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First pages

"HEATHEN!"

Vogeir Leiknirsson 'the plump' -although people never called him that in his face- mostly legitimate Jarl of Fjærland, standing almost six feet tall, broad alike a pregnant oil-barrel, freshly baptized and even more recent than that heavily inebriated, burped loudly and tossed the emptied mead-skin to his solemn-faced Karl, Orest Trandilsson. The hulking man, a Rad among his peers, snatched it from the air and tossed it in turn to one of his Thralls. A skinny, rat-faced Angle with a difficult to pronounce name, the Jarl couldn't recall.

Satisfied he'd gotten rid of it and trying to delay giving a distasteful order as much as he could, Vogeir turned his eyes towards the sole path leading deeper into the forest. The tall green pine trees created a thick almost impregnable barrier that reached on the other side the edges of the big glacier. Difficult terrain to traverse if one was sober, but nigh impossible when drunk as a skunk. Still men or the rare woman, are known to have—

"YOU WILL BURN IN HELL!" The priest thundered interrupting his thoughts a second time, bulging eyes on the verge of popping out their sockets, froth flooding his mouth and pointy finger stabbing at the air. Still the woman standing in front of him dressed in a thin robe kept any emotions out of her face. And what a face that was, he thought, one worthy of the goddess herself, left hand adjusting his cock before he caught himself and started saying a quick prayer… to the wrong deity. Always a quick-witted man, he switched midway to a more appropriate one, feeling conscious of the mistake but surely the Lord will be lenient with him. He was doing His work after all.

"Eistla Ulfdottir." Vogeir said trying to give a fatherly tone to his words, which was a little weird considering his earlier carnal thoughts, but he chose not to dwell on it. "You must see the light child."

"Time for words is over Vogeir!" Baldrick snapped and some of his Karls frowned displeased at his tone. Being an outsider, though an enlightened one, made the priest a difficult to be accepted character, his warriors merely tolerated for the time being. Then there was the fact that all of them were heathens as well but a few months back and they could relate with the woman all the more for it.

He offered her a moderately compassionate look. Wish he could do more for her. Damn shame really. Being Jarl was a most unfulfilled business.

"Alright, since I can't seem to make you understand…" He sighed. The young woman cast him a stare full of pity.

"Tonight I shall feast in the Hall of the Gods." She said proudly setting her jaw.

"Huh! The dogs more like!" Baldrick snapped raising his crosier to hit her. Vogeir stopped him putting his right hand on it. The priest stepped away with a grunt and the Jarl breathed a sigh of relief.

"You sure she won't make it far enough into the forest?" He asked the bemused Orest and his Karl nodded with his head.

"Aye. The dogs will slow her down for certain, but even if she does escape 'em somehow, absent weapons the wilderness will claim her come morrow."

Dark task this, Vogeir thought with a grimace of distaste, maiming… then murdering such a woman. But, when one was given a task by Lord God himself he can't go about questioning it, no matter how wrong or stomach-turning he finds it.

His men were looking at him and despite being almost drunk, Vogeir felt he needed another jug of mead. The Jarl wiped cold sweat off his forehead, cleared his sore throat, feet shuffling and fists opening and closing nervously and then gave the order.


Thieving business

 

[14th day of Mensis Martius,

the year of our Lord 1010,

Constantinople, Byzantine Empire]

 

 

Zeru of Bayonne, aged twenty eight and something winters, greatly sought-after stage comedian though business was somewhat slow this spring, way above average thinker in an era of idiots, skilled musician according mostly to himself and all-around cultured individual currently impersonating a member of the royal court, drew a deep-deep breath to calm his nerves. In through the nose, down his lungs, eyes half-closed from the effort and then puffed it out, lips flapping and head shaking alike a horse.

This was a disgrace.

It was also flat out robbery, much closer to it in fact than if he'd been surprised at the side of the road by a rough bandit, cold blade on his neck, ruffian's stinking breath in his ear.

But more than anything it was the blatant disrespect to him and better yet… to the position in general. Where is this world heading to?

"Have you any idea who you're talking too?" He asked him, righteous spit flying everywhere, index finger attacking the air. "I could have thee flogged under the Golden Gate, you imbecile!"

