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Authors: Douglas Hulick

Sworn in Steel

BOOK: Sworn in Steel
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Very best wishes,

The Tor UK team & our authors

For Jamie, who probably lost more sleep on this

one than I did. Thanks for putting up with me

above and beyond the call of matrimony.

And for my editor, Anne, who was patience

incarnate. May all your future sophomore

novelists be less of a pain than I was.

A Brief Note on the Use of Cant in This Book

T
he various forms of “cant,” or thieves’ argot, in this book are inspired by records of actual use from various places and times
throughout history, from Elizabethan England to twentieth-century American-underworld slang, and many places in between. I have been liberal with both the meaning and forms of many of these words,
changing them as I deemed necessary for the story and world. In some places, I have altered either the definition or use of a term; in others, I have left them much as they were historically used.
And, not surprisingly, I have also made up certain canting terms from the whole cloth.

So, in short, you will find cant both correct and incorrect, documentable and fanciful, in the following pages. For those who know nothing of the
patter flash
, I hope it adds to the
story; for those who are familiar with it, I hope any creative license on my part doesn’t prove too distracting.

The following is from a playbill for the only recorded performance of the comedy,
The Shadow Prince: A Djanese Adventure in Three Acts
, penned by Tobin Thespes. It
opened in the courtyard of the Twin Oaks Inn on the outskirts of Ildrecca and lasted for half an act before the performers were persuaded, at knife point, to leave the stage. No known copy of the
play still exists.

Dramatis Personae

Drothe
—a thief and informer of humble origins, who through some small degree of skill and a great amount of luck has been promoted to the exalted rank of Gray
Prince among his thieving Kin (much to his own dismay).

Bronze Degan
—a member of the storied mercenary corps known as the Order of the Degans. Formerly a friend to
Drothe
, he was recently betrayed by the Gray
Prince and has fled the Empire to parts unknown.

Fowler Jess

Drothe’s
spirited and oft temperamental companion. It is her job to “stand Oak” (watch over) the Prince while he seeks his
rest.

Jelem the Sly
—A Djanese gambler and magician, or Mouth, living in Ildrecca. He sells his magic to the highest bidder.

Christiana Sephada, dowager Baroness of Lythos
—A former courtesan, now player at the Lesser Imperial Court. It is hinted that she has contacts among the criminal
underworld, and maybe—dare it be said—blood ties, but this is only a rumor at best.

Emperors Markino, Theodoi, and Lucien
—The Triuvirate Eternal: the cyclically recurring incarnations of the former emperor Stephen Dorminikos, founder of the
Dorminikan Empire.
Markino
, aged and infirm, sits the imperial throne.

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Chapter Thirty-five

Chapter Thirty-six

Chapter Thirty-seven

Chapter Thirty-eight

Chapter Thirty-nine

Epilogue

Praise for Among Thieves

Author biography

By Douglas Hulick

Acknowledgments

Chapter One

I
sat in the darkness, listening to the slap of the waves against the side of the boat, and watched as the outline of Ildrecca loomed toward
me.

Even with my night vision, the sea wall on this side of the Imperial capital was too vast to take in. It stretched off into the distance in either direction until my magically tinged sight gave
way to the night. The city was a great, hulking mass: an irregular black line drawn against the star-speckled horizon. A city I was now having to creep back into.

My city.

I brought my eyes back down to the scale of men and the forest of narrow spires that seemed to grow from the waters of the Lower Harbor. Lights flickered among those masts, swaying and bobbing
like nautical will-o’-the-wisps—ships’ running lights moving in the soft breeze off the sea.

“I still say you should have killed him,” said Fowler Jess.

I looked back over my shoulder. The Oak Mistress was crouched amidships, scowling like an unhappy cat at the water that surrounded the narrow caïque. She had both hands out, gripping the
gunwales as if she might keep the craft from capsizing by force of will. Her green flat cap was jammed down on her head, but that hadn’t stopped the breeze from setting stray wisps of blond
drifting and dancing about her head, giving her an amber-gold halo in my night vision. With her fine features and normally bright eyes, it would have been an enchanting image, if not for the
smudges of dust and mud and old blood on her face and collar. Well, that, and the dark circles under her eyes that had come from days of hard riding and little sleep.

Not that I was doing much better, mind. My thighs and ass had stopped being able to feel anything other than pain nearly three days back.

