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Introduction:

Assassins Guild
The city was just returning to normal. It has been two months since the king had come to the city. He stayed two weeks and the city celebrated for two months. I glanced at Sam crossing the square to join me for a lunch time tea. Adelia and Tim had taken a huge group of children to Baroness Terness to spend the day.

I smiled as Sam sat down with a weary sigh, “Want to visit the court baths?”

She grinned, “yes but I don’t want to walk that far.”

I grinned back at her and my eyes scanned the square before stopping as they met a small man’s. I froze as he glanced at Sam and I shifted, “Sam, go inside, now.”

She looked at me and then started to look around. I touched her hand, “inside. Don’t let anyone touch you or get near your food or drink. Go.”

She stood and started for the door as I stood and started for the man. He waited calmly and bowed when I stood in front of him, “Armsmaster, I did not know you were here when I accepted the contract. The guild has been paid a very large amount to remove the current Duke. Since you are here I will withdraw. I hope this balances our account?”

I nodded, “if you withdraw it does.”

He bowed again and smiled, “I was surprised to see you had married. She is very spirited. I watched her with bloody Mona, a very deceptive young woman.”

He gestured toward the eastern gate, “My horse is at the gate. Would you walk with me?”

I bowed slightly and we started walking. He sighed, “I too am getting old. I think this was a sign by the goddess. I think I will go home. I haven’t been there in many years.”

I smiled slightly, “Perhaps you need a woman.”

He nodded, “I thought of that.”

We were silent the rest of the way. When we reached the gate his horse was hitched to a post. He gathered the rains and turned, “The guild has others coming. Watch your back Charles.”

He swung up and headed out the gate. I turned and started running, when I shouldered the door open into the Inn, Sam, Peter, Chris, Dett and Edward spun with hands on daggers. I looked at Peter, “Get to the Duke, tell him someone has paid the assassins guild for his death.”

Peter nodded as he headed towards the door behind me. I looked at Chris, “check all the servants.”

He nodded and started to follow Peter as I looked at Edward, “I want you to find someplace that over looks the roofs in front of the Keep.”

As he started leaving I looked at Dett, “apothecaries. I don’t care if it is an old woman that buys something poisonous, have it checked.”

He nodded and I turned to Sam, “You’re grounded.”

She sighed, “Again.”

I smiled, “At least you can have Tess over now that she is pregnant and her mother is giving her time off.”

Sam grinned, “And Mona is spending the night too.”

I smiled and took her hand to lead her across to the house, “Make sure Tim knows to put his weapons on when he gets home.”

I closed the door behind her and turned to walk towards the Keep, stopping a guard to let captain Able know to put guards around the house. I was checking everything as I went towards the Keep, alley’s roofs, doorways... I walked into the Keep and headed for Henry’s cubby hole. He turned from the fire as I entered and grinned.

When I didn’t smile he straightened, “What is it?”

I looked around the weapon littered room, “Someone paid the assassins guild to kill the Duke.”

Henry frowned, “Why?”

I shrugged, “revenge, money, power or a woman.”

He snorted, “You can scratch a woman off the list.”

I nodded, “So revenge, money or power.”

Henry shook his head, “James is the only one to benefit and from the looks between him and Ali, I would say he would rather wait.”

I grinned, “Ali and James do seem to enjoy being out of the line of fire.”

Henry nodded, “That leaves money or revenge.”

I nodded, “Either someone will make a lot of money or the duke has cost someone powerful a lot of money.”

Henry nodded, “Or it’s the Temple or Shermerez.”

I shook my head, “Shermerez is in enough trouble. Besides losing half their country to Deliqure and almost all their treasury, they have debts from their cousins to the south.”

I thought about it and shook my head, “The Temple of Kirsh has enough trouble with the King now that he is scouring the kingdom to ferret them out.”

Henry nodded and sighed, “I hate to agreed.”

I smiled and glanced at the door as it opened and the duke stepped in with Peter at his shoulder. He smiled, “I heard you were here.”

