully, watching as the terribly skinny, bruised and puckered arm reached down to pat one of those furry heads with trembling fingers.
“What are you going to do with him?”
“Keep him, train him, see if he has the touch. I think he does. I think he’s the first one I’ve seen in years who could learn what I know.” Her icy blue eyes met her employer’s darker, river brown ones. “He could live in this company for two years on half of the bounty you owe me, plenty of time.”
“And in return for allowing you to have your own pet slave, I get…”
“You free him, first off. He’s not going to be a slave.”
“What makes you think he’ll stay once that happens?”
“I don’t know, but what else is there? The Naeth have had him for a decade.” She turned to face the now sitting figure, hunched over with exhaustion and hunger, barely able to keep his eyes open but desperately fighting to stay alert in the strange new camp. “What I can teach him, I know works.”
Quanton Majenti had not realized how little she’d actually known about Hestalia until that moment. The words were leashed, the emotion kept from exposure, but betraying itself in every line of her body, the line of her shoulders rigid, the muscles of ber back taut. She considered the benefit to her, of course: as an Alronian, that was expected. But it still came down to not being sure she wanted to risk the price of an assassin’s resentment, when she could buy credit for the future with a gesture that cost her nothing at all.
“All right. I’ll have Scythos draw up the papers of manumission and I’ll sign them. What’s his name?”
“I’ll ask him.” She pulled up her stolen spear. “After I get him some food.”