Dancer's Lament: Path to Ascendancy Book 1

Dancer's Lament: Path to Ascendancy Book 1 by Ian C. Esslemont Read Free Book Online

Book: Dancer's Lament: Path to Ascendancy Book 1 by Ian C. Esslemont Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ian C. Esslemont
irritation at the man’s myopic indifference to all except his arcane researches. ‘Take Smokey and Koroll with you,’ Ho added. ‘Just to make our point.’
    Silk nodded again; those two, and Mara, the other three of the city mages, handled the arm-twisting and day-to-day enforcement of the Protectress’s will. Their presence would impress far more than his own rather . . . well, rather less than imposing appearance.
    * * *
    One night Dorin Rav returned to the gabled barn roof of Ullara’s family. Nothing more than a whim, he told himself, and a plain errand of business: he owed her, after all. And he paid his debts. He found it as before, the wooden shingles creaking and ticking as they gave off the day’s heat, and streaked in bird shit. And said birds roosting in rather alarming numbers along the roof crest and gables. He ducked within the vaulted attic. The bright amber eyes of more birds than he cared to count gleamed from the shadows of the beams and distant perches of boxes and crates. Distantly, from below, came the snorts and neighing of horses together with the jangle of tack. Men called to one another, their voices indistinct as they floated up from the streets: the night stalls were opening for another eve’s business.
    He took out a leather bag of coins – not so few as to be insulting, but not that many, as she was after all only a stabler’s daughter – and hefted it. He decided, then, that he would hand it over in person together with his thanks rather than merely leaving it behind. He put it down and set to practising while he waited.
    He snapped his wrists and twinned blued blades in sheaths hidden up his sleeves slipped into his palms. These he slashed about him as he spun, crouched, jumped and rolled between the heaped boxes and the narrow alleys of dusty crates. The raptors’ fierce gazes followed him as he wove through the dark and they raised their wings, wary, whenever a dodge or a roll brought him near their perches.
    Sweaty now, he straightened and pushed the throwing blades back into their sheaths. He grasped his leather belt, spun quickly, and a slim cord leaped from his hand to lash about a timber post. He yanked on it, testing the firmness of the hold. Then he walked up to the timber, rewinding the cord of woven black silk as he went. He fought for a time to unknot it from its grip upon the post, and when he finally freed it the many twisted ends clacked and clattered as tiny lead weights affixed there knocked among themselves.
    ‘They use cords like that to capture birds,’ said a girl’s voice from the dark and Dorin flinched, startled.
    He turned, raised a brow. ‘You are quiet. There are few who could sneak up on me.’
    Ullara approached from the shadows. She wore her same old dirty smock, her feet bare and dusty. She came quite close to stare up at him and he was vaguely troubled to see how her eyes seemed to shine in the dark just like the birds that surrounded them. ‘You came back,’ she said.
    He nodded, embarrassed for some reason. Her closeness made him conscious of his laboured breath and he struggled to suppress it.
    ‘I was watching. You move so gracefully and effortlessly,’ she said. ‘Like a dancer.’
    Memories of years of pain-filled training sessions enforced by blows slid across his mind and he smiled thinly, stepping aside. ‘I’ve worked on it.’ He retrieved the small leather bag. ‘I have something for you.’
    ‘Oh?’
    He held it out to her. ‘Payment. For your help.’
    She did not reach for it. Instead, her steady gaze went from the bag to his face. For an instant he saw something there, hurt and a flare of anger it seemed to him, before she quickly turned away. She wrapped her arms round her slim chest and crossed to the open window. After a time she murmured, her voice low: ‘Thank you, sir, for your consideration.’
    He set the bag down on the wooden slats of a box. ‘I just wanted to say thank you.’
    ‘You have.’
    He frowned

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