Dethan got up and was moving around again after only a short time. Keeping still had never sat well with him. The worst of the bleeding was done with, so he changed his bandages once more himself before heading downstairs. It had been much easier when Selinda had been there to wind the fabric around him, and far more pleasant.
He put thoughts of her aside as best he could. It seemed she had taken up permanent residence there, in his head. He went to the city guard barracks, which were also acting as a temporary headquarters for the army. That would have to change, and it was on his immediate list of things to accomplish. When he arrived, Kyran was there with a phalanx of men. His new commanders. He had gotten to know a few of them, but the rest Kyran had picked out over the past day. He had been forced to trust Kyran in this since he had no idea what he was dealing with. But he would. The mettle of these men would become apparent very quickly and he would know whether or not they were suited to battle as well as to leadership.
“General Dethan,” Kyran said upon seeing him, his entire face lighting up as though with utter excitement. “I think I have found the site we need for raising the barracks. It serves twofold,” Kyran said, drawing a plan of the city and showing it to Dethan. “It’s just on the fringes of the fairgrounds. There’s wide-open space to be had and it’s close to the center of the city, putting us between the wall and the fortress.”
“A good choice,” Dethan agreed. “You said twofold?”
“Yes. There’s a line of vacant buildings just here”—he pointed them out—“that can act as headquarters.”
“Good. We need a place secluded from this one to plan.” Dethan looked at the fringes of the gathering, where guards were trying to hear what they were saying, some of them trying to glean that information for Grannish. He had no doubt that the jenden would pay well for such information. “What about training grounds?”
“Well, the fairgrounds themselves. They remain empty except during the winter festival and the summer fair. It’s a waste of space otherwise. Surely we can use it at all other times and then just make way for the festival and the fair when the time comes.”
“Perfect. Absolutely perfect. Well done, Kyran.” Dethan clapped the man on the back. “You see? I was right in drafting you. You know far more about the comings and goings of this city than I do. But I promise you I am learning fast.”
He had no choice but to learn fast. He needed a foothold here if he was going to make any progress. And he needed to win the hearts of his men if he was going to succeed in this endeavor.
He must succeed. Selinda’s very life and future depended on it and he would not let her down. He would just need to be clever about it. Cleverer than the jenden of Hexis.
“We will rout the Redoe once and for all,” he spoke up loudly. The men reacted with approval. “We will teach them they cannot take your farmlands any longer.” The approving sounds turned into heavy grunts of agreement. “We will show them the strong arm of Hexis and they will never come to our doorstep again!”
The entire room erupted in cheers. The men at the table banged their fists upon it.
“Come, Kyran,” Dethan said, drawing the man close and speaking softly in his ear. “I need you to take me to the best black market runner you have in this city.”
Kyran nodded. “That would be One-Eyed Jyo. He’s not likely to speak with you … even if you could catch him. He’s sort of the king of the lower swells—the poorest part of the city. He runs the black market and looks after the place with a gang of thugs. He strong-arms protection money out of the merchants in the bartering square, our commerce district. Of course in the end he’s protecting them from himself.”
“And the city guard does nothing?” Dethan asked with a frown. Then he rethought the query. “Let me guess. The jenden gets a cut of One-Eyed Jyo’s profits, so the guard is instructed to leave him be.”
“Aye, something like that. The jenden is the richest man in the city for a reason. Some say he’s even richer than the grand.”
“Very well. Take me to this man.”
“He won’t talk to you,” Kyran insisted.
“That may be, but Tonkin said you wouldn’t talk to me either,” Dethan said, giving the man a grin.
That made Kyran chuckle. “True. You do have a way with words. And you get the men on your side. I’ll take you to the lower swells. We’ll see how close we can get to Jyo.”
“Those are lookouts,” Kyran said, pointing out the group of men sitting in a circle around a table, upon which sat a game that two of the men were heavily engaged in.
“We’ll start there, then.”
Dethan walked up to the men directly.
“I want to see One-Eyed Jyo,” he said flatly. The men looked at him in surprise and then as if he’d gone mad.
“Lolly and I want to see the grand of Hexis, but neither of us is likely to get what we want.”
“I can take you to the grand. Can you say the same?”
“Oya, Lolly, get your mind around this one,” the man said to his gaming companion with a coarse laugh. “He’s going to take me to see the grand.”
“Get on with you,” Lolly warned, getting to his feet. He moved aside his vest, just enough to flash the dagger at his side. A clear warning.
