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The Prince And The Assassin
Book Three
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-415-2
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Fiction/Adventure
eBook Length: 235 Pages
Published: June 2018

From inside the flap

Allan Lanner has just turned sixteen and is about to find out a truth about his history and his parentage that will rock his very existence. Tasked with delivering a sword to a beautiful Countess, Allan encounters a number of challenges, which lead him from being held captive by brigands, to being rescued by a troop of southern chevaliers, then finally finding his way to Castle Helmstedt and an audience with the King.

Countess Demaris Del’oro is from a small town in northern Arrontierre, where she has just come into the rights to her land and title. Sent to Carentan for an arranged betrothal, she meets Allan at the smithy where she chooses a new sword. Meanwhile, a legendary Klagen figure resides in the northern forests unaware of his future destiny with his own secret agenda for vengeance.

Allan embarks on a journey to discover the truth behind his mother’s story and is unwittingly drawn into a deep and dark plot for revenge harboured by the Countess, Del’oro.

The Prince And The Assassin (Excerpt)


PROLOGUE

It was some time after his coronation when Gereinte Andolin, the King of Carentan returned, incognito, to the small village of Cannan. The wife of the swordmith, Jael, looked surprised yet dignified as he strolled into Jael's workshop as though he had only been there three weeks before.

"This is an unexpected surprise," Jael said, eyes flicking to his wife. His wife rolled her eyes at her husband, then turned and curtsied with her head bowed.

"Your Majesty," she said. Jael flapped about apologetically, all of a sudden making the connection between the King and the many stories that had come his way about a legendary blue sword. His face flushed as he bowed. Gereinte kept his own counsel.

"I promised to return with fair payment for your gift, though I can hardly repay you in kind for the magnificence of this weapon and the part its craftsmanship has played in my journey," Gereinte said. Gereinte nodded at his companion, Etienne, who produced a bag heavy with coin.

"Oh... no, no. I did not expect this," Jael said. "In fact..." he wandered off to the back of the room. "I have something for you." Jael came back with a magnificent jeweled scabbard. "I said three weeks, but in fact it has taken me longer to produce something that would really do justice to the sword."

Gereinte accepted the scabbard with a look of wonder.

"This is much more than what I was expecting. But please accept my coin if only to assuage my own conscience and believe me... it would make me happy to recompense you at least in coin." Jael bowed his head in acquiescence and somehow Gereinte felt that the playing field had been leveled. He glanced at Jael's wife. There was still something about that woman that he just couldn't put his finger on.

Weighing up his gaze, Jael's wife excused herself, reminding them that her son was alone in the yard and quickly made her apologies.

Satisfied with the outcome of his visit, Gereinte turned his back on the little cottage that housed the smithy of Cannan and walked back to where the horses had been tethered. His companions waited patiently beside the King's mount. They appeared be laughing and waving at something to the side of the cottage. When they saw Gereinte emerge, they straightened themselves to attention in preparation for the journey home. Gereinte glanced in the direction of their attention and was stopped in his stride.

What he saw brought a spine tingling spark of recognition to him, which caught him momentarily off guard. It was the image of himself as a boy staring back at him; hair ruffled, mud on his shirt and a lively inquisitive sparkle in his emerald green eyes. They stood at a distance, boy to man and stared at each other for an uncanny moment, before the boy lifted his hand and waved at Gereinte, breaking the spell. Gereinte waved back, turned and walked on towards his companions. He looked over his shoulder again at the boy, then turned and shook his head, dislodging an uncomfortable thought. The royal party mounted their horses and rode away without a backward glance, though Gereinte could sense more than one set of eyes watching his departure.

Chapter One

From an early age, Allan had learnt how to blend into the background. It was a useful skill, growing up as an only child at the smithy in Cannan, often open to speculation from the village children within their friendship groups. Now at sixteen years old, Allan wrestled with the transition from boy to man and all the associated emotions that came with it. Blending in enabled him to observe in relative obscurity the alluring young woman who had just walked into the room on the arm of the King of Carentan.

