Home > The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War #2)(3)

The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War #2)(3)
Mark Lawrence

“Hedwig ver Sorren?” Astrid had murder in her eyes.

I kept backing away. I might have half a foot over her in height but she was still a tall woman with a powerful right arm. “Oh, you don’t want to believe street talk, my sweets.” I swung a stool between us. “It’s only natural that Jarl Sorren would invite a prince of Red March to his halls once he knew I was in town. Hedwig and I—”

“Hedwig and you what?” She took hold of the stool as well.

“Uh, we— Nothing really.” I tightened my grip on the stool legs. If I let go I’d be handing her a weapon. Even in my jeopardy visions of Hedwig invaded my mind, brunette, very pretty, wicked eyes, and all a man could want packed onto a short but inviting body. “We were barely introduced.”

“It must have been a pretty bare introduction if it has Jarl Sorren calling out his housecarls to bring you in for justice!”

“Oh shit.” I let go of the stool. Justice in the north tends to mean having your ribs broken out of your chest.

“What’s all the noise?” A sleepy voice from behind me.

I turned to see Edda, barefoot on the stairs, our bed furs wrapped around her middle, slim legs beneath, and milk pale shoulders above, her white-blond hair flowing across them.

Turning away was my mistake. Never take your eye off a potential foe. Especially after handing them a weapon.

•   •   •

“Easy!” A hand on my chest pushed me back down onto a floor that felt thick with grime.

“What the—” I opened my eyes to find a “someone” looming over me, a big someone. “Ouch!” A big someone poking clumsy fingers at a very painful spot over my cheekbone.

“Just removing the splinters.” A big fat someone.

“Get off me, Tuttugu!” I struggled to get up again, managing to sit this time. “What happened?”

“You got hit with a stool.”

I groaned a bit. “I don’t remember a stool, I— OUCH! What the hell?” Tuttugu seemed set on pinching and jabbing at the sorest part of my face.

“You might not remember the stool but I’m pulling pieces of it out of your cheek—so keep still. We don’t want to spoil those good looks, now do we?”

I did my best to hold still at that. It was true, good looks and a title were most of what I had going for me and I wasn’t keen to lose either. To take my mind off the pain I tried to remember how I had managed to get beaten with my own furniture. I drew a blank. Some vague recollection of high-pitched screaming and shouting . . . a memory of being kicked whilst on the floor . . . a glimpse through slitted eyes of two women leaving arm in arm, one petite, pale, young, the other tall, golden, maybe thirty. Neither looked back.

“Right! Up you get. That’s the best I can do for now.” Tuttugu hauled on my arm to get me on my feet.

I stood swaying, nauseous, hung over, perhaps still a little drunk, and—though I found it hard to credit—slightly horny.

“Come on. We have to go.” Tuttugu started to drag me toward the brightness of the doorway. I tried digging in my heels but to no avail.

“Where?” Springtime in Trond had turned out to be more bitter than a Red March midwinter and I’d no interest in exposing myself to it.

“The docks!” Tuttugu seemed worried. “We might just make it!”

“Why? Make what?” I didn’t remember much of the morning but I hadn’t forgotten that “worried” was Tuttugu’s natural state. I shook him off. “Bed. That’s where I’m going.”

“Well if that’s where you want Jarl Sorren’s men to find you . . .”

“Why should I give a fig for Jarl Sorr—oh.” I remembered Hedwig. I remembered her on the furs in the jarlshouse when everyone else was still at her sister’s wedding feast. I remembered her on my cloak during an ill-advised outdoors tryst. She kept my front warm but damn my arse froze. I remembered her upstairs at the tavern that one time she slipped her minders . . . I was surprised we didn’t shake all three axes down from above the entrance that afternoon. “Give me a moment . . . two moments!” I held up a hand to stay Tuttugu and charged upstairs.

Once back in my chamber a single moment proved ample. I stamped on the loose floorboard, scooped up my valuables, snatched an armful of clothing, and was heading back down the stairs before Tuttugu had the time to scratch his chins.

“Why the docks?” I panted. The hills would be a quicker escape—and then a boat from Hjorl on Aöefl’s Fjord just up the coast. “The docks are the first place they’ll look after here!” I’d be stood there still trying to negotiate a passage to Maladon or the Thurtans when the jarl’s men found me.

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