CHAPTER 1: THE ARTIST
“I am looking for Morgant the Razor,” said Caina Amalas.
The poet standing on the dais regarded her in silence.
The coffee house around them was definitely not silent. It was early evening, the time the merchants of Istarinmul preferred to drink coffee and discuss the gossip of the day, and the House of Agabyzus was the most popular coffee house in the Cyrican Quarter. Booths lined the walls, and low tables ringed with cushions filled the floor. Patrons sat at every booth and table. Damla’s maids moved through the crowd, serving coffee and cakes, Damla’s sons Bayram and Bahad among them. Bayram had a steady head for numbers, and Bahad was a skilled cook. Damla hoped Bayram would one day take over the business of the House of Agabyzus, while Bahad managed the kitchens and the workers.
If Caina had not rescued the boys from the clutches of the Master Slaver Ulvan a year and a half past, none of that would have been possible.
It still might not, if Grand Master Callatas finished his Apotheosis.
The man sitting at the foot of the dais scowled at Caina. He had the thick arms of a blacksmith, the broad shoulders of a soldier, the callused hands of a swordsman, and a grimace that promised death to anyone or anything that threatened his employer. “You should not question the poet before his recitation. You…”
Sulaman raised a hand. “Peace, Mazyan.”
The poet wore only a simple brown robe and white turban, his black beard close-cropped and speckled with gray. Caina had never been able to figure out his age. He could have been anywhere from thirty-five to sixty. She knew nothing about him, save that he apparently had some arcane ability to foretell the future.
He had helped her, more than once, and his counsel had proven sound.
Mazyan subsided. “As you say.”
“Speak to me after the recitation,” said Sulaman in his quiet voice.
Caina nodded and sat at one of the tables. She was employing a new disguise today, that of a man named Duncan of Caer Marist, a factor for a noble of the Caerish provinces. Caina did not dare use any of her previous disguises. The bounty upon her head had risen to an astronomical two million bezants, and that was just the bounty offered by Grand Wazir Erghulan Amirasku. Cassander Nilas, the magus who served as the Umbarian Order’s ambassador to the Padishah, knew who she really was. He had come to secure the Padishah’s alliance against the Empire, and if he placed Caina’s head before the Grand Wazir, that would go a long way to winning the Padishah’s goodwill.
It was odd that the bounty notices on the Balarigar’s head had not changed. Cassander knew that she was a woman, and in all likelihood had a good physical description of her. Caina had been there when Cassander had shared that information with Erghulan, yet the official bounty notices had not been updated. Perhaps Cassander hoped to capture her himself.
That meant Caina had to take extreme caution. So she discarded all of her previous aliases and disguises and created new ones. For Duncan of Caer Marist, she dressed in the trousers, shirt, boots, and outer robe favored by Imperial merchants, complete with a beret adorned with a silver badge. The robe was too warm for the hot sun of Istarinmul’s dry lands, but it offered ample concealment for weapons. She also wore a long red wig, the hair tied into a tail, and a false red beard. Makeup beneath her eyes and upon her forehead added a few decades to her face.
Hopefully that would throw off any hunters.
She sat at the table and played dice with the merchants, losing a little money and listening to their conversation. The markets of Istarinmul were unsettled, and Caina herself had done a great deal of the unsettling. The Balarigar had terrorized the Brotherhood of Slavers, and consequently the price of slaves had quadrupled. Raiders from the Kaltari Highlands had been attacking the caravans of the Brotherhood of Slavers, driving slave prices even higher. The emirs and Istarish nobles of the Vale of Fallen Stars, led by Tanzir Shahan, had grown more critical of the Grand Wazir and the Padishah, and some whispers spoke of revolt. The civil war between the Umbarian Order and the Empire had disrupted trade on the Alqaarin Sea, and the Kyracians in the Cyrican Sea charged higher and higher prices for shipping. A new freeborn gladiator was creating a stir, defeating champion after champion and raking in prize after prize. Most of Istarinmul’s gladiators were slaves, but freeborn men sometimes entered the arena in hopes of winning glory and fortune. Some did. Most did not, and a few died in the process.
