A Notorious Killer Stalks the King
The world's most deadly assassin has been hired to kill King Ambrose. Once again King's Daggers are plunged into danger, because only White Sister Emerald can identify the killer's magic and only Sir Stalwart knows what he looks like. The two must trap the killer before he can strike the king or at them.
As the trial of death leads back to Ironhall, the swordsmen school Stalwart so recently left, he finds he is a boy sent to do a man's job and Emerald is a girl sent to do a boy's.
About the Author
Dave Duncan is an award-winning author whose fantasy trilogy, The Seventh Sword, is considered a sword-and- sorcery classic. His numerous novels include three Tales of the King's Blades The Gilded Chain, Lord of the Fire Lands, and Sky of Swords; Paragon Lost, a previous Chronicle of the King's Blades; Strings, Hero; the popular tetralogies A Man of His Word and A Handful of Men; and the remarkable, critically acclaimed fantasy trilogy The Great Game.
About the Author
Dave Duncan (1933) is an award-winning Scottish Canadian fantasy and science fiction author. He is a prolific writer of more than fifty books including West of January and Children of Chaos He is a member of SF Canada and in 2015 was inducted into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
Read an Excerpt
Having spent a few days with her mother at Peachyard, Emerald headed back to her duties in Greymere Palace in the heart of Grandon. Old Wilf, her mother's coachman, was unfamiliar with the city and took a wrong turning in the maze of narrow streets. Thus he found himself in a shabby alley where there was barely room for the horses to pass and he was in danger of banging his head against upper stories projecting out over the roadway. Street urchins jeered at the rich folks going by; hawkers with barrows cursed as they cleared a path for him. Then his passenger slid open the speaking panel in the roof behind him."What's this street called?"
"Sorry, miss er, Sister I mean. Have you out of here in a jiffy."
"I don't want out of here!" she snapped. She had her mother's temper. "I want you to turn around somewhere and drive back along this exact same street again. And I want to know what its name is."
There was no accounting for the lass, and she would bite his ears off if he argued. Seeing a woman leaning out of an upper window just ahead, Wilf tipped his hat to her and inquired the name of the alley as he went by underneath. "Quirk Row," she said, grinning at his predicament.
He made several right turns and eventually managed to retrace his path along Quirk Row. This time the jeering was louder and some of the gutter brats threw squelchy stuff at him and his highly polished paintwork. He cracked his whip at them, but it did no good.
Another edict from the panel: "Go to Ranulf Square."
The coachman sighed. "Yes, miss, er, Sister." Why couldn't she make her mindup?
He had no trouble finding Ranulf Square, for it was one of the more prestigious parts of Grandon, close by Greymere Palace itself. He enjoyed driving along such wide streets, under the great trees, admiring the fine buildings. His pleasure was short-lived.
"Turn right at this corner!" said the voice of doom at his back. "And right again. Slower . . . Stop here."
"But, Sister!" This street looked very nearly as unsavory as Quirk Row. The windows were both barred and shuttered, the doors iron studded, and the few people in evidence all looked as if they had just escaped from a jail, or even a tomb. "This is not a good area, miss!"
His protests were ignored. Before he could even dismount to lower the steps for her, Sister Emerald threw open the door. Holding up her skirts, she jumped down. Her white robes looked absurdly out of place in this pesthole. She reached back inside for her steeple hat, which was too tall to be worn in a coach, and settled it expertly on her head.
"Go and wait for me back in Ranulf Square," she called up to him, slamming the coach door. "Er . . . once you've made sure I can get in."
Why would she even want to get in? Spirits knew what might go on behind that sinister façade! But Wilf did as he was bid, watching her run up the steps, waiting until her vigorous pounding of the knocker brought a response. The man who opened the door could not be a servant, for he wore a sword which usually indicated a gentleman but might not in this neighborhood. He evidently recognized Emerald, for he bowed gracefully and stepped aside to let her vanish into the darkness of the interior.
Whatever would her mother say? Sighing, Wilf cracked his whip over the team and drove off. He did note the number 10 on the door, and he inquired the name of the road, which turned out to be Amber Street. It meant nothing to him.It meant nothing to most people.
Most people would not even have realized that these rundown barns backed onto the fine mansions of Ranulf Square. Number 10 Amber Street, for example, was directly behind 17 Ranulf Square, which contained government offices. The brass plates listing these bureaucracies included one saying simply His Majesty's Court of Conjury. It was to 17 Ranulf Square that people went to lodge complaints about illegal magic someone selling curses or love potions or other evils. There the visitors would be interviewed by flunkies whose glassy, fishy stares showed that they were inquisitors, with an enchanted ability to detect falsehoods.
Then files would be opened, depositions taken, reports written. Eventually, if the case seemed worthwhile, a warrant would be issued and the commissioners themselves would raid the elementary. That was when things became exciting. Elementaries might be guarded by watchdogs the size of ponies, doormats that burst into flames underfoot, or other horrors. The commissioners were all knights in the Loyal and Ancient Order of the King's Blades, former members of the Royal Guard and therefore supremely skilled swordsmen.
In her brief career in the palace, Emerald had learned to avoid red tape at all costs. She knew about 10 Amber Street because she had heard the Blades of the Guard refer to it; they called it the Snakepit. Whatever the brass plates of Ranulf Square might say, the Old Blades' real headquarters was here.
The man who let her in said, "Sister Emerald, this is a wonderful surprise," as if he meant it.
She curtseyed. "My pleasure, Sir Chefney." Chefney was Snake's deputy and had been partly responsible for her hair-raising adventures at Quagmarsh. In spite of that, she liked Chefney. He was unfailingly polite and good-humored.
"What brings you to our humble abode, Sister?" "Humble" was pure flattery. The hallway reeked of mildew and dust, the floors were scuffed and splintery, much of the paneling had warped away from the walls, but originally this had been a gracious, rich-person's residence. Somewhere upstairs feet were stamping and metal clinking as swordsmen kept up their fencing skills.
"Someone is performing an enchantment not three streets from here. I detected it as my coach went along Quirk Row."
Anyone else except possibly Mother Superior would have countered with, "Are you sure?" Emerald might then have made a snippy retort.
Chefney did not ask if Emerald was sure. He did not produce a form for her to fill in nor summon an inquisitor to interrogate her or a notary to witness her testimony. He did not even inquire what a lady was doing driving along Quirk Row. He just said, "In here, please, Sister," very brusquely. As she stepped through the doorway he shouted, "Put away the dice, lads. We've got work to do."
The long room was almost filled by a very large table. The half dozen men standing around it had not been playing dice. They had been rummaging through a wagonload of books and paper, and there were mutters of relief as they turned to greet her. She recognized Sir Snake and Sir Bram and Sir Demise. She was introduced to Sir Rodden, Sir Raptor, Sir Felix . . . and so on.