The Scourge of Muirwood Page 2

Martin brought back the arrow and loosed it. The kishion saw the motion and swung around the saddle horn the other way, lurching away as the arrow sank into the horse’s neck. There was a shriek, a spurt of blood, and then the horse went down. Martin sloshed through the swamp water, drawing another arrow.

The kishion emerged and he sailed the arrow at the killer. Kishion were hired for two purposes. To protect or to kill. So quick, the kishion spun aside and the arrow sank into the tree behind him. A dagger appeared in the kishion’s hand and it was Martin’s turn to throw himself back as it whistled by his ear.

The two glared at each other, circling, drawn closer. There was no taunting—no attempt to persuade or deny. There was only the imminent conflict of sharp-edged blades. Martin drew his gladius and a dagger. He poked the air in front of him, as if testing the distance separating them. He motioned for the other to attack first.

The kishion obliged and lunged at him, a new blade in his hand, going straight for Martin’s throat. Their bodies locked for a moment, jabs, cuts, feints, thrusts. Then they parted, circling the other way, eyes locked on each other. Martin’s teeth were clenched tight, revealing a sickening half-grin. Again the kishion charged him, deftly stabbing at his inner thigh, his fingers clawing towards Martin’s eyes. Their arms and limbs smashed against each other. Then they were separated again. There was blood blooming on the kishion’s sleeve. Both of them were breathing hard.

“You…you trained…among us,” the kishion whispered darkly.

Martin’s grin became more pronounced. “You noticed.”

Maybe the kishion was losing his strength. Maybe he realized he was already a dead man. He struck at Martin one last time and then he was subdued, arm twisted in a brutal lock behind him, the blade dropping from the agony of the hold. Martin then encircled his arm around the kishion’s neck and dropped him like a stone into the murky swamp water until his head was submerged. Martin clenched and squeezed, burying his weight into the man’s back, holding him beneath the water as he flailed and struggled for breath. A few more moments starved for air, a thrashing violent and desperate, but Martin shrugged harder, squeezing and holding him. He felt something break in his neck.

The struggle ended. He waited longer to be sure, not trusting his instincts. Then he released the dead man and fished through the waters for his fallen gladius. He cleaned it and sheathed it and only then noticed the Prince watching him, his face askew with emotion.

Martin looked at him gruffly. “It was foolish to ride back, my Prince. What if I had lost? A kishion can kill even a maston.”

The Prince stared at the corpse, his face in anguish. Martin scowled. He had killed many men in war and hired killers were no one to feel sympathy for. “Ride on, my Prince. I will search the body for clues as to the one who hired him.”

The Prince stared in silence and shook his head. “I am not squeamish, Martin. It is just what I saw as you drowned him. I saw a girl being drowned by a kishion.”

Martin looked around in confusion. “He was certainly a man, my lord. Not even I would drown a woman.”

“You might,” he said, his voice thick with emotion. “If I asked it of you. If the woman…deserved it. No, what I saw was in the future. A young girl in a dressing gown. The kishion tried to drown her.” He trembled for a moment, shaking his head as if dispelling a nightmare. Then he looked down at the orb.

Martin tugged on the collar of the kishion to hoist him out of the mucky waters. The corpse was limp and soaked.

“Leave him,” the Prince said. “We both know who sent him.”

“You suspect the treasonous king then? The king you are visiting Comoros to treat with?” Martin said waspishly. “By Cheshu, even with a safe conduct granted, he would try and murder you?”

Prince Alluwyn smirked. “No, the king did not send the kishion. It was his wife.”

“The wife? You say it is her? She must be devious and cunning if you suspect her and not her lord.”

“There are things I know through the maston ways, Martin. I have long suspected this. There are stories that the kings of Dahomey send only their daughters to negotiate treaties. They are notable for their subtlety. There are reasons I cannot explain to you further.”

Martin sighed and let the corpse fall with a splash. He made sure the gladius was snug in its scabbard and fished his blade out of the murk and sheathed it in his belt. “We ride to Muirwood then?”

A curious look and a subtle shake of his head came as the reply. “The orb bids me further west. We must ride, while there is still daylight in this accursed swamp.”

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