The man opposite him frowned, a light pouting of the mouth the only other reaction to his outburst.

"You've nothing to say?" Zeru winced frustration oozing out of him "Huh, the braggart suddenly went mute, not overly surprising. But it won't save your skin. For that, I can assure you." He finished ominously.

"Are you threatening me sire?" The man asked maintaining a maddening level of composure.

"What? Of course I am you idiot!' Zeru snarled 'By Jup… Jesus, this is intolerable!" He'd almost slipped out of character there and used the name of the Greek pagan god, which wouldn't do of course, but was to be expected when one was throwing himself with so much enthusiasm to the task.

"It's a museum my lord.' The man, barely out of his twenties, replied patiently. 'A business. In order for it to survive, it must make profit. We thus unfortunately charge a modest fee for our services."

"Services?" Einar, silent up until now asked, sounding genuinely interested.

The museum employee gave him a measuring glance.

"As in the chance to peruse our wares and exhibits under a hospitable environment."

"Modest?" Zeru bristled in turn. "Why for fifty follis, I could have the best whore on her knees pleasuring me with gusto and in the comfort of a room I might add. A room!"

"Your excellency isn't well accustomed with the current brothel rates I believe. Understandably of course for a man of your statue."

Zeru's brows shot up.

"Are you calling me a liar?"

Einar cleared his throat loud enough to get their attention.

"Perhaps, you should pay the man."

Zeru grimaced as if he was bitten by a snake that kept on gnawing mulishly until it cut out the part it'd poisoned. For a moment he thought to scold the barbarian for presuming he could dictate anything but then he remembered they didn't really have a difference in status and let out a resigned sigh instead.

"How about ten?" He haggled with a phony smile.

"It's a standard fee." The employee countered adamantly.

"Say I give you twenty—"

"My lord…" Einar warned him remarkably staying in character.

"Oh, what the hell!' Zeru relented, 'you've caught me in a magnanimous mood mister." He produced his purse from an inside pocket. "You said fifty for the both of us?"

"Per customer."

"Right."

This man was the devil.

 

 

They went through a small antehall and then walked slowly down the larger hall leading to the exhibits chamber, Zeru still vexed with the treatment he'd received from the employee and the matter of the lost coin of course.

"Gods!" He fretted, hands clasped behind his back, head kept straight and staring at the front like a proper blueblood "I could sense him wavering back there, if only you'd kept your mouth shut for a moment longer or two, I'd gotten us in for free. You should really trust my rhetoric skills some more Einar."

"I do. Don't see how it was worth it though." The former member of the Varangian Guard replied.

"A hundred Follis worth. That's a third of a gold solidus. By Gods!" Surely they were victims of the most blatant crime, he thought.

"Hasn't Rousse given you thirty pieces upfront?" He asked him.

"Hah! Only because I squeezed it out of him, else that tight-fisted troglodyte would have sent us in bare handed. You don't know the man.' He cast a side glance at the troubled face of his companion. Einar wore a cloth patch attached around his head by a string to cover his missing left eye. It made him look even gruffer than he really was. 'I mean, you do of course, but in these matters I'm better qualified to—"

"Which matters?"

"Financial for one. Communal affairs in general."

Einar nodded.

"When you put it like that. Makes sense."

"Yes it does. As I was saying, it may appear straightforward at times but it isn't." Zeru said.

"How so?"

"I just explained."

"I didn't get it."

"Didn't you just say—"

"Thought you were talking about the gold."

"Oh, I see. Let me explain again.' Zeru sucked air through his teeth. 'He told us to pick up the sword, a morning's worth of a job but of course things could turn out differently. As is the pattern wit everything coming from him."

"Like how?"

Zeru waved his hands around in indecipherable patterns. "A numbers of ways. It could be a drunken boast, a piece of erroneous information or this…" He paused trying to remember the name of their contact.

"Danaus." Einar helped.

"Him. Could turn out to be a crook, the lowest of scum, nothing but a backstabbing ruffian' They'd reached a large door leading to the big gallery housing the exhibits in the meantime and walked inside, Zeru continuing his tirade '…could back away from the agreed upon price or Jupiter forbid, attempt to sell us some cheap knock off or something!"

"Thought you knew the weapon." Einar noticed.

