Authors: David Dalglish
A Dance of Death
by David Dalglish
BOOKS BY DAVID DALGLISH
THE HALF-ORC SERIES
The Weight of Blood
The Cost of Betrayal
The Death of Promises
The Shadows of Grace
A Sliver of Redemption
THE SHADOWDANCE TRILOGY
A Dance of Cloaks
A Dance of Blades
A Dance of Death
Night of Wolves
Clash of Faiths
orgar staggered out of the tavern with the blood of a stranger on his knuckles.
“I want my sword,” he said to the four burly men who had persuaded him to leave.
“Come get it when you’re sober,” one said as he shut the door.
“Well, at least give me my damn drink!”
No such luck. The sellsword cursed and howled until his lungs hurt. He felt better afterward, though, so he made his way through the streets of Angelport back home. Home, of course, was his little room in the Keenan family’s magnificent estate, as captain of their mercenaries and guards. Not that he needed to do much anymore. With the thieves’ war ending near two years ago, his life had grown significantly quieter. And quieter meant boring. He wasn’t quite as young as he once was, either. When he first agreed to work for Laurie, he would have crushed at least a dozen skulls before they flung him out the door of a tavern. Now?
“Getting old,” Torgar grumbled, bracing a hand against the nearby walls to steady his walk. “How in Karak’s name did that happen?”
Surely it wasn’t that long ago he’d been a feared mercenary. The Bloody Kensgold was…gods help him, seven years ago? He turned and spat. On that night, he’d hunted thieves, drunk himself stupid, rescued Madelyn Keenan from Thren’s little hideout, and overall had himself a glorious time. A shame those days were behind him. Well, all but the drinking part.
Without his sword, he felt naked traversing Angelport’s streets. Big as he was, he doubted any ruffians would be dumb enough to try hustling him. That, and he certainly didn’t look like a man loaded with coin. But he liked having his weapon with him anyway. Even though he’d had years of steady work for Laurie Keenan, he knew that all it’d take was one bad turn and he’d be back out on the streets. He encountered no one on his way. The streets were strangely quiet. Laurie had mentioned something about the elves; perhaps that was the reason. The whole city stank of nervousness.
At the gates to the Keenan estate, he saluted the single guard keeping watch.
“Morning,” Torgar said.
“Not for four more hours.”
“Aren’t we picky?”
The guard looked him over.
“You’re early. And where’s your sword?”
“On loan. Care to let me through?”
Drunk or not, Torgar was still the boss, and the guard begrudgingly turned and unlocked the gate.
“Take the servants’ entrance at least,” the guard said. “Lady Madelyn’s getting tired of you waking her up.”
“I’ll keep it in mind,” Torgar said, heading straight for the front doors. Halfway across the expansive lawn he began singing a tune, butchering half the lyrics but not caring. When he put his hand on the door handle, he stopped and sighed. Laurie’s son, Taras, slept not far from main entrance, and he’d been having a devil of a time catching winks because of his newborn. Madelyn could rot for all he cared, but he’d always had a soft spot for Taras.
“Fine,” he said, thudding his head against the thick wood of the door. “You owe me, bud.”
He left the main path and walked the worn dirt track around the mansion. Compared to their first home in Veldaren, it wasn’t nearly as large, but it housed over fifty members of the family, plus guards and servants. Torgar spotted a couple hiding behind a tree, no doubt a guard and a maidservant having themselves a good time. He resumed singing to startle them, and grinned while imagining their surprise. Something seemed wrong about it, though, and he looked back just before turning a corner.
Neither was moving.
“Gods damn it,” he muttered, trying to think through his pounding head. “Asleep, right? Just asleep.”
He went to check them anyway. Slumped against the tree, with their bodies positioned into a mocking embrace, were two guards, their throats slit, their armor soaked with blood. Torgar stared at them for a full second as the alcohol in his brain gave way to his many years of training. He grabbed one of their swords and then checked his immediate surroundings, in case the killer lurked nearby. When he saw no one, he hurried toward the back door. So far no alarm had been raised, otherwise the guard at the gate would have known. The bodies were warm, blood still dripping from their wounds. Whoever this killer was, he wasn’t far.