I nodded, “I was comparing notes with Henry.”

The duke nodded, “And what did you come up with?”

Henry cleared his throat, “We think it’s about money.”

Peter straighten and I looked at him, “What?”

He glanced at the duke, “Mona told me that the duke’s custom officers seized three of the Merchant Simson’s ships. Something about slave crews and hemp grass.”

The duke nodded, “They were caught around the point, smuggling the hemp grass.”

I looked at Henry, “I’ve never met Merchant Simson.”

He snorted along with the duke. Peter cleared his throat, “he only spends the summer season here.”

I glanced at him and he shrugged, “he’s one of those, I’ll do what I want because I can afford to.”

I nodded and turned to the duke, “You seized the ships and crew? Did you fine him?”

He shook his head, “Not yet.”

I smiled and glanced at Peter, “Would you be so kind as to escort the merchant to the Guard headquarters?”

He grinned and turned to the door. I looked at the duke, “Would you mind me taking the case away from customs?”

He grinned and shook his head, “Not at all. I hate dealing with the man.”

I nodded to Henry and left, heading back to the Guard headquarters but Amanda, Sam’s older sister stopped me, “Charles?”

I turned as she crossed to me with a bright smile, “Do you know a merchant named Simson?”

I stopped smiling, “Why?”

She looked at me in surprise, “He sent me a gift and…”

I took her arm and turned her towards Henry’s room. I opened the door and the duke and Henry looked at me as I led Amanda in, “The merchant Simson sent Amanda a gift.”

The duke’s face darkened but I held up my hand, “Chris is here checking the servants. Have the gift checked by him and set any other gifts aside and let me deal with the merchant.”

The duke nodded angrily and held his arm out to his daughter. I left and headed back to the Guard headquarters. I walked into the Guard room to hear loud blustering and four large private guards facing Peter. I walked towards them and looked at captain Able who was on today, “If these private guards are here for another minute lock them up.”

The merchant turned at my voice and snarled, “You have no…”

I slugged him in the mouth, knocking him to the ground. His guards started to move and the whole room of city Guards growled and started forward. They froze suddenly and I ignored them to kick the merchant in the face, “Listen close dead man. Before you only lost the ships and drugs. Now that you have tried to kill the duke it gets much worse. When I get the evidence your death will be a slow painful one. For now I sentence you to ten years at hard labor for smuggling and slavery.”

I nodded to him whimpering on the floor, “Lock him up!”

I turned to see his guards still there, “Still here? Fine... Captain Able, these men are conspiring to smuggle hemp grass into your city. I will also be questioning them on matters of treason. Please have them confined separately in the plague cells.”

They jerked at that as the room of guards around them closed in and reached for them. The merchant pleaded and cried as city guards roughly pulled him to his feet and shoved him towards the back doorway and the waiting cells. The four private guards were quickly disarmed and secured before guards put on plague masks.

They started begging right then before they reached the side door into the separate cells. I nodded and Peter had three of them thrown against the wall and the forth brought back. Captain Able and lieutenant Belet stood behind my shoulder. I nodded to the man and began questioning him quietly.

Able and Belet both jerked at the mention of the assassins guild. When I finished getting the information I looked at Able, “Have him taken to the city gates. Have his name and description posted and if he returns, kill him”

Able nodded and gestured to the two guards holding him. They growled and jerked him up before marching him out. Peter went to the next man and pulled him towards me. I questioned all four men and confirmed the merchant’s guilt each time. As the last one was being marched out I turned to Able and Belet, “Have a death pole struck.”

I left and Peter fell in beside me, “The guild won’t stop because he’s dead.”

I glanced at Peter, “I know but it will let them know that I know what they plan.”

He grinned when we came in the house. Sam, Tess and a newly pregnant Mona turned to look at us from the fireplace. I smiled as I crossed to Sam, “If you promise to behave, I will tell you what we found so far.”

She smiled, “I can always make you sleep alone.”

I grinned, “Then you wouldn’t have a bed warmer.”