“We’ve already been over this,” I said, reaching down and running an absent hand over the long, canvas-wrapped bundle at my feet. Reassuring myself for the fifth time in as
many minutes that it was still there.

“Yes, we have,” she answered. “And you’re still wrong.”

I glanced past her to the figure of the boatman standing in the stern, working his long oar with slow, easy strokes. He was chanting the Nine Prayers of Imperial Ascension to himself, partly to
keep time for his work, and partly to assure us he wasn’t eavesdropping. Boatmen who hired out to run the Corsian Passage at night without bow or stern lights knew better than to risk
overhearing things. “Fine,” I said, leaning forward and dropping my voice down to a proper whisper. “Let’s say I’d done what you wanted and dusted Wolf: what then?
What happens when word gets out that I broke my deal with him? What happens when people learn he kept his part of the bargain and I broke mine?”

“There’s a hell of a lot of difference between keeping your promise to a bandit and honoring your word to another Gray Prince.”

“Is there?”

“You damn well know there is!”

“On a good day, maybe, but now?” I pointed south, across the Corsian Passage, past the lights of the tiny harbor at Kaidos and the dark smudge of the hills beyond, toward the
disaster we’d fled in Barrab. “With a fellow Gray Prince lying dead three days behind us, my dagger in his eye? With me being the last person, the last Kin, to see him alive?” I
shook my head and barely managed to keep the rest of me from shaking along with it. Even now, the thought of the news coming up the Imperial High Road from Barrab made my stomach queasy.

I ran my hand over the canvas-wrapped sword at my feet again. It had been worth it; it had to have been worth it.

“No one besides us has any reason to think Wolf was involved with Crook Eye’s murder,” I said. “All anyone on the street is going to know is that two Gray Princes met,
and one walked away. Me. What kind of story does that tell?”

“But with Wolf you could’ve always—”

“No, I couldn’t,” I said. “Because if I kill him, it looks like I’m trying to cover my tracks. If the street hears I dusted the bandit who snuck me out of Barrab
past Crook Eye’s people, it won’t matter what else I do or say, the story will be set: Drothe dusted Wolf because he knew too much. At that point, I might as well take credit for Crook
Eye’s death and be done with it.” I settled back on my seat. “No, as much as I hate to say it, Wolf does me more good alive than dead right now.”

“So he just walks?”

“He just walks.”

Fowler spit her opinion of that over the side of the caïque.

I turned back around and watched as the base of Ildrecca’s city wall resolved itself into the dark jumble that made up the Lower Harbor. A couple of centuries ago, it would have been
alight and busy even at this hour, with wine and spices and grain weighing down the docks until they groaned, the air rich with the shouts of men and the thump of tonnage and the smell of trade.
But that had been before the empire decided to expand the landings on the north and east sides of the peninsula that held Ildrecca; now the richest vessels made their way around the city’s
horn to Little Docks and the Pilings and the merchant pier that had been added to the Imperial naval docks, called the New Wharf. The Lower Harbor, once the hub of Ildrecca’s trade, had
become the haunt of timber merchants and fishermen, salvage traders and night soil barges. And, of course, the Kin.

Barely two-thirds of the docks in Lower Harbor were in regular commercial use anymore, which left the rest for us. Smugglers, spies, and the occasional small-craft pirate—along with all
the people and industries that catered to them—were the stock-in-trade of the cordon that had come to be known as Dirty Waters.

I hadn’t left by this route on my way to meet Crook Eye, and I certainly hadn’t planned on using it to sneak back into the city I called home. Then again, I hadn’t planned on
being framed for his murder, either. Not after I’d sworn the Prince’s Peace, promising to keep my steel sheathed and my people at bay for the meet, just as he had. The criminals of the
empire didn’t expect much when it came to Gray Princes and our promises, but honoring the Peace was one of them. Without it, there was no reason to expect truces to be made, territories
respected, negotiations offered, or Kin wars prevented. The Prince’s Peace kept the legends of the Kin from slaughtering one another on the rare occasions they met, which in turn kept the
blood and the chaos from trickling down to the streets. It kept us, if not civilized, then at least careful.

But more importantly, it kept things from getting out of hand. Because if things got out of hand among the Kin, that’s when the emperor took an interest in us. And no one wanted that.

BOOK: Sworn in Steel
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