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Toric's Dagger: Book One of The Weapon Takers Saga
 


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Toric's Dagger: Book One of The Weapon Takers Saga


  Table of Contents

  I Three Corpses

  II The Smell of Failure

  III Intruders

  IV Toric’s Dagger

  V Leaving

  VI A Miracle

  VII Creatures that Come Out at Night

  VIII The Stand

  IX Afflictions

  X Under the Influence

  XI A Crown and a Hat

  XII Trimming the Fat

  XIII The Boar Strikes

  XIV Ariella & Tivian

  XV A Song for a King

  XVI The Imps

  XVII Three Coffins

  XVIII An Audience with the Emperor

  XIX The Road to War

  XX Secret Paths

  XXI A History Lesson

  XXII Good News

  XXIII Dark Tidings

  XXIV Swift Magic

  XXV The Temenos

  XXVI Onella’s Temple

  Appendix: Who’s Who in Toric’s Dagger?

  Connect With the Author

  Bolivar’s Sword

  I Strangers

  Toric’s Dagger

  Book One of the Weapon Takers Saga

  Copyright © 2017 by Jamie Edmundson. All rights reserved.

  First Edition: 2017

  ISBN# 978-1-912221-01-1

  Author website jamieedmundson.com

  Cover and Interior: Streetlight Graphics

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  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 locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.

  I

  Three Corpses

  Typical, Belwynn said, looking up as the sun disappeared behind thick clouds and the temperature dropped. Why did we have to do the walking through the heat of the afternoon?

  Soren didn’t turn to look at Belwynn. The twins always spoke in their heads when they were alone. It had become second nature to them ever since childhood. Instead, he squinted up at the sky.

  It’s going to rain soon. You wouldn’t have wanted to walk through that.

  Belwynn came close to making an irritable retort, but controlled herself. Was that a spot of rain? They walked on a bit. A drop landed on her cheek.

  That was the trouble with her brother. He was always right.

  As they approached the outskirts of the town, the spots of rain turned into a steady drizzle.

  For all the wealth that’s supposedly here, commented Belwynn, I see a lot of poverty.

  Small wooden huts with sunken floors were scattered about in an irregular pattern. They looked soaked through already, as if they hadn’t dried out from the last shower. Pitiful wisps of smoke could be seen emerging from the thatched roofs. They all had their doors open, and Belwynn peered in as she walked past. Babies crying. Women sewing. One woman was brewing beer, the pungent smell of hops emanating from the house. There were no men around—they presumably worked in town. Most of the houses had animals and small garden plots outside, as if the owners couldn’t decide between living like peasants or like townsfolk. Some kids played outside in the rain, splashing through the mud. They got an earful from a tough-looking matron for running through her garden. But, in truth, it was impossible to tell where the mud ended and the garden began.

  They continued into the centre of Vincente’s town, where the homes were more substantial. The people they passed looked them up and down suspiciously. They were strangers, so it was to be expected. But Belwynn sensed more tension here than was normal. People who were out seemed keen to get on with their business and get in. Not just because of the rain. There was no chatting or laughter, like back home in Magnia.

  Arriving in the market square, Soren looked around, squinting up at the shop signs.

  Is that it? asked Belwynn, pointing over to an inn on the opposite side of the square. The Three Tuns, she added, reading the faded lettering on the sign; it bore a picture of three wooden casks, the kind that held wine. The front of the inn wasn’t much to look at: old planks of wood that would soon need replacing, no windows, a narrow entrance.

  Yes, that’s it, agreed Soren, and led them over.

  Belwynn had never mentioned it, but she was sure her brother’s eyesight was deteriorating. Too many late nights reading old manuscripts had taken their toll.

  It didn’t look much on the outside, but inside, the Three Tuns was a substantial building, with a large open plan hall downstairs and rooms for guests on the top floor. It wasn’t busy, though. A few groups of travellers had arranged themselves near the fire, and the smell of roasted meat set Belwynn’s stomach rumbling. Soren was peering in that direction, but Belwynn was already looking into the shadowy, mostly empty recesses of the hall.

  Sure enough, a figure emerged from a secluded table and headed towards them. He was tall and muscular, with dark hair and eyes above a sneering mouth.

  ‘Took you long enough to get here,’ Herin spat out.

  He led them away from the inviting fire to his isolated table.

  He sat down, fingers drumming on the table top. Belwynn and Soren joined him, shrugging off their packs.

  ‘I’ve already ordered food,’ he said in an accusatory tone.

  Belwynn knew him well enough by now to ignore his rudeness.

  ‘Clarin’s here?’ she asked.

  ‘In the privy,’ Herin replied. ‘I swear, all he does is eat and shit.’

  ‘Why don’t you go over the plan?’ asked Soren, in the tight voice he used when he was annoyed.

  ‘There is a treasure room in the upstairs part of the building,’ Herin began, keeping his voice down and looking around the inn for eavesdroppers. ‘It holds chests full of coin and other valuables. There is a lock on the door that requires keys held by three different people, including one by Vincente himself. But we’ve got Soren to bypass that. So the main problem is neutralising the guards outside the room without drawing attention, then getting out quickly, and without being seen.’

