He has been known by countless names and terrifying deeds throughout the lands of mankind-thief, magic wielder, swordsman, assassin, adventurer. But chief among those names and perhaps the most dangerous of his personae is that of Nightfall, a man-or perhaps the legendary demon himself-gifted with unique powers which any sorcerer would kill to possess. Yet though Nightfall has always escaped his pursuers by moving on to new realms, new identities, and new enterprises, even the cleverest of beings must occasionally slip. And when this master of the night finally falls prey to a royal trap, he finds the consequences beyond even his ability to evade. Bound by sorcery and oath to guard and guide a young prince on his quest, Nightfall will need every trick and talent at his command to keep both himself and his idealistic young charge from death at the hands of unknown betrayers.
Release date: February 19, 2019
Print pages: 499
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The Legend of Nightfall
Mickey Zucker Reichert
—“The Legend of Nightfall”Nursery rhyme, st. 1
The ketch, Raven, tossed in the rhythmic swells of the northern Klaimer Ocean, her bow christened with white water. Nightfall propped his booted foot against the gunwale, toe touching the handrail, and reveled in the fresh, salt aroma of the wind that filled Raven’s sails. He shook hair dark with dirt from his eyes, brushed back his scraggly beard, and watched foam spirals curl in Raven’s wake. In the distance, twilight colored the bloated shadow of the Kingdom of Alyndar. On the deck, a sheet clamp clanked against the mast. A sailor cursed harshly.
Bored of shifting with the eternal movement of the deck, Nightfall trebled his weight with a thought and stood steady as the lead raven that ornamented the ship’s prow. Though controlling his mass with a thought would have shocked the other eight sailors aboard Raven, it seemed commonplace to Nightfall. The ability had come to him at birth, a congenital gift he’d long ago recognized as a curse. It had complicated an already overcomplicated life, rescuing him from many a tight situation, yet also drawing sorcerers who would murder him to seize his natural talent. Sorcerers gained their magical abilities only by slaying one of the rare people endowed with such a power, and their method required ritual slaughter and taking possession of the victim’s soul.
The captain’s voice floated across the bulwarks in a musical parody of friendship. “Maaaaarak!”
The call seized Nightfall’s attention at once. The name had grown familiar during his years in the country of Nemix. Marak, Etan, Balshaz, Telwinar, Frihiat, each of those men had a vastly different appearance, diverse skills, and individual personalities that Nightfall never confused, though every one was himself. And not even the night-stalking assassin called Nightfall bore his true appearance.
“Maaaarak!” the captain called again, closer now.
Slowly, Nightfall returned his weight to normal, resuming his dance with the swaying stern. He tipped his head slightly, and an ice-grained breeze flicked strands of hair from his face. Otherwise, he gave no response to the captain’s summons.
The captain’s footfalls rang on the deck. Others followed, like echoes. “Marak?”
Nightfall lowered his foot to the deck and turned unhurriedly. He fixed his blue-black stare on the captain, noticing with alarm the half circle of sailors who flanked him. Dark curls swarmed the captain’s head and chin like ivy. Flesh wizened by sea air and sun peeked around the tufts of hair. Eyes black as diamonds met Nightfall’s glare, then rolled guiltily toward the deck. The captain stank of sweat.
A wave crashed against Raven’s hull, suddenly jolting the deck sideways. Staggered, the sailors righted themselves awkwardly. Briefly, Nightfall doubled his weight, drawing some satisfaction from the sailors’ antics. His gaze locked with fanatical interest on the captain’s uneven, yellowed teeth.
The captain gestured. The last dying rays of sunlight flashed from his sapphire ring, flinging blue highlights across the deck. “Marak.” The captain expelled the name in a blast of foul-smelling breath. “I didn’t know I let a fugitive aboard.”
Nightfall retained his composure, aware he had committed no crime in the name or person of Marak, nor of any other alias except Nightfall. Familiar with violence, he let the early stirrings of adrenaline soothe him. “Neither did I.” His gaze swept the sailors, and he spoke with sarcastic formality. “Which of them might you be speaking of, sir?” He searched his memory, trying to recall which of Nightfall’s offenses might have fallen upon Marak, and knowing none could. He covered his trails too well.
The captain shifted his bulk to the rhythm of the swells. Light winked and sparked from his ring. He cleared his throat. “I received a message from King Rikard of Alyndar, by courier dove, concerning the detainment of a murderer known as Nightfall.” He stared, studying Nightfall’s reaction.