“You’re going to take me to see Jyo,” Dethan said quietly, “or I’m going to kill all but one of you and then let that one lead me to Jyo. The first way you all get to live. The second way … well … Who would like to volunteer for being the survivor?”
The men shifted nervously, laughing to try to cover up their sudden uncertainty. They didn’t quite know what to make of Dethan or his threats. They were used to being the ones who did the threatening. They each sized Dethan up, trying to figure out if he could make good on his threats. In the end, they decided there was strength in numbers and gained courage from the idea.
“Get him, Lolly!” the first man ordered. The other men moved too. The whole lot of them—six in total—swarmed around Dethan and Kyran.
Dethan had learned his lesson from the assassin. He had since armed himself and would wear his weapons from that day forward. He had the daggers he had taken off the assassin and his god-made sword, which luckily he had retrieved his first day in the fortress. He knew if he pulled out the sword he could cleave through these men in a matter of seconds, but he chose the more up-close-and-personal daggers. They would, he thought, make far more of the impression he was looking for. He pulled one dagger and in an instant had jumped on one of the men, the weapon flashing in and out of his chest between heartbeats. The man dropped like a stone, shock clearly written on his face. But Dethan took no note of it. He was moving to his next target, grabbing him by the hair and slicing the man’s neck open on the right side. Flesh parted and blood spurted forth.
He took a moment to check on Kyran. After all, he had yet to see the man in any kind of action. But he saw Kyran move like lightning as he elbowed one man in the face hard enough to smash his nose, an immediate spray of blood jetting forward as the man cried out and fell back. Then Kyran pulled his weapon—a short axe that had been tethered to his belt with a quick-release knot. In a mighty feat of strength and with a roar of power, Kyran planted the axe blade deep in the forehead of the next man.
Dethan took his third with just as much ease as the first in spite of his enormous build. The failing of men that big was that they thought their size made them strong enough to do anything, defeat anyone. Dethan kicked the man in the gut, making him double over, then cracked him in the jaw with the hilt of the dagger. The man hit the ground like a huge stone, and that was when Dethan made his killing blow, a dagger right through the man’s spine at the back of his neck. When Dethan looked up, there was only one man standing. The man whom he had spoken with initially. His eyes were wide with shock and fear and he was literally shaking in his boots. Kyran jumped on the man, grabbing him by his hair and holding the wicked-sharp blade of his axe to his throat.
“It looks like you’re the winner,” Kyran ground out. Then to Dethan he said, “Are you sure we can’t kill him? He probably doesn’t even know where Jyo is.”
“No! I-I do! I know exactly where he is!” the man insisted in a panic. “I can take you to him right away!”
“Now see, why couldn’t you have done that in the first place?” Dethan asked mildly. “It would have saved so many lives.”
“I’m sorry. We’re under orders not to let anyone get close to Jyo. I-I had no choice!”
“There’s always a choice,” Kyran said darkly.
“W-who are you guys?” the man asked shakily.
“That’s not important to you. The only thing important to you right now is taking us to Jyo and then figuring out a reason why we shouldn’t kill you afterward,” Kyran said.
“Now, Kyran. That’s not very friendly,” Dethan scolded with a tight-lipped smile. “After all, we’re all going to be friends here.” Dethan leaned close to the other man’s face. “Take us to Jyo, and if you value your intact throat, I wouldn’t try to lead us into any traps.”
Five minutes later, after being led through a maze of structures standing in six-inch-deep mud, they found themselves at the door of a dark building.
“They’re with me,” the man, who they had discovered was named Harro, said to the guard at the door. The guard narrowed eyes on the group, maybe sensing something wasn’t quite right.
“Who are they?” the lumbering brute asked, his voice as deep as he was tall.
“That’s not your business,” Harro snapped. “They have business with Jyo. Now, let us past.”
The guard debated with himself for a few seconds but then stepped back and let them enter.
Dethan didn’t like being crowded into the tiny hall Harro led them down, but there was nothing he could do about it other than to keep his hand on his sheathed dagger. He noticed Kyran was in a similar mode, his hand close to his dangling axe.
They could hear some kind of ruckus, almost like the sounds of a party. It reminded Dethan of the common room of an inn during a celebration. Loud and raucous and full of shouts and laughter. The hall emptied into a brightly lit room and inside was indeed a party.
There were men everywhere with mugs of mead in one hand and plates of food scattered on the tables before them, and many were grabbing for the bare-breasted girls who were serving them. The women were pulled from one man to the next, their breasts being fondled constantly. They seemed to be laughing good-naturedly and enjoying the attention. One was even chugging back a bottle of wine while the men around her cheered her on.