She laughed with Tess and Mona and then stuck out her tongue. I sat down with Peter sitting in another chair. Mona actually sat in his lap as Sam sat on the arm of the chair and listened while I told her what I had found out.

Mona grinned, “Remember that funny Baron we had to protect from the guild?”

I nodded, “we killed a dozen before they decided it cost to much.”

Peter snorted, “The hard part is going to be catching them this time.”

I nodded, “Once Chris finishes with the servants I am closing the Keep to anyone except those with an audience.”

Sam cleared her throat, “The court won’t like that.”

I shrugged, “They are going to hate what else I do.”

Mona laughed, “body searches and militia escorts.”

I nodded, “And the servants will be quartered separately and the cooks will be escorted when shopping.”

Tess looked back and forth, “The guards need to know what the cooks are supposed to buy.”

I glanced from her to Sam and she grinned, “She’s right, you could have her go with the guards.”

I shook my head, “No, Able wouldn’t allow it and I wouldn’t want to put her at risk.”

I sat back and looked up and Peter laughed, “Remember the fight we broke up with the market wives?”

Sam laughed as Mona and Tess looked at him and I smiled, “You’re thinking to get them to help us?”

He nodded and looked at Mona, “Last week there was a fight between a dozen market wives over what they thought was each other stealing from each other. It turns out it was an orphan waif that was hiding under their tables.”

Sam grinned because she remembered me telling her. Tess frowned, “What did you do with the waif?”

Peter laughed, “When they found out we would have to turn him over to the orphans retreat they all wanted him. Each day he goes to a different family.”

Mona smiled and looked into Peter’s face. I sighed and patted Sam, “time to gather the troops and make plans.”

She grinned, “You could always have William and Sarah stay with dad.”

Peter and Mona laughed and Tess grinned, “He would have a mini dragon army protecting him.”

I smiled, “The assassins guild would try to take them first.”

I stood as Sam moved off me and looked at Tess, “Would you and your husband join us for dinner?”

She smiled, “Well, momma told me to get lost for a couple of days while she worked with the other girls, so sure.”

I grinned and nodded to Mona as Peter stood to join me, “Maybe you can get Tim to finish the boiler for the bath.”

She grinned as she looked at Sam, “Yeah, someone likes spending a lot of time in her bathes.”

Sam grinned, “Wait until you’re as big as me.”

They laughed as Peter and I headed towards the door. On the way to the Keep I nodded to people and glanced at Peter, “We need to get a watch going. Melec just left and said they would send others. If they aren’t here yet we may be able to have some of these servants report a stranger.”

Edward appeared to walk beside us, “I think someone is watching the Keep.”

I glanced at him and then nodded to Peter, “Take him, it will be a spotter.”

Peter gestured and Edward joined him as I went on to the keep. I pulled the Militia captain inspecting his soldiers aside. I explained the new rules to him with Henry and the duke there, he wasn’t happy but understood. Chris came in a few minutes later and nodded to me, “Everyone is clean.”

I told him what I had sent Peter and Edward to do. He nodded, “Spotter. They’ll have someone watching to see if poison will work.”

I nodded and he sighed, “They will try long range first.”

I smiled, “I’ll have Dett and Edward start watching the nearby homes in shifts. I want you and Peter to take turns being with the duke.”

He nodded and sighed again, “I had dinner plans tonight.”

I grinned, “Your farmer’s daughter?”

He grinned and nodded, “She wants me to meet her parents.”

I griped his shoulder, “Bring them to the guard tavern. I’ll tell Maria to find a good table for you and have the meal put on my bill.”

He laughed, “Well, since your paying…”

The duke and Henry laughed with him and I smiled as I looked at the duke, “I’m sure you won’t mind a private dinner tonight my lord.”

He grinned and shook his head as Henry snorted. I left and headed back to the guard headquarters. When I walked in captain Able nodded to the cells and I continued through the room. I found Peter and Edward in a cell with a narrow faced man protesting his innocence.