The forge was in a small, but well ventilated stonewalled room, tucked into the back of his father's, workshop. It was easy for Allan to remain concealed behind the huge black anvil while they murmured and discussed prices with his father in the workshop.

"Your Majesty," Jael dipped his head in deference, "the price is no object."

King Gereinte shook his head with a knowing smile. "Maester Jael, you know I always pay my debts," he said.

"No amount of money can match the debt owed to you by this family, your Majesty." To which, the King scoffed and shuffled his feet, reminding Allan of himself when his mother reprimanded him for some altercation or other. Allan knew the story of the Sarlatian nobleman who came to an untimely end at the hand of the King. Before he became king, he had sought to commission a Jael sword on the strength of the smith's reputation. By happy coincidence, at least for Jael and his family, the King's intervention saved their lives. By way of thanks, Jael had presented him the sword, meant for the Sarlatian. Rumour had it that the sword's Damascene steel glowed a faint blue when the King touched its hilt.

"And so the sword always chooses its master," his father was wont to say whenever Mother told the story. Since that day, the smithy at Cannan had received a steady stream of business from royalty down to the lower levels of gentry who on reputation alone 'just had to have a Jael sword'. It went without saying that Allan would carry on the tradition of skilled smithing; the magic of the craft passing from father to son.

The heat from the hearth sent ripples across the room, making the girl fade in and out of focus. A trickle of sweat ran down Allan's forehead and he hefted the hammer, his muscles bunching in response, then struck the sword with a precision born of experience. The metal on metal made a satisfying ring and sparks flew to the tune of the weapon. Each strike with the hammer chimed a different note and to Allan's ears, it was the sword's very own song. The song that determined its master. He lost himself completely in the moment; the breath-taking heat, the background murmur, the stench of hot burning coals and the song of steel.

It wasn't until he put down the hammer and returned the sword to the hearth that he realised he had not quite managed to blend into the background as well as he had hoped. The sense of being watched made his skin itch. He took up the bellows as an excuse to turn his back on inquisitive eyes. He tried to concentrate on the heat of the coals, but his interest got the better of him and he turned. She was standing in the archway between the forge and the workshop. Her green cloak was trimmed with ermine, quality cloth of noble cut. Her hair wound down her shoulders in red ringlets, framing a freckled round face with eyes that sparkled with curiosity and mischief. By his judgement, she looked about the same age as him. He didn't know why she was watching him or what she wanted but only that his heart started up a steady drum beat in response to the intensity of her gaze.

"Countess Del'oro?" A woman's voice from the workshop.

The young woman looked around and the King's sister, Princess Alliane stepped into view. She was dressed in riding attire that played down her royal status; brown leggings and a green jerkin. She clapped her hands together in barely concealed exuberance. "Come and see these weapons. There is sure to be one for you here." The Countess glanced back at Allan, a smile twitching at the corner of her mouth. Her eyes darted towards Allan's left hand and he turned his back enough to hide the ugly stump of his little finger. But not before she had seen it and judged him. She whirled around and strode back into the workshop.

Allan drew the steel from the heat and laid it aside to normalise. It was a fine piece of work, one that would earn the reputation of a Jael sword. Wielding a hammer had become more difficult for his father in latter years, but Allan was proud to maintain the legacy on his behalf.

There was a clash of steel on steel and voices rose in alarm from the other room. Allan watched the scene from the shadows of the forge. Princess Alliane was wielding her sword against the Countess, who stumbled backward raising a clumsy two-handed broad sword. The King looked on with an amused expression on his face. Allan had often wondered at the regularity of the King's visits to the smithy. Perhaps he still felt there was a debt to be paid for the sword that had forged his reputation. The King's eyes flicked over to the forge where Allan stood. Allan willed himself to blend into the background. But it was almost as though the King saw beyond the apparent, his reach seeking Allan's presence and urging him forth. Allan sank back further into the shadows.

