The illustration was created by Cynthia Hlady and depicts Lady Dauphine as she comes near the port of Chardogne.
In this episode, my love of horses (having been a dressage trainer for a decade) shines in this chapter. I sometimes can't help but bring in four legged characters in my story. But they are pinnacle to the plot, no matter what small role they play. Carnival was the only one who could get his rider to and from the distance. Of course, Carnival is modeled after the Arabian stallions. His dinner plate sized hooves are key to his success. ~ Happy reading!
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The King's Thief
Hidden by shadows I smiled in ruthless satisfaction at the cardinal of Cadia. The man who took my home, my heritage and my life did not even know I was standing within twenty feet of his secluded tower. Throwing a dagger into his throat would be so easy, so gratifying that I might give up having sex with Dauphine for one night for the chance to kill this bastard.
My weapon burned to get out from its sheath. Thoughts of Bowden stayed my hand. Killing the Cardinal would only put another bulbous bastard on the throne and force me to leave before I knew Bowden’s whereabouts. It was as if the sorcerer were not here. I’d come to glean any information about him straight from the Cardinal. Stealth and patience taught me I could listen without being heard and see without been identified.
The door to the Cardinal’s bedchamber opened and in came his man-servant, Pistacio, a tall, thin man with no skill other than as a manipulator for the Cardinal.
“The crows bring news.” Pistacio’s nasal voice made me wince.
“Give me the short version. It’s time for evening prayer.” The Cardinal continued to take off his rings and other jewelry. I noted a particular gold chain my long since dead king owned. Maybe strangulation would be more satisfying.
“The sorcerer wasn’t the one we’ve been looking for. But they’ve begun testing.” Pistacio said.
“What? Why? I ordered them all extinct.”
“They want to explore the possibility that they can be scientifically explained.”
“Nonsense!” The Cardinal slapped at his table rattling the jewelry. “They are freaks of nature that go against God! None of them shall live.” Cardinal lowered his voice to a mumble. “That land is infested with sorcerers.”
Where the hell was Bowden? If not here, where?
“Your holiness, he was working with others, we at least need their whereabouts.”
“Fine, fine. But if they haven’t gotten the information by the time they receive our bird, tell them to get rid of him.”
Hearing all I needed, I hopped up and through the tower window. Checking to make sure they heard nothing I jumped out the three story tower. Skidding down the wall using the bottom of my boots to slow my decent, the ground came fast. I tucked and rolled letting the force of my fall propel me to my feet. Once on the ground, I used the shadows to get to the carrier birds. I’d wait for Pistacio’s letter and intercept it.
On my way to the airy, I saw one of my gray cloaks riding a bay horse. Even under the cover of darkness, the fool came riding into town plain as day even so brash as to stable his mount. They knew better than to be seen or leave evidence such as livstock. Something was horribly wrong. I told them to stay on board the St. Maria but, through example, I'd taught them it was better to ask forgiveness than permission. I still didn’t like being disobeyed.
Slipping around the corner, the wall and I became one. I listened to the gray cloak and the stable hand bargaining but couldn’t recognize the voice. The horse was covered in dry sweat. So he’d come in a hurry, but had enough time to cool down. The gray cloak turned, wobbled and placed a palm against the wall to help him remain upright. Before he got to the corner, I grabbed him, covering his mouth. Being a fellow rogue, he remained quiet but struggled to get free. He was either drunk or exhausted with his wild swings.
Whispering our secret code, I said, “Is there honor among thieves?”
Hearing my voice the gray cloak sagged in my arms. I let go of his mouth for him to speak.
“Only among ourselves.”
“Landon!” I recognized his voice and let him go.
He warily turned around as if his legs were numb. “Bowden isn’t here.”
With dry humor, I said, “I’ve gathered that much.”
“I tried to catch you in Chardogne.” He unhooked a water skin and took gulps of liquid.
“Did Dauphine make it before you left?”
Separating from the spout he heaved in air. “Yes.”