Nightfall parodied confusion. “So? What does that have to do with me?” His mind raced. Never in his thirty-four years had anyone crossed his aliases. And only one person, a dancer named Kelryn, knew Nightfall and Marak were the same man. Despite his danger, he pictured the woman he loved: short, white hair flying around plain features, her slender body hardened into muscle that formed taut, perfect curves. She betrayed me. Shock and denial tainted the image. She couldn’t have betrayed me. She wouldn’t. And yet, there’s no other answer. He felt chilled in all parts of his body, and more alone than he had at eight years old on the day of his mother’s death.
The sailors shuffled nervously, closing the gaps in their ranks. The captain pursed his thick lips briefly. “King Rikard described you quite unmistakably.” He waved, and the ring of sailors tightened.
Nightfall adopted an expression of shocked outrage. “This is insane!” He glanced over the sailors, finding no weakness or support among the men. “I’ve never been to Alyndar in my life.”
“Get him,” the captain said quietly.
As one, the sailors lunged for Nightfall.
Unable to run forward, Nightfall leapt over the handrail to the gunwale, doubling his weight to keep pace with the swaying ship. His eyes measured holes in the semicircle of men.
A wave of arms buffeted and dragged at Nightfall. Off-balance, he rolled back over the handrail and crashed to the deck. Pain lanced through his chest. He lurched to his feet and dove through a crack in the sailors’ guard. The instincts of a thief showed in his movements. Even as he dodged through the wall of men, Nightfall swerved toward the captain. Two fingers caught the sapphire. A practiced twist freed it with no more force than a whisper. Then, a kick sent him sprawling, and he cursed himself for the split second lost to an unnecessary theft.
Callused hands gouged Nightfall’s leg. A steel toe smashed into his side, driving air through his teeth. Nightfall twisted, whipping his knife from his boot. He struck with blinding suddenness, driving the blade into a fleshy thigh. A man screamed, and the grip on Nightfall’s leg went lax. Scrambling to his feet, he sprinted across the deck, sheathing his dagger as he ran. Every breath jarred pain through his chest. He quartered his body weight, sacrificing coordination for speed. The shouts behind him mingled to an unrecognizable din.
Waves bounced from Raven’s prow. Her deck bucked. Again, Nightfall vaulted the rail onto the gunwale. His momentum threw him toward the water; only an abrupt weight increase and a side step saved him from the sea. Gradually, reason eclipsed the need for escape. He had learned to swim as a child, yet chunks of ice floated like seabirds in the waters. Though he would not drown, he could not survive the freezing temperatures of the northern Klaimer Ocean, and the famed Alyndarian lobsters would feast on his remains.
Shivering, Nightfall turned, beard flicking across his mouth, leaving a taste of dirt and salt. Like sharks eager for the kill, the sailors rushed him. With a wild cry, Nightfall dove back over the railing. He hit the deck in a roll. The maneuver shot agony through his lungs, and he realized he had cracked a rib in the earlier scuffle. The thought angered him. He struggled to his feet and ran. A sudden backward jerk and a lurch of the ship unbalanced him. He surged forward. His shirt tore in a sailor’s grip, and he fell free. His momentum crashed him into the mast, sending another stab through his chest.
Hugging the mast, Nightfall regained his bearings. Frigid air dried the sweat on his back. The eight sailors had split, forming a ring around him. One man’s thigh trickled blood through the gash Nightfall had opened in his pants leg. No place to run. Points of light obscured Nightfall’s vision; dizziness nearly felled him. The wood felt cold and damp beneath his fingers. The circle of sailors closed, driven by action to a murderous frenzy. Bereft of alternatives, Nightfall caught the lowest cleat, dropped his weight to a minuscule fraction, and scrambled up the mast. The weight shift eased the stress on his rib as well.
Shouts arose from the sailors. Sea-wet air bit through the hole in Nightfall’s shirt, prickling his skin into gooseflesh. The click of sheet clamps and the flap of the sail drowned out the whispered plans beneath him. Nightfall’s options paraded before him. Clinging to the mast, he would succumb to exposure; or, when numbness and fatigue overcame him, he would plummet to his death. Surrender to the crew would cost him his freedom, but that could be regained. Apparently, King Rikard wanted him alive. So far, Nightfall had not killed or seriously wounded any of the sailors, which meant he still had an excellent chance to make it to Alyndar without a fatal “accident.”
