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Authors: Duncan M. Hamilton

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The Huntsman's Amulet

BOOK: The Huntsman's Amulet
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THE HUNTSMAN’S AMULET

Also by Duncan M. Hamilton

 

Society of the Sword Trilogy

The Tattered Banner

Copyright © Duncan M. Hamilton 2013

All Rights Reserved

The right of Duncan M. Hamilton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.

 

All of the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

THE HUNTSMAN’S AMULET

Society of the Sword, Volume II

 

 

Duncan M. Hamilton

 

 

Chapter 1

The Watching Assassin

 

 

M
acchio Ferrata stood atop
a building that provided an unobstructed view of the street below. There was only one person visible, walking slowly as though he had nowhere in particular to go, but Ferrata knew there were two others concealed. He stroked his thin moustache.

Of the man in the street, Ferrata knew only two things for certain. The first was his name and the second was that he had made some very powerful enemies. How or why, Ferrata did not know. The price he was being paid to kill this man did make him curious though. For a man with no titles or fame to warrant the bounty of a duke or a prince was a very unusual thing. Ferrata had killed a duke, but he had not been paid nearly so much for that.

All of the evidence suggested that one way or another, this man was very dangerous. Ferrata had not lived this long by being reckless, so his first act — which saw him standing atop the building — was to see for himself just how dangerous.

He gestured with his hand and one of the two concealed men moved out of his hiding place and aimed a crossbow. The thrum of its string was barely audible in the evening air as Ferrata crouched to watch the little show he had arranged for himself. If it resulted in the man’s death, Ferrata would have made himself a great deal of money for very little work. If it didn’t, he would know exactly what he was dealing with.

 

Soren had called a halt to his search long after darkness had descended, as he had each evening since he arrived in Auracia. The optimism with which he had initially approached his task, telling himself each day that this was the day that he would find her, had long since waned. Now he forced himself from his cot each morning, progressively later, and made his way out into the city expecting to find exactly what he had the previous day: nothing.

He had spent every waking hour walking the streets, hoping to catch sight of Alessandra or find some clue as to where she might be. He had been inside every tavern, inn, whorehouse and religious house in the city, but it was as though she had never been there.

As he made his way through the streets back toward his inn, he began to wonder how much city remained to be searched. He was already beginning to fear a reality he did not want to accept.

A clatter behind him tugged at his attention. He didn’t pay it much thought at first, but its source invaded his mental lethargy. It had been the sound of the metal tip of a crossbow bolt striking the brick wall of the building behind him.

With the connection finally made he dashed toward the entrance to an alley a few paces further down the street. Once in he pressed himself against the building’s wall. It was several stories high, and he hoped it would put him out of sight of whoever had fired. There was only one person who had any reason to want to kill him, but Soren had hoped that he had gone far enough to be free of that danger.

He strained his ears for any sound of movement, but whoever was attacking him seemed to be content to wait for him to come out. At least it meant that, wherever they were, they couldn’t get at him.

‘We can wait all night,’ a voice called out.

It was an Ostian accent, a lilt that Soren had not heard in many weeks.

‘Don’t see why I can’t do the same,’ Soren shouted back. He cursed himself. It would have been better to have said nothing. Unless they had both ends of the alley watched, they wouldn’t have known if he was still in there. The only question that remained was if they genuinely were prepared to play a waiting game. If they were hired assassins, he doubted that.

Soren glanced down the alley. A few paces further along, it turned sharply to the right. Any bowman would have to turn it to get a clear shot at him, which would put them within reach of an energetic lunge. The same was the case for the end Soren had entered through. Short of firing down on him, they would have to come in and face him down with steel.

He tried to still his breathing as much as possible to listen for any movement. There was still silence and he began to wonder if the assassin — or assassins — were content to sit and try to wait him out.

Finally he heard movement, the sound of feet hitting the ground, then footsteps. Soren drew both sword and dagger and pressed his back against the wall, silent and motionless.