The grounds seemed vacant enough, so he looked to the rooftops, desperately wishing he hadn’t drunk so much. He saw several shadows that could have been men hiding, but with his headache, it was impossible to know whether or not his mind was playing tricks. No time, he decided. Raise the alarm. Get every guard armed and scouring the place. He was in no position to play hero.
The servant door was locked, and he pulled out the key from a chain around his neck. As he inserted it and turned, he felt the hairs on his neck stand up. One of the shadows…
“Shit!” he cried, flinging himself back. A dark shape descended, blade in hand. Torgar put his sword in the way just in time. Before he could react further, his opponent landed on top of him, elbows and knees ramming his face and chest. Collapsing onto his back, Torgar rolled, narrowly avoiding a stab to his throat. He continued rolling, and did the only thing that seemed logical. He hollered his brains out.
“Killer!” he screamed. “There’s a killer out here! Wake the fuck up!”
He pulled out of his roll and onto one knee as his opponent’s sword came slashing in. He tried to parry it, and was only partly successful. Blood splashed across his vision as the edge tore through his face. He spun from the force, landing on his stomach. Teeth clenched, he waited for the killing blow to land. It never did. Looking back, he saw the door was open, his key still in the lock.
“You left me alive?” Torgar asked, struggling to his feet, his free hand clutching his face. “Big mistake, you bastard. I’ll make you pay.”
He felt warm blood spilling across his fingers and mouth. A huge gash bled across the bridge of his nose, and he wondered if he’d pass out before the night was done. Cursing, he cut a large portion of his shirt and pressed it to the wound. It hurt like blazes, but it was the best he could do for now. Sword held high, he rushed into the mansion.
The hallway was mostly dark, with only small oil lanterns burning at the various intersections. He had no clue who this assassin targeted, but Torgar knew who paid his wages, and therefore belonged at the top of the list to protect. Hooking a right, he headed for Laurie and Madelyn’s room. He tried shouting for help, but it hurt his nose too much. His eyes watered, hampering his already blurred vision. Several times he rammed into a wall, adding more bruises to his aching body. All throughout, he heard cries from the guards. Most were tracking positions, calling out all clears. But every few moments, they let out frightened shouts, if not death screams.
Reaching Laurie’s room, he felt hope at seeing the door closed. He kicked it open and barged in, only to have something hard and blunt strike the back of his head. Torgar dropped to his stomach, and he vomited uncontrollably.
“Damn it,” Torgar said, glaring at Laurie standing to the side of the door, dagger in hand. His wife sat on the bed, also holding a blade.
“I thought you were the intruder,” Laurie said, offering his hand. Torgar ignored it, instead using the wall to brace himself as he stood.
“You’re an idiot, Laurie. Why the hilt?”
“I wanted you alive for questioning.”
Torgar looked back to the hallway, listening for sounds of battle.
“Next time, use the pointy end,” he said. “Stay in here, and bar the door.”
A trio of guards approached, and Torgar saluted with the hand holding the bloody bandage.
“Any clue where the fucker is?” he asked.
“Toward the front,” one said. Torgar’s ears were still ringing from the blow, his vision so blurred he couldn’t make out the man’s face. He took a wild guess at his name, not caring if he got it right.
“Stay here, and guard them with your lives,” Torgar said, nodding toward Laurie’s door. “Gary, you’re in charge.”
“Where are you going?” asked the one on the left.
“To make him pay for this,” Torgar said, gesturing to his nose. He rushed toward the front half of the mansion, and sure enough he heard sounds of battle. His gut sank at the noise. This was no normal assassin sent to smother a sleeping man or pour poison into a bottle of wine. The guy could
Torgar listened for steel hitting steel, or people dying. All around him, he heard doors locking, the servants barring their rooms and staying inside like he’d trained them. Good. Last thing he needed was a bunch of frantic idiots crowding the halls.
As he neared the front entrance, he stumbled upon five corpses of his guard, their blood staining the blue carpet. Torgar could hardly believe the sight. Surely it wasn’t just one man doing all this?