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Authors: Morgan Karpiel

Tags: #Historical Fiction

The Champion

BOOK: The Champion
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The Champion
Fantasies of New Europa, Volume 4


Morgan Karpiel
Also from Morgan Karpiel:

The Inventor

The Aviator

The Admiral

Cover art: Adam Soroczynsi

The Champion

Copyright ©2011 Morgan Karpiel. All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced in any form, in whole or in part (beyond that copying permitted by U.S. Copyright Law, Section 107, "fair use" in teaching or research. Section 108, certain library copying permitted by U.S. Copyright Law, Section 107, "fair use" in teaching or research. Section 108, certain library copying, or in published media by reviewers in limited excerpt), without written permission from the publisher.

Published by Tahoe Scientific LLC.

ISBN 978-0-9829360-4-7

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.


As ever, I would like to thank the two most supportive people I have ever known, Edward and Jeanne Smith. I would also like to thank my editor, Anna May, for her humor, her friendship and her fine attention to detail. To my family and those friends who have been in my corner through good writing days and bad, brilliant ideas and truly horrible ones, words can never express how wonderful life is, because you’re in the world.

The Champion
To Catch a Thief

he gate was fully engulfed, its crossbeams now black shadows in the flames, smoke and ash obscuring the small citadel it protected. The air inside the parameter boiled, crackling and hissing in fiery tongues. Time seemed to slow as Jacob walked under the shimmering ramparts, the heavy hood of his cloak drawn close to shield him from the heat, though he felt it sear his skin just the same. Most of the guards had already escaped in the chaos, their panicked gunfire crackling from the open desert, as if they thought their attacker might follow them there, as if they were the reason he’d come.

The citadel materialized from dark threads of smoke, its iron door tarnished and dancing with muddy reflections of the firelight. He placed his hand flat on its surface, finding the metal warm and held firmly in place. A sliding bolt lock, heavy bar, impossible to break.

Tilting his gaze to the narrow parapet at the top of the tower, he slipped the clasp on his cloak and let it fall, reaching up to find holds in the citadel’s rough stone. It was easily done, the old structure having suffered under the elements since the time of knights and holy wars, its walls wind-torn and crumbling. His boots dug in and he pulled his way to the top, the air acrid and stinging, the world beneath him turned to flame.

The parapet came within reach, and he heaved himself over the dusty ledge it formed, leaping onto the flat roof of bleached and broken boards. An uneven staircase spiraled down into the darkness. Drawing the blade from his sleeve, he descended into the shadows, passing two darkened doorways to pause before a candlelit chamber.

A rustling sound. A curse.

Jacob flipped the blade up between his fingers. Edging out from behind the doorway, he caught sight of a man frantically stuffing wrapped packages into a small leather bag. The chamber was cramped, littered with empty wine bottles and odd trinkets, stolen relics, swords and statues, and gods with glittering eyes. The man looked up, a flash of recognition pinching his features.

He lunged for the pistol on the bed. Jacob caught his wrist and yanked him forward, kicking him in the ribs. The man rasped between his teeth.

Jacob drew a pair of restraints from under his belt and ratcheted one cuff around the man’s wrist. He snapped the other through the intersecting bars of the iron window grate. His captive snarled and Jacob kicked him back against the wall. The blow knocked the man painfully to his knees, his wrist dangling from the cuff above his head.

“Robert Letoures,” Jacob muttered.

The man wheezed and sat back on his heels, his attention focused on the blade in Jacob’s hand. “His Majesty’s secretary, no doubt.”

“Where is it?”


“The diamond.”

Letoures laughed under his breath, his skin glistening and his shirt damp with sweat. “The King oversteps his bounds. This is not his country. This is the desert.”

“You are still his subject.”

“An exile is no one’s subject. My business is my own.”

“Not if your business is treason.”

“I sell diamonds.”

“You steal diamonds. You’ve procured a rare stone for the Sultan of Ruman, the man behind the attack on the Kiris Air Station. Your client intends to use this diamond to complete the construction of a war machine.”

Letoures looked at him as if he were insane. “A

“Where is the diamond?”

“A war mach—you can’t be serious. Osman is the first ruler in four hundred years to bring some measure of prosperity to these people. And he’s ailing, never recovered from the poisoning attempt three years ago. Thin as a board now, can’t even grow a beard, so they say. Why would he start a war?”

is the diamond?”

“Don’t give a damn do you? They only send you after all the decisions have been made, orders of execution signed and sealed.”

Jacob ignored him, picking the leather bag up from the floor and emptying its contents onto the bed. Heavy jewel satchels and paper wrapped stones spilled along the faded wool coverlet, tumbling out with a corked bottle of wine, a box of pistol rounds, and a map.

He glanced at the thief. “Have you ever actually met the Sultan?”

“I work through agents. I never meet clients.”

“But you’re on your way to the palace.”

Letoures glanced from Jacob’s face to the blade in his hands, seeming to measure his chances of surviving a lie.

“It’s in your best interest to tell me.”

“I was willing to make an exception, this once.”

Jacob nodded, upending the satchels of precious gems, finding nothing as large as he expected. “Because this diamond is too rare to trust to someone else. You were going to deliver it personally.”

