Read an Excerpt
A Path of Shadows
"Get him! Now!"
The words rang through the air, carrying an edge of cruelty.
"We'll teach him a lesson," another voice, equally vicious, snarled. "Show him a thing or two."
Lieutenant Bak, officer in charge of a unit of Medjay police until recently posted on the southern frontier, was instantly struck by the meanness he heard. His head snapped around and he looked along the waterfront. His Medjay sergeant Imsiba and Lieutenant Karoya, head of the harbor patrol, followed his glance. They saw three men in the distance, standing at the mouth of what they knew was a dead-end lane. The object of their hatred had to be trapped inside.
A third voice shouted, "Cast him back into the desert he came from."
"Not enough!" the first man snapped. "We must send a message to others like him. They've no right to defile the streets our sovereign treads."
Exchanging a quick glance of mutual agreement, Bak, Imsiba, and Karoya raced up the broad, open street, lined on their right by ships moored along the riverbank and on their left by several blocks of interconnected buildings.
"Let's geld him," the second man yelled.
The three ruffians, so intent on their victim they failed to notice the approaching men, slipped into the lane.
Bak slowed as he neared the opening and raised a finger to his lips, urging silence. Followed closely by his companions, he crept to the corner and peered down the narrow passage that, hugged between two rows of adjoining buildings, lay in deep shadow. Though the three scoundrels blocked the way, he could see at the far end a man clad in a brownish kilt, with a wrap of a darker color around his shoulders. He held a long shepherd's staff horizontal to the ground as if to bar their way. Behind him, a woman stood half-hidden by a laden donkey, clinging to its rope lead.
"Look what he's brought with him!" one of the ruffians chortled. "As dirty as the desert she came from, but a choice bit nonetheless."
"Get him out of the way," the most dominant of the three said, brandishing a short whip that ended in several thongs knotted at the ends to hurt more. "Then we'll take her."
"You'll take no one!" Bak, his tone as hard as granite, stepped into the broad shaft of sunlight that reached into the mouth of the passage. He was a man of medium height with short-cropped dark hair and broad, muscular shoulders. Senior to his two companions, he carried only his baton of office. A symbol of power that, when used with purpose, could be a deadly weapon.
The men swung around, startled. Their leader, the quickest to recover, sneered, "Who are you to tell us what to do?"
"Drop your weapons!" Karoya moved up beside Bak, brandishing his spear and holding before him, so none could mistake his authority, the black-and-white cowhide shield of the harbor patrol. The young Medjay officer was tall and slim, with a tribal tattoo on his left upper arm.
Imsiba took his place beside them. The Medjay sergeant, the tallest of the three, was as lithe and graceful as a leopard. He carried a long spear and the black shield the men of Bak's company had chosen as their own while posted at the frontier fortress of Buhen.
"Are we supposed to be afraid of three men?" the leader of the ruffians scoffed. "Bah! The odds are in our favor."
Bak had to smile at how highly the man overrated himself and his friends.
One of the men said, "Kames, maybe we'd better ..."
Kames laughed harshly. "Don't worry, my timid friend. We'll give them something they'll not soon forget." He swaggered toward the policemen, raising the whip and slapping the hard-packed earth on which he walked.
"One's a harbor patrolman, Kames."
Bak shifted his grip on his baton and eyed the trio, the leader approaching with malicious purpose, his friends drawn along behind, one willing if not eager to participate, the other dragging his feet. He cocked his head as if measuring the men he faced. "How long will it take the three of us to teach them to respect their fellows? A count of ten? Fifteen?"
"Ten or less, I'd say." Karoya grinned at Imsiba. "Will you offer up your weapon, or shall I?"
"He knows you're official and most likely thinks I'm not. If he believes he's disarmed the better-trained man, he'll become overconfident."
"I'll provide the distraction," Bak said. With so many donkey caravans crossing the southern frontier, he and his men had often used the technique of which they spoke to disarm drovers who applied their whips too freely to man and beast.
Suddenly he stubbed his toe. Karoya caught his arm, saving him from falling and giving Imsiba time to slip a couple of paces ahead.
Kames, imagining a weakness where none existed, ran forward. Mouth clamped tight with purpose, eyes glittering, he drew the whip back, shoved aside the point of Imsiba's spear, and struck out at the sergeant with all his might. Imsiba ducked sideways and, at the same time, Karoya leaped forward and thrust his spear diagonally between assailant and intended victim. The lashes wrapped themselves around the point and shaft. Kames tried to jerk the whip free. Karoya twisted his spear, winding the lashes tighter. Bak moved in and slammed his baton down on the man's head. The scoundrel tumbled in a heap, senseless.
Bak leaped past his fallen opponent and ran with Imsiba toward the two remaining men. The sergeant whacked the nearest on the side of his head with the flat face of his spear point, felling him. Bak lunged forward to disable the third man, who had turned away in a futile attempt to escape ...A Path of Shadows. Copyright © by Lauren Haney. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.