Con & conjure, p.39
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       Con & Conjure, p.39

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 39

 

  “I know what I heard,” Rache said.

  “You weren’t there?”

  “I know what you did, if that’s what you mean. ”

  “Who did you hear it from?”

  “People. ”

  “Was one of those people named Taltek Balmorlan?”

  “No. ”

  “When was the last time you talked to him?”

  “The day you and your paladin chased me into the elven embassy. ”

  “He didn’t pay you extra to run herd on some firemages?”

  “Present company excluded, since when do I associate with magic types?”

  “Since pretty much never,” I had to admit.

  “Exactly. ”

  “Does that mean you weren’t involved?”

  “That’s exactly what it means,” Rache said. “I’m an assassin; it’s what I do. But I do my work quick and clean. What happened at that hotel yesterday wasn’t either one. I take pride in a job well done, but I don’t get off on it. They did. As far as I’m concerned, what you gave them was everything they deserved. ”

  I looked at him in something approaching shock. “Thank you. I think. ”

  Rache shrugged. “A man draws his line somewhere. Even me. ”

  “Did your people tell you that Taltek Balmorlan arranged it all for some cartel out-of-towners as a demonstration of what the Saghred could do?”

  Rache said nothing for a few heartbeats. “He set you up. ”

  I nodded. “He knew I wouldn’t let all those people die. And now there’s a convenient price on my head. The elven ambassador has already laid claim to me if I’m brought in. ”

  “The ambassador isn’t in charge over there. ”

  “I know. Balmorlan is. He sells me to the highest bidder, arranges a demonstration of the goods, and then gets me arrested. You assassinating Chigaru Mal’Salin is simply another part of the same plan. You still want to line your pockets with his gold?”

  Rache’s answer was drowned out by raised voices in the tavern common room.

  I recognized the loudest one.

  Phaelan. A very drunk Phaelan.

  I did not need this now. What the hell had happened to Uncle Ryn sitting on him?

  My cousin was in the middle of a gaggle of highbred young elves spoiling for a fight, or as they were calling it, a duel. Apparently Phaelan had offended one of them, and for my cousin, being offensive came as naturally as breathing.

  Dammit, Phaelan. Not now.

  One particularly offended young lord had thrown a glove with a fancy embroidered gauntlet at my cousin’s feet.

  Phaelan looked down. “You dropped something,” he slurred.

  “I dropped nothing; that was a challenge. My seconds will contact your seconds for terms. ”

  “Terms for what?”

  “A duel at dawn tomorrow—to the death. ”

  Phaelan staggered to his feet. “No, no. There’s not going to be any of that ‘duel at dawn’ crap. See, I sleep late, so why would I want to get up early to kill you when I could sleep in tomorrow and kill you right now? If you want your seconds to watch, I can wait a few minutes. Now or five minutes—your choice. ”

  “Now. ” The elf lord’s lips twisted in a sneer. “And right here. ”

  “Fine with me. ” Phaelan tossed the gauntlet back to the dandy. “Come on. Let’s get you over with. ”

  Then things got ugly. Really ugly.

  There are three things that a pirate crew won’t let their captain do alone. Plunder, pillage, and brawl are all pirate-sanctioned group activities.

  The door shut behind me.

  “Good luck, love. ” Rache and his voice receded down the hall.

  He was running out on me. Again.

  Bastard.

  Or jak’aprit, as Vegard had so astutely called him.

  The fancy elves outnumbered Phaelan and his crew, but most pure-blooded elves learned to fight in a salon. My cousin and his men learned on decks and in streets.

  The three men huddled at the table weren’t huddling anymore. They’d also sobered up entirely too fast.

  I definitely didn’t need this.

  Being glamoured as Rache was about to come in handy. My fists weren’t made for brawling, but Rache’s were. Better yet, Tam and Imala had seen to it that I was armed like an assassin.

  No one had drawn steel yet, and I wasn’t going to be first. Unless it spilled out onto the streets, the city watch would ignore a brawl with fists. If you drew steel, your little party immediately got upgraded to a riot. At that point, watchers would draw their steel—both blades and handcuffs. I was understandably nervous around the latter. Both Rache Kai and Raine Benares had their pictures posted around town with tempting amounts listed below. I wasn’t going to give the local law any excuse, but at the same time, you don’t abandon family in a fight.

  You pulled your hat down lower to hide who you were and waded in.

  I didn’t like glamouring, and I certainly didn’t like being a man, but I really liked having a man’s fists. I pulled one elf off of Phaelan and landed an incredibly satisfying right hook to his temple. His baby blue eyes rolled up into his highborn head and he dropped like a rock.

