Kings of Morning

Kings of Morning by Paul Kearney Page B

Book: Kings of Morning by Paul Kearney Read Free Book Online
Authors: Paul Kearney
Tags: Fantasy
those above, darting into shadows and side-alleys as the company passed. Rakhsar had drawn his sword again, and his eyes gleamed with a light of their own. His sister took his free hand, and the twins proceeded thus while the two other servants brought up the rear, bent under travel-bags, and as wide-eyed as owls in the hot deepening darkness.
    ‘Here,’ Kurun said at last. He squeezed shut his eyes a second, fighting a wash of nausea. He felt wetness on the backs of his thighs, and dared not speculate on it.
    They were in a wider space, an arched passageway so low that Ushau’s head scraped the ceiling. Beyond there was more light, torches burning, a heat slightly less heavy, and the sense of moving air. There was noise also, the rattle of iron wheel-rims on stone, the braying of mules, and the clink of masonry. Many voices rose and fell, not the sea-rush of an aimless crowd, but the purposeful give and take of people at work.
    ‘This is the stone-cutters’ valley,’ Kurun said. ‘We are at the level of the streets now. If we go through here, there is a gateway which is always open in daylight, and then we are outside.’
    ‘It must be near dawn by now,’ Rakhsar said, wiping his face.
    ‘They will sound the chime when the sun rises,’ Kurun told him tiredly. ‘That’s when the shift changes. That would be the best time to try for the outside.’
    He was fading away. The torchlight seemed to be circling a loom of widening shadow. His face was gripped by strong fingers, and shaken.
    ‘Stay with us, boy. When we stand under the sun, you can sleep all you want.’
    ‘He is bleeding, master,’ Ushau said.
    ‘Set him down.’ Roshana’s voice, quick and sharp.
    Kurun was laid down on the stone. They opened his legs and peeled the soaked chiton from his thighs. He cried out, but the scream was smothered by Ushau’s huge palm, and the other held him down while Rakhsar and Roshana examined him. Rakhsar’s upper lip peeled back from his teeth. ‘Bel in his heaven, what a mess.’
    ‘Maidek,’ Roshana said, ‘Can you do something?’
    The skull-lean Kefre knelt beside them. He looked Kurun’s injuries over with some interest, like a man at a market-stall.
    ‘They closed the wound with fire, mistress, but missed part of it. I would bind the boy’s legs together for now. He will need to be sewn up, but I cannot do that here. I need –’
    A brass clang rattled through the air, as though some titan had dropped a metal pot out of the sky. Rakhsar stood up. ‘Your butchery can wait, Maidek,’ he said. ‘That’ll be the chime the boy spoke of. Ushau, clamp him tight.’
    The light grew, grey and cool across the massive chamber ahead. It revealed gangs of hufsan , who were now straightening from their labour upon orderly rows of squared stone, heaps of rubble. A swarm of talk rose. Suddenly the place seemed crowded, as more apron-clad hufsan trooped in from outside, and from stairways and ramps leading down from the dark bulk of the ziggurat above. The tall gateway loomed beyond, brightening moment by moment. There was an inrush of cooler air that brought the dust of the stoneworkers with it to grit their teeth, and something else. The mingled stinks of the world beyond, the promiscuous perfume of the city itself.
    ‘The boy was right,’ Roshana said. ‘That is the light of the dawn.’
    ‘Up. Move,’ Rakhsar snapped. ‘Follow me.’
    He had sheathed his sword, but kept his hand on the hilt as they trailed through the work-gangs, gathering rock-dust, the sweat and toil of the slave-city pressing in on them with the milling crowds of workers. The fresh, cool air of the city beyond drew them on, filling their lungs. Rakhsar uttered a strangled laugh as they stepped out of the ziggurat, into the morning cacophony that was Ashur, and looked around themselves like an island of idle fools in a sea of busy people.
    ‘I smell grilled frog,’ Rakhsar said to his sister, grinning. The sweat lay like pearl beads

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