"Like the palm of my hand!"

The northerner grunted satisfied.

"Then we'll be fine."

"I don't think you've grasped the gist of what I was trying to say." Zeru noted sourly. The large man grinned and pointed at the elaborate dressed gentleman approaching them.

"I bet he will. Seems a decent enough fella."

 

 

Danaus Pavlis, was a man of forty odd years, broad-bellied though he wore it well, large mouthed but somehow fittingly so, dressed in silk finery, the enlarged hem of his Dalmatica enriched with gold decorative trim, same elaborate pattern around his neckline, fingers carrying the weight of several impressive gold rings. His hairline was the only thing lacking substance, but he make up for it with an inspiring long beard that completely hid the front of his neck and a booming clear voice.

"Master Ieremias Rotas! I must say it was much to my surprise, when I heard you've come such a long way to visit our modest establishment. It is not common to have the luxury of the court's Vestes himself attending… actually it's even more surreal to believe it seeing you standing here in front of me."

Zeru, the Imperial Vestes Rotas presumed, crooked one side of his mouth.

"Dear Danaus,' He said a little scorn evident in his reply, 'your exhibitions are gathering much praise in the Royal court, I assure you. Really, Neorion Harbor isn't such a distance from the Great Palace, if one is prepared to put his legs to good use."

"You've walked your Excellency?"

Zeru cast him a sour glance.

"A person will do well to exercise himself dear Danaus. Are the streets of our Capital beneath you I wonder?"

"Of course not. Please forgive—"

Zeru cut him off with an impatient gesture.

"I'm here for a particular piece."

Danaus nodded. Then smacked his lips and glanced towards an employee waiting patiently near an impressive and thankfully embalmed African lion.

"I was informed to keep it for you." He finally said. Zeru scratched his nose waiting for him to continue, he could tell something was amiss and although he half-expected it considering his luck, he hoped it was nothing of importance. "So I had it put in the vault." The merchant said. Einar was heard clearing his throat.

"The vault." Zeru repeated a little amused.

"It's a room really, with a very sturdy door and no windows." Danaus explained.

"Hence a vault."

"Yes."

A long pause ensued and Zeru almost scratched his nose again. He caught himself at the last moment. The merchant sighed heavily.

"Am I to assume something happened to the vault?" He helped him.

"You can say that… in a way."

"So…"

"The door was found opened." Danaus said, a burden lifted off his shoulders.

"Someone forgot to lock it?"

"Heavens no! It was broken in!" The merchant exploded at the presumed oversight.

"We're talking about the same sturdy door—"

"There was nothing wrong with the door!"

"But for the fact that it was easily opened by someone other than yourself."

Danaus nodded.

"They've taken the sword." He said deciding to move on.

Zeru passed his tongue over his lower lip.

"Along with…"

"Just the sword."

Einar snorted behind him.

"Well…' Zeru said blowing his cheeks. '…this is unfortunate. And strange. Not to mention it doesn’t reflect favorably on your… establishment." He added sourly.

"It has never happened before sir!" The merchant boomed affronted.

"You have any suspects?" Zeru asked him a little taken aback by his sudden outburst.

"Huh! Of course I have!" Danaus replied in the same manner.

This was something at least, Zeru thought.

"Care to elaborate?"

The merchant frowned, his face wrinkling comically and long beard contracting underneath as if it was alive.

"I think it was Chronis." He said. The name didn't ring any bells to Zeru although apparently it should as Danaus eyed him expectantly. The presumed royal Vestes, which meant master of the Imperial wardrobe, sniffed then grimaced stalling under the scrutiny of the still waiting for his comment merchant.

"Hmm." Zeru finally said taking the middle road.

"Yes him." Danaus agreed narrowing his eyes. "That sneaky cock-loving whore, I think… no, I'm certain is behind it. Yes sir! Certain!"

Zeru nodded agreeing although still in the dark. "But are you a hundred percent, this man—"

"Hah! Far from it!" Danaus cut him off.

"Ah, I thought you meant…"

"Chronis.' Danaus added. That name again. Zeru nodded a second time, absent further knowledge it was the best he could do. "What was his first name,' Danaus continued encouraged '…have it right here, ah yes. Ambrose." He finished with a pleased smile.

