Authors: T C Southwell
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Epic
The Queen’s Blade III
T C Southwell
Published by T C Southwell at Smashwords
Copyright © 2010 T C Southwell
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Table of Contents
In her endeavour to end the Endless War that had raged between her kingdom and the Cotti for more than seven centuries, Queen Minna-Satu, ruler of the Jashimari, heeded the advice of Shamsara, Idol of the Beasts, who said that when a child who was neither Jashimari nor Cotti sat upon the Jashimari throne, there would be peace. After scores of her soldiers failed the task, Minna-Satu sent an assassin to slay the Cotti King and bring his son to her, alive. Blade succeeded, and thus the Master of the Dance in Jondar became the Queen's Blade.
As soon as she was certain that she bore his child, Minna-Satu sent Kerrion back to his desert kingdom. Before the Princess was born, however, the kingdom of Contara invaded Jashimari, which, weakened by war, could not prevail against two foes. When the Cotti King reached Jondar, Minna-Satu took the Queen's Cup, a painless poison, to make Kerrion's daughter the Jashimari Queen and save her people. Kerrion, however, went to Shamsara and got the antidote for the Queen's Cup. He honoured his daughter's heritage and drove out the Contara, then gave Minna-Satu and Blade the antidote and took them to Cotti.
The elder Jashimari Queen was in grave danger in Jadaya, and the King needed Blade's skills to keep her safe. The assassin's hatred of the Cotti, however, ensured that he was not a willing cohort in that endeavour. Kerrion was unable to persuade Blade to assassinate his plotting half-brothers, which was the only way to protect Minna-Satu. In an attempt to force Blade to obey, Kerrion imprisoned him. All Kerrion's plans hinge upon a man whom he knows to be pitiless, whose deadliness is without peer, and who longs for the Cotti King’s death above all others. He is as cold and unpredictable as a midwinter blizzard.
He is the Queen’s Blade.
King Kerrion thumped his carved milkwood desk and glared at the spy who had just delivered the news that Blade’s fellow prisoners had tried to kill him during the night. The unfortunate man cringed, bowing his head before the King's ire. Kerrion jumped up and strode over to the window of his study, his hands clenched at his sides.
"He is alive."
"How badly was he injured?"
"Some cuts, quite bad, but nothing that will kill him. The healers say he will recover in a few tendays."
Kerrion turned to scowl at the spy. "A few tendays!" He raised his fists in a helpless gesture. "Oh, what is the use? He will never do as I say in any case."
"Sire?" The spy looked confused.
"Never mind. You may go."
The informant left, and Kerrion turned to gaze out of the window again, forcing himself to relax. Blade's continued refusal to help frustrated and angered him, and the assassin's brush with death alarmed him. His plan to bring Minna to Jadaya relied upon the assassin's co-operation. Already his spies reported plots brewing amongst his half-brothers to murder the former Jashimari Queen. Without Blade, preventing her death would be almost impossible. While he could do almost nothing to stop them, they would have no trouble hiring thugs or assassins to accomplish their aim.
Although Shista was a considerable deterrent and a formidable guardian, she would not be able to protect the Queen from a well-planned attack. Her presence was known, and would be planned for. Nor could he spend all of his time with Minna. He was forced to leave her with only her handmaidens for most of the day. At night she was safe at his side, for he doubted that any Cotti assassin was good enough to slay her while she slept beside him. Blade, on the other hand, he thought wryly, could accomplish such a feat with ease.
With a curse, he strode from the room, heading for the Queen's quarters. The guards outside her door saluted as he passed, and Minna looked up from a painting she was working on, her brows rising at his thunderous expression. Her maidens hurried out at her gesture, and she put aside her brush to wipe her hands on a cloth as she rose to greet him.
"Have you been to visit Lord Conash again?"
"No. But I have had news of him."
She smiled. "What has he done now?"
"He was nearly killed."
Minna paled, her eyes widening. "By whom? What happened?"
"Some of the other prisoners attacked him last night, but the guards stopped them in time. He is injured, nothing more. He is not going to die."
She relaxed a little, looking relieved, but her brows drew together and she shook her head. "Your plan is not going to work, Kerrion. I believe Blade will not succumb to anything you do to him. Rather, he will grow to hate you even more."
"Yes, he said as much after the flogging."
Kerrion sighed, rubbing his brow. "The jailer flogged him for disobedience some tendays ago."
Minna turned away to pour herself a cup of wine with trembling hands. When she spoke again, it was in a low, controlled tone, but her voice shook with anger. "You will stop this cruelty. I should have spoken earlier, but my perception of prisons is perhaps a little naive. I demand that he is sent to me at once."
Kerrion stared at her in surprise, shocked by the vehemence with which she spoke. "What for?"
Minna swung to face him, her eyes sparkling. "Because he is My Lord, and a loyal Jashimari subject. He has done nothing to deserve such treatment."