None of the merchants spoke about the main danger to Istarinmul. From time to time Caina heard a joke about the wraithblood addicts. Caina doubted they would believe that Grand Master Callatas manufactured wraithblood and distributed it for free.
She didn’t know why, not yet. But she knew Callatas needed wraithblood to finish his mysterious Apotheosis. She knew he needed the lost Seal and Staff of Iramis, once part of the royal regalia of the Princes of Iramis, to work his terrible spell. No one knew what had happened to the relics.
Morgant the Razor, though, might have known, even though the legendary assassin had likely died a century and a half ago. If Caina learned what had happened to him, she might have a chance of finding the Staff and Seal before Callatas did.
If she did, perhaps Bayram and Bahad would live to inherit their mother’s business.
Caina waited for Sulaman’s recitation to start.
Later in the evening, Sulaman finished an epic of Istarr and the seven Demon Princes of old, the nagataaru-possessed sorcerers who had ruled the lands of Istarinmul until Istarr had defeated them. The Istarish loved their epic poems, their gloomy tales of war and struggle and defeat. Perhaps that explained why they enjoyed gladiatorial games so much.
After the applause finished, the merchants crossed to the dais. Mazyan produced a bowl, and the merchants dropped silver and copper coins. Caina even saw a few golden bezants in the mix. Sulaman always did well, but he was a gifted poet. Sometimes when he recited Caina could almost see the battlefields and hear the battle in the rhythm of his words.
She waited until the crowd had thinned and approached. Mazyan scowled at her, but Sulaman regarded her with his deep, dark eyes.
“Walk with me for a moment,” said Sulaman. “Let us discuss the affairs of the day.”
Caina nodded, and followed Sulaman and Mazyan into the night.
The Cyrican Bazaar was quiet, the booths and shops closed for the night. The stars shone overhead like jewels flung against a black blanket, and in the distance Caina saw the lights of the Padishah’s Golden Palace and the College of Alchemists. Sulaman walked into the empty space of the Bazaar, and Caina and Mazyan followed. They were alone in the Bazaar, and Sulaman stood in silence, his head bowed.
“You seek a secret,” he said at last.
“I do,” said Caina. “Morgant the Razor.”
“He was a man of blood and violence,” said Sulaman. “Why do you seek him?”
“Because I, too, have learned a secret,” said Caina.
A faint smile went over the poet’s face. “We all have our secrets, Duncan of Caer Marist.” He put a bit of emphasis upon her false name.
“We do,” said Caina, remembering what Nasser had told her. “Our secrets protect us.”
“Tell me why you seek Morgant the Razor,” said Sulaman, “without betraying your secrets.”
“You know that Callatas plans to work a great evil,” said Caina. “He needs relics of great power to work his spell. He has been seeking them for decades. I think Morgant knew what happened to them. If I can learn his fate, perhaps I can learn the fate of the relics…”
“The royal regalia of Iramis,” said Sulaman, nodding as if a suspicion had just been confirmed “The Staff and Seal.”
“That knowledge is worth your life,” said Caina. “Callatas would not hesitate to kill both of you if he learns of it.”
“I know,” said Sulaman. “Though it hardly matters at this point. Callatas already wishes me dead for several reasons. One or two more will not make much difference.”
“This might,” said Caina. “Those relics…without them he cannot achieve his goal. You know what he did to Iramis when its Prince opposed him. He won’t hesitate to do the same to anyone who challenges him.”
“Like you?” said Sulaman.
“Like me,” said Caina. “But Callatas already has his own reasons for wanting me dead.” Mazyan let out a little snort. “As you said, one more won’t make much difference.”
“I doubt neither your courage nor your ability,” said Sulaman. “But I doubt your ability to survive.”
“Everyone dies,” said Caina.
“Everyone does,” said Sulaman. “Some sooner than others, I fear. If you continue on this path, if you seek Morgant the Razor, it will almost certainly lead to your death.”
