30. WHERE OLD THIEF-TAKERS GO

Syannis screamed: ‘Come on!’ He couldn’t remember that ever actually working. To his amazement, this time it did. He watched the last of the four swordsmen turn and race down the Avenue of Emperors back towards the Captains’ Rest. He stayed very still, watching the man go. Then he swayed and staggered. His coat and the darkness probably hid it well enough, but he was bleeding, and badly. Wounds like the one he’d taken killed people. There was a good chance he was dying.

People were staring. Well if I’m going to die, it’s not going to be in the middle of the street surrounded by a hundred gawping onlookers. It’s going to be somewhere where no one ever finds the body so no one can be quite sure I’m gone.

Had to be gone before the watch showed, too. He gritted his teeth and started to jog up the Avenue of Emperors. Important that VenDormen doesn’t know I’m hurt. Except he really was hurt, and badly, and running was making it a lot worse. He lurched into the next dark alley and stumbled up against the wall. His breathing was much too hard and he could taste iron. No. Not iron.

He coughed. Frothy blood filled his mouth. He clenched his fists and screwed up his eyes, furious with himself. Oh well done, Syannis. Well done. Now you really have gone and got yourself killed. And for what? For a city that isn’t even your home? For a gang of greedy merchants who have more in common with the… No. He wasn’t going to think about that. That was the past.

The urge to sit down was a strong one. Or maybe lie down. Curl up on the cobbles and rest for a while. Maybe that would help him find the energy to walk the rest of the way up the hill. Up into Four Winds Square, across the other side, down the Godsway to the House of Gulls by the River Gate. Yes. That was a long way. A little rest first…

Syannis coughed again and spat out another gobbet of blood. Rest meant death. He didn’t have time. He needed to walk, and quickly, and he needed to do it now, and how much it hurt or how hard it seemed really didn’t matter. One foot at a time, he compelled himself to move, staring grimly ahead. When the alley emptied him out into the Kingsway, he hardly noticed the people who came the other way. He staggered on up the hill towards Four Winds Square. The River Gate might as well have been in Varr. Maybe he could get as far as the Eight. Someone would be there. Maybe they could send for a priest. Or that Tigraleff fellow. Whoever he was.

No. Kuy. He needed Kuy. He needed a magician. A healer. His old friend. One step at a time, that was all that mattered.

He was almost at the top of the Kingsway when his legs finally failed him. They simply stopped and buckled and pitched him forward and that was that. He managed to roll over, onto his back, pressed up against a wall, away from the middle of the road. Into the thickest of the shadows, where no one would tread on him. That was the least a man could ask wasn’t it? To get on and bleed to death quietly in a corner somewhere and not be trodden on?

Syannis, once a prince, now a thief-taker, thought about this for a while. A pair of green eyes stared at him, a stray cat. It stopped beside him and started to lick his face. And then, for a time, the thinking stopped.

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