Home > The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War #2)(2)

The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War #2)(2)
Mark Lawrence

Loki moves on, touching each door in turn. “Your death lies behind one of these other doors, Kelem.”

The mage stiffens then sneers. “God of tricks they—”

“Don’t worry.” Loki grins. “You’ll never manage to open that one.”

“Give me the key.” Kelem extends his hand but makes no move toward his guest.

“What about that door?” Loki looks up at the circle of silver-steel. “You tried to hide that one from me.”

Kelem says nothing.

“How many generations have your people lived down here in these caves, hiding from the world?”

“These are not caves!” Kelem bridles. He pulls back his hand. “The world is poisoned. The Day of a Thousand Suns—”

“—was two hundred years ago.” Loki waves his key carelessly at the ceiling. The vast door groans, then swings in on its hinges, showering earth and dust upon them. It is as thick as a man is tall.

“No!” Kelem falls to his knees, arms above his head. The dust settles on him, making an old man of him. The floor is covered with soil, with green things growing, worms crawl, bugs scurry, and high above them, through a long vertical shaft, a circle of blue sky burns.

“There, I’ve opened the most important door for you. Go out, claim what you can before it all goes. There are others repopulating from the east.” Loki looks around as if seeking an exit of his own. “No need to thank me.”

Kelem lifts his head, rubbing the dirt from his eyes, leaving them red and watering. “Give me the key.” His voice a croak.

“You’ll have to look for it.”

“I command you to . . .” But the key is gone, Loki is gone. Only Kelem remains. Kelem and his failures.

ONE

Petals rained down amid cheers of adoration. Astride my glorious charger at the head of Red March’s finest cavalry unit, I led the way along the Street of Victory toward the Red Queen’s palace. Beautiful women strained to escape the crowd and throw themselves at me. Men roared their approval. I waved—

Bang. Bang. Bang.

My dream tried to shape the hammering into something that would fit the story it was telling. I’ve a good imagination and for a moment everything held together. I waved to the highborn ladies adorning each balcony. A manly smirk for my sour-faced brothers sulking at the back of—

Bang! Bang! Bang!

The tall houses of Vermillion began to crumble, the crowd started to thin, faces blurred.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

“Ah hell.” I opened my eyes and rolled from the furs’ warmth into the freezing gloom. “Spring they call this!” I struggled shivering into a pair of trews and hurried down the stairs.

The tavern room lay strewn with empty tankards, full drunks, toppled benches, and upended tables. A typical morning at the Three Axes. Maeres sniffed around a scatter of bones by the hearth, wagging his tail as I staggered in.

BANG! BANG—

“All right! All right! I’m coming.” Someone had split my skull open with a rock during the night. Either that or I had a hell of a hangover. Damned if I knew why a prince of Red March had to answer his own front door, but I’d do anything to stop that pounding tearing through my poor head.

I picked a path through the detritus, stepping over Erik Three-Teeth’s ale-filled belly to reach the door just as it reverberated from yet another blow.

“God damn it! I’m here!” I shouted as quietly as I could, teeth gritted against the pain behind my eyes. Fingers fumbled with the lock bar and I pulled it free. “What?” And I hauled the door back. “What?”

I suppose with a more sober and less sleep-addled mind I might have judged it better to stay in bed. Certainly that thought occurred to me as the fist caught me square in the face. I stumbled back, bleating, tripped over Erik, and found myself on my arse staring up at Astrid, framed in the doorway by a morning considerably brighter than anything I wanted to look at.

“You bastard!” She stood hands on hips now. The brittle light fractured around her, sending splinters into my eyes but making a wonder of her golden hair and declaring in no uncertain terms the hour-glass figure that had set me leering at her on my first day in Trond.

“W-what?” I shifted my legs off Erik’s bulging stomach, and shuffled backward on my behind. My hand came away bloody from my nose. “Angel, sweetheart—”

“You bastard!” She stepped after me, hugging herself now, the cold following her in.

“Well—” I couldn’t argue against “bastard,” except technically. I put my hand in a puddle of something decidedly unpleasant and got up quickly, wiping my palm on Maeres, who’d come over to investigate, tail still wagging despite the violence offered to his master.

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