The Two of Swords: Part 12

BOOK: The Two of Swords: Part 12
4.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
The Two of Swords: Part 12

K. J. Parker

K. J. P

The Fencer trilogy

Colours in the Steel

The Belly of the Bow

The Proof House

The Scavenger trilogy




The Engineer trilogy

Devices and Desires

Evil for Evil

The Escapement

The Company

The Folding Knife

The Hammer


The Two of Swords (e-novellas)


Expecting Someone Taller

Who’s Afraid of Beowulf?

Flying Dutch

Ye Gods!


Here Comes the Sun


Faust Among Equals

Odds and Gods

Djinn Rummy

My Hero

Paint Your Dragon

Open Sesame

Wish You Were Here

Only Human

Snow White and the Seven Samurai


Nothing But Blue Skies

Falling Sideways

Little People

The Portable Door

In Your Dreams

Earth, Air, Fire and Custard

You Don’t Have to be Evil to Work Here, But It Helps

Someone Like Me


The Better Mousetrap

May Contain Traces of Magic

Blonde Bombshell

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages


When It’s A Jar

The Outsorcerer’s Apprentice

The Good, the Bad and the Smug

Dead Funny: Omnibus 1

Mightier Than the Sword: Omnibus 2

The Divine Comedies: Omnibus 3

For Two Nights Only: Omnibus 4

Tall Stories: Omnibus 5

Saints and Sinners: Omnibus 6

Fishy Wishes: Omnibus 7

The Walled Orchard

Alexander at the World’s End


A Song for Nero


I, Margaret

Lucia Triumphant

Lucia in Wartime


Published by Orbit

ISBN: 978-0-356-50619-7

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 by K. J. Parker

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.


Little, Brown Book Group

Carmelite House

50 Victoria Embankment

London, EC4Y 0DZ


Title Page

By K. J. Parker


The Thief

About the Author

The Thief

Musen propped himself up on the rail of the bridge and tried to catch his breath. Stupid, to keep running until he was completely worn out. Now he’d have to sit and rest, and that would lose more time than if he’d walked the last mile. He groped at his pocket to make sure the box was still there, then sat down with his back to the rail, looking back the way he’d come.

He remembered – what was his name? Thin man with a turkey neck, lived outside Lower Town. He ran away with the wife of Rensa the wheelwright, many years ago. They went up on the moors, everybody reckoned he must’ve had some half-baked idea of heading for Spire Cross, but of course Rensa and his brothers caught up with them both and they ended up dead in a bog pool. A bit fairy tale, the doomed lovers running through the heather with Rensa’s hounds at their heels, but when you thought about it clearly, just stupid. They must’ve known they’d never get away with it, but they went ahead anyway. For love. Stupid.

He pulled off his right boot and shook it out, dislodging a few coins and a small silver brooch. The brooch pin had ripped open his sock and lacerated the front of his big toe. He stuffed the coins and the brooch in his pocket, then eased the boot back on. His foot appeared to have grown in the minute or so it had been exposed to the air; it was now far too big for the boot and he couldn’t get his toes all the way down. He stood up; his shins protested furiously and he sat down again.

The pony cart, he noticed, was gone. It was only just over a day since they’d abandoned it, but it wasn’t there. Not that it mattered particularly. Even if the cart had still been there, the pony would be long gone by now; and even if he’d found them both exactly where they’d been left, even if he then traded the pony trap for a coach and eight and galloped without stopping all the way to Permia or Sashan or the Blemyan desert, it wouldn’t make any difference. Sooner or later he’d be woken up by those fingers round his neck. The longer he postponed it, the angrier Axeo would be, the more unpleasant the reckoning. Pointless, the whole thing, just like the wheelwright’s wife and her stupid lover whose name he couldn’t even remember. All for love.

Even so. He remembered the first time he’d ever killed a chicken. He’d squeezed and squeezed, pinching his thumb and forefinger together on the little thin pipe under the feathers; he’d counted to ten, but the bird just looked at him, opened and closed its beak. He’d squeezed again, counted to twenty-five, and the chicken blinked and screamed without sound and scrabbled with her claws, giving him a scratch that had gone bad and needed a poultice. Life isn’t so easily got rid of, even when the enemy is ten times your size and the hands round your throat are very strong. He’d dropped it in fear and disgust; it lay for a moment then tried to get up, wobbled a few determined steps and then flopped in a heap; and then his mother came and finished it off with a small, quick upward flick of the wrist, like God answering a prayer. Maybe there are people who have the gift of being able to give up and give in when it’s obvious what the outcome must be, but Musen knew he wasn’t one of them. And certainly not while he still had the pack.