I stopped in the doorway to the cell, “Don’t waste any more time. If he won’t talk, strike a death pole and be done with it.”

The man gasped, “Wait!”

I nodded and turned to leave, “When he is done, strip him and have him escorted to the edge of the Duchy.”

It was three days before Belet stopped beside the table Sam and I were sitting at. I smiled and he shook his head, “We may have something.”

I stood quickly as Sam sighed and stood slowly. She kissed my cheek before walking towards our doorway and I looked at Belet, “What is it?”

He followed Sam with his eyes and then grinned as he looked at me, “I think I’m going to win the pool.”

I smiled as I looked at Sam entering the house, “Just as long as it’s soon.”

He laughed and turned towards the Guard headquarters, “One of my guards noticed an unknown merchant by the militia practice grounds.”

I looked at him as I fell in beside him, “And?”

He grinned, “He knocked him on the head and carried him in. We put him in a cell and he just woke up.”

I smiled as we came through the door and captain Hurst turned from talking to Chris. I nodded as I continued towards the cells. A guard stood against the far wall as the merchant whined and pleaded with him. I walked straight to the bars in front of the merchant and he shut up. I looked him over and smiled, “Want to deal or do I strike a death pole?”

He sighed, “Deal.”

I nodded and glanced at the guard, “Bring a stool and a mug of cider.”

He grinned, “It will take more than that to get rid of the headache.”

I smiled and looked at the prisoner as Chris came to stand beside me, “How many are here and how many were sent?”

He hesitated, “Four were sent. I only know of two others here.”

I nodded, “Specialties?”

He shrugged, “Blade and crossbow.”

I looked at him and he flushed, “Okay, one specializes in poison.”

I looked at Chris, “Get any details and meet me at the keep.”

He nodded and I left signaling for captain Hurst to come with me. He smiled as he fell into step beside me. I glanced back, “Once we get the description of the other three assassins I want all your men out looking. Don’t bother with inns or taverns. Have them look in the boarding houses and abandoned buildings. I also want anyone stopped at the gates carrying a bow or crossbow.”

He nodded, “Do we bring them in?”

I sighed, “Not if the guard knows them or knows of someone that can vouch for them.”

He nodded again, “I’ll make it happen.”

He turned away as I continued on. I was almost to the Keep when it happened. The seemingly drunk sailor was beside a corner tavern as I passed and he tripped. He staggered towards me flailing his arms and I spun, drawing a dagger. I swept the dagger up to meet a descending hand as my other hand slashed sideways brushing the other hand away.

The solid contact on the hide bracer of my right wrist told the tail. The drunk was suddenly sober as he twisted to avoid my dagger. I kicked into his groin and moved after him as the hidden dagger appeared in his hand. He shifted and licked his lips as we slowly circled. He lunged and I stabbed through his hand and twisted.

He screamed as my dagger ripped his wrist apart and I turned him. The scream cut off as a thrown dagger slammed into his throat. I backed away and glanced at the guard that stood across the street looking white, “Nice throw.”

He blushed, “I was aiming for his chest.”

I smiled, “You need a bit more practice then.”

He nodded as he came closer and knelt to retrieve his dagger. I glanced down the guard’s body towards his feet and froze before suddenly stepping closer and placing my dagger against his throat, “Drop it.”

He didn’t move and didn’t drop the dagger. I pulled back slightly and his dagger clattered onto the street. I yanked him up and shoved him face first into the side of the building. My dagger was at the base of his skull as I started checking him for weapons. By the time Chris appeared a couple of minutes later there was five more weapons littering the street.

While I kept my dagger against the back of his neck, Chris tied his hands behind his back. He grabbed the weapons as we started back toward the Guard headquarters, “The assassin lied.”

Chris nodded and stayed silent, I pushed the man through the front doors and everyone turned to look. Captain Hurst and lieutenant Belet turned and then started towards me as we continued across the room. The cellblock door was being opened and a guard stood there. A spiked dropped into my hand as the guard stepped out and I threw.