"He is an assassin -"
"That is not a crime. It is a scorned trade, nothing more. The crime is perpetrated by those who hire assassins, so if you wish to punish someone for your brother's death, then send me to prison."
Kerrion closed the gap between them and gripped her arms. "He is not being punished for that. I thought he would co-operate in return for his freedom, you know that."
"Yes." She shook him off. "I knew, and I am ashamed of it. But I did not know about this flogging, and I will not countenance it."
"Do you think you can persuade him to help us?"
"I do not care if he agrees or not, this must stop."
Kerrion frowned. "Without his help, you may very well be killed. I have not said anything before, because I did not want to worry you, but my brothers are plotting to get rid of you already. I cannot protect you when I am not with you, nor can I have them arrested.
"If any harm comes to you I will kill the bastards myself, and I will not care about the consequences, but if I do it now we will both be doomed. I may be the King, but I still have to obey the law, and murdering my brothers would condemn me. No Cotti assassin will kill a Cotti prince, so what can I do?"
Minna regarded him calmly. "Arrange an accident for them."
"Yes, for one, perhaps, maybe two, but I think there are three or four involved in this scheme, and arranging accidents is tricky. It just takes one spy amongst my people and I will be the one on the gallows."
She sipped her wine. "Send for another Jashimari assassin."
"That takes time." He turned away, throwing up his hands. "Even if I find one willing to work for a Cotti, it will take a moon phase for him to get here, and he may not be that good. If he is captured and tortured, I am dead. I know assassins are not supposed to reveal their employers, even under torture, but it can happen, and Cotti torture is particularly heinous. I brought Blade here for this very reason. I never expected him to refuse to protect you. Why would he?"
"What does he say about me?"
"He calls you my puppet and my concubine. He said you would be better off dead."
Minna blinked. "He said that?"
"You find that flattering?"
"Of course. Do you not see? He thinks I am here against my will, and that you treat me badly. You must send him to me. I think I know how to persuade him to help us."
The King shook his head, looking doubtful. "He is injured, useless to us now. What did you have in mind?"
"If he sees that I am happy here, and that you treat me with respect and heed my commands, he might obey me, for a fee, of course. So long as the orders do not come from you, and he sees that I am free to do as I please, it may work."
"You said before that he would not obey you." He shrugged. "But it is worth a try, I suppose. We have nothing to lose."
"It will not be easy to convince him, but he may be more amenable now that he knows what awaits him if he does not agree." She pondered, frowning. "How long will it be before he is well enough?"
"According to my spy, he was slashed with some sort of knife and throttled with a chain. A healer is attending him now, and I will have him moved to a room immediately. Perhaps a few days."
"Good, let us hope we are not too late."
Kerrion took her hands and kissed the back of each one. "I pray to God every day to keep you safe. You know I could not live without you."
She stroked the hair that fell over his brow. "Nor I."
"We shall be wed one day soon, for my sake."
"You know I do not care about marriage, Kerrion. Jashimari Queens do not wed."
"That is why I said it is for my sake. I want you as my wife, the mother of my son and heir to the Cotti throne. Why should Jashimari be ruled by my daughter, if Cotti is not ruled by your son. You are going to be a Cotti Queen one day."
She cupped his cheek, admiring the symmetry of his aquiline features and the slight slant of his amber eyes. "I will be anything you wish, My King."
Blade paced to the end of the chain, turned, and started back towards his bed. Five days ago, he had been returned to the room in the palace where he had first woken, and shackled as before. He had received a most welcome bath and good food, even wine, served by a tight-lipped Olan. His clothes had been returned to him, along with a loose white shirt, since his leather attire was not suited to the desert climate.
The cuts on his chest were half healed now. A Cotti healer had stitched them, and smeared them each day with a soothing ointment. For three days he had been unable to speak except in a whisper, and even now his voice was soft and husky. Since he had been brought here, he had spent all his waking time-glasses trying to figure out what Kerrion might be planning now. He had received the good treatment that he had been promised in return for his co-operation, but he had made no agreement, and it bothered him.
Blade turned as the door opened, his eyes narrowing when Kerrion entered. The King paused to study the assassin, and they regarded each other with open hostility. Kerrion spoke first, breaking the tense silence.
"The Queen wishes to see you."
Blade's brows rose. "The Queen? Do you not mean your concubine? Cotti do not have Queens, only serving girls and brood mares."
"You will show her the respect due her rank or be punished for it, as she sees fit."
"Do not lecture me on showing respect to my Queen, Kerrion. What is this all about, and why have I been brought here? I have made no agreement with you."
"I know. The Queen sent for you, so you had to be cleaned up first. I would not insult her by bringing a stinking prisoner into her presence."
Blade frowned. "You are the one who made me into a stinking prisoner. Is it perhaps that you are ashamed of how you treated me? I doubt the Queen knows what you did."
"Ashamed? No. The Queen knows you were sent to prison. She agreed to it. She is the one who needs your co-operation, after all. She knows what has happened to you. All of it."