The gods were laughing.

"Hey, isn't he—" Einar tried to say but he stopped him raising his index finger.

"Not now Einar." He said when the barbarian attempted to speak again. "We should let mister…' He couldn’t remember his name.

"Pavlis." Danaus said after an awkward moment.

"Yes, we should let mister Pavlis finish his story."

Einar wasn't convinced. "Sure. But if he's—"

"Not a word!" He snapped, a tick appearing on his face. Einar grunted, sole eye showing his surprise but he gave him a reassuring smile then turned towards the rather amused merchant.

"Right.' Danaus said, taking his cue. 'As I said, I suspect him because this thing happens two days after he approached me to buy the sword himself. I turned him down of course, we haven't seen eye to eye since he backstabbed me last summer giving my—"

"Wow, just wait a moment here." Zeru stopped him. "You're saying he wanted to buy it?"

"Yes, he did. I really don't see… I mean it is a fine replica of an ancient Greek Kopis and all but really other than it was wielded supposedly but a demigod like the King of Blades, it is just a sword. I must say here that your interest my lord so soon after him, creates a kind of weird coincidence if one bears in mind you're both members of the Imperial court."

Einar grunted enjoying himself and probably remembering their earlier conversation.

"I happen to collect weapons of old.' Zeru said quickly keeping in character 'come to think of it Ambrose was probably intending to sell it to me and make a good profit. But now I know it is stolen I don't see how he can achieve that. So I must confess, I'm a bit skeptical whether he is behind this nefarious affair or not."

"The eunuch did it!" Danaus barked spit flying out of his mouth. "I'm fucking sure of it!"

Zeru grimaced thinking about it. It was possible. Then again why would Rousse sent them to procure the weapon if he intended to steal it all along?

 

 

The narrow alley with its white Doric-style columns on the right and the less attractive red brick wall of both the Noumera prison and the adjoining barracks of the city guard that shared its name on the left, was quiet despite the time. The alley ended at the more elaborate columns of the Augustaion but they made a turn before they reached it and entered the walled area of the old and now abandoned baths of Zeuxippos. Rousse quickly located a marble bench and sat down patting the space next to him.

"Come Zeru, take a seat." He said in his pleasant cultured voice.

Casting an eye about the place Zeru obeyed sitting at the further edge of the bench. No one was there at the time and the pools were empty of water, this once vibrant place dedicated to the old Gods had become a ghost of its former self. His eyes caught a glimpse of a statue of Virgil, face set in marble looking youthful perhaps even happy, but also very much out of place. Zeru gave a small nod to the man he admired for most of his life then turned and stared at the slightly amused Keeper of the Archives. Fuck, he thought, that's a pompous title.

"Sometimes I forget, you're an educated man." The youthful looking Lord Sarkis said. Rousse was a man of many titles.

"Sometimes I forget myself." Zeru jibed.

"Well said." Rousse smiled but Zeru wasn't going to be fooled by their innocent banter. The man had an agenda. As always.

"I'm not doing this thing." He said matter-of-factly. It had been a thorny subject between them since they've returned from Italy months ago.

"You don't know what it is."

"Are you going to tell me?"

Rousse grinned naughtily. A kid having fun that is if you were enough of a fool to believe it.

"Nah, I can't. Not if you don't agree beforehand."

"I thought we've just established I ain't stupid."

Rousse shrugged his shoulders. Light blue eyes flickered right and left before settling on him. A moment then he sighed, face suddenly sad. Zeru was far from convinced it was real.

"Actually I was thinking of Tot." The man of the Lodge said, the statement taking Zeru a little aback.

"What of him?"

Why now?

Rousse's eyes stilled on a dried up fountain across from them, the once white marble now black and green with cracks running the sides of the large bowl. Voice came low, the sentiment real.

"I've watched him growing up. Big clumsy kid, loud… I always thought him family. Every day now it seems something ever missing, no truth real enough."

"He was very fond of you." Zeru said feeling a little uncomfortable at the rare display of humanity. Not knowing where this was going was also troubling. But Rousse didn't seem to mind, he acknowledged his words with a nod and continued.