Still clutching the pole, Nightfall redrew his knife and let it fall. It tumbled harmlessly through the air, clattering to the deck. “I surrender,” he said.
King Rikard Nargol the Hammer-handed perched upon his high-backed chair, surveying the Great Hall of Alyndar. The array of tapestries and paintings covering the stretches of stone wall between peaked windows had grown familiar, seldom rearranged in the thirty-eight years of his reign. A shield decorated with his crest, a fist clutching a hammer, hung over the entryway door. A guard dressed in Alyndar’s silver and purple escorted a young emissary between rows of benches and toward the dais.
Waiting for the men to traverse the aisle, Rikard studied the nobles who sat on the nearest benches. As always, Prince Leyne, the elder of his two sons, sat stiffly in the front, alert and interested in the proceedings. A perfect copy of Rikard’s shrewd, dark eyes stared back at him from the face of his heir. Leyne also sported his father’s sharply-defined cheeks and thick, war-trained musculature, though there the resemblance ended. Instead of his father’s brown curls, now turned gray, Leyne had inherited the late queen’s golden locks and handsome features. Now twenty-six, Prince Leyne could marry any woman he wished; but, instead, he had committed himself to combat training and court affairs. Other gentlefolk lounged around the Great Hall, but most of these had lost interest in the matters of state. They had broken into huddled groups, their conversations a dim hum of background.
Guards with polearms and swords stood at attention around the perimeter, their demeanors brisk but their drooping faces betraying boredom. Only one man sat with the king. At his right hand, Chancellor Gilleran poised on his seat, gaze fixed on the approaching messenger and escort. Short hair framed pale, blue-gray eyes. Each strand lay in its place, so straight and neutral brown as to appear to have no color or texture at all. Though fifteen years younger than his king, Gilleran had entered his forties. Crow’s-feet etched his eyes and age had coarsened his features, making him look as dangerous as being a sorcerer made him in actuality.
Rikard knew that other kings, earls, and barons would have balked at the idea of allowing a sorcerer in their castles. Most feared the ritualistic slaughter that users of magic performed to gain their powers, ritual that, by report, required the sorcerer to consume his victim’s beating heart. But to Rikard’s knowledge, Gilleran had never slain any of Alyndar’s retinue or its citizens. The sorcerer’s powers served the kingdom well; his reputation, though unproven, kept the stewards and lesser retainers briskly efficient; and his guile complemented Rikard’s own wisdom.
The messenger and his escort stopped before the dais. Now, King Rikard could see the white eagle symbol on the blue and red tabard that marked the young stranger as an emissary of King Idinbal from the southern country of Hartrin.
The messenger bowed deeply.
King Rikard gestured to him to rise.
The emissary obeyed, studying the king respectfully through green eyes beneath wide, dark brows and a fringe of reddish bangs. “Sire, I bring greetings from Hartrin and my lord, King Idinbal, as well as an agreement. I believe, sire, that you will find it generous and satisfactory.”
Rikard nodded with guarded courtesy. Rising taxes against his own goods arriving in Hartrin had caused him to boost tariffs against Hartrin in kind. Affairs had spiraled nearly into economic warfare, and he had as much desire to see the situation defused as Idinbal. Alyndar’s fur and lobster trade into the south lands gleaned more profits than Hartrin’s spices and perfumes in his own lands. Still, Idinbal had a reputation as a cunning and frugal strategist, and not only on the battlefield.
The emissary continued. “King Idinbal has agreed to pay a quarter of his profits as tariff.”
King Rikard’s brows arched, then beetled as he waited for the other shoe to fall. As usual, Chancellor Gilleran sat in expressionless silence. Prince Leyne leaned forward attentively.
“His Majesty, King Idinbal, has agreed to pay half his profits for the following six months provided he can trade freely, without tariff, over these next six months. Sire, he has asked that you do the same.” Message finished with an efficiency that all but demanded an impulsive consent, the emissary lowered his head, awaiting a reply.
Rikard watched his elder son’s face as he deliberated. The young features crinkled in thought.
Rikard allowed his own mind free rein. Spring had come only recently. Ice chunks still cluttered the Klaimer Ocean, making ocean passage difficult, but no longer impossible. Hartrin’s sleek ships would cross the channel heavily over the spring and summer, disappearing as late autumn and winter clogged the water with floes. Meanwhile, Alyndar’s fur trade would flourish in the colder months when the animals came into full coat, and Alyndarian wagons would lurch overland through Nemix, Delfor, Trillium, and Brigg into Hartrin. While Alyndar did its briskest trade, Hartrin would do little in return.