He realised he hadn’t actually looked at them yet, not beyond a brief glimpse or two by lamplight in that weird tower with the painted walls. He reached for the box, stopped, patted his pocket to make sure it was still there. Why in God’s name hadn’t he killed Axeo while he had the chance? You may not kill a fellow craftsman – that, of course, but stealing from the Lodge was ten times worse, and that in effect was what he’d done, and he hadn’t thought twice about it. (Oh God, he thought, I’ve stolen from the Lodge, that’s so bad, how could I possibly have done that? Only at the time it didn’t feel like stealing, it was rescuing …) The Great Smith will forgive you, he remembered, but not in this form; you will be softened in the fire and hammered out until all your shape and memory is gone, and then He will make you again into something new; there is no fault in the material, only in the form into which it is shaped, which is transitory, inconsequential; there is no death, only change of form, there is no evil, only poor workmanship, which can be corrected. He always found that bit comforting, except that it seemed to contradict itself.

He tried to think like Axeo. I come to the bridge, and I see the cart isn’t there, and the footprints stop. So I assume— He frowned. I assume the stupid little thief has taken his boots and socks off and waded twenty yards upstream, fondly imagining I’d be fooled by the oldest trick in the book. So I walk up and down the bank until I find where he got out again—

A sound in the distance made him freeze; a voice, and another answering it. He pulled himself together, jumped up, looked round. A stab of pain from his foot reminded him of the stupidity of running with something sharp in your boot toe. He hobbled a few yards on to the bridge, then stopped. Hiding was out of the question, he wasn’t sure he was flexible enough to get across the broken place in the planking, and running was out of the question. He heard the voices again; at least one of them was female. He went back to where he’d been and sat down again.

Before very long he saw a small, neat wagon, drawn by two horses. The driver and the passenger sitting beside her on the box were both women; one about forty-five (he wasn’t good at women’s ages), the other somewhere around seventy. The older one was driving. Both of them were wrapped up in enormous honey-coloured fur capes. Behind them in the bed of the cart were eight large barrels.

They must have seen him, because the cart stopped. He stayed where he was. So did the cart. The hell with it, he thought. He got up and walked slowly toward the women. When he was about ten yards away, the younger woman reached down and picked up an axe; call it an axe, it was a little hatchet, for splitting little logs into kindling. He stopped again, smiled and raised his hands, palms outwards.

“Who the hell are you?” the younger woman called out.

“My name’s Musen. Look, if you were planning on crossing at the bridge, I’m afraid you can’t. It’s all broken up in the middle.”

“What?” The older woman scowled at him. “You’re joking.”

“Come and see for yourself, if you like. But you won’t be able to get that rig across, not unless you’ve got tools and about a dozen twelve-foot planks.”

The younger woman climbed down; not an easy process, there was a lot of her under the cape. “You keep away from the cart,” she said, walking round him. Her heels clopped on the bridge. “Shit,” she said. “He’s right. It’s completely shot.”

“Well, that’s just perfect,” the older woman said. “We’ll have to turn round and go back to bloody Shant, or straight on to Cusavant and double back to Stert Ford. Either way, we can forget the fair. Might as well go home.”

The younger woman was staring through the hole into the river. “You,” she said. “Can’t you do something?”

“Me? Sorry, no. I’m not a carpenter, and, anyway, there’s no tools or materials.”

“You could cut down a tree or something. There’s one, look.” She pointed to a frail willow sapling growing out of the bank on the far side. “Chop it down, split it into planks, lay ’em over the gap. You can use our axe if you like.” She held it out to him. He raised his hand politely.

“I don’t think that’d work,” he said. “I guess we could break up one of your barrels and use the staves, but like I said, I’m not a—”

“Don’t even think about it,” the older woman said. “Tell him, Gorna, that’s six-year-old mead, it’s worth more money than he’s ever seen in his life. And don’t give him the axe, he might be dangerous.”

“It’s all right, Mother.” The younger woman rolled her eyes. “Don’t mind her,” she said, “she doesn’t like strangers. You’re sure you can’t do anything? Maybe if you could carry the barrels across, we could go downstream to that shallow place and swim the horses across.”

BOOK: The Two of Swords: Part 12
4.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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