“I know,” said Caina, looking at the House of Agabyzus. “But my own life means little. Not when there are so many other lives at stake. If I can stop Callatas and his plans…it is worth the risk.”
Sulaman was silent for a long moment, his head bowed again. A faint prickle of arcane power washed over Caina’s skin, and she suppressed a shiver. Sulaman was not a sorcerer, but he nonetheless possessed the power to see glimpses of the future.
“Perhaps,” said Sulaman. His dark eyes turned to her. “I thought you would die when Callatas sent his servant to slay you.”
“The Red Huntress,” said Caina.
“Your death seemed certain and imminent,” said Sulaman. “Callatas has sent his creature to slay many innocent men and women, and few ever escaped her blade. Yet you have. Perhaps that means you will survive what I am about to tell you.”
“Then you will tell me?” said Caina.
“Two secrets I can tell you,” said Sulaman. “Do you know the artist Markaine of Caer Marist?”
Caina frowned, thinking. “Yes. That’s…he painted the mural in the Tarshahzon Gardens, didn’t he? The one showing the Fall of Iramis?” The mural had been a masterwork, terrifying in its dark power. Caina had almost felt the fear and terror the people of Iramis must have experienced when Callatas used the Star to burn their city to ashes.
“The same,” said Sulaman. “You must speak to him.”
“Surely Markaine has been dead for years?” said Caina.
“He still lives,” said Sulaman.
“Truly?” said Caina. “I saw that mural in the Tarshahzon Gardens. It looked as if an eyewitness painted it.” She had seen the destruction of Iramis in her dreams, shown to her by the djinni Samnirdamnus, the Knight of Wind and Air. The mural had matched what she had seen, and she assumed Markaine had been an eyewitness, which meant that he must have died decades ago.
“That,” said Sulaman, “is something you shall have to discuss with him. His home is in the Cyrican Quarter, not far from here, on the street of the metalworkers.” Caina blinked. That was not far from Nerina Strake’s workshop, and Caina often went there. Had the answer truly been under her nose the entire time?
“Markaine knows where Morgant is?” said Caina. “Or what happened to him?”
“I believe so,” said Sulaman. Mazyan snorted, his eyes scanning the darkness around them. “Speak with him, and he will put you upon the path you must walk.”
“You said you had two secrets to tell me,” said Caina. “What is the second?”
“Fire,” said Sulaman, his voice soft.
“Fire?” said Caina.
“I looked into your future and I saw fire,” said Sulaman.
She remembered the gauntlet upon Cassander Nilas’s right hand, the gauntlet that let him wield pyromantic sorcery without suffering any ill effects. Was that her fate? To die under Cassander’s spells?
“What kind of fire?” said Caina.
“Killing fire,” said Sulaman, “and healing fire.”
“Healing fire?” said Caina. “That doesn’t make any sense. What kind of fire heals?”
She had seen healing fire in the past, hadn’t she? The Alchemist Ibrahmus Sinan had blazed with it as he drank an unfinished vial of Elixir Rejuvenata, healing the mortal wound that Muravin had dealt him. Of course, that vial of Elixir had been incomplete, and it had twisted the Alchemist into a ravening monster.
“I don’t understand,” said Caina.
“Neither do I,” said Sulaman. “My visions of the future are unclear and ambiguous. Yet I see burning men in your future. Fire awaits you, and it may consume you. I fear that is all I can tell you.”
Caina bit back a frustrated response. Someday, she knew, she would find a way to get a straight answer out of Sulaman. Still, she could not blame Sulaman for protecting his secrets, not when she had so many secrets of her own. And he had given her a name she could use. Perhaps Markaine would know more.
“Thank you,” said Caina at last.
“May the Living Flame watch over you,” said Sulaman.
Caina raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t you just say that you saw fire in my future?” Mazyan scowled at that.
Sulaman’s smile was sad. “Let us hope that was it.”
The next morning Caina walked to the Ring of Cyrica.