“That was the overall plan.”

“And you knew what the stone was for.”

“A war machine? God, yes. They tell me everything, even highly improbable tripe like that. They love chatting with foreign exiles here, especially those with a proven appetite for their wives and daughters.”

Jacob paused, glaring back at his captive.

“No,” Letoures answered firmly. “Osman has never met me, only my agents. Nor has he confided anything in me about war machines or his alleged involvement in the attack on Kiris. Is that what you needed to hear?”


The diamond was not in the bag, not among the contents. Jacob frowned, staring at the emptied pouches, his gaze resting on the dusty bottle beside them. The liquid inside was deep red, thick and still pulsing with movement. Its very presence was a sin, the consumption of wines against locally accepted religious views.

Lifting the bottle, Jacob felt its awkward weight tilting, a catch in the heavy slide of liquid back and forth. He dropped it, hearing a curse from Letoures. The glass shattered on the floor, tossing a wet stone the size of a small pear along the floorboards. The diamond flared with candlelight, a glittering blue star at his feet.

“And there you have it,” Letoures said tightly. “All three hundred and twenty-three flawless carats of it.”

Jacob crouched beside the stone and lifted it in his hand, feeling its cold weight against his palm. As an artifact, it meant nothing to him. Its beauty, rarity, meant nothing. The opportunity it created to complete his mission, however, was invaluable.
Avenge the deaths at Kiris. Kill the Sultan of Ruman. Extract or destroy all evidence of the war machine.

“And?” Letoures asked. “Is this the part where I disappear?”

Jacob glanced at the fiery glow outside the window. “On an airship. Her crew will arrive shortly to escort you elsewhere.”

“How convenient.”

Jacob slipped the diamond into a small leather pouch and tied it under his belt, glancing over the room for anything else he could use.

“You’re making a mistake, assassin,” Letoures continued. “You think it’s going to be easy, walking past the guards as Robert Letoures and killing Osman in his own palace, but you don’t understand him, or me. We may never have met, but the Sultan knows my measure and still allows me to run free in his kingdom. And, when he needed to find this particular diamond, he commissioned me to do it. He has men, honorable men, who could have done the task easily enough, but he chose me instead.”

Jacob studied the thief for a moment. “Why?”

“I have no bloody idea.” Letoures flashed him a Cheshire grin. “But there’s a lot to admire, you must admit.”

Concubine. Slave.
Nadira held herself against the darkness, against the shadows lurking in the silk above the Sultan’s bed. At times, the room seemed to echo with his cruelty, an angry ghost she would never be rid of, his taunts and his torments refusing to die.

Always, it was when she was exhausted, when the day had been too long and the night too quiet. Always, it was when the uncertainty drove her to the edge of panic, to the fear that she would never escape, and that every risk she had taken had merely brought her one step closer to death. Not just death, but torture, brutal and public.

There was no choice. They would have blamed me for the death of the Sultan, would have accused me. Why should I have suffered that fate, when I was not the one who poisoned him, not the one who murdered him? It was an easy task to don his robes, paint my face to match that of a man thinned and altered by sickness…to begin this dangerous charade, a ruse that will finally be ended with a diamond…and a thief.

The Grand Vizier had already warned the entire court that the Letoures would be among them soon. The Grand Vizier, with his vast network of spies and agents, was fond of claiming that Letoures was nothing but a heathen defiler, a drunken seducer with a talent for picking rich pockets. He also claimed the thief was a coward, but she knew that wasn’t true.

A coward could not have done the things that Letoures had done. A coward could not have entered the bedchamber of the royal jeweler’s wife so brazenly, or slipped through the mansions of dishonest ministers without a sound, carrying the spoils of their corruption with him. He was a criminal, but a smiling one, a laughing one, a man who inspired hope in those who followed his ill-advised conquests and daring escapes.

It was his outline that she tried to see now in the purple silk, not the past, not Osman’s cold hands and sneering insults, not the face of a young sultan so deeply paranoid that he’d kept everyone, even servants, outside the doors of his royal apartments. Everyone but her.

Osman is dead, his body lying in the old crypts for years, but the Sultan…the Sultan lives. The slave, the concubine, lives. Under heavy robes, under a mask of powders and oil clay, with kohl to shade the chin and the eyes, with a pair of tiny scissors to trim the lashes short…both the slave and the sultan live as one.

Only a thief, only a criminal, would understand that.

Grimacing, she brushed aside the sheet and rose from the bed, slipping through the darkness to the balcony overlooking the palace gardens. Pushing open the carved wooden screens, she drew a tense breath, the night air thick with the scent of jasmine in full bloom.

The capital of Ruman stretched out beneath her, its golden domes and tiled alcoves shadowed with moonlight, its great pavilions built by the world’s most revered architects over ten centuries ago. The narrow passages of the souq still glowed with oil lanterns, the night merchants singing the merits of rare carpets, silver and spices.

Lifting her gaze skyward, she focused on clusters of stars so bright they formed shimmering lakes under the sickle moon. There, somewhere between heaven and the horizon, she found his outline.

Come quickly, thief. The Sultan of Ruman is waiting for you…

BOOK: The Champion
13.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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