Excerpt: “Cities in Time” [Kendrick/Warden]

I’m currently in the early stages of writing “Cities in Time” but I thought you, my reader, might want to see what I’ve been up to. Here’s a short chapter in which Kendrick and Warden have to deal with one another.

Standing in a private chamber with guards at the door and chains on his wrists, Warden still did his best to appear at ease. He had walked into lion’s dens before and come out with all his limbs intact, he had no reason to think he could do so now. Of course, in those instances, he hadn’t been stripped of his weapons, three days undernourished, and wondering why exactly he was there. Those instances included him hunting his prey into a situation where he had less control, but still knew exactly how he was going to exit.
This was not one of those instances.
Across the room, seated beside a brazier of banked coals, was Kendrick. The man looked different from when Warden last saw him. Then he wore a robe not unlike an adherent of Ancel, but with different fringe colors. Funny he never thought about the fringe colors before. What did they mean?

The man now sat with his hands clasped before him and a pensive expression Warden considered untrustworthy. Of course, the fact that Kendrick kept Warden locked away in a dungeon due to this involvement with Leviana did nothing to help that assessment. She was not his favorite person, but the long days in the dungeon after long days on the trail with her had given him a fondness for her he didn’t share for the other man.

Kendrick beckoned him over.

“Sit, please.”

Warden gathered his chains in his lap, but sat down in the backless chair.

“I am prepared to offer you a full pardon for your actions against the Empire in return for your assistance.”

One eyebrow went up, but Warden said nothing. So the man wanted to bargain? What did he want. Choosing to say nothing left Kendrick to fill the silence and he didn’t at first. Instead Warden watched his eyes as Kendrick studied him, then slipped away to contemplate something else. Whatever the man wanted weighed heavy on his mind. It had to, otherwise why would he be offering a man convicted of murdering the Immortal anything?

“You have heard of the Black King’s seal?” Kendrick asked.
Outside of the government, the seal was a myth. Something trotted out when they needed to tell the populace something dreadful and wanted to pretend there was a God putting his hand on it. Warden nodded.

“Then you perhaps know how important it is.”

Warden had watched Leviana take it from near her bed before they left Arathum with the intention of going to Backaran. Back then she wore it around her neck. Thinking back, he hadn’t seen it since the Mad City. Maybe she had dumped it between then and now? He didn’t know, but apparently Kendrick didn’t know that.

Interesting he offered a pardon in exchange for its whereabouts. Perhaps it was more important than he thought?

“That Seal is the final word of the Empire. Without it, we cannot move on from the death of the Immortal. Things are at a standstill. We need it in order to complete the transition. I need you to find it.”

“Ask Leviana.”

“The woman in the dungeon is not Leviana. She is an impostor sentenced to death.”

“Then why haven’t you killed her or me yet?”

The Empire was never known for lengthy discussions of guilt or innocence. Once established, they lopped off your head in short order. Hence Warden’s desire to never see the inside of a prison within the Empire. Survival was not guaranteed.

Warden stretched the short chain between his hands and clicked it in emphasis of his current situation.

“You know more than you’re telling,” Warden said. “Something about this is tied to your scheming and the return of the Black King.”
Kendrick started.

“What do you know about that?”

“Perhaps more than you want me to,” Warden whispered. “Like the fact I saw the blue fire come from your hands. Strange.”

He left out the trip to Backaran and the interview with the Queen or even the conversation he had with an ethereal dragon regarding the Black King’s return and his place in it. None of that mattered. He put Kendrick on the defensive as the man reappraised him.

Good.

Any chance to get the upper hand.

“If you know what you say, then you know enough to be dangerous. Why should I let you live?”

Kendrick’s question did not put Warden off at all. Instead, he chuckled.

“Because I’m the only one who knows anything. The girl in the dungeon was Leviana’s body, but doesn’t have her memories. I know where she’s been and what she’s been up to since she was out of the Capital. Unfortunately, your bidding price is too low.”

It wasn’t completely a lie. Leviana had told him about her travels as they made their way back and he could retrace her steps if need be. Except there wasn’t enough in it for him. If at the end of it all he would simply find himself under the headsman’s ax, he had no interest.

Waiting for Kendrick’s reply, Warden scanned the room once again, marking exits, weapons, and warriors. Though Kendrick didn’t have a warrior’s carriage, his power made him unpredictable. The one to take out first if Warden was going to make a break for it. However, he knew he was far enough in the castle that making it to the outside would be difficult at best. Fighting multiple battles with chains hampering his movement didn’t increase his chances of survival. No, better to stay and let this play out. He could make a run for it under better circumstances, if they presented themselves.

“Then you know what she did with the Seal.”

“Perhaps.”

“What is that information worth to you?”

“Desperate men ask the bargaining price of their competition.”

“The Daughters of Curcula want your head.”

That was not common knowledge, but then again, Kendrick wasn’t a common man and Warden knew it. He wondered at their connection.

“I can see to it they never get it,” Kendrick said.

“I’m not worried about them. They send warriors to assassinate an assassin. It’s poor business and eventually they’ll give up.” Warden stood up. “You aren’t offering enough.”

“That’s the same thing you told Red Falcon.”

Warden chuckled again.

“I have a thought,” he said. “You used the Daughters of Curcula to hire me to get rid of the Immortal Queen.”

Kendrick’s face showed neither apprehension nor guilt, but he also did not deny the accusation. Perhaps more telling was that the guards at the door did not twitch.

“Things didn’t go as you planned. She survived. So you cooked up the idea of her having been killed on the road to insure she didn’t come back and retake power. Easy enough to do with the Trusted in your bed. What you weren’t counting on was her returning and removing the Black King’s seal from the city and thus out of your reach. Now, I’m just guessing, you want to push something through that would need either her approval or the stamp of the Gods and you don’t have it. So you’re scrambling to find a way to get it, am I right?”

Kendrick did not bluster or bellow. He watched Warden with impassive eyes and an uninterested expression. Warden waited for his response by toying with his chains making a slow clinking sound to emphasize the passage of time.

“You realize I don’t have to let you leave this room alive.”

“If you weren’t going to, you wouldn’t have allowed there to be witnesses.”

With a wave of his hand, Kendrick called the guards toward them.

“We’ll speak again.”

“Of course,” Warden said. He mock-bowed and allowed himself to be led away. They would speak again indeed. The question would be whether or not a sword was involved.

–THE END for now–

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