She had found Markaine’s house in short order, expecting a mansion guarded by armed mercenaries. Instead it had been an average house, little larger than Nerina Strake’s workshop. It wasn’t quite falling into ruin, but it was going to need maintenance soon.
Caina had walked past it dozens of times and had never seen anything remarkable about it. She felt a flicker of annoyance at that. Perhaps Markaine of Caer Marist was skilled at keeping a low profile and hiding in plain sight. Caina herself had done so for nearly a year and a half, and there was no reason Markaine could not as well.
The artist had not been at home. An elderly freeborn maid had answered Caina’s knock, and said that Markaine had gone to the Ring of Cyrica to watch the games. Peering over the old woman’s shoulder, Caina had seen an artist’s workshop, tables with brushes and canvases. There had been nothing valuable in sight.
So Caina had gone to the Ring of Cyrica, still disguised as Duncan of Caer Marist.
The Ring was a mid-sized arena, large enough to seat about ten thousand spectators. The merchants and craftsmen of the Cyrican Quarter came here to watch the games, along with foreign merchants visiting from other lands. There were dozens of fighting pits in Istarinmul, ranging from grungy cellars that held a few dozen to the massive Arena of Padishahs, capable of seating fifty thousand in comfort. The Istarish loved gladiatorial games, and both slave and free and rich and poor and noble and commoner gathered to watch men and wild beasts struggle and die upon the sands. More than a few of the poems Sulaman recited were tales of gladiators, of noblemen forced to fight disguised into the arena to avenge a murdered lover.
Caina bought a ticket from a surly slave in a gray tunic and made her way into the tiers of seats. They were only about half-full, but the morning bouts rarely attracted as many as those in the afternoon. Evening matches were only held during festivals or when the Padishah or a noble wished to put on a show. Lighting the arena at night was expensive.
The maid had been willing to tell Caina where Markaine would be seated, so she made her way down the sloping aisles, closer to the broad, sand-floored oval pit at the center of the Ring. Most the spectators at this time of day were idle laborers or Istarish citizens who received a ration from the Wazir of Grain, and they ignored her as she passed, watching as two teams of five men each fought each other upon the sands. One team wore spiked helmets and fought with scimitars and round shields, while the second bore the helmets of Imperial Legionaries and fought with the massive rectangular shields and broadswords of the Legions. The gladiators had no other armor, and wore only sandals and loincloths. Some of the men were massive and heavily muscled, their blows powerful but slow, while others were leaner but quicker. The men gleamed with the sweat of battle, and a steady cheer rose from the crowds.
Caina watched them for a moment, admiring the play of muscles beneath their skin, the skill they showed at fighting. The gladiators knew their business, and both teams fought as a coordinated group. Likely the match would end in a draw…
She felt a flicker of shame and looked away. Caina had learned something about herself since coming to Istarinmul, something she did not like.
She often found gladiators attractive.
She shouldn’t. Slavery was a blight upon the world, and she had devoted vast time and energy to terrorizing the Brotherhood of Slavers. She had done it to cut off Callatas’s supply of slaves to murder for creating wraithblood, true, but part of it had been her hatred of slavers. Istarish slavers had helped Maglarion kill her father, and while Caina’s contempt of sorcery had cooled enough that she was willing to work with and even befriend a woman like Claudia Aberon Dorius, her hatred of slavers had never wavered. Every one of those men fighting below had been sold into slavery, had been purchased by the Wazir of Games and ordered to fight. It was a hideous injustice.
Yet she could not deny that she enjoyed watching them.
It shouldn’t surprise her. Corvalis had been a hard man, an assassin and a killer, trained by his father to become a remorseless weapon. He had been a good man and Caina loved him with all her heart, yet she had nonetheless been attracted to his cold strength, even excited by it.
She put the entire notion out of her head. There was work before her, and neither idly daydreaming about gladiators like a foolish child or reminiscing over Corvalis would accomplish it. Corvalis would have laughed at her, had she known.
She located the correct row of seats, and soon found Markaine of Caer Marist.
He was not hard to spot.
