|The Warrior King|
|excerpt courtesy of Time Warner Trade Publishing|
The uglier of the two junior officers growled. Catalca glanced at him, and he was silent.
"We were not taken into their lordships' confidence," he said.
"Then let me return to my cell and collect my belongings."
"Very well. Pydna Huda will accompany you."
"There is no need for that," Domina Jelap said. "If we've guarded Tribune Damastes for over two years"
"The prisoner has no rank," Catalca said harshly. "His titles were stripped from him long ago."
"I stand corrected," Jelap said. "We merely used the old formalities."
"Those days are real dead," Bosham said, repressing a sneer. "Best forgotten about entirely."
Jelap inclined his head. "While the prisoner is securing his property," he said, "might I at least offer you a bit of a meal and . . .," he eyed the three carefully, " . . . some very strong mulled wine? It's been a grim day; more grim, I fancy, out there on the water."
"Now that's an excellent suggestion," Catalca said. He nodded to my two guards. "Bring him back here when he's got whatever he needs. Mind you, prisoner, your goods'll be well searched, so don't attempt any tricks."
"I have no tricks to attempt," I said, looking bland, and went out.
It took only a few minutes to gather my belongings. They said they planned to search me thoroughly, but by now I'd gained a few prisoner's tricks. The knife was in the sole of my boot, the small slug of iron in plain sight as one handle of my threadbare case. I considered that case and the worn cloak that lay over it and remembered when I had estates, castles, mansions, libraries, enough clothes to outfit a regiment. Life itself proves the Wheel's existence, with its own constant turning.
As we went back to Jelap's office, one warder, a Sergeant Perak, stopped me. The other went on a few steps, then stopped, out of earshot. Perak had always been a bit sympathetic and would give me forbidden news from Numantia.
"Be careful, sir. One of the boat's crew said th' emperor's taken two provinces away from the scum Councilors already. Those three pig-futterers're scared of you, as I suspect th' Maisirian worshipers they serve are as well. Scared men do desperate things."
"Thank you, Sergeant. I'm always careful." An odd question came: "When I leave, what'll happen to this fortress? And you and the other soldiers?"
"Not to worry," he said, with a twisted grin. "These're rough times, and a prison that can't be gotten out of's always useful. Somebody else'll be here before long." He glanced up and down the corridor, made sure the other warder was out of hearing. "With any luck, it'll be those bum-kissers Barthou and Scopas."
"Careful, Sergeant. They rule Numantia."
"The hells they do," he said vehemently. "Only with the swords of the dogpiss Guardians and the Maisirians behind them. Things change fast, and where they sit can change faster'n most."
"So who do you want to rule? The emperor again?"
Perak hesitated. "There might be worse," he said. "Barthou and Scopas were part of the Rule of Ten fools, and from what I read in the broadsides these days, haven't learned anything since."
"The emperor almost destroyed Numantia," I told him.
"Maybe so," Perak said quietly. "But there's enough who'd like to see him try th' throne again, and this time make it right."
I didn't argue, and we went on to Jelap's office. They'd done less eating than drinking, and all three were a bit drink-hammered. Jelap must've been encouraging them by example, for his nose was a little red, and his speech the tiniest bit blurred.
"Are we ready?" Catalca said.
"At your command," I said.
"Then let's go," he said, draining his glass. "I know little of the ocean, but I do know it's best to be away from the land when night comes. Follow us, prisoner, and don't try to escape."
I almost laughed. Escape? From this rock in midocean? If possible, I would've done that a year or more ago. But I looked properly obedient and picked up my duffle. They made no effort to make the promised search.
As we went down the dock to the boat Sergeant Perak came close, and his hand snaked out and passed me something. It was a sheathed dagger. I slid it into my case, looked at him. His face was blank, thinking only of duty. We got into the boat, and it began pulling away. I turned back for one last look at the prison I would never see again and witnessed something most odd. The warders were drawn up, on the fortress battlements or along the path to the dock, Domina Jelap at their head. All were at rigid salute.
Certainly not the Guardians.
I refused to believe it was for me, the last vestige of Tenedos's tyranny. But I still got to my feet, braced myself against an oarsman, and returned their salute, clapping my hand against my shoulder.
Then I turned away to the waiting ship and what might lie ahead in Nicias.
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