The spike took the guard in the shoulder and he turned as he cried out. Chris rushed towards him as he headed back into the cell block. The room had gone silent after I had thrown the spike and I looked around and snarled, “Don’t just sit there! He killed his guard, get him!”

There was a sudden rush towards the cell block as I held my prisoner back. Captain Hurst joined me while lieutenant Belet went into the cellblock. When we came through the door, the assassin was on the floor and ten guards stood around his body. I glanced into his cell to see the dead body of the guard that had caught him.

I nodded to the cell and captain Hurst cleared his throat, “Get this cleaned up.”

I moved to a corner cell and shoved my prisoner in before making him strip out of the guard uniform. After closing the door I looked at him, “Want to talk?”

He smiled but didn’t say anything. I nodded and turned to captain Hurst, “Strike a death pole and prepare a strangle strap.”

I looked at the pale faced assassin, “You should have talked.”

I turned and started for the other room as he cleared his throat, “You have to give me a trial.”

The guards laughed as I turned back, “If you know who I am, you know what I am. You want a trail? I find you guilty of impersonating a city guard. I find you guilty of killing another citizen. I find you guilty of interfering in my investigation of treason. Anything else you want to know before we place the strangle strap around your neck?”

He looked around and licked his lips, “They’ll kill me.”

I shook my head, “You must be new.”

I turned and took one step before he blurted, “Okay!”

I turned and nodded to Chris, “You tell him what he wants to know. If everything checks out, I’ll release you.”

I left with captain Hurst and lieutenant Belet, “Make sure there are always three guards back there. If he so much as pinches one of them, kill him.”

Captain Hurst nodded and lieutenant Belet turned back. I crossed towards the door with the captain, “Start doubling up on the guards that are on patrol.”

He nodded and stopped at the door, “You should have a guard.”

I smiled, “Put guards on the doors to my home and tell Tim someone wants to hurt the children.”

Hurst snorted, “That would be dangerous.”

I smiled and headed to the Keep to talk to the duke. By the side door were two richly dressed merchants that wouldn’t normally stand out but the way they stood as a servant talked to the militia guards told me everything I needed to know. I quickened my pace and drew a spike as the militia corporal shook his head, “I don’t care what issue they have. They have to file…”

I threw the spike as the servant’s hand started the move that would end the corporal’s life. The spike slammed into the neck of the servant causing him to slam forward. The two false merchants had started to move past the corporal and spun in surprise. I threw a second spike that took one in the chest. I drew my sword as I closed with the last man, “Surrender.”

He snarled and pulled two daggers, “Your dead!”

He staggered as his eyes went wide and then he was going to his knees as the daggers dropped to the ground. Slowly he fell forward and I nodded to the corporal, “Nice timing.”

He nodded stone faced as he lowered his short sword and I gestured, “Have my spikes removed, dump the bodies and tell your sergeant I suggested the outer guards be doubled.”

He nodded again, “Yes, Kristin.”

I went through the door and headed towards the duke’s study. He looked up from talking to a court baron named Alston and Henry moved away from the wall. I bowed my head, “Their here.”

The duke sat back and looked at Henry, “Move the girls like we planned. Tell James and Ali and then arrange for the crier to tell the city.”

That was something he had thought of, telling the whole city about the assassins that were here to kill him. I glanced at Henry, “so far five are dead and one is in the jail.”

He nodded, “They’ll be more.”

The baron cleared his throat, “Excuse me Kristin. The Barons council has four out country merchants that seemed strange to us. They were petitioning us for trade rights that the Duke would have to approve.”

I thought about it and looked at Henry, “Have them told the duke wishes to see them. Use the great room and place crossbowmen in the upper galley. Have each bowman checked though and the duke needs to be as far from the room as you can get him. The Keep armory is probably a good place.”

Henry and the duke grinned and baron Alston laughed. After making plans I left and headed back to the house to tell Sam to expect her sisters. I wasn’t surprised to find Mona holding court for her guards starting their shift in my living room. Tim walked around with his weapons on and Sam was helping Adelia in the kitchen.