  ‘And we have help with that?’ asked Soren.

  ‘Hey!’ came a booming voice from across the hall.

  Striding over came Clarin, Herin’s younger brother. Younger, but bigger. He was only slightly taller than Herin, but he had a massive chest, tree-trunk legs, and bulging arms. He had a mop of sandy hair and an altogether friendlier expression on his face.

  ‘Good to see you both!’ he exclaimed as he arrived at the table.

  Belwynn and Soren both stood up to each receive a massive bear hug.

  ‘Keep the noise down, you great idiot!’ demanded Herin in a hissed whisper.

  But it was water off a duck’s back to Clarin, who took a seat with a beaming smile on his face.

  ‘Journey reasonable, was it?’ he asked them.

  ‘Yes, no complaints,’ replied Belwynn.

  Soren raised an eyebrow at that.

  ‘I was asking about the help we’ll get inside Vincente’s house,’ said her brother, attempting to return to business.

  ‘Two sellswords in there will help us,’ explained Herin
. ‘We each get a one-sixth share.’

  ‘How trustworthy are they?’

  Herin shrugged. ‘How trustworthy is anyone?’

  ‘Without the philosophy?’ requested Soren testily.

  ‘They want their share of the money, of course; that makes them motivated. If something went wrong, would they turn on us to save their skins? Most definitely.’

  ‘Wonderful,’ said Belwynn drily. ‘Who are they? What do they look like?’

  ‘That doesn’t matter. I’ve agreed to keep their identities secret; in case anything goes wrong.’

  ‘Secret!?’ fumed Belwynn, her voice threatening to climb louder than a conspiratorial whisper. ‘So we don’t know who’s on our side in there? Do you know?’ she demanded, turning to Clarin.

  ‘Sure, I’ve known them—’

  Clarin stopped speaking, too late, when he saw his brother staring at him.

  ‘Do you?’ Belwynn demanded of Soren.

  ‘No, I don’t. Belwynn,’ he began, in his let’s be reasonable voice.

  ‘Belwynn what? Why does no-one think—’ she continued, only to be stopped by the arrival of a barmaid at the table with the food.

  They sat in stony silence as their food and cutlery was laid out. A huge bowl of stew wafted its flavours temptingly while they waited.

  ‘Look.’ Herin restarted the conversation when they were alone again. ‘That’s the demand that’s been made, and I’m going to stick to it. Belwynn, your job is to keep everyone’s attention downstairs. Clarin will be near you at all times. Soren and I will go upstairs as soon as we get the chance. Keep in contact with each other through your—’ He waved a hand, unable to find the word.

  Evil touch? Belwynn suggested, privately, to Soren.

  It was Herin’s most ambitious plan yet, relying on a number of individuals to carry out a very dangerous but apparently lucrative robbery.

  ‘Who is this guy, anyway?’ she asked, changing the subject. ‘Why are we stealing his money?’

  ‘Vincente the Fox, he’s known as,’ Herin explained, pausing as his brother began serving the stew, spooning it into the four bowls provided. ‘Trader, smuggler, racketeer, pirate, robber...the list goes on. This little town is controlled by him, but he has a network up and down Dalriya. A very powerful man, above the law in Cordence. He and a few men like him are the ones running the show in this land.’

  Herin looked straight at Belwynn. ‘Don’t feel sorry for this guy. He’s intimidated and murdered his way to that gold over there.’

  ‘And slaved,’ said Clarin, dipping a huge hunk of bread into his stew. ‘I’ve heard he’s done that, too.’

  ‘Alright, I get the picture. When do we go?’

  ‘We eat,’ said Herin, ‘we make our preparations, then we go. Time to put your dress on. You did bring one, right?’

  ‘Yes,’ she replied, nodding at her pack.

  Herin looked at her critically. ‘Did you bring some cosmetics? You look half-drowned.’

  ‘Oh, charming! You can shove this little adventure up your arse if you like, Herin.’

  Herin and Belwynn stared across the table at each other. Belwynn turned to her brother, who seemed to find something so interesting about his food that he couldn’t look up.

  ‘This stew is great,’ said Clarin, wiping the last bits in the bowl up with another chunk of bread. ‘Anyone mind if I have seconds?’

  Belwynn followed the others as they exited the Three Tuns and made their way through Vincente’s town.

  The sun had almost conceded defeat for another day, and the fading light gave the streets a more menacing feel to them, empty of people and eerily quiet.

  Herin led them at a fast pace, flitting from one street to the next, keen not to be seen. Belwynn soon lost track of their whereabouts and resigned herself to just keeping up with the others.

  Herin led them to a dark, narrow alleyway, the kind of place you would think twice about walking down, even in the middle of the day. At the end of the alley Herin crouched down, and they joined him in the same position.

  Belwynn took care to keep the hem of her dress from trailing on the ground.