  One thing a good fight did for Phaelan—it sobered him up real quick. As I tossed an elf over a trestle table, I wondered if Phaelan’s grin was sparked by imagining the elves he was beating the crap out of having the face of a certain highborn elf mage or inquisitor. I visualized Carnades’s face on the next elf I punched and felt myself grin. Oh yeah, that worked for me, too.

  I expected Vegard and company to charge through the door any minute. Actually I was kind of hoping for it. I was sure the shouts could be heard outside, especially after another chair crashed through the front window.

  The fight kept getting larger as men either chose sides or just wanted an excuse to hit someone. I barely ducked in time to avoid being crowned with a tankard. A man who was neither elf nor pirate aimed a bottle at Phaelan’s head. I grabbed my cousin by the collar and snatched him back; the bottle flew by where he’d been an instant before.

  I grinned. “Great fight, cous—”

  Phaelan’s look was pure murder. “You!”

  What the hell?

  “You son of a bitch!” Phaelan roared. “You’ve hurt Raine for the last time!”

  Oh shit.

  “Phaelan, wait. I’m not—”

  My cousin’s fist embedded itself in my gut. I’ve never been on the receiving end of one of Phaelan’s punches. They hurt. I heard Rache’s voice grunt, and then I doubled over headed for the floor. The floor could be good; maybe there was air down there.

  When I hit the floor, the knuckles that were bleeding belonged to me, not Rache.

  I’d lost my glamour.

  And I was wearing a goblin secret service uniform.

  Oh crap.

  I really should have changed back into my clothes before I left the goblin embassy.

  Phaelan’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. “Raine?”

  Uniformed city watchmen came out of nowhere to break up the fight. I couldn’t get enough air to warn Phaelan about the watcher about to knock him over the head.

  With the pommel of an elven embassy dagger.

  My last thought before I got knocked over the head myself was that Taltek Balmorlan had been buying himself more than firemages.

  I hurt.

  My head felt like someone was inside taking a perverse pleasure in trying to pound their way out with a hammer.

  I groaned and tried to move.

  And heard chains clink.

  My eyes blinked open on a room with a pair of light-globes set in the wall on either side of a doorway. It was barred and then some with wards crisscrossing just beyond the bars like a fine net.

  I was in a cell.

  My wrists were chained above my head to the wa
ll, the weight bearing down on my arms heavier than any metal. A heavy chain that was wrapped around my waist was likewise bolted to the wall. Cold panic surged through me. The pounding in my head just got faster and I got sicker. My eyes flicked down to my ankles. Chained. Power lay dormant in the metal, just waiting for me to use my magic—or to try. Magic-sapping manacles. That power would stay dormant unless I tried to use my magic to escape.

  Or to protect myself.

  I was in the elven embassy. Oh hell, and then some.

  Did Phaelan get away? I winced. Even thinking made my head pound harder. I dimly remembered somebody tossing me, none too gently, over his shoulder. That and the cudgel love tap would definitely account for my splitting skull.

  “Would ‘I’m sorry’ even begin to cover it?” came Phaelan’s entirely too loud voice from the shadows. He had to be whispering, but it didn’t sound that way to me.

  My cousin was trussed up like a holiday goose against the opposite wall. Not chained to the wall, but still chained fore and aft.

  “The elven embassy?” I asked, desperately wanting to be told I was delirious from being konked over the head.

  “Afraid so. Sucks, doesn’t it?”

  “You don’t know how much. ”

  Phaelan shifted and winced in pain. “Everyone’s favorite inquisitor dropped by to check on us about ten minutes ago, and I—”

  I froze. “How long have we been here?”

  Phaelan managed a clanking shrug. “Half an hour, no more. The city bells were chiming one when we were brought in. ”

  “You were conscious?”

  “Not the whole time, and not that they knew. ” He grinned. “A knock over the head doesn’t put me out like it used to. Guess my skull’s gotten thick. ”

  Considering that what he’d done had resulted in us being where we were now, I agreed with him. I vaguely remembered being carried out into the dark. The air stank, too. The stink of too many things you didn’t want to know about concentrated into too small of a space. An alley. They must have taken us out the back door of that tavern. Being a neat and tidy megalomaniac, Balmorlan ordered that Phaelan be brought to the elven embassy along with me—no witnesses, no rescue.

  Vegard might not have seen me carried out of there, but he had to know where I was now—and if he knew, Mychael knew.
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