King Rikard glanced at Leyne. The prince frowned, shaking his head, and it pleased the king to see that his son had thought the matter through, arriving at the same conclusion. “Thank your lord for his most …” He paused to draw sarcastic emphasis onto the next word. “… generous offer. But Alyndar has no interest in this agreement—”
“Father, wait.” Leyne rose.
Every eye darted to the prince. Hartrin’s negotiator turned to face the young man directly.
“Perhaps we can work this agreement, with one minor change.” Leyne addressed the Hartrinian directly. “Are you in a position to speak for King Idinbal on this matter?”
The emissary nodded. “Yes, Sire, I am.”
Prince Leyne looked back to the king, apparently realizing he did not have the same authority. “I understand King Idinbal’s need to wait for his payment; you’ve had a difficult winter. But our coffers are currently full. Perhaps my father would agree to your trade if Alyndar paid Hartrin in the coming six months and Hartrin paid us in the ones following.”
King Rikard smiled, pleased by his son’s negotiating. Compromise always worked better than direct refusal of an offer, and he had trapped Hartrin neatly. To decline the concession would almost require an admission of deceitful intentions, and Hartrin did more overland winter trade than Alyndar did in the summer. “Quite correct. I would agree to this.”
The emissary paled, turning back to the king. “I …”
The door to the Great Hall whipped open suddenly, slamming against the far wall with a jolt that dislodged the hanging shield. Prince Edward Nargol strode into the aisle, flanked by his personal steward and two members of the guard. The shield plummeted in Edward’s wake, missing the harried steward by luck alone, crashing to the floor at his feet. The sound of metal striking stone rang through the room. The steward leapt backward, eyes round as coins, hands clutching at his chest.
King Rikard groaned, wondering what moral cause his impetuous eighteen-year-old had chosen to champion this time.
Prince Edward stormed down the aisle, his golden hair flying, his beautiful, round face too gentle-featured to reveal his rage. “You can’t do business with Hartrin, Father. It would be wrong.” He wore the padding of the practice field, straps and laces dangling where he had begun to remove his gear.
The emissary spun around to face the prince stomping toward him. His expression mixed fear and uncertainty.
The steward stepped around the shield, trotting to catch up with his charge and the two-guard escort.
The Hartrinian emissary skittered aside as Edward clomped to a halt before the dais. “Father, Hartrin keeps slaves.”
King Rikard reined in his temper with difficulty. Though familiar, his younger son’s interruptions had become nearly intolerable over the last few years. “Ned, this isn’t the time. We’ll talk later.”
Edward’s expression lapsed into righteous distress, now devoid of rage. “Not the time? But how can it ever not be the time to right an evil against mankind?” He pounded a gloved fist into his palm with each point. “I’m talking about every man’s basic right to freedom. I’m talking about every man’s right to respect and to dignity under the almighty Father. I’m talking about elemental, fundamental morality—”
“Ned!” King Rikard shouted over his youngest son’s tirade. I’m talking about you rambling in my court! He kept the chastisement to himself. Over the years, he had gained a reputation for fairness and saw no reason to tarnish it by humiliating the prince in public. No matter how much he deserves it. “Ned, I’m not going to warn you again.”
Prince Edward fell silent, his blue eyes bright, his brows raised, and his forehead creased with surprise.
“When I’m finished here, we’ll talk. Until then, find something constructive to do. Outside my court!” Rikard jabbed a finger toward the exit, looking to the escort to carry out his command if it became necessary.
The guards shifted nervously, apparently loath to manhandle the prince.
But Ned made their interference unnecessary. He turned with a pensiveness that alerted his father to trouble, then marched back down the aisle the way he had come. The steward scrambled after his charge.
King Rikard sat back with a sigh, watching his son’s retreat. The youth moved with long, solid strides, the pudgy steward jogging after him, requiring a step and a half for each of Edward’s. The prince sported his father’s iron-boned frame, firmed by weapons training, dance lessons, and horse riding. Wasted. All wasted. The king shook his head, wishing he had interfered more with his wife’s attention to her younger child. May she dance forever in the Father’s light, she meant well; but tutors, poets, and storytellers do not make a strong man or a competent ruler. Ned has no understanding of reality. Rikard had wished his younger son to become a warrior in his brother’s service, a pursuit that well-matched his temper and size; yet the good queen had leaned toward the artistic and scholarly. I should never have let her hire Zakrao to teach him. He pictured the tutor, a lanky Rankellian who talked as much with his hands as his mouth and whose idea of “fairness” was based on the wants, not the worth, of a man. Zakrao would take the side of a slackard for no other reason than that no one else would and consider it justice only if the fool got his way. Now, Rikard shook his head at the memory and at his son’s retreating back. As the exit swung closed behind Prince Edward and his entourage, the king turned his attention to Leyne. Thank the gods, one of my sons will make a good king.
