Read The Silent Army Online

Authors: James A. Moore

Tags: #epic fantasy, #eternal war, #City of Wonders, #Seven Forges, #The Blasted Lands, #Sa'ba Taalor, #Gods of War

The Silent Army (8 page)

BOOK: The Silent Army
10.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“I’m well aware of what I said, Nachia.” His voice was colder still and his expression was impossible for her to read. She had nearly grown up on the man’s knee and she could not guess what he was thinking. That was a first for her.

“There’s always a price. That’s a phrase I’ve heard from you all of my life, Desh.” She fought against the tears that wanted to sting her eyes. She did not want to have this argument with him. She did not want to give him any reason to grieve. “There’s always a price. Always. Your words.”

If she could have, she would have looked away. She would have pretended that she did not know what was in his heart. She knew how much the Sisters meant to Desh. They were his chosen disciples. They were very nearly his children.

“I did not break the rules for your cousin. I will not challenge the laws for my Sister.” His voice shook with rage and guilt. He was still thinking hard of lifting Goriah from the dead.

“You know I won’t punish you if you do this thing, Desh. It’s not in me to punish you, even if I could make the punishment stand.”

She stood up and stepped toward him where he stood in his robes with his arms locked behind his back, lest he make a gesture that was too harsh to forgive. Or perhaps lest he cast a spell and shatter her body.

“Do not do this thing, Desh. I don’t know if you could forgive yourself.”

“There is always a price, Nachia. I am aware of that.”

He turned and walked away and she let him. She could have commanded that he stay and he would have, but she had already done all she could to convince him. If he listened she would be grateful. If he did not, she could cause him no harm. The trouble with sorcerers is that they were sorcerers and oh, so very powerful. Even when they tried to hide that fact.

They gathered in silence. Deep beneath the main hall of Dretta March’s home, in the area where foodstuffs were meant to be stored.

Swech settled in a familiar corner, swaddled in a heavy cloak to fight off the cold. Next to her was Jost, who was often her shadow. Jost was dressed in leathers and had a fur cloak as well. She sat cross-legged and had her hands propped on her knees.

Jost was the one who stood out. Her flesh was gray and her Great Scars made clear that she was a different beast altogether. The rest were cloaked in Fellein skins, hidden behind guises chosen by the gods. The only other exception was Glo’Hosht. The King in Mercury revealed nothing, including gender. The king’s skin was gray, of course, but no one could have said anything more.

When Glo’Hosht spoke, the others listened.

“It is time. The waters must be tainted. The grains made to rot. It will not kill them. They will not be in the air long enough to starve, but it will anger them and make the Fellein desperate.”

The King in Mercury looked to a plain woman with blonde hair shot with silver. Swech did not know her. She was a stranger, but if Glo’Hosht accepted her as one of the chosen of Paedle, then it was exactly so. “I have given you the means. Go to the wells beneath the castle and let them know that nothing is beyond our reach.”

The woman nodded and rose. She was pale, but Swech could see that this one had been training her body, just as Swech had been training the body of Dretta March. There were fresh calluses, a few fresh scars… inevitable marks of transformation.

The man who sat closest to Glo’Hosht was little more than a boy. He was familiar to Swech, having helped her poison the feed in all of the stables. Even now the city had a problem with dead horsemeat. The citizens could not eat the stuff for fear it would poison them. That was wisdom: it would indeed have killed them all.

“Find the larders. Ruin them.” Those were all the words Glo’Hosht spoke to the boy. In response the lad rose and walked away. He was not a boy. He was one of the Sa’ba Taalor and he was a trained killer. He showed no signs of recent change in his body. He did not train himself to be stronger, knowing full well that he could not change his size. Instead he used that size to his advantage. He was a child, an urchin, not seen as a threat by anyone. That was a mistake as well. Swech had killed her first enemy when she was six.

