The Dragon's Path
and butter to throw across the void, but even if the gift reached the intended hand, there was no peace in prison. As they watched from the low wall at the pit’s edge, Marcus saw one such lucky man—a Kurtadam with clicking beads in his close, otter-smooth pelt—being beaten for his round of white bread while a pack of Firstblood boys laughed and pointed at him and called out,
Clicker, clicker, ass-licker
and other racial insults.
In the lowest row of cells, seven men sat. Most had the build and scars of soldiers, but one kept himself apart, thin legs stuck between the bars, heels swinging over the pit. The six soldiers had been Marcus’s men. The other, the company cunning man. They belonged to the prince now.
“We’re being watched,” the Tralgu said.
The cunning man raised an arm in a rueful wave. Marcus responded with a false smile and a less polite gesture. His former cunning man looked away.
“Not him, sir. The other one.”
Marcus shifted his attention away from the cages. It onlytook a moment to see the man Yardem meant. Not far from the wide space where the street spilled into the square, a young man in the gilt armor of the prince’s guard slouched at ease. A tug at his memory brought Marcus the man’s name.
“Well, God smiles,” Marcus said sourly.
The guard, seeing himself noticed, gave a rough salute and walked toward them. He was thick-faced and soft about the shoulders. The smell of bathhouse cedar oil came off him like he’d been dipped in it. Marcus shrugged the way he did before a fight.
“Captain Wester,” the guard said with a nod. And then, “And Yardem Hane. Still following the captain, are you?”
“Sergeant Dossen, isn’t it?” Marcus said.
“Tertian Dossen now. The prince keeps to the old titles. Those your men?”
“Who, those?” Marcus asked with feigned innocence. “Worked with lots of men, one time and another. Shouldn’t be surprised if I knew men in every gaol in the Free Cities.”
“That bunch there. We herded them up last night for being drunk and causing trouble.”
“Men will do that.”
“You don’t know anything about it?”
“I wouldn’t want to say anything that might get back to the magistrate,” Marcus said. “He might not take it the way I meant.”
Dossen spat into the wide air of the ditch.
“I can respect you wanting to keep them out of trouble, Captain. But it wouldn’t make a difference. War’s coming, and the prince needs men. That lot has training. Experience. They’ll be impressed into the army. Might even get ranks.”
Marcus felt the anger growing, the warmth in his chestand belly, the sense he had grown an inch taller. Like all things that felt good, he distrusted it.
“You sound like there’s something you want to say.”
Dossen smiled like a river snake.
“You’ve still got a reputation. Captain Wester, hero of Gradis and Wodford. The prince would notice that. You could take a fair commission.”
“Princes, barons, dukes. They’re all just little kings,” Marcus said, a degree more hotly than he’d intended. “I don’t work for kings.”
“You will for this one,” Dossen said.
Yardem scratched his belly and yawned. It was a signal that reminded Marcus to keep his temper. Marcus took his hand off the pommel of his blade.
“Dossen, old friend,” Marcus said, “a good half of this city’s defense is hired men. I’ve seen Karol Dannian and his boys. Merrisan Koke. Your prince will lose all of them if the word gets out that he’s impressing professional soldiers who are under contract—”
Dossen’s jaw actually dropped in astonishment.
“You aren’t under contract,” he said.
“I am,” Marcus said. “We’re guard on a caravan for Carse up in Northcoast. Already paid.”
The guard looked across the gap at the incarcerated men, the dejected cunning man, and the rust-streaked jade. A pigeon landed on the carved foot of a gryphon, shook its pearl-grey tailfeathers, and shat on the cunning man’s knee. An old man behind them brayed out a laugh.
“You don’t have any men,” Dossen said. “Those are your caravan guards right there. You and the dog-boy can’t guard a ’van by yourselves. The papers call for eight sword-and-bows and a company cunning man.”
“Didn’t know you’d read our contract,” Yardem said. “And don’t call me dog-boy.”
Dossen pressed his lips together, eyes narrow and annoyed. His armor clinked when he shrugged, too thin a
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