The Hartrinian emissary retook his position before the throne, waiting with his head lowered and his hands folded across his abdomen.
The king turned his consideration back to the emissary. Before Prince Edward had arrived, he had the Hartrinian well trapped into a deal that would benefit Alyndar. Now, the mood had disappeared. “Does Hartrin agree to the new arrangement?” he asked with little hope that it would be the case. The emissary had had plenty of time to consider the deal, detail its flaws in his mind, and think of a suitable escape from his corner.
The emissary cleared his throat. “With all respect, Sire, I was not authorized to make that particular deal. I am, however, permitted to agree to having both countries pay ten percent of profits as tariff, year round.”
“Done.” King Rikard nodded once, keeping all evidence of his relief from his outward expression. He had tired of Idinbal’s games. Ten percent closely approximated trade agreements with the other two kingdoms. “Dismissed.”
Pivoting, the Hartrinian left the Great Hall. King Rikard watched as the nobleman departed, waiting for the finality of the closing door.
But the Great Hall door remained open. Two soldiers in the lavender and gray of Alyndar’s prison guards entered, their lighter uniforms conspicuous against the deeper purple and silver of the royal guard. Rikard recognized one as the chief of the dungeon guards, a compact redhead named Volkmier. Then, the door clicked closed behind them.
King Rikard’s pulse quickened. He saw the prison guards only rarely. Considering his last instructions to them, he knew they must bring news of Nightfall. Yet he also realized the facts would far more likely prove disappointing. Named for a night-stalking demon in a child’s nursery rhyme, Nightfall had become more notorious than the legend that spawned his name. Likely, he had committed only half the crimes attributed to him over the last twenty years; but if he had committed just a quarter, it was still more evil per moon cycle than most men could perpetrate in a lifetime.
Volkmier and his companion marched down the aisle, their approach interminably long. Rumors claimed that Nightfall heard every whisper spoken to the night wind. Those who wanted an item taken, a person slaughtered, an enemy discredited or killed need only let the dark breezes carry the message. Then they must be prepared to pay, if not in gold or money, then with their own blood. Many believed Nightfall was the demon of fable come to life, but Rikard knew better. The rhyme was older than his own childhood, but the man who haunted the nights of every country on the continent had earned his reputation a scant twenty years ago and probably began his spree of crime no more than a decade before that time. Captured swagmen, fronts, and smugglers swore that Nightfall was a single man. To the one, they described him as dark and imposing, a bearded man with a wickedly scarred face, a gravelly voice, and eyes the color of blackened steel. And, somehow, Chancellor Gilleran had discovered the connection between Nightfall and a Nemixite called Marak.
The prison guards stopped before the dais. Eager for details, King Rikard addressed them before they could execute the customary formalities. “What news do you bring, Volkmier?”
The chief prison guard poised, halfway bowed. “Majesty, we have Nightfall in custody.”
Joy thrilled through Rikard, tainted by caution. He glanced to his right. Even Gilleran’s usually blank face held a tight-lipped smile. The king leaned forward, hands clamped to the armrests of his chair. “Raven turned him over? He’s in the prison?”
The first answer being self-evident, Volkmier skipped to the second. “Majesty, we placed him in the security cage under three locks and three separate keys.”
The other guard completed his bow. “And, Sire, we still have the manacles and shackles on him from the ship.”
“He didn’t give you any trouble?”
“None at all, Majesty,” Volkmier said proudly. He straightened. “We had a contingent ready when he arrived. The crew had him tamed. He came as meek as a kitten. We stripped him down carefully, took everything the sailors missed …”
Rikard frowned, assailed by doubts. Something’s wrong. This doesn’t sound like the Nightfall who’s haunted men’s nights for two decades. Prince Leyne’s face mirrored his father’s suspicions.
Volkmier continued, undaunted. “… including these.” He pulled a pouch from beneath his cloak, opened the drawstring, and carefully jiggled three daggers onto his palm. Sunlight streaming through the windows glinted from razor-honed edges. Though simply crafted, the hilts did not detract from the crisply-tempered steel.
