Shadow of the Lords

Shadow of the Lords by Simon Levack

Book: Shadow of the Lords by Simon Levack Read Free Book Online
Authors: Simon Levack
the man.
    The earth in front of me was covered in it. It lay in streaks and dapples and little puddles, as if jerked out of its victim a little at a time. Here and there among the dark red spots and splashes lay tiny fragments of something hard and white that I struggled to identify until I turned my eyes towards the boatman.
    If I had not already worked out who the pathetic figure lying with his legs drawn up to his chest and shivering at the
captain’s feet was, I would not have recognized him. He had turned his face upward, perhaps in a vain appeal for mercy, but it did not look like his face any more. It was a mask of congealing blood with a hideous, jagged hole at its centre, for the white fragments that lay on the ground around him were pieces of his teeth.
    Before he had started working on the man’s mouth the captain had obviously lavished attention on the rest of his face, as the boatman’s nose was broken, his ears were shapeless rags and the flesh around his eyes was a mass of pulp, but it was the teeth which were the worst. He was using a small flint knife, no doubt looted from a nearby stall, to chip away at them, reducing them one by one to jagged, bloody stumps.
    â€˜Now,’ he said conversationally, ‘let’s try again. I haven’t cut your ears off yet, so I know you can hear me. Where’s the boy hiding?’
    â€˜Yaotl, I don’t like this.’ Handy’s voice rumbled close to my ear.
    â€˜Yaotl?’ The captain caught my name and looked up. ‘Good, you caught up with us! You were right, you see? You led us right there. Now I was just showing these Tepanecs how we Aztecs treat people who let us down – do you want to join in?’
    I felt the crowd around me shuffle uneasily, and suddenly there was a little space around me and Handy, as if the men nearest to us had realized who we were and decided not to stay too close.
    The shattered face turned towards me. The eyes, the only part of it that seemed to have been left mostly intact, rolled in my direction. A movement of the hand holding the captain’s flint knife distracted them for a moment, but they were soon back, thin, pale ellipses fixed unwaveringly on me. The boatman let out a small keening sound, as if he were trying to say something. I did not know whether he was speaking to me or
about me but he plainly knew who I was, and if I did not think of a way of preventing him from telling the captain, I was likely to feel the edge of that bloody little knife myself.
    The steward unwittingly saved me.
    â€˜Let me!’ he cried, almost dancing across the space in the middle of the crowd in his eagerness to join in. ‘We’ll show these Tepanec scum what we’re made of!’
    The spectators did not like that. I heard muttering and shuffling feet.
    The captain glared at the steward. ‘Save your breath,’ he sneered, gesturing angrily with the knife. A drop of blood fell on the steward’s arm. ‘You might need it if you have to run anywhere!’
    The Prick looked down at the splash of blood, dark against his skin. He was suddenly very still.
    Somebody in the little group of men around me made a low noise at the back of his throat. Fox, who had been standing next to the captain and looking uncertainly from him to his victim to the steward, gave a nervous cough. He could see the spectators getting more and more restive. Whatever they might think about Aztecs, seeing us quarrelling with each other would not make them any more biddable.
    â€˜You can slip away, can’t you?’ I muttered to Handy, out of the corner of my mouth.
    â€˜Why? What are you going to do?’
    â€˜I’m going to start a riot. I want you to get a message to my brother. Get him back here with a squad of warriors.’
    He glanced over his shoulder, considering the distance to the shore of the lake. ‘If I can get to the causeway, I can be back in the city by nightfall,’ he

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