On Treason’s Trail
Dogs howled and cats screeched in the distance. Gusting wind sent roofing thatch whirling through the air. Glason crouched next to his nephew in the shadows of a recessed doorway, cloak tucked close against the chill. Moisture-laden air dampened his clothes and heralded an approaching storm. The street lay silent beneath the light of the moon.
Glason gripped his nephew’s shoulder, and with his other hand pointed toward a group of men. “There, Flynn. Those are the Chorkan hire-swords Markan said helped kill Bennie.” Five men swaggered down the street. Wind flapping their cloaks, revealed swords prominent on their hips.
Flynn touched Pon, the small black dog at his side. A flick of his wrist sent the animal streaking across the cobblestones. Pon’s arrival would signal their hidden kinsmen it was time to circle behind the approaching men.
A door crashed open. The Chorkan paused midstride and pivoted, hands gripping their weapons. A thin man stumbled from the wooden walkway accompanied by a shouted, “Out ya go, Barnabas. Iffin ya wanted a warm place ta sleep, ya shouldn’t ha’ spent all yer coin on ale. Ya knows ya hafta pay to sleep by me fire.”
Barnabas careened into Hatchet Street. He staggered and wobbled, struggling to regain his balance. He failed. The hire-swords loosened their grip on their swords and laughed at his blunders. A last bumbling step threw him against one of the men. A retaliatory shove sent Barnabas sprawling in the gutter. The hire-sword, encouraged by the laughter of his friends, kicked at the prone man’s ribs and stomped on his outstretched hand. Mocking chuckles met the drunk’s cries for mercy. The kicks continued until Barnabas stopped moving and made no sound.
“They’re awfully brave to beat up a drunk.” Flynn snarled.
“A lesson will be taught, but not until our people are in position,” Glason warned. “We can’t afford for any to escape. There’s more than one life in the balance. We have to learn what the traitors are planning, so we need whatever information they have.”
Pon emerged from the darkness on the opposite side of the street, a signal that the other Wolf Clansmen were in place. The five Chorkan relived the beating dealt to Barnabas.
Flynn’s teeth flashed white in a predatory smile. “I think it’s time they learned some consideration for others.”
“Take them alive. We need answers dead men can’t provide.”
Flynn fastened his cloak back, clearing his sword. “That will be their choice.”
A figure stepped from the shadows opposite, and Flynn followed suit. Glason chafed at having to remain hidden. But there were unseen eyes on the streets of the slums, and since he was still garbed as Pidge, a denizen of the lower city, they might recognize him. Pidge could not be involved in tonight’s business. Until Glason repaid his honor-debt for Bennie’s death, he needed the disguise being Pidge provided.
The five, noted the movement and hands flashed to sword hilts with practiced ease.
One growled warning when two additional Wolf Clansmen appeared at their rear. Five swords rasped against scabbards, drawn blades glinted in the moonlight. Legs bent, cloaks rippling in the breeze, the Chorkan readied for attack.
Arms folded across his chest, Flynn nodded toward where Barnabas lay in the gutter. “Why did you beat my friend?”
Their leader pointed his sword at Flynn. “He ain’t got no friends, so move outta our way.”
Flynn and the other Clansmen freed pendants, engraved with the form of a running wolf, from beneath their tunics.
“Barnabas does have friends. We”—Flynn waved to include Oren beside him and the two behind—“are of the Guardian Clans, sworn to protect all Kalieri.” The pendants flared with blue-light, confirming Flynn’s words. “We are not pleased with the way our friend was treated. Go back and help him.”
The hire-swords fanned out. “Move from our way Kalieri dogs, or we’ll move you.”
Flynn lowered hand to sword hilt. “Barnabas’ stumbling into you was an accident. Your attack on him was not. We insist you help mend the harm you caused. And then we’ve some questions about the death of a friend of ours named Bennie.”
The kinsmen drew their swords.
Flynn gave one last warning, “Yield and no one will be hurt.”
At a signal from their leader, the hire-swords attacked. Three rushed forward. Two faced the rear.
The clang of swords echoed. Blades screeched. Men shouted. The Wolf Clansmen ducked, sidestepped, and swayed. Flashing steel filled the street. A form collapsed in a scream of pain. Kin or Chorkan? Glason couldn’t tell. Clouds scuttled across the moon. When they passed, six forms, four with glowing amulets, remained standing. His kinsmen still dodged and swerved in a dance as graceful as it was deadly.
Flynn shouted, “Yield and live!” The two hire-swords kept fighting. Flynn’s weapon darted beneath the stroke of one. The body slid off the blade as the last Chorkan dropped with a sword through his heart.
Glason breathed easy. All of his kin were standing. He would not have to face an angry brother and Clan Chief.