Seized with a sudden urge to test their stability, King Rikard opened a hand to reach for the daggers. Before he could move, Volkmier answered the unspoken question.
“Perfectly balanced for throwing, Sire.”
His curiosity addressed, King Rikard redirected his gesture, tapping the chair arm with an open hand. The knives meant nothing; any sailor or traveler might be expected to carry a utility blade or two. But most sailors could not afford even a single knife of the quality of those that sat in Volkmier’s hand. Still, he wanted more convincing evidence. “What else did you get from him?”
Volkmier flexed his arm, flicking the daggers back into the pouch. “Just clothing, Majesty. Filthy and ragged.”
Rikard stroked his sculpted, gray beard thoughtfully. “I want to know what and who this man is. Use the torturer if necessary, but sparingly.” We only need him to admit to one murder to justify execution, but 1 don’t want an innocent man whipped into a confession. “I want the truth.”
Volkmier and his companion headed away from the Great Hall.
King Rikard did not bother to watch their departure. Instead, he turned his attention to Chancellor Gilleran. The sorcerer’s face had returned to its expressionless mask, yet his eyes burned like pale flames and the hands that lay in his lap were tensely clasped as if in anticipation.
The king conferred softly with his adviser. “You’ve met this Marak/Nightfall before?”
Gilleran shook his head, not bothering with words.
“But you’ll know him when you see him?”
“Within a few sentences, Sire, I will know him.” Gilleran made a routine gesture of reverence, though his attention seemed elsewhere. “And I hope, my king, you will leave Nightfall’s execution to me. An assassin of his ilk deserves to have his soul writhe in agony for eternity.” A slight smile flickered across his features and disappeared. By the time he fixed a grim stare directly on the king, his features had again lapsed into a pall. “Don’t you agree, Sire?”
The cold cruelty of Gilleran’s tone sent a chill through King Rikard despite the obvious logic of his words. He was seeing a side of his adviser he had never seen before. And he was not at all sure he liked it.
Alyndar’s dungeon reeked of must, mildew, and lingering disease. Dressed only in the loincloth the guards had left him, Nightfall crouched at the far side of his cell, the wall stones cold and damp against his back. Through the bars, he could see shifting figures in the faint light that penetrated cracks in the ceiling and a few guttering torches among as many spent ones stuck in brackets on the wall. The whispers of the other prisoners came to him in garbled bursts, liberally sprinkled with his demon name.
The locks on his fetters had proved little more than an inconvenience. The shackles and manacles were heaped in a pile at his side, a gash across his ankle and a flap of skin abraded from his forearm the only evidence that they had once held him prisoner. Blood beaded the arm wound; its constant, sharp sting helped him ignore the rhythmical stab of the broken rib into his lungs with every breath. He clamped his hand against his oozing wrist to staunch the bleeding, skittering toward the cage door to assess its security.
As Nightfall moved toward the cell entrance, the other prisoners in Alyndar’s dungeon fell silent, apparently straining to watch his techniques. A torch flickered and died. A thin wisp of smoke curled from the blackened wood. In the fading light, Nightfall assessed the three locks. They appeared intricately crafted, a barrier that would require a locksmith’s tools and, even then, might thwart his professional skills. He retreated to his crouched vigil at the back of the cell, too thoughtful to become concerned.
Methodically, Nightfall checked walls and bars, assessing them with a touch. The granite seemed stable, the bars flawless, solid, and firmly welded. Other than the shed fetters, the cell was empty. Not even a wooden bowl or a straw pallet interrupted the cold expanse of stone. Nightfall’s mind analyzed every detail automatically, seeing the shackles and manacles as weapons, the sapphire ring he had swallowed as a potential bribe, once he passed it. Even the tense whispers of his prison mates became duly noted as a possible tool. Their fear and awe of his reputation could serve him in some way, should the need arise.
Nightfall rolled his beard between his palms. Having fully surveyed his surroundings, he let his thoughts wander, and they riveted instantly on Kelryn. Again, the dancer filled his mind’s eye, unconsciously dredging a thrill of desire. Moonlight striped her white hair and sparkled through muddled green-brown eyes, her plain features somehow beautiful, her every movement as graceful as her swaying, swirling dances. Never before had Nightfall fallen prey to the guiles of a woman, the goadings of his heart, or the preaching of his
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