She must have arrived sooner than I thought. Good she must be near halfway back. “Did she leave for Xaxyia?”
Landon gave me a confused look and drank more. I waited for his answer, perturbed at having my questions analyzed.
“I left as soon as she arrived.” Landon took in more air. “I don’t know if she stayed.”
“No matter. Where’s Bowden?”
“Roulle.” Landon reached for the wall. His legs stumbled behind him.
“Good man.” There was no time to spare, I had to delay that messenger bird and then travel as fast as I could over a span of five-hundred miles. I went to charge forward.
Landon grabbed my cloak and pulled me back. “Take Detrien’s horse.”
Narrowing my eyes I had make sure I heard correctly. “What?”
“Detrien’s horse—Carnival, take him.”
“How did you come across—” Damn you Detrien. “He’s in Chardogne?”
Landon nodded his head.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. But he would go back with Dauphine. “I have my own horse, and he’s fresh.”
Landon still had a hold of me as I tried to pull him off. “No! You don’t understand!”
“Shhhh! Keep your voice down.”
“I left Chardogne yesterday morning.”
Not many things confound me, but this puzzle did. “You’re telling me you rode over seven hundred miles in a day and a half?”
“Yes.” Landon said.
“How many horses died to bring you here?” I looked at the rider and thought if Landon didn’t get rest he might faint from exhaustion.
Landon widened his eyes and shook his head. “Just Carnival.”
The battle snort of a stallion ready to defend his mare sounded around the corner. Commotion from stable-hands shouting. Landon let go of me and we glanced around the corner.
“That’s him!” Landon’s voice shook in fear. “That’s Carnival.”
A dark horse, small but fierce was giving the stable hands what for. The steed turned his head and his eyes whispered intelligence. Five minutes had passed, but for the steed to regain his breath and enough energy to fight? I marveled at his nobility. “That horse took you from Chardogne to here?”
“That’s not a horse, it’s a demon.” Landon leaned against the wall in a daze. “We passed an imperial express coach, Chartan. Passed it. He dove in the forest and got back on the road after we were out of its sight like he knew over-running it was against the law.”
Not only was passing an imperial express coach a crime, but they were the fastest transportation West of the Great Rift effectively being a law that couldn’t be broken.
Landon hobbled back to the stable hand. As soon as he approached Carnival settled. The stable hand was all too happy to hand back the horse. Landon whispered in the beasts ear and Carnival tilted his head and eyed me. The beast lifted his regal head in the air and pranced to me dragging a staggering Landon. It looked like the horse was holding the man up with his reins.
Taking the horse, I looked straight into Landon’s eyes and I willed him to understand, “You’ve done well, but before you rest I need your blade.”
Landon nodded. “Anything for you.”
“When it’s time to rest, find your ami on St. Maria. They’re drifting in Lago Del Paolo. First, you must prevent the messenger bird from going to Roulle. This is important. It’s a matter of Bowden’s life.”
Landon pulled himself up. “Yes. I won’t fail him or you again.”
I took hold of his chin. “Don’t. Don’t say you won’t make another mistake. Don’t be afraid to fail. Perfection is a fool’s errand. Just fix it.”
The hopeless defeat in his eyes faded into determination. Landon nodded. “Take Carnival, just return him to Detrien or there’ll be a price on my head.”
Clever Detrien. He was always full of entertaining surprises. “Detrien threatened you with the assassins from Xaxyia.” A wicked smirk escaped my lips. “Have you ever met the assassins Guild master?”
Landon shook his head. “No.”
I laughed and jumped up on Carnival. “Yes you have.”
Turning the steed North to Roulle, I didn’t have time to see Landon’s face as Carnival leaped into a dead run.
Landon had one thing right, Carnival was not a horse, he was the wind.
Thank you for indulging me by reading chapter 8 of "The King's Thief"!
The next update should be July 13th, 2017!
Until next time ~ Happy reading!
♥ ~ Stephy