Dethan knew Jyo the minute he saw him, even without the fact that his right eye was little more than a healed-over scar from a savage rending of the orbit. He was at the head of the room, in a large wooden chair like a king on his throne. The table in front of him was full of food and there were two women—one standing, one in his lap—touching and petting him with interest. He was thin overall. His hair was a long dirty blond that looked like it had not been washed in several days. He had a thick beard that protruded a good five inches from his face. There were little bits of food caught in the nest of it.
He noticed their entrance immediately and shoved the woman in his lap off him so he could stand.
“Oya! What’s this, then?” he demanded, his voice loud enough to be heard over the din in the room. That din immediately quieted.
“Jyo … th-these men wish to speak to you,” Harro stammered. “A-and I think you better listen.”
“Is that right? You think I should?” Jyo came down from his dais, making his way over to them, pushing men, women, and furniture out of his way as he came. He got right in Harro’s face. “And what makes you think you can tell me what to do?” he growled.
Then, with a single movement, Jyo had a dagger in his hand and it was pumping in and out of Harro’s gut in a flash. Stunned, Harro fell to his knees, his hand going to the wound.
“That’s a warning,” he said, his voice rising, “to anyone who thinks they can tell me what to do!”
The crowd behind Jyo burst out in raucous agreement. Jyo turned back to Dethan and Kyran.
“So who are you and why are you interrupting the party of us law-abiding citizens? Come to think on it, you don’t look like the city guard.”
“If we were the city guard, we would have arrested you for killing this man.”
Jyo’s laughter was loud and wild. “I don’t know what city you’re from, boyo, but in this one you only get arrested when you’ve crossed the jenden. Otherwise, they don’t much care about anything else.”
“Then why the lookout?” Dethan asked, nodding to Harro’s body.
“There’s competition, you know. For who thinks they should own this here mud-infested wallow. The swells are full of gangs or those who want to be one. So who are you? Just another man trying to take what’s mine?”
“No. In fact, I want you to do exactly what you’ve always done.”
Jyo raised his good brow. “Then be on your way and leave me and mine in peace,” Jyo said dismissively.
“I hear you’re the best black market smuggler in this city. That you can get anything, any supply necessary, through the siege line,” Dethan pressed.
“Ah. So you want me to smuggle something in for you? That’ll cost you.”
“It always costs you!” another man shouted from behind.
“But you didn’t need to see me directly for that,” Jyo said wisely.
“Yes. I did. Because, you see, I don’t want you to smuggle something in … I want you to smuggle something out.”
“And why should I help you?”
“Because I have a long memory, Jyo,” Dethan said. “And one day I’m going to remember I owe you a favor. And I’m going to be just the kind of man you want to call in a favor from, I promise you.”
“I don’t ask for small favors,” Jyo said. “And you probably wouldn’t like what I’d be asking for in any event. You seem too straight and law-like to do a man like me any good. And I don’t know who you are or why it should matter to me what favor you owe me.”
“I am the commander of the grand’s new army,” Dethan said quietly. “And I mean to change things around here. Now, you can either have a place in harmony with those changes or you can find yourself at odds with me. And trust me when I say that you do not want to be at odds with me.”
Jyo took his measure slowly, then after a minute gave a brusque nod. “I can see how that’s possible. But you’re full of a lot of talk.”
“I’m full of a lot of opportunity. Either that or I fall flat on my face and you’re no worse off. But work with me and you’ll have gold in your pocket and a favor due you. Work against me and … Well, ask your other lookouts for the result of that.”
“Where are my other lookouts?” Jyo asked.
Grannish was seething. His attempt to assassinate the thorn in his side had thoroughly backfired on him. Instead of ridding him of the problem, it had just created more of them. Now the grand was utterly paranoid that there were assassins around every corner. He hadn’t been able to focus on anything else since Dethan had brought that body in to them, and so they had gotten very little work done. It also seemed Grannish’s network of spies was failing him miserably. He had yet to acquire any intelligence worth anything to him.
“My lord jenden?”
The query came tentatively, a head peeking in the open door.
Tonkin. Just the man he wanted to see.
“Come in and shut the door,” Grannish commanded him.
Tonkin did and moved closer to him. He was twisting his page’s cap in his big hands so hard that it was a wonder the thing wasn’t in shreds.
“You have something to tell me?”
“Yes, milord. I did as you asked, kept an eye out. I thought you should know … they plan on using the fairgrounds to train the men. And they’ll be erecting the barracks close by.”