A figure appeared at the end Soren had entered, holding blades rather than a bow. Another appeared around the corner opposite, with blades also.

‘He said you’d be best taken out from a distance,’ the one at the entrance said.

‘Who’s “he”?’ Soren said.

The figure was silhouetted against the light of the mage lamps on the street. The alley itself was dark. Soren could not see if the man was smiling, but he imagined him to be doing so.

‘Guess we’re going to find out if he’s right,’ the man said.

No sooner had he spoken than his partner pounced. Soren felt the tension that had been building snap like a branch.

He parried the first strike with his dagger but kept his sword ready: an attack on the other side would not be long in coming. The other man came at him, forcing Soren to fight in two directions at once.

It had been some time since he had been in a fight, and longer since he had considered using the Gift. He’d been reluctant to try since proving to himself that he couldn’t control it. However, control was not an issue now; if he didn’t kill, he would be killed. He tried to focus on the blue glow, imagining it everywhere as he knew it was — even if normally he couldn’t see it and it was permanently invisible to the vast majority of people.

It was difficult to imagine it right now. His concentration was needed just to fend off the attacks, which left little to be desired in terms of the skill of their execution. They were not hired thugs, and the only thing that stood in Soren’s favour was that they were being careful. As the talker had indicated, they knew he was dangerous at close quarters and were doing little more than sounding him out, hopeful that the dual assault would be enough to overwhelm him.

Soren was not able to concentrate enough to see the energy that fed his Gift. There was nowhere for him to retreat, to get the momentary respite that he needed to focus. With tentative, probing attacks against him Soren was holding his own, but as soon as they began their assault in earnest he could be in trouble.

The man at the entrance took a step back and straightened. ‘Not so dangerous, I don’t think,’ he said. ‘Time to finish this up.’

Soren parried the strike from the man behind him with his dagger and took advantage of the few seconds that had been given to him. He forced all other thoughts out of his mind and the world flashed with a benign blue glow. It wasn’t particularly strong, but it was enough. As soon as he released the thought everything returned to normal. The man at the entrance attacked again, committing his full body, not just his arm. Despite moving far faster, he appeared slower. Soren turned his body square to the attack, not worried about anything coming at him from behind: there would be plenty of time to deal with that. He parried the attacker’s sword to his left and thrust. The sword blade punched through the man’s chest, a fatal strike. His eyes were just beginning to widen with surprise as Soren pulled his sword free and turned to face the second attacker.

He was in the process of striking at Soren’s back, but in the grip of the Gift he appeared to be moving at less than half pace. Soren parried with sword, thrust his dagger into the man’s chest and finished it with a slash of his sword that cut the man’s neck almost to the backbone.

Soren sheathed his weapons. He thought of inspecting the bodies, but he was certain he knew who had sent them, and while any coin they were carrying would have been useful he didn’t want it. He jogged out onto the street and returned to walking pace when he got there. Auracia was a violent city and the discovery of two well-armed men’s bodies would not cause any great fuss. Nonetheless, it would be better for Soren if he were nowhere near them when that discovery was made.

Aside from that, once the effects of the Gift faded he would be exhausted. Not having called upon it for so long he had no idea how debilitating it would be, but he did not want to be in the open street when he found out. He was already beginning to feel a little nauseated, not something he had felt since his early days experimenting with the Gift. It was not a good sign.

 

The man walked out of the alley shortly after the sound of clashing metal stopped. He looked none the worse for the episode, and Ferrata sighed. The men he had hired came well recommended. They had not lasted long, but he’d never expected that they would. Nevertheless he had allowed himself to get his hopes up for an easy job and a large payday.

There were more pleasant ways to spend one’s time than chasing a man across the world and killing him, but it seemed that he would have to continue for a little time yet. Despite the inconvenience, there was something about this one that fascinated Ferrata. He wondered what it would be like to fight him one to one.

 
BOOK: The Huntsman's Amulet
10.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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