The painter was in his middle fifties, thin to the point of looking almost withered, with pale blue eyes and close-cropped gray hair. He was oddly pale, his skin almost translucent, and despite sitting in the open sun he showed no sign of a sunburn. His costume was peculiar as well. He wore dusty black boots, black trousers, a crisp, brilliant white shirt, and a long black coat that hung to his knees. The coat was far too heavy for the sun, yet Markaine was not sweating. If anything, he looked slightly chilly. A black cane with a worn bronze handle rested on the stone bench next to him. Upon his right leg he held a notebook open, and Caina saw him sketching the gladiators with a small pencil, the tip rasping against the paper. There was no one near him, and his seat was further back than she would have expected. Perhaps he could not afford any better.
Caina stepped towards him.
“No,” said Markaine. He had a thick Caerish accent. Caeria Ulterior, from the sounds of it, highlighting his words with a burr.
“I’m sorry?” said Caina.
“Whatever you are about to ask me,” said Markaine, not looking up from his notebook, “the answer is no. I have no interest in creating a painting, a mural, a fresco, or any other artwork for you or your employer. No sum of money shall change my mind.”
“I’m not here for a commission,” said Caina.
“Of course you’re not,” said Markaine. “I’m sure instead you’re here to socialize. The civil war in the Empire might affect trade. Or it might not. Hmm, let’s all stroke our beards and nod and pretend like we can see the future.” His free hand fluttered at her. “Off you go.”
Suddenly Markaine’s relative poverty made a great deal more sense.
Caina nodded, climbed over the stone seat, and stepped into the row behind Markaine. She made sure to stand so her shadow fell upon Markaine’s notebook, blocking his light. The painter looked up, blinking, and scowled at her.
“Really,” he said. “That’s very petty.”
“As I said, I’m not here to commission a portrait,” said Caina. “I would like to discuss another one of your works.”
Markaine sighed and then stared at her. Caina met his pale gaze without blinking, though the sensation made her uncomfortable. His eyes had a heaviness to them, a strange weight, and she suddenly felt as if her disguise was inadequate. For a moment she was sure that Markaine recognized her, yet she had never seen him before. Had he somehow realized that she was the Balarigar? That seemed most improbable, and yet…
“On the other hand,” said Markaine, sliding to the side, “I’m told socializing is good for the digestion. And you seem like a very interesting young fellow. Have a seat. What did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t,” said Caina, sitting next to him.
“Oh, of course not. It must have slipped my mind,” said Markaine. “I’m getting older, you know. Anyway. Who the hell are you?”
“Duncan of Caer Marist, a factor for Lord Quintus of House Camwallen, a noble house of Caeria Ulterior,” said Caina. Lord Quintus was in fact a minor noble with lands in Caeria Ulterior, though she had never met him, and she doubted that he had ever left Caeria Ulterior.
For some reason that answer amused him. “I’m sure you are. So.” He clapped his notebook shut, tucked it into a pocket of his roomy coat, and stared at her. “Why does a factor for a minor Caerish lord wish to speak with me?”
“My lord is a student of Istarish history,” said Caina.
“Poor fool. Is life really that boring in Caeria Ulterior?”
“He heard rumor of your work, and since I had business in Istarinmul anyway, he commanded me to seek you out and ask questions,” said Caina. “I can pay for your time, if you will…”
A roar from the crowd drowned out her words. The gladiators dressed as Istarish soldiers had prevailed over their opponents. None of the gladiators had been killed – for all the barbarity of the games, gladiators were expensive, and matches to the death were uncommon. Several of the Legionary gladiators had taken wounds, and gray-clad slaves hurried onto the sands, helping the wounded men into the galleries below the Ring while the victors raised their scimitars in triumph.
“You were saying?” said Markaine.
“I can pay you for your time,” said Caina. “My lord Quintus has provided a purse for that purpose.”
“What interests his lordship?” said Markaine. “I imagine Istarish art is quite the rage among Caerish lords. It’s probably all they ever discuss.” There was a hint of mockery in his tone.
