Read an Excerpt
Kaevir Macleod was not having a good day.
It was not the worst day in Kaevir's memory, or the worst set of circumstances he had come to find himself in, but it was fairly well rotten nonetheless, and as he sat on a damp, mildewed bench in the Daevonshire village jail and considered matters, he realized that, as per usual, he had no one to thank or blame for this latest turn of poor fortune except himself.
He had spent the evening -- not to mention his week's wages -- in Daevonshire's solitary pub, the Laughing Dragon, over countless hands of dystanuir and pints of portar. This was not an unusual habit for Kaevir. Too many pints and not enough winning cards had left Kaevir involved in a drunken little push-and-shove that had eventually blossomed into a full-blown fracas, with every man and woman in the tavern exchanging blows; again, not so unusual where Kaevir was concerned. He had wound up arrested; expected and customary. What seemed odd to him in retrospect, as he nursed his aching head in the cramped confines of a jail cell he shared with at least twenty other men, was that the melee at the pub had been broken up by I'lar County soldiers. Usually such frays were handled by the village constable, Ambrose Wellabeigh and his ragtag staff of deputies. County soldiers were relative rarities in Daevonshire.
"Why were county riders in town?" he asked one of the men sitting next to him on the bench. "I thought they only came during tax season."
The man shrugged, his eyelids purple and swollen from the fight, his nose as distended and bloated as an overripe plum. "I heard tell the Baronmaster's son had them sent to these parts,delivering a prisoner or some such."
"Lord Bran, the Mianach Elf?" Kaevir raised his brow.
The man nodded. "Someone told me he had a thief creeping about his house. Lord Bran caught him squarely in the act."
"Rot the luck," Kaevir muttered. "We might have all gotten away with things if the riders had not been around."
"There is the truth," the man said. "Constable Wellabeigh would have sent us all tottering home, drunk and smacked around a bit -- no worse than usual but none so for the show -- if he had not been so busy trying to impress the Baronmaster's county folk."
"Muise," Kaevir said, glancing across the cell, agreeing with the man in Gaeilgen, the antiquated, native tongue of the realm. Indeed . "Who is that?" He nodded toward a young man seated in the far corner with his shoulders against the wall, his knees drawn toward his chest. "I do not recall that I have seen him around the village before, have you?"
"Cannot say as I have," the man replied. "Now how do you figure he walked out of that fracas without a mark on him?"
Kaevir frowned thoughtfully. The young man obviously had not been among the patrons of the Laughing Dragon brought into the jail; there was not a bruise or scrape on his face. And the lad had the sort of face one would try to pummel deliberately in a fight; the sort of striking features that men would want to purposefully mar with a well-aimed fist or two.
"I do not think he walked out at all," Kaevir said. "I think he is your thief."
"Do you?" the man said, leaning forward with sudden interest.
"I do indeed," Kaevir said.
"Rotted bastard," the man said, frowning. "Someone ought go and thank him for the troubles he has brought on us all tonight. It is his bloody fault we are penned up in here. Why, we could all be at home curled up in our own beds were it not for him and his botched thievery."
Kaevir thought of pointing out that botched thievery or not, they all still would have had to contend with bloody noses and battered faces resulting from the brawl, but in the end decided to hold his peace. Unlike the man beside him, Kaevir had no bed of his own to long for; he tended to wander from mattress to mattress, depending on the hospitality of the women who owned them, while calling none in particular his home. He was currently between lovers, having incensed the last enough to boot him from her flat, and having not yet charmed another long or well enough to coax an invitation for more than a passing night.
To Kaevir's point of view, the bench beneath him seemed as suitable and inviting a bed as any he had waiting for him outside of the jail, and he lay down against the wood, folding his arm beneath his head, closing his eyes. He heard the man beside him move, rising to his feet and walking away. Kaevir thought of lifting his head, telling him not to make mention of the thief to any of the other prisoners. Nothing would come of it but trouble -- and they had all had more than their fair portion of trouble for one night. But it felt simply marvelous to rest his eyes for a moment, and in the end, Kaevir did not say a word. He let his mind grow still and quiet, wandering slowly toward sleep.
He dreamed of sitting on the floor, cradling a gilded gold coffer in his lap. The box was magnificent in its intricate design, surely the most elaborately crafted he had ever beheld, and in his dream, Kaevir struggled to open it. Surely such a marvelous coffer contained some manner of treasure beyond even his wildest and greediest of dreams, and he worked fervently and anxiously, wedging his lockpicking tools into the narrow opening that fastened the coffer securely closed.
It was frustrating work, because the box showed no inclination toward opening. Just as he had nearly given up his efforts in aggravation, he felt the lock yield beneath the persistent pressure of the picks. The tumblers snapped back, releasing their hold, and the lid of the coffer obligingly popped open on its little golden hinges.
A waft of breeze pressed against his face, ruffling his hair as though emanating from inside the box. Kaevir blinked down into the coffer, surprised by his sudden and unexpected good fortune, but found nothing but darkness inside. He stared into the box and heard a voice within his mind, a soft and purring whisper.
You are chosen.
"This is your doing -- your fault -- and by the Good Mother, you bloody bastard, I mean to see you answer for it!"
This declaration, followed by an uproarious din as the other men in the cell began to howl and clap, snapped Kaevir from asleep to awake in one startled moment. He sat up, blinking and bewildered, and wondered why in the bloody duchan everyone had risen to their feet, standing with their backs to him as they shouted and cheered.
He stumbled up and rose onto his toes, straining to peer around shoulders and over heads. He could see nothing for the throng, but heard the sudden, unmistakable sound of knuckles plowing forcibly into flesh and realized that the brawl had begun anew.
"Who is fighting?" he asked, hooking the nearest man by the sleeve to draw his attention. "Who is fighting?" he said again, having to shout to be heard over the cries and bellows of the others.
Copyright © 2006 Sara Reinke.