"Uhm. Sometimes you move on from people it's true, life takes you some way or another but the regret is there, what if… I did something differently? The mind wants to forget though, it does… then you walk inside a glorified storeroom, some mountebank urges you to have a second look at his wares and you do. And there it is."

Zeru's face was inscrutable.

"What is?" He asked and Rousse examined his face closely before answering.

"A sword."

 

 

The shadow, because it was the only thing of him they could see, came at them in a thousand different shapes, a hand here, part of a torso there, what looked more beast than man a bit further down the rugged path. Tot turned, eyes shining in the moonlight, face grim, neck veins taut and showing and gave him a look that Zeru didn't really get, before unsheathing the Shadowblade.

"Run down the path." The Nord said, voice clearly heard about despite the approaching Demon's screams. So near, Zeru thought. God damn it.

"What about you?"

"Stop him here, I reckon."

"What if you can't?"

Tot grinned then, scary face becoming even weirder to look at.

"Then you gotta run faster Jester and pray you won't need that sword."

Zeru gazed down puzzled, the gleam of the blade he held caught his eyes hard. For a moment he went blind and when he recovered, time had moved forward again.

 

 

"That was a sturdy door." Einar commented. They'd just passed the gate of Neorion into the Perama district and were walking amongst the people visiting St. Irene's temple. Zeru, deep in his thoughts answered absentmindedly at first.

"Well, it leads back to a port… ah, you don't mean the gate."

"Nah. I was talking about the vault." Einar said.

"You are right. Actually that lock looked extremely sturdy as well."

"It will be impossible to find who took it."

"Not really." Zeru said with a small smile. "In fact, I believe we will be sufficiently enlightened if we make a turn here."

The barbarian seemed troubled.

"I don't suppose we are finished walking then."

Zeru chuckled.

"Nope. We'll head up the third hill towards the tower of Eirene."

"You wanna go to the Amalfitans?" Einar asked with a grimace of distaste.

"Their market is where the best thieves in Constantinople gather to sale their loot." Zeru explained still grinning.

Einar shook his head.

"Makes sense."

 

 

"HAVE A FEEL! OR A SNIFF, HAHA!" the merchant hollered, brows shot up and face distorted in a grimace that whatever his original intention was, looked disturbing to say the least. Zeru pointed at the short brownish sticks on display first, then at the ceramic bowls holding the reddish-brown powder.

"So these you grind into this here powder?" He asked and the merchant frowned heavily.

"Grind is a very crude word my lord. There's a technique—"

"I'm sure there is. So how much for the grinded stuff?"

"Two solidus per quarter." The merchant answered readily.

"That's eight gold coins for a kilo." Zeru stared him bemused. "You have got to be kidding me."

"On the contrary. It barely covers my expenses my lord. Surely you know the trouble we have bringing it in."

"Oh great, you're not going to spin that crazy story again are you?"

"What crazy story?" Einar asked intrigued.

The merchant smiled.

"There's a race of giant birds living in Arabia…' He started, voice colored appropriately and hands drawing mysterious shapes in the air '…the locals call them Cinnamon birds because they use these here sticks to build their nests onto the sheerest cliffs, man cannot hope to reach… ever." Zeru groaned in dismay seeing Einar's amazed expression. The merchant encouraged continued grabbing a handful of the cinnamon sticks and waved them about bunched up like a sword. "Brave men, perhaps the bravest of them all, after many attempts to reach the nests devised a devilishly clever plan if I may say so, in order to obtain these precious and delicious sticks." A small audience had gathered around his table, the small crowd fueling his enthusiasm as he continued, eyes gleaming, voice that of a drunken bard's about to be offered another cup of ale. "They've cut oxen, huge beasts of burden in large pieces and leave them for the birds to find. When the birds carry these chunks of meat onto their nests, such is the burden that they collapse to the ground in pieces. Men then collect the cinnamon sticks from the broken up nests fighting all the time with the maddened vengeful creatures." He stopped sucked air in his lungs in two large gulps and then added gravely. "Many men have perished."

Some of the people started clapping appreciating the tale. Einar nodded himself pleased.

Great, thought Zeru.

"You realize your story is a myth right?" He told the animated merchant. The man winced affronted.

"My lord your eyes are closed to the truth."

For fuck's sake.