“Specifically, he is interested in the great mural in the Tarshahzon Gardens,” said Caina. “The Fall of Iramis.” Slaves with rakes ran across the sand of the fighting pit, sweeping it clean for the next combatants.
Again Markaine seemed amused.
“Ah,” he said. “That would explain it, wouldn’t it? The Fall of Iramis. Such a tragic tale. The sort of tale that inspires bad poetry and worse paintings.”
“Then you do not like your own mural?” said Caina.
Markaine laughed. “I like it just fine. Callatas never finished paying me for it, you know, the cheap bastard.” He made a chopping gesture. “No doubt he can use his power to transmute lead into gold, but he could never be bothered to finish paying me. I certainly cannot bring a lawsuit against him. What hakim or wazir would rule against the Grand Master of the Alchemists?”
“Given the topic of the mural,” said Caina, “I can see why the magistrates would be weary of challenging a man who killed a quarter of a million people in a day.”
“All that power, and he still can’t pay me on time,” muttered Markaine.
“The mural is so detailed it almost seems like an eyewitness account,” said Caina.
Markaine raised his gray eyebrows in surprise, and a voice boomed over the arena.
“Citizens of Istarinmul!” said the speaker, a herald standing in the magistrate’s box overlooking the pit. “For your entertainment, our most noble Grand Wazir, Erghulan Amirasku, has commanded that gladiatorial games be held in the Ring of Cyrica. A seasoned champion has been brought to try his valor and his steel against an upstart! Behold the Red Fisherman, winner of a hundred duels and a champion of the Arena of Padishahs!”
The crowds roared their approval, and a man with his face concealed behind a red helmet strode upon the sands. He wore a leather kilt and a gleaming steel cuirass, and in his right hand he carried a crimson trident, its barbed points gleaming, and a weighted net in his left hand. The straps of a pair of baldrics formed an X across his cuirass, and a pair of short swords waited in scabbards upon his back.
“To challenge him,” thundered the herald, “a new man, a rising fighter among the ranks of Istarinmul’s gladiators! A freeborn man, who in a display of valor has voluntarily entered the games. A man of mystery, known only as the Exile!”
A second man strode into the oval, and Caina felt her eye drawn toward him. He was shorter than the towering Red Fisherman, but well-muscled nonetheless. The Exile walked with the precise, steady grace and economical movements of a master swordsman. He wore a simple masked helm, a loincloth, sandals, and nothing else. In his right hand he carried a broadsword, and bore no other weapons. The Red Fisherman was larger and likely stronger, and better armed and armored to boot, but the Exile looked dangerous. Caina was not sure who would win.
The fighters saluted each other, and then the magistrate’s box.
“Begin!” roared the herald, and the crowds shouted their approval as the Exile and the Red Fisherman began to circle each other.
“Now,” said Markaine, once the crowds had quieted and they could hear each other again, “you were saying?”
Caina turned her eyes from the duel below. “The Fall of Iramis. The painting is so detailed that my lord wondered if you were an eyewitness to the disaster.”
“I was,” said Markaine.
Caina blinked in surprise.
“I stood on the hills west of Iramis and watched as Grand Master Callatas raised the Star of Iramis,” said Markaine, taking a stentorian tone. “I watched as he called upon its power. I heard the screams as Iramis died, and the stench of its burning filled my nostrils. The sky itself writhed in the power Callatas unleashed, and I watched as the fields of Iramis turned into the Desert of Candles.”
“Truly?” said Caina.
“Of course not, you idiot,” said Markaine. “That was a hundred and fifty years ago.”
“One hundred and fifty one,” said Caina.
“Yes, the extra year makes such a difference,” said Markaine. The Red Fisherman and the Exile exchanged a flurry of blows. The bigger man caught the blows of the Exile’s sword upon the tines of his trident, but the Exile was fast enough to avoid the Fisherman’s net. “Your lord wants to know how I made the mural accurate? I read books about Iramis. People do that sometimes, you know. I also talked to Callatas repeatedly. He was very keen that the painting be accurate. Apparently he enjoys frightening people.”
