Once again, it is time for my weekly serial, featuring Ragnar Grimfang, Nordan Twiceborn.
The wise thing to do would be to keep my secrets and let the man think I was helpless. Alas, I gave in to pride and acted, reasoning that if he was mad or a trickster then I could save myself some hunting.
A low growl, rumbled in the shadows behind us. The assassin stiffened and I made my move.
The assassin was fast. It is a vital trait in his chosen profession. Still, even with the element of surprise on my side he managed to cut my throat as I moved. Turning my head prevented the cut from being truly bothersome, but only by a hair’s breadth.
My original plan was to reach over my shoulder, grab him, and throw him to the ground. When my grasp closed on nothing, I rolled forward, grabbing my axe coming up facing the room. A knife flew through the dark, grazing my ear. I snarled and threw myself forward, holding up the axe to ward off any blows. The assassin did not shy away from me, despite the disparity in out bulk. A swift kick to my knee, hard and painful, was followed by a stab to the heard as I staggered back. A swatted it away with my axe, aiming my fist at his head as I hooked the blade with the back spike, pulling him toward me. Rather than resist, the assassin cannily shifted his momentum, using my strength to launch himself out of reach. He whirled, throwing another small blade at me. It took me in shoulder, close to my neck.
The shadows growled again. Using the moment of distraction that his afforded, I swung at him. Swift and sure, he parried with his dagger. This is what I wanted, however, and I twisted the axe, ripping the dagger from his grasp. A strong kick knocked me away before I could close to grapple, bloodying my nose. Anger spurred me, and I had to take hold of it, lest I attack blindly.
I did not make a move to attack him immediately, this time. He hesitated, keeping on the defensive while he tried, in vain, to locate the sound of the growling. Graceful and cautious, I realized that I would not be able to put him down without causing permanent injury. So I lowered my guard.
“Care for a drink?” I asked. “I suspect the twins will be down in thirty seconds. It will be easier to explain your presence if we are armed with glass instead of steel.”
While I talked, I made a move to the side table, taking a bottle of twenty year Lathulin fire mead, and gently placing it on the table. The assassin made no move to attack, but kept his defensive pose. I sat down.
“You won’t find what you are looking for,” I said, pouring some of the amber liquid into two glasses. “It was just an auditory illusion, not a real wolf in the shadows. You wanted my help, now let’s talk.”
“Why did you attack me” he asked. “Wouldn’t it have been better to disguise your strength, in case I turned against you later?
“Appear weak when you are strong?” I said. “Well, if we are to be allies, I wanted you to have an idea of my power.”
He accepted my explanation gracefully.
“The poison?” he asked.
“I bought a countervial antidote,” I said. “Just in case.”
“Ah, my fault for not switching types,” he said, relaxing. “I doubted the efficacy of other poisons on you, Twiceborn.”
“Wise enough,” I said.
“Ragnar?” came a voice from the other room.
At this point the twins arrived. They were alert, with Vethra carrying an ornate crossbow and Leera wielding an elegant rapier. The looked ferocious and beautiful in the shadows, and I smiled. The assassin, who had somehow removed his hood, grabbed the glass, and situated himself on a chair, looked perfectly at ease.
“Sorry, girls,” I said. “Our conversation must have become a little heated. You know old battle stories. This is–“
“Sildus Merlando,” injected the assassin, smoothly assuming what must be one of his false identities. I made a mental note to check the name at the Pearl, just in case.
The twins smiled and greeted the assassin. His entire posture seemed relaxed now, conveying a sense of tipsy foolishness. The one flaw with his act was that he did not display any attraction to the twins. Most men would have trouble putting away their leers.
“By the Queen of Shadows, Ragnar,” said Vethra, relaxing. “We have clients coming tomorrow. Be quieter.”
“Yes, love,” added Leera. “We thought you were fighting down here.”
I did my best to look sheepish and guilty; it wasn’t terribly difficult. In truth, I disliked having brought this business to our home. Tis a bad leader that endangers his pack.
After excusing themselves and glaring at me, the twins returned to their lair. I would be sleeping by myself this evening.
“Charming girls,” said Sildus.
“You have no idea,” I said, grinning. “Now, where were we?”
“I am not Sapphire’s killer,” said Sildus. Sandy golden hair framed a lean, angular face with bright green eyes. Sapphire and emerald. No one expects a blonde assassin. “I want to help you find the killer, or at least get you to leave me alone while I do so.”
“Why should I believe you?” I asked.
“Because I didn’t kill you,” said Sildus. “Also, I loved Sapphire, I would never have hurt her.”
“Perhaps that love drove you to murder her when she took up with Harald,” I said. “Love can turn any man into a fool, even an Assassin.”
“It is true that Sapphire loved Harald,” said Sildus. “But I was far from jealous. You see the three of us all loved each other. I can show you something that will convince you of this later, something that Harald gave us. On the night they were killed, I left our dalliance early to finish a job.”
His tale rang true. I still needed further proof, but if he was lying he had no reason to let me live, at least none that I could fathom. Either way, I was curious.
“So, Sildus, who wants you out of the way?” I asked.