Glo’Hosht spoke without looking away from the retreating figure. “As for the rest of you, it is time to spread fear…”

Half an hour later, Swech moved through the Inner Wall Commons. The area was lush with shops and people, and as always was crowded. These days a good portion of that crowd were refugees seeking a place to stay, food or new ways to make enough money to arrange for food and shelter. It was an endless cycle that affected increasingly more of the city’s dwellers. The wealthiest of them came here to shop. Now they had to move their way through the crowds of beggars, prostitutes and cutpurses.

Swech moved in the shadows. She dressed in black and hid her face away. She did not wear a cloak. It would have encumbered her too much, but she wore leathers under thinner clothes and she sported enough blades to scare anyone who knew what she was capable of.

Small, skillful hands reached out to test her awareness. Pickpockets abounded. Her fingers caught the hand of a young one testing her mettle and she broke the fingers quickly. There was a gasp. The pain was a potent, living thing, but the penalty for being caught stealing in that district was far harsher than a broken finger and rather than cry out, the child slipped away, unseen.

The people around her were desperate. She knew that. She was one of the reasons it was so. Her people had caused this because her gods demanded it. Swech had no pity for them. They were the enemies of her gods and that was all that mattered.

A man noticed her and opened his mouth. She shut it for him. One step closer to his side and then the blade kissed the inside of his thigh even as the man smiled, expecting a different sort of touch. He was drunk and he wanted to pay for a woman. She was sober and killed him for his trouble. As he fell back against the wall, she gripped his arms and lowered him gently. The look of surprise was still on his face as the light in his eyes left him. The blade would have killed him in any event, but the toxins guaranteed his silence as he died.

A member of the City Guard stood nearby, his eyes already bored with dealing with so many people. The air was cooler, but the sheer volume of bodies ensured that everyone stayed warm.

The man tapped the hilt of his sword as he looked around. He glowered at a thin man who got too close to him and sent him along with a boot to his side. So many like this: a little power and they could not possibly let a person stand their ground. This was preferred. This, the need to express their contempt.

Swech felt nothing for the man or the guard. Still, she let the thin man live and broke the guard’s neck with a vicious blow to the side of his throat. When he fell, she caught him. He was still alive, but only for a moment.

Seven deaths in, someone finally noticed her.

She had been careful, because that was her duty. She was to spread as much panic as she could. Seven bodies lay behind her and even in a crowd as vast as this, that was a lot of death to go unnoticed.

As a merchant who’d bumped into her slumped and then fell over, bleeding, a woman who’d approached the collection of fine scarves and cloaks the man had to offer saw her pull back the blade and screamed as loudly as anyone Swech had ever met.

The small blade in her left hand sailed and buried itself in the woman’s cheek, ensuring more screams, more chaos. Most of the poison had long since worn off the blade and it would take at least another minute for the screamer to die. In that time Swech intended to kill as many people as possible.

The people around her were scattering. They moved away from the screaming woman and away from the table of woven fineries.

And Swech moved with them, slipping among them and cutting, striking, breaking as she went. A man gurgled out his last as his throat vomited a crimson stain. Next to him a woman let out a scream as Swech broke three of her ribs and shoved her aside.

People continued to flow like water away from a scalding hot stone, but they were not fast enough. Swech moved with them, her face covered, her body shielded. A man with a dagger tried to stop her and she blocked his strike, broke his wrist and shoved the blade he proffered into his own stomach as he went past. He grunted and fell, the pain a sudden and overwhelming thing that stole his breath. He might well live, but he would suffer greatly.

Her foot kicked at a kneecap and the leg it belonged to folded the wrong way. As the screaming victim of her kick started to fall, she stepped in close and flipped him to the ground. He collided with three others in the process of collapsing and took them with him.

Three sharp jabs and the City Guard coming to investigate stepped back and fell to his knees. His throat was punctured, as were his ear and his eye. His sword fell from his hand. Swech leaned down and caught it.

The sword was well made and properly sharpened. She slashed several people with it and then left it buried in a screaming man’s guts as she moved past.

The effort was starting to weary her. Her muscles were beginning to protest. The crowd was now panicking, running into each other, shoving others aside rather than moving past them. They were no longer people. They were a mob.