  The rain was getting heavier now, and Herin brushed a hand through his wet hair in an irritated gesture, though Belwynn knew him well enough to know that he loved all this cloak and dagger stuff. He pointed ahead and slightly to the left. The end of their alley intersected at a right angle with a much broader, main thoroughfare. Herin was gesturing at a big townhouse which dominated the area.

  The front of the house was stone-built with giant wooden doors. It was tall with a flat roof and crenellations facing the street. The far side of the house had a second storey built on it. Half a dozen armed men stood outside, mostly trying to shelter from the rain in the lee provided by the house wall.

  ‘Always five or six at the front, at all times of day and night. At the back there are grounds that descend to a stream. Inside, more paid men and various retainers, friends and family, probably averaging thirty armed men at any one time altogether. Only other exit is the window that’s on the top floor. That’s how we’re getting out.’

  Herin was really speaking to Soren. Belwynn and Clarin were the ones who got told what to do. Herin and Soren were the planners.

  ‘There’s no other buildings nearby or in town where he has people based?’ asked Soren.

  ‘No.’

  ‘Very well. Let’s do it.’

  Belwynn’s insides churned as they approached the house. She had faith in Herin and Clarin, and most of all in Soren; but still she knew that what they were doing was very dangerous and could go horribly wrong.

  The guards outside the house were huddled around a game of dice, but quickly stood when they saw them approaching. Both Herin and Clarin wore armour and carried long swords, sheathed in scabbards at their belts. The guards outnumbered them, but the two men were an intimidating sight, and Belwynn could see them touching their own weapons, checking they were near to hand should the need arise. Emboldened, they moved forward as a group, meeting them a few yards from the door of the house.

  ‘What business have you here?’ one of them demanded—a heavy-set man with an unruly beard that dominated his face so much that Belwynn couldn’t tell his age.

  ‘Evening,’ said Herin calmly, resting his dark eyes on the bearded guard. ‘We are come to Vincente’s town to introduce him to Lady Melyta, a singer from Magnia,’ he said, gesturing at Belwynn.

  Belwynn did a small curtsy, while looking into the distance, as if making eye contact with men such as these was beneath her.

  ‘Hmm. It’s late for that, isn’t it? They’ve already had their dinner inside.’

  ‘We are somewhat late, yes. We have travelled from Magnia, our homeland, where Lady Melyta is known as the best minstrel in the land. She plays for all the lords there, and she is currently on her way to sing at King Glanna’s court, at his request. I think your lord would not want to turn her away,’ said Herin.

  The guard with the beard looked them over suspiciously. He turned to one of his comrades, who shrugged.

  ‘Fulvio,’ he said, turning to one of the men, ‘go ask for Loris, will you?’

  Fulvio nodded and walked back over to the door. He banged three times on the door with his fist.

  The remaining guards stood with Belwynn and the others, staring at them in silence.

  ‘What are you, then?’ asked the guard with the beard. ‘Bodyguards or something?’

  One of the big doors to the house opened, and Fulvio began speaking to someone in the doorway.

  ‘That’s right. It can be dangerous making long journeys these days.’

  ‘Indeed it can. Just the two of you?’

  ‘Only needs two of us,’ interjected Clarin flatly, and Belwynn could see the hint
of fear in the men’s eyes at his sheer physical presence.

  The bearded guard nodded.

  ‘No horses? Walk all the way from Magnia, did you?’

  ‘I’ll ask the questions now!’ came a voice from the doorway. ‘Over here!’

  The guards reluctantly gave way, allowing Belwynn and the others to approach the door. A balding man with sharp features peered out at them, screwing his face up at the rain that threatened to wet him.

  ‘I’m Loris, the reeve of this town. A bard, I understand?’ he said, quickly and directly, addressing Belwynn.

  ‘The best in the business,’ she replied haughtily.

  ‘With two bodyguards,’ added Loris. He looked Herin and Clarin up and down, nodding to himself.

  ‘Your transport?’

  ‘We have taken accommodation at the Three Tuns,’ said Herin. ‘Our coach is there.’

  ‘And who’s this?’ Loris nodded in Soren’s direction.

  ‘This is Edward, the Lady Melyta’s brother. I’m sure you see the resemblance?’ replied Herin. ‘Unfortunately the gods decided to take away his sense when he was a small child. But the lady still meets her family obligations and takes him everywhere with her.’

  Soren grinned and bobbed his head a few times.

  Oh, very convincing, Belwynn said to him.

  Soren ignored her.

  ‘I see,’ said Loris, ‘yes, very unfortunate.’

  He didn’t make much of an effort to sound sympathetic. He looked them over one last time.

  Belwynn could see his brain ticking over. As a group they were young, wealthy looking; unlikely to be difficult. Two soldiers, a woman, and her dependent brother didn’t amount to much of a threat, either. If Vincente could afford to have guards posted outside his house, he doubtless had many more armed men inside.

  ‘All right,’ he said, ‘come in.’

  Loris backed away from the door and gestured them in.

 
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