I shook my head and headed into the kitchen. I slipped up and hugged Sam from behind and she looked back with a smile, “Tim is on the prowl. They told him assassins were after the children.”

I grinned and Adelia looked around and smiled. I smiled at her, “Ladies Amanda and Catherine will be coming to stay.”

She nodded and looked at Sam, “We thought they might.”

I pulled Sam out and sat with her to tell her what was happening. I missed not having her with me for everything. When the militia came in with her sisters she stood and disappeared with them. Captain Hurst came in and crossed to me, “We just had two more reports of assassins. The duke’s crier seems to be working.”

I stood, “Where…”

He smiled and lifted his hand, “I had a platoon of guards and militia standing by. The assassins didn’t even put up a fight.”

I grinned as I headed towards the door, “I hope you had them stripped to their skin.”

Hurst laughed, “Yes and you should have heard them scream until the first hidden weapon was found.”

I walked through the guardhouse as both militia and guards stood around talking and congratulating each other. I walked into the cell block and nodded to the two guards standing by the door with crossbows. The two assassins looked sullen and Chris sat across from them.

I stopped by the cell, “If you talk and tell everything I will have you escorted out of the city and freed.”

They looked at me and one spit. Before he could do anything a bolt slammed into his chest. I watched as he fell and the other assassin went white. I nodded and looked at the last assassin, “The offer stands for another mark. If you still refuse, a death pole will be struck.”

He swallowed and I nodded to Chris, “I need to go watch the Barons council. They are bringing in four more assassins to… talk to the duke.”

He grinned, “Tell his grace I said thank you for the gift.”

I smiled and nodded as I turned, “He thought your girl’s parents might like it.”

I left and before I had gone a block both Peter and Edward fell in on each side of me. I smiled, “Sam put you up to this?”

Peter grinned and Edward chuckled. I glanced at Edward, “Is Dett still watching the roofs?”

He nodded, “And we had a quiet word with everyone that lives in those houses.”

When I got to the Keep several people were milling around the main doors muttering darkly. I nodded to the militia Sergeant, “If they give you any trouble, call the ready company and have them taken to the stockade. Make sure this isn’t a distraction.”

He grinned, “I already have Kristin.”

I nodded and led Peter and Edward past the guards and into the keep. When we walked into the large audience chamber it was to see the four men back to back with daggers drawn. Guards surrounded them and one guard was on the floor wounded. I moved forward and pushed through the guards, “ENOUGH!”

They spun to face me and I gestured, “Lay your weapons down and surrender.”

An older man smiled, “I don’t think so.”

I nodded and looked up at the galley, “Kill them.”

I started to turn and the man yelled, “WAIT!”

I held up a hand and faced him, “You are wasting my time. Do you think this is the first time I have dealt with your guild? Now, either surrender or die.”

He looked at me and then nodded to the others. The soldiers moved forward quickly and tied them before leading them away. After they had been stripped they were given clothes and walked out a gate. They knew if they returned they would be killed.

The week ended and we stayed vigilant. As the new week began, I was eating with Sam at the guard’s tavern. When the old man walked towards us Peter stood and moved to stand between us. He smiled and just looked at Peter for a minute before bowing, “I have a message.”

Peter still didn’t move and he frowned and one hand began to move. Peter’s dagger was suddenly in his hand and the old man froze. His eyes narrowed as I stood and moved up beside Peter, “Give me your message assassin.”

He looked at me and then glanced at Peter, “Perhaps later.”

Peter smiled, “Try it now.”

The old man smiled at me, “The guild has withdrawn the contract on your duke.”

I nodded, “Show him to the gate Peter.”

The old man’s eyes snapped to Peter, “Peter?”

I smiled as I turned away, “Your guild might know him as Peter the Shadow.”

I gestured to two guards seated at another table and they sighed as they stood up. The end was quieter than the start. The duke seized merchant Simson’s property and sold it, all the money going to the freed slaves and the city’s poor.
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