Swech moved along their edges, not foolish enough to risk being inside the mass of crushing bodies. Where she moved, she struck, cutting, wounding and occasionally killing as she headed for her point of exit.

Her work was done for the moment. The Inner Wall did not stop access for the people of Canhoon. Not unless the horns were sounded and all the access points were sealed. Swech made her way to the top of the wall with ease, only pausing once to stop a terrified man from pushing her back down the stairs as he climbed. She just made the wall before the City Guard came down in force. By the time she reached it, her face was uncovered, her hair was loose and displayed, rendering the appearance of merely being a patron of the shops complete. She even managed a look of panic, which was easier than she’d expected.

Below her the crowds pushed and fought and screamed as they tried to escape their possible demise.

Elsewhere, Swech knew, others were causing the same sort of chaos. She could hear the voices of the Daxar Taalor and knew that they were pleased.

That news pleased her as well, but she did not show her satisfaction until she wound her way through the narrow alleys and streets of the homes that were closest to the palace.

There were preparations to make. Her man was coming over and she had a meal to prepare for him.

Theorio Krous was a man of his word: four legions of his finest soldiers left Morwhen and headed west, toward the City of Wonders. Even with the city soaring toward the east – an accomplishment he knew of but did not begin to understand – it would be weeks before they met up.

In the meantime, there were members of the Sa’ba Taalor heading in the direction of Morwhen and he had no intention of waiting for them to show themselves. With that in mind he took six legions with him to meet the enemy in combat.

Theorio Krous was a member of the same bloodline as the Empress Nachia. Thirty years her senior, he had spent his entire life dedicated to the goal of winning any and all encounters of a military nature. Morwhen trained some of the finest soldiers in the world.

He planned for battle. He trained for it. He thrived as a result of it. He and his would take care of the matters on the eastern side of the Empire because they had to be taken care of. They would fight and they would either win or they would die trying.

If death occurred, it was a natural part of life. If victory occurred it was because of his might, and when the time came he would claim his rightful prize.

Nachia Krous would either be his grateful bride, or she would be his unhappy wife. He would be satisfied with either result. Sometimes a woman who struggled added to the pleasure. Not always, but he could accept that sometimes a woman needed to be taught her place in the bedroom if not in other areas.

She had not yet been made aware of his plans, of course. Most of his communications had been with Danieca Krous, the girl’s aunt. Negotiations continued apace, but things would work out his way, especially after he beat back the savages from the Blasted Lands.

His men traveled as lightly as they could; still, it took time to get where he was going. The first few weeks they saw nothing but the Imperial Highway and the dark clouds gathering to the south.

Everything was made perfect. The men were armed with bows, two spears apiece, short swords and small shields. The crest of Morwhen and the crest of Fellein were both present on the shields, and via random inspections Theorio made absolutely certain that swords were kept sharp and armor properly tended to.

When they rode down the highway to meet their enemy, the sounds of men walking and horses charging was a glorious thunder.

None would ever doubt Theroio’s bravery. He led the charge as a king should, traveling down the road surrounded by his closest and bravest. A contingent of lancers was followed by archers, themselves followed by bannermen who announced their approach.

Should the need arise there would be trumpets and horns to make clear their intent.

Though the Imperial Highway was a vast thing – and called the Emperor’s Highway in some places – it was well maintained. He took full advantage of that.

When they stopped for any reason they made sure to keep to the road and as theirs was a mission of great importance, any who crossed their path were wise to step to the side and let them pass.

As they approached the Rehkail River their forward motion slowed to a gradual halt. The hills around the river had always made the bridge difficult to see from a distance, but Theorio knew the path well enough. When they reached the bridge, the great stone supports looked wrong. They had been altered.

He and his two oldest sons, Roon and Horden, stared long and hard.

“They’ve added something to them.” Horden squinted across the distance, trying to make out the details. As they continued to stare, four figures came forward and crossed over the bridge, heading for them. They did not carry banners. They did not bring a retinue. It was only four men on the strangest looking horses Theorio had ever seen.

BOOK: The Silent Army
10.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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