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Talon sank down into the chair beneath the window and rubbed her temples.  I know, Highness. I ve
just been on edge for so long today.
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 I told you there was nothing to worry about, didn t I? We walked around the market all afternoon and
it was perfectly safe.
 Just because you didn t get assassinated in the middle of the street doesn t mean you were safe,
Princess. We just got lucky.
Shasta pulled a face.  Do you have to be such a pessimist all the time?
Talon gave a little grin and picked up one of the knives from the table, shuffling through her trunk of
belongings until she located her whetstone. Leaning back in her chair, she drew the stone along the knife
blade in smooth strokes.
 You almost gave yourself away, giving the chancellor orders in public. I thought for certain someone
would recognize you. She looked up.  But it was a good thing you did, trying to give that indentured
servant her freedom.
The Princess shook her head sadly.  It didn t help her much, did it? After a moment her gloomy
expression melted into a snicker.  I m surprised Chancellor Kumire didn t put up more of an argument
when I took his emerald ring, I know he really liked that one.
Talon wiggled her eyebrows.  I think he d give you every jewel in his possession, if you asked.
 He doesn t like methat much.
 Sure he does. He wants to marry you.
Shasta covered her ears and gave an exaggerated wail of horror.  Oh, don t say that.
Talon smirked and returned attention to her blade sharpening, but in the next instant she jumped
instinctively to her feet as the chamber door opened. It was just a group of maids bringing buckets of
steaming water for the bath, and the girl in the lead gave a little shriek of fear when she caught sight of the
Princess s guardian. Talon realized she had the knife drawn back, poised to throw it at the unfortunate
chambermaid s head, and she quickly dropped her arm and sat again, heat rising in her cheeks.
Shasta burst out laughing.  Don t pay him any attention, Panna, she reassured the frightened maid.
 Talon s just a little more overprotective than usual today.
Panna curtsied and continued to the privy chamber, followed by the other maids, and they set about
ferrying hot water between the Princess s chambers and the kitchens until finally the air began to fill with
the sweet scent of lilacs and roses, a sure sign that the bath was ready.
Talon set her book on the table and glanced into the chamber, then stepped back beside Erinda and
bowed.  Your chamber is clear, Princess. Enjoy your bath.
 I plan on it, came the reply, and Shasta moved past them into the fragrant room.
Talon closed the door and returned to her seat by the window, giving Erinda a little salute as the
chambermaid excused herself. Pulling the book back into her lap, she tried to read but found she couldn t
concentrate. To her consternation the anxiety tightening her chest had suddenly increased tenfold, until it
was difficult to breathe.
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This is ridiculous, she thought in a panic.We re safer right now than we have been all day. What in the
name of the Goddess is wrong with me? Her eyes strayed to the privy chamber and she got to her feet
and crossed the floor, reaching out, almost without thinking, to touch the heavy wood-paneled door.
Chapter Seven
Shasta stood before the small round looking glass over her washbasin. It was already beginning to fog
over with the steam from the bathing tub and she quickly unpinned her long braids, releasing the ends and
working out the plaits with her fingers. As much as she had enjoyed wearing split skirts for an entire day,
the fabric was much coarser than the more delicate materials she was used to, and she was looking
forward to the soft, silken touch of her dressing robe.
She removed the robe from a hook on the wall and flung it lightly over her dressing screen in the far
corner. Even though she was supposed to have complete privacy in this chamber, somehow she felt
better about dressing and undressing behind a partition. After all, the privy door had no lock, and her
father had assigned a man to share her rooms. The silk-paneled screen made her feel more secure. She
picked up the chamber pot, preferring to relieve herself behind the divider as well. As she rounded the
edge of the dressing screen, her heart nearly jumped into her mouth.
A man was crouching behind the partition.
The moment she caught sight of him, he leapt at her. Shasta barely had time to register the gleam of a
knife in his hand, and she did the only thing that sprang to mind she shrieked and flung the chamber pot
straight at his head.
With a crash, the china vessel shattered over his skull, momentarily stunning him. Shasta seized the edge
of the screen, toppling the heavy wooden frame onto her attacker before bolting for the door. But he was
not so easily deterred. His knife ripped through the silken panels, and rising, he followed after her. The
privy chamber door burst open with a bang, and Talon barged in. Shasta reached out for her guardian
but was yanked backward sharply.
The man had caught a handful of her long hair to prevent her from escaping, and the pain that exploded
through her scalp made her scream furiously.
Talon gave a roar and flew between her and the would-be assassin. The man grunted as Talon blocked
the knife with one arm while delivering a powerful blow to the offender s gut with the other. Shasta s pain
subsided as her hair was released, and she quickly dodged aside. Talon and the assassin were blocking
the door, so she ran to the farthest corner of the chamber and curled into a ball on the floor. Her lungs
felt hot and she closed her eyes, struggling to breathe.
Talon s first instinct was to rush after her charge, but she hesitated. Unarmed, how could she defend
Shasta? Should she try to distract the assassin instead? As if sensing her dilemma, the assassin saw his
opportunity and grinned. In that instant, Talon realized that this was what her nerves had been preparing
her for all day. The tension that had built for hours on end suddenly released in a flood of adrenaline. Her
concentration heightened so intensely that everything colors, smells, sounds abruptly amplified as time
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seemed to slow down.
The assassin barely took a step before Talon hurled her weight at the man. Growling,  Over my dead
body, she grappled him from behind and they both crashed to the marble-tiled floor.
The man rolled over with a snarl and slashed upward with the knife. Talon felt a sting and threw herself
backward just in time to avoid having her throat slit. She struck his wrist sharply with the edge of her
As the knife spun across the floor, she yelled,  Princess, get out of here now!
Shasta removed her hands from her eyes and stared, frozen and wheezing hard. Talon didn t have time [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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