Son Of The Black Sword – Snippet 42
There was a commotion and the crowd began parting. “Protector coming through, miss, best to get out of his way,” the pen merchant warned her. “Some don’t take kindly to being delayed.” She did as cautioned, temporarily getting her hopes up, until she saw that this wasn’t the Protector she was looking for. This one was a huge, ugly man, carrying a great big hammer over one silver-armored shoulder. Despite being big enough to shove anyone out of his way, he seemed remarkably polite in letting the lower-caste shoppers pass. The guards saw the Protector coming and opened the gate for him.
This was her chance. It was like the crowd opened up for the Protector and then reformed in his wake, so she walked into that uncomfortable mass of annoying humanity and followed him all the way to the entrance. Over the last few yards the crowd thinned down to nothing, and then she was standing there before a couple of warriors and a really scary-looking man with a hammer designed for bashing people’s brains out.
Somehow the Protector heard her over the noise, or maybe even smelled all that ridiculous perfume her sister had slathered her in, and he turned around to study her. He may have looked like an ox, but surprisingly he had quick, intelligent eyes that wouldn’t be so out of place on a librarian. He had a very deep voice. “Can I help you?”
“I’m here to see Lord Protector Devedas,” Rada proclaimed.
“Do you have an appointment?”
She hadn’t expected that. Rada had no idea what to say. Did pleasure women make appointments? “Yes?”
The Protector glanced at the guards, one of whom shook his head in the negative. He turned back to her. “I’m sorry. What’s your name?”
She damned near blurted out her real name, but choked it off just in time. Rada hadn’t thought of needing a fake name. Obviously all those married first-caste ladies carrying on their scandalous secret affairs with the Lord Protector had fake names. “Daksha.” It was the first thing that popped into her head.
“I am Protector of the Law, fifteen-year senior, Karno Uttara.” He planted himself squarely in her path, like a massive, unyielding steel wall. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. What is your business with Lord Protector Devedas?”
“A personal matter.” Rada realized that by lying to this man, he was legally justified in taking that hammer from his shoulder and whacking her with it, and that hammer was nearly as big as she was. All that would be left of her would be a red smear across the market. The merchant’s would have to discount their stained goods. So telling the truth was very tempting, but she couldn’t risk speaking freely yet. The walls have ears. “A very, very personal matter.”
Karno didn’t seem convinced, neither did the two warriors behind him, who traded grins as they leaned on their spears. This wasn’t going well. What would Daksha do? She was a natural flirt, and Rada had observed her use her skills to manipulate men into doing whatever she wanted, so Rada tried to channel her sister and gave the Protector what she thought of as a saucy look and a wink.
“Is there something wrong with your eye, miss?” he asked, expressionless.
“What? No. I’m fine…You see, I’m a pleasure woman, come to…you know…for the Lord Protector.”
Karno nodded slowly. “Of course. May I see your obligation documents and arbiter’s stamp?”
Uh oh. Rada didn’t even know they had such a thing, but everything else was regulated, so why not that as well? She’d begun sweating. “I left my papers in my other dress.”
“Of course. I’ll take you to him. Follow me.” Karno turned and walked through the gate.
Rada breathed a sigh of relief and followed. The guards got out of her way and closed the gate behind them. Inside the compound was a courtyard, but rather than manicured grass like would be found in a typical first-caste estate, this was nothing but packed dirt and gravel, and several young Protectors were currently practicing their swordplay across it. “Thank you, Protector Karno. I am –” and the next thing she knew she was falling. Rada landed hard on the ground.
Karno was standing over her. Somehow he’d swept her legs out from under her and dropped her right into the dirt. Rada hadn’t even seen him move. She’d never thought something ox-sized could be that fast. “If you’re a pleasure woman, I’m the presiding judge.” Karno bent over and ran his rough hands through her clothing. For a moment she thought he was going to assault her, but he’d only been searching her, and removed her knife and the pouch that held her replacement glasses. While he inspected the items, he lowered his hammer and let it rest on her sternum. Even with most of the weight still being taken by his arm, it felt like it could crush her flat.
“Expensive knife, pretty but hardly optimized for killing.” He sniffed the blade. “Not poisoned. If you’re an assassin, you’re remarkably bad at it. Who are you really? And don’t waste my time lying. My arm is getting tired.” He let a little more of the hammer’s weight rest on her.
She hurried and pulled down her scarf, revealing her whole face, not that it mattered since he didn’t strike her as a library regular. “Senior Archivist Radamantha Nems dar Harban of the Central Library.” Getting hit with a hammer was certainly not how the romance story had turned out. “I really do need to speak to Devedas. It’s a matter of life and death.”
“That should be obvious.” The young Protectors had witnessed Karno toss her down had run over and formed a circle around them. Though they were only armed with practice swords, they all looked more than capable of beating her to death with them. “Fetch the Lord Protector,” Karno ordered one of them. That boy took off at a sprint.
Karno looked into the pouch, saw the expensive spectacles inside, removed them and let the pouch fall. There was something else very valuable in that pouch, but Rada managed not to audibly gasp when it struck the dirt. Karno held the glasses up to his eyes.
“Be careful with those. I need them to see!”
“I know what they are.” Karno frowned as the world doubtlessly turned blurry for him. Then he looked down at her. “Soft. The ink-stained finger tips of a scribe, the skin of someone who never sees the light of day, and a mark on the bridge of your nose where you usually wear these things, more likely an archivist than an assassin, and certainly more firster than some low-status worker unlucky enough to be born too pretty. I believe you’re telling the truth this time.” Then he lifted the hammer off of her. Surprisingly he extended one hand to help her up. She took his hand. It was hard enough to crush every delicate bone in her hand, but somehow remarkably gentle. He hoisted her right to her feet. “I don’t normally shove down government officials, but occasionally our Order receives unwanted guests, witches, blasphemous creations, demonic hybrids, that sort of thing. You have my sincere apologies, my lady.”
Daksha’s expensive dress was torn. She’d never hear the end of it. “I can’t imagine any of Devedas’ many other secret female guests are greeted in such a terrible manner.”
Curious, Karno tilted his head to the side. “What secret female guests?”
And that’s what Rada got for listening to the gossip of junior librarians.
* * *
Now this was just embarrassing.
“In a way, I’m flattered that you’d believe such rumors about me, but I’m not in the habit of doing things that could cause my Order to be blackmailed, especially in this hive of stinging insects. I swear all these fools do is try to blackmail each other. It’s like the favored sport in the Capitol.” Lord Protector Devedas sat across the table from Rada in the small study. Servants had brought in refreshments and then left the two alone so they could speak privately. “No offense intended if there are any politicians you’re overly fond of.”
The list of people Rada actually liked was a very short one. “No offense has been given.” It felt odd to give such a formal answer.
“Other than that, and the part where you tried to lie to Blunt Karno, a man who can sense lies like a soaring eagle can spot rabbits, your plan showed initiative. Well done, Senior Archivist Radamantha.”
“Thank you.” He was only humoring her, but she’d take the compliment. Even though she’d seen him outraged in the Chamber of Argument, and he’d been furious enough to duel then and perfectly polite now, Rada couldn’t help but be intimidated by this man. There was just something about him that told her this was the most dangerous individual she’d ever met, and that included the Inquisition wizard who’d threatened her. That danger made him a lot more interesting than the scribes she normally associated with. “Please, call me Rada.”