“I’ve heard that,” said Caina. She had also seen it firsthand.
The Red Fisherman drove his trident forward, and the Exile’s sword whipped around in a two-handed block, catching it an inch from his chest. Had he not blocked it, the blow would have speared him like a potato upon a fork. Gladiators rarely fought to the death, but accidents happened…and a slave like the Red Fisherman would show no hesitation about killing a freeborn man like the Exile.
“An eyewitness, though?” said Markaine. “Does Lord Quintus have a skull of solid bone? Or a brain made of pudding?” He smirked, showing his teeth. “Or do you think I look old enough to have seen Iramis burn? Do I look a hundred and fifty years old? That’s rather insulting, you know.”
“No,” said Caina. He was testing her, she realized. Trying to see how she reacted. “No, you don’t look old enough to have seen Iramis burn.”
“Thank you,” said Markaine.
“You look old enough to have seen ancient Maat burn.”
Markaine blinked, and then snorted. “Clever. I always appreciate a woman who understands history.”
Caina felt a flicker of alarm. “What did you say?
“I always appreciate a man who understands history,” said Markaine. He tilted his head to the side. “Why? Did I say something else? I might have, you know. I am an old man and so easily confused.”
Caina said nothing. He had called her a woman, she was sure of it. Did he realize that she was a woman? She had thought he recognized her. Sulaman had sent her here. Perhaps Sulaman had finally decided to betray her.
Yet Markaine made no threatening movements. As far as she could see, he wasn’t even armed, not counting the brass-handled cane.
The Exile landed a hit upon the Red Fisherman’s right thigh, drawing a line of blood. The bigger man reeled back with a grunt of fury, and the Exile went on the offensive, his broadsword blurring and flickering. His attacks were designed to force the Red Fisherman back upon his injured leg.
“Well?” said Markaine. “What else do you want to know?” He reached for his cane and tapped it against the floor. “I am so enjoying this conversation.”
“My lord Quintus has a great interest in Istarish history,” said Caina, “and wanted to learn more about it. Specifically, he wanted to know if you knew anything of the assassin called Morgant the Razor.”
Markaine barked a laugh. “Morgant? Truly? Your lord has a peculiar taste in myths.”
“Why do you say that?” said Caina. The Exile landed another hit upon the Red Fisherman, and the crowd’s roar grew louder.
“Morgant the Razor never existed,” said Markaine. “A legendary assassin who killed the magus-emperor of Nighmar? And five separate Istarish emirs? And the last of the Istarish loremasters?” He snorted. “They ought to have claimed he rode a chimaera into battle while simultaneously making love to the three most beautiful princesses in the world. That would have been more entertaining.”
“Implausible, though,” said Caina.
“Mmm,” said Markaine. “Well. I know a bit about Istarish history. What does Lord Quintus want to know about the myth of Morgant?”
Caina opened her mouth to answer, and a roar came from the crowd. The Exile sidestepped, his sword a steely blur, and suddenly the Red Fisherman was upon his back, clutching his wounded leg with both hands. The Exile’s broadsword came to rest upon the Red Fisherman’s throat, and the wounded gladiator raised his hands in surrender.
The spectators screamed for mercy, and the Exile stepped back, raising his broadsword. He turned in a circle, sword raised in triumph, and Caina found herself taking a closer look at him. There were deep scars upon the left side of his chest and leg. Another part of her noted the hard musculature of his body with appreciation, and she pushed that part of her mind away with annoyance.
“The victor, citizens of Istarinmul!” boomed the herald. “The Exile!”
The crowd roared in approval, rising to their feet as they applauded. Markaine gripped his cane and hauled himself to his feet, and Caina followed suit. The Exile turned in a circle once more while the slaves carried away the wounded Red Fisherman. One of the slaves came forward with an amphora of water, and the Exile pulled off his helm.
Caina saw his face, and a bolt of shock went through her.
She knew the Exile. She knew him very well…