“Come to the map and show me.”
Tonkin did so, pointing out what he had seen Kyran show Dethan.
“Sor Kyran come up with the idea. Dethan approved of it. Then they left together to see a man about smuggling something in past the siege. I don’t know who it was or what they wanted.”
“When you find out you will let me know,” the jenden commanded.
“As you wish, milord. Also …” He trailed off, clearly reluctant to be tattling on his master. But in the end Grannish knew greed would win out. This man wanted his farmland back. He would do anything to get it. Even things he didn’t necessarily want to do. “My lord was alone in his rooms with the grandina earlier. It wasn’t long,” he said with a little haste. “Not long enough, I mean. Seems she tended to a wound he had. I wasn’t there, but I was told there was an assassin …”
“Yes, I heard all about it,” Grannish said with impatience. “And I heard about the grandina from the household staff as well. It’s not unusual that she would see to the well-being of a guest of the household. I did not like it, but as long as it was only a short while … And believe me, she knows better than to go sniffing after him. I saw to that. She’d have to be a damn fool to risk it. Besides, I have him under watch now nearly the entire day in one form or another. Especially thanks to you.”
“Yes, milord.” Tonkin said, looking miserable.
“Is there anything else?”
“Yes, milord. The men … they are deserting.”
“What, already?” Grannish released a scoffing laugh. “Why does it not surprise me? How do you know this?”
“Just by watching. Faces seen one day are not there the next. If Dethan has noticed, he ain’t saying nothing about it. But they are going.”
“So much for their supposed loyalty to him. Good. Very good. Anything else?”
“Then go. Get out of here. Keep an eye on him every minute. Tell me what else you see.”
“Yes, milord. I will.” Tonkin gave him a short bow and then hastened from the room.
Grannish was left to stare at the map as he tried to figure out how to thwart Dethan’s placement of the barracks.
No, he thought then. I will encourage it. To seem as though I am very much on Dethan’s side and behind the cause against the Redoe.
He had been naysaying too much, he realized. It was giving Dethan power over him. He had to at least seem to be on the right side of this. At least enough to keep a comfortable hold on the grand. It infuriated him that after years of having the grand completely dependent on him, completely under his sway, now, in a matter of days, he was struggling to stay on top of things.
True, in a way he was finding himself enjoying this. It had been a long time since he had faced any true challenge. He had dismissed Dethan as not being worthy in the beginning, but it was quickly becoming clear that there was mettle there. Mettle and intelligence. Perhaps enough to actually pull off a good show against the Redoe.
It irritated him that Dethan had discovered the undermining. It had made him and General Firru look the fools.
But there was no changing that now. He simply had to see to it that there were no more advantages won by the so-called general of the newborn army. General. Grannish scoffed. So the man was able to fight off one assassin. That did not make him a warrior. Grannish would simply have to find a better grade of assassin. And while he was at it he was going to get his gold back from the failed assassin’s accounts. True, it was only half the agreed upon price, the other half due upon completion of the job, but the man hadn’t come close to making Dethan even half dead … so therefore had done nothing to earn the coin. He would see the coin returned or he would see that the go-between paid the price.
As for Selinda, he was satisfied that he had gotten his point across to her. She had remained silent, called a mem to heal her, and had sufficiently covered any visual evidence of their altercation. In fact, she was so good at it maybe he wouldn’t hold his temper in check with her as much as he had been. Until yesterday he had never laid a mark on her that she could show her father as evidence of his cruelty to her. For that was what she would deem it: cruelty. When the truth of it was that she needed to be kept in check. Left to her own devices, she, like her father, would run the city into the ground. No. No matter what she said, how much she complained or whined or wept, she needed him. She needed his structure and his discipline. She would do well to remember it.
And he would see that she did.
As for her being alone with Dethan … it had been, as he had said, of little consequence. She did not dare defy him. She may want to, may even consider it, but in the end she cared too much for the well-being of her family and knew too well what he was capable of. She knew how far his power stretched. There would be no way she could hide any assignations or flirtations from him. He had eyes in every corner of this fortress … this city.
Grannish moved to his desk, sitting behind it and relaxing for a moment before he got back to the business of running the city. This city, he knew, would fall apart without him. That was the simple truth of it. Only he knew the everyday workings of it. Only he had the relationships necessary to keep the cogs of it running smoothly. The grand knew this well and that was why the man trusted him so implicitly.
This was his city.
And no one was going to get in the way of that.