"I'm looking for a specific item." Zeru said wanting to cut his bullshit short. "Something not sold over a table."

"Spices I have. Cinnamon, see for yourself." The merchant replied "Now for other items I know nothing."

"I'm a friend of Theron Maris." Zeru said.

The merchant shook his head right and left having none of it.

"I could pay you for the trouble." He insisted.

"Hmm."

"A gold solidus." He showed it to him, holding it between thumb and index finger.

The merchant puffed his cheeks.

"I wish I knew. Truly." The man seemed genuinely saddened. Clearly there's talent here, he thought.

"Two." Zeru added another one wanting to test his mettle.

"Down the spice tables, make a right turn and walk until you reach the Date tree." He said quickly tending his open palm. With a curse Zeru dropped the coins.

 

 

"My people say there's a giant Eagle by the name of Hræsvelgr. It means the corpse swallower—"

A what?

"Will you stop it?" Zeru cut him off still vexed for being fleeced by the merchant. "It was a myth, a colorful story invented to drive the prices up! Jupiter! Pliny the elder thought as much ages ago. Can't believe people keep spinning the same story over and over again!"

"All I'm saying is, such things are not impossible." Einar insisted. "There's also a giant wolf—"

"Listen I've seen things so I'm not dogmatic on the matter. But most of the tales ain't real Einar." I should know, said half of 'em myself.

"I think they are."

"You're an expert I'm sure." He mocked him.

"And that Pliny guy was?" Einar retorted.

Zeru moaned and started walking faster convinced the conversation was getting them nowhere.

 

 

Theron Maris, appropriator of rare but -more often than not less so- valuables, the word encompassing everything from gold or silver coins usually along with the accompanying purse, likewise jewelry of any kind, but more those that were easier to carry in a backpack and a number of other artifacts, from religious finery like small statues and crosses to more peculiar ones like golden canes or at a time even a realistic phallus made of bone of all the freaking materials one could use… anyway, the man was of medium height, very thin but athletic and anywhere between twenty and thirty years.

The thief's small but clever black eyes went from one to the other in careful examination.

"Zeru of Bayonne." He said measuring his words. "And a tall, one-eyed bloke I've never seen before but seems dangerous enough to turn my back to and ample a fool to be your companion. As is your motto."

"Theron, I'm here on business." Zeru said quickly. Theron was notoriously antagonistic and a time-waster.

The small man sitting cross-legged on a bundle of leather hides grinned.

"What do you know? As am I. I call this, a great coincidence."

"I'm looking for a sword."

"The armory is a street back where you came from. Can't miss it. Not the second time around."

A strained smile appeared on Zeru's face.

"This is a rather specific item. It's Greek for starters."

"As is everything else around these parts.' Theron said with a smirk, greatly enjoying it. "It's a Greek city."

"Your friend isn't particularly forthcoming." Einar grunted.

"I don't take well to threats." Theron replied eyeing him. "And we ain't friends, in fact he still owes me money. It was a tibia, I think. Fine instrument I've procured for him at great personal risk."

"Good thing you didn't have to pay for it then." Einar scoffed.

"Insulting one's profession won't earn you many friends Northman."

Zeru had to step in. "Alright. Let us all take a step back here. Theron, someone must have brought an antique sword this morning. The type Achilles carried or Patroclus but made of steel."

"So not ancient per se."

"No."

Theron scratched his cheek with a well groomed fingernail.

"This doesn't sound very valuable."

"Never said it was." Zeru said defensively.

The thief eyed him with suspicion.

"Though it must worth something, else why come looking for it no?"

Zeru yielded to the argument.

"Aye. A friend carried it for many years."

"So more of a sentimental value." Theron had a glint of amusement in his eyes. "Which strikes me a little odd, since I know you're not a weapons-lover Zeru."

Oh a man could waste the better part of a day indulging this particular thief's love for debate, Zeru thought looking about the modest pavilion.

"It belonged to a friend." He said finally.

"I can look… maybe ask around. If I find the time that is. One has to work to earn his keep."

Einar grunted grasping where this was going.

"It will be worth your while." Zeru managed to say with great difficulty.

Theron smiled, showing two rows of small well preserved teeth, amongst them a couple of solid gold ones.

"Hmm."

