James hurried through the night.
As he moved purposefully across the courtyard of the Prince's palace in Krondor, he still felt the odd ache and twinge, reminders of his recent beating at the hands of the Nighthawks while he had been their captive. For the most part he was nearly back to his usual state of fitness. Despite that, he still felt the need for more sleep than usual, so of course, he had only just settled into a deep slumber when a page came knocking upon his door and informed James that the overdue caravan from Kesh had been sighted approaching the city. James had gotten up and dressed despite every fiber of his being demanding that he roll over in his warm bed and return to slumber.
Silently cursing the need to meet the arriving magician, he reached the outer gate where two guards stood their stations.
"Evening, gentlemen. All's well?"
The senior of the two guards, an old veteran named Crewson, saluted. "Quiet as the grave, Squire. Where're you bound at this ungodly hour?" He motioned for the other guard to open the gate so that James could leave the precinct of the palace.
Stiffing a yawn, James said, "The Prince's new mage has arrived from Stardock, and I've the dubious honor of meeting her at the North Gate."
The younger guard smiled in mock sympathy. "Ah, you've all the luck, Squire." He swung the gate wide to allow James to depart.
With a wry smile, James passed through the opening. "I'd rather have a good night"s sleep, but duty calls. Fare you well, gentlemen."
James picked up his pace, as he knew the caravanwould disband quickly upon arrival. He wasn't worried about the magician's safety, as the city guard would be augmented by caravan guards coming off duty, but he was concerned over the possible lapse in protocol should he not be there to greet her. While she might be only a distant relative of the Ambassador from Great Kesh to the Western Court, she was still a noble by rank, and relations between the Kingdom of the Isles and Great Kesh had never been what one might call tranquil. A good year was one in which there were three or fewer border skirmishes.
James decided to take a shortcut from the palace district to the North Gate, one that would require he pas's through a warehouse district behind the Merchants' Quarter. He knew the city as well as any living man, and had no concerns about getting lost, but when two figures detached themselves from the shadows as he rounded a corner, he cursed himself for a fool. The out-of-the-way route was unlikely to be host to many citizens abroad on lawful business at this time of night. And these two looked nothing like lawful citizens.
One carried a large billy club and had a long belt knife, while the other rested his hand easily upon a sword. The first wore a red leather vest while his companion wore a simple tunic and trousers. Both had sturdy boots on, and James instantly recognized them for what they were: common street thugs They were almost certainly freebooters, men not associated with the Mockers, the Guild of Thieves.
James pushed aside his self-recriminations for taking this shortcut, for the matter was now beyond changing.
The first man said, "Ah, what's the city coming to?"
The second nodded, moving to flank James should he try to run. "It's a sad state of affairs. Gentlemen of means, wanderin' the streets after midnight. What can they be thinking?"
Red-vest pointed his billy club at James and said, "He must be thinkin' his purse is just too heavy and be hopin' for a helpful pair like us to relieve him of it."
James let out a slow breath and calmly said, "Actually, I was thinking about the foolishness of men who don't recognize a dangerous mark when they see one." He drew his rapier slowly and moved the point to halfway between the two men, so that he would be able to parry an attack from either man.
"The only danger here is tryin' to cross us," said the second thug, drawing his sword and lashing out at James.
"I really don't have time for this," James said. He parried the blow easily and riposted. The swordsman barely pulled back in time to avoid being skewered like a holiday pig.
Red-vest pulled out his belt knife and swung his billy club, but James ducked aside and kicked out with his right leg, propelling the man into his companion. "You still have time to run away, my friends."
Red-vest grunted, recovered his balance, and rushed James, threatening with the billy club while holding his knife in position to do the real damage. James recognized the man's outrage -- this was no longer a simple mugging; these two men now meant to kill him. He ignored the billy club, dodging toward it rather than away, and sliced at the man's left wrist. The knife fell to the stones with a clatter.
While Red-vest howled in pain and fell back, his companion came rushing in, his sword cocked back over his shoulder. James danced backward for two steps, and as the man let fly with his wide swing -- designed to decapitate the young squire-- James leaned forward in a move he had learned from the Prince, his left hand touching the stones to aid his balance and his right hand extending out. The attacker's sword passed harmlessly over James's head and he ran onto the point of James's rapier. The man's eyes widened in shock and he came to an abrupt halt, looked down in disbelief, then collapsed to his knees. James pulled his sword point free and the man toppled over... Krondor: Tear of the Gods
. Copyright © by Raymond Feist. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.