He still had a good view of the Countess, who had given up on the broad sword and picked a one-handed long sword from the display. She began to cut the air in front of her with long slow arcs, testing the weight and feel of the weapon. She was clearly no novice to the art of swordplay, despite her initial choice of weapon. Alliane responded to the advancing Countess with measured caution. The cut and thrust of the Countess's strikes pushed the Princess back towards the forge, and every time the Princess moved forward, the Countess leaned into the attack, further cutting down her distance. Allan was all but ready to catch the Princess as she came two steps away from tumbling into his space. Then she found her feet and started to parry and hold off the Countess with just enough finesse not to lose face in front of the King and company. The Countess was no novice indeed.

Jael was flapping his arms on the periphery conflicted between the need for safety and interrupting this royal game.

"Ladies, your Majesty… please. We do have a practice yard. My son, Allan, will show you a veritable assortment of swords to choose from. Allan," he called into the forge. Allan stepped into view. The Countess dropped her guard and continued to swish the blade experimentally to and fro while the Princess sheathed her own sword.

"Well," Princess Alliane said. "Perhaps your son might be good enough to provide the Countess with more of a challenge." The King was laughing.

"You give up far too easily, Ally," he said. "Just because a young woman took you by surprise." Alliane scoffed as though it meant nothing to her, to be disgraced by a girl nearly half her age.

Allan was staring at the Countess, who was testing the weight of the sword, transferring it from one hand to the other.

"Not bad," she said to no one in particular, "but it's still not quite right." She spoke in Etanese, the most widely-spread language of the Western Isles, but with a Langan accent, native to the Southern Lands. It gave her voice a hypnotic lilt.

Silently, he chose a selection of swords from the display, and then exited by a side door into the yard without waiting to see if anyone followed. He strode to the far end of the yard, kicking up a dust storm. The sun beat down with relentless heat, giving him no respite from the sweaty oven of the forge. He set the swords down on the wooden rack. They would soon see which design best suited the Countess and her unique brand of swordsmanship. He wondered where she had learnt to lean into the attack like that. It was a move not many seasoned warriors would have the confidence to pull off and she applied it with the ease of someone born on the battlefield. There were only two others he had ever seen fight like that: The Queen of Carentan, Jehanna Mantar and her twin brother, the King's Chief of Staff, Jehan. They were renowned for their fighting skill, particularly for delivering deathly blows from horseback.

Allan lifted the eastern scimitar. He gripped its hilt and walked through a few patterns, slicing thin air and stirring a breeze in the still heat of midday. His parents had insisted on his training in the art of swordsmanship. After all, how could he hope to forge the perfect weapon without first knowing how to wield it? The scimitar was a single-edged blade that tapered to a point with a slight curve on the end. With such a weapon, you could apply cutting and thrusting techniques with equally devastating effect. Perfect for fighting from a mount.

As he turned and levelled the blade in front of his body, his eye caught movement to his left. He turned his back to the entrance, making a play of exchanging weapons, but not before he had seen the Countess speaking to his mother. Was it his imagination, or did they already know each other? How he wished to be invisible. Better still, a pesky fly, unseen to the unsuspecting human eye.

He laid the scimitar aside and lifted the bastard sword, one that could be used equally well as a one-handed or two-handed weapon. He suspected the Countess was more comfortable with a one-handed sword, but it wouldn't hurt to try all options. If she were looking for a balance between the broad sword and the long sword, the bastard sword could be just that. He felt its weight and wondered about the conversation going on behind his back.

Returning the sword to the rack, he finally lifted the third sword he had picked. The hand-and-a-half sword. This one was a beautiful balance between the two-handed and one-handed preference. It had a cruciform hilt that was leather coated with a cord wrap. Its blade had a flattened diamond-section, giving it perfect precision as Allan weighed the weapon in his grip. He felt certain he could fashion a perfect blade for the Countess based on one of those.

"Good selection." She peered over his shoulder at the choice of blades. He put the sword back and turned, finding himself face to face with those piercing azure eyes. Without a thought, he pulled the string that kept his own hair from his face and offered it to her.

"You might be needing this," he said. Her eyes twinkled with mischief as she nodded without dropping her gaze, then turned her back.

"Perhaps you would be so kind?"