"You'll get paid Theron."

"There is also the small matter of the tibia." He added greedily.

There goes my profit, Zeru thought with a sigh. You blood-sucking hyena. "I'll cover it. Although I don't have the instrument anymore."

"How unfortunate."

Zeru grimaced the memory painful.

"It was stolen from me." A slight narrowing of the eyes as if he suspected Theron for the foul deed.

"How appropriate." The thief deadpanned unfazed. "I could ask around." He offered adding casually. "For a modest fee."

Einar started laughing behind him, apparently finding their back and forth extremely entertaining.

 

 

He knew it. Ever since that first talk with Rousse, Zeru knew that nothing was ever easy or straightforward with that man… immortal. While it was still possible that the theft of the sword was an unfortunate accident, it seemed rather peculiar to him especially considering Ambrose's involvement/interest or the fact the weapon just happened to disappear the day he came looking for it. He sighed, then led another piece of well-cooked meat in his mouth. He chewed on the juicy piece eagerly, always mindful that a good meal should be appreciated first, with never-missed a close second. Zeru had gone far too many days hungry to let the memories fade.

"This Severan Wall ain't that impressive." Einar commented having finished his meat and vegetables already. They'd picked an eatery where the Forum of Constantine met the inside of the Severan Wall, operated by a cook of some considerable renown going by the name of Vrahos. Which meant rock in Greek. Zeru enjoyed eating there when he'd coin to spare. Which was unfortunately rare.

"They pale in comparison with those of Theodosian, I agree." He replied after he swallowed the flavored and by now well-chewed piece of meat. He tasted one of the saucy vegetables. Ah, nice, he thought. Seeing Einar staring him expectantly he frowned then remembered what they were talking about and answered after he belched loudly to clear his airways. "But you see, the city's outer fortifications are an exaggeration really. I mean, the tall main wall with its towers, then the lower front wall and on top of that a trench with the breadth of a small river circumnavigating the whole thing. Pfft, it would take a thousand years to breach them if ever."

Was that a young onion? He used his fork to pick it up. Down it went. He smiled, yep and a sweet one at that. Life could be good, if one was noble in spirit such as himself. Einar had asked him something but he'd missed it.

"What was that my dear friend?" He asked suddenly in great spirits.

"I said, how many years since they've been built?" Einar repeated patiently.

"Ahm, I don't know… six, seven centuries perhaps."

"So you say, in a couple of hundred years it could be done."

Zeru clicked his tongue searching for his cup of economic but good-flavored wine.

"I believe you've missed the gist of my words."

"How so?"

"There's no one who could do it Einar. Never was and probably never will be. Not unless the world as we know it change. The Christians, alas as I hold no love for them, will rule these lands forever."

"Everything will end in Ragnarök." Einar said.

"I thought you are a Christian."

The former member of the Varangian Guard fished out his shirt a silver cross that hanged from his neck and kissed it with a small smile.

"I was a Dane before I became one. The Lord will understand."

Zeru made a grimace.

"Well, I certainly hope so. I bet He is more forgiving than some of the priests I've seen around here. Some of these motherfuckers are outright bastards."


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Angelo Tsanatelis was born in Athens, Greece. Lived for seven years in Bulgaria, where he studied Law at the University of Sofia. In his spare time he loves traveling abroad and spending time with his friends. He is the author of the Living Sword Chronicles, Dark Hunters and Final Colony series among others.

Q. What books are you reading now?
A.
I'm reading a collection of short stories. It's called Sharp Ends by the great Joe Abercrombie and I'm having great fun reading them.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
The series is called Dark Jester's Tale. This is the 2nd book. The protagonist is a minor but fun character in the King of Blades series and I always thought there was potential there for something more. Since I've treated him rather poorly in the past this book is my humble attempt at redemption.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
I always loved the grittier more cynical fantasy and it's somewhat shady protagonists. The underlying humor and the sharp dialogues. Now they call this genre Grimdark. I suppose it's as accurate description as any.

Next in:
Science Fiction & Fantasy
All The Heroes Are Dead
Boy attempts revenge on powerful villain.
Farraway Mist
Can she fall in love with a haunted man?
Lost Solace
Event Horizon meets Alien; sci-fi horror