Scar Night

Scar Night by Alan Campbell Read Free Book Online

Book: Scar Night by Alan Campbell Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alan Campbell
aeronauts could stuff their warship. Dill had his uniform now. And his sword, of course. He brightened a little; there was still time for some sword practice. He ran the rest of the way around the balcony, folded his wings, and ducked inside the doorway to his cell.
    But halfway through he halted, and blinked. A young woman stood waiting for him by the fireplace: small, gaunt, her fair hair drawn back severely from her face and woven into a tight plait in the style popular among nobles’ daughters. But this was her only concession to fashion, for she was bereft of jewellery, and wore beaten leathers bristling with weapons. A worn hilt jutted from the scabbard on her back, blue throwing knives and silver needles ran the length of her leather-sheathed forearms, while her belt held poison pouches, a blowpipe, and three stubby bamboo tubes tarnished with age. She had taken Dill’s sword from its mount, and was examining it. The sword was too big for him, but in her tiny hands it looked absurd.
    “Put that back,” Dill snapped.
    Dark green eyes turned to confront him. Her face was so white she looked ill. “Your sword?” she asked. Her gaze dropped to it briefly, then bounced back up to meet his.
    Dill remembered he was naked. He snatched up his nightshirt, wrapped it round his midriff, and glowered at her. “It is Callis’s sword.”
    “So they say.” She studied the weapon more closely. “It’s old enough. The steel is single-layered, brittle, heavy. Blunt. The balance…” She drew the back of the blade over her sleeve and then held it between both hands. “Does not exist. The pommel was sheared off at some point, not that it makes much difference. The guard…” She snorted. “Someone replaced this. It’s gold-leafed lead. You could dent it with a spoon.” She slid the weapon back into its mount. “Shiny, though.”
    Dill waited stiffly.
    “Rachel Hael,” she said.
    There was something familiar about her surname, but he couldn’t place it. “What do you want?”
    “Nothing,” she replied quickly, flatly, as though it were a reflexive answer to that question. Then she hesitated, seemed to realize she ought to say more. “I’m your overseer.”
    “What?”
    “Overseer. Tutor. Personal guard.”
    Rachel Hael was a foot shorter than himself, half his weight, and she couldn’t be more than three or four years older than him. She exuded all the scholarly air of someone who ate beetles.
    “You’re not my overseer,” he said.
    She was looking around his cell. “How many candles do you
need
here?”
    “John Reed Burrsong is my overseer.”
    “He’s been dead for seven years.”
    Burrsong was dead? That explained why Dill hadn’t seen the old man around for a while. But surely there were other soldiers, or scholars? The temple teemed with them: dusty old men with spectacles and beards. Men who remembered wars, and times when the water tasted better and everyone was polite, and would tell you about them with flinching eyes and great weary sighs. There had to be someone more appropriate. Someone older. Less
fragile
-looking.
    “Sypes told me to watch you,” Rachel said. “And to train you, I suppose. Swordplay, poisons, diplomacy, that sort of thing.” She reached inside a pouch attached to her armour, produced a tiny book, and flipped it towards him.
    Dill glanced at the title.
Desert Trade Etiquette for Merchant Noblemen
by P. E. Wallaway. “What’s this?”
    “Something to do with diplomacy, isn’t it?” She glanced at the cover. “That’s what they told me. You ought to read it, if you get a chance. I’m sure it’s fascinating.”
    “I don’t—”
    “I don’t blame you,” she conceded.
    Dill bit his lower lip. This seemed all wrong. Had Presbyter Sypes finally succumbed to his encroaching dotage? A young woman armed with a book she hadn’t read and a sword she probably couldn’t pull out of its scabbard without hurting herself did not amount to a proper overseer.
    “I’m

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