Thursday, 2 April 2020


One part of Valerius’s mind screamed at his wife to go back before she killed Olivia and herself, while the other applauded her courage and ingenuity as he stood helpless and frozen to the spot. He looked at the knife man for some sign of insecurity, but the youth appeared entirely in control. Why should he not with the empty alley at his back and his flanks partially covered by the walls on either side?
Inch by precarious inch, Tabitha eased herself along the stuccoed wall, a look of the utmost concentration on her face, though her wide eyes reflected her terror for Olivia and her burning hatred for the man who held her. A leopardess intent on protecting her brood. But a leopardess without claws, for she was completely unarmed.
I think there has been some kind of mistake.’ All Valerius could do was fight to keep the attention of Olivia’s abductor.
You’re the one who made the mistake when you annoyed our powerful friend,’ the accompanying smile was as steady as the blade at Olivia’s throat. ‘You’ll have plenty of time to think about that while you’re being transported back to Rome in a stinking cage. Meantime I’ll be entertaining your family, in a manner of speaking. I have quite broad tastes. I don’t mind where it goes. I’m particularly looking forward to your wife. Shouldn’t she be back by now? She’s missing all the fun.’
Valerius bit the inside of his lip to stop himself glancing to his right, so hard his mouth filled with the metallic taste of blood. Tabitha was less than three short paces from her quarry, her back pressed hard against the wall. What would she do? What could she do without a weapon? She’d go for the knife hand, but all it would take was one stroke and Olivia would be gone. Valerius had seen it before. The look of astonishment, the sheet of red, and the obscene gurgle of someone drowning in their own blood. He tensed. Somehow he had to distract the knife man. But how? No chance of a mad rush with a fence between them. He tried to remember if there was something close he could throw. His pack. That was it. It had enough weight to stun a man. But where was it? He had to pick it up and launch it in a single movement. He allowed his left hand to drift down towards the bench. Tabitha inched ever closer and his mind screamed with despair. He was going to lose them both.
Don’t think you ...’
The Hawk’s words were punctuated by a meaty crack and his head jerked back. A short feathered shaft appeared between his eyes and, with a sharp squeal not unlike the fugitive piglet, he toppled backwards taking Olivia with him. Lucius let out a cry of terror. Tabitha darted round the corner of the alley and stared at the fallen bodies. Valerius ran across the road to where Olivia lay with her eyes screwed shut and the knife edge still tight against her throat.
Slowly she relaxed and the eyes opened one at a time. ‘Am I still alive, father?’
Valerius bent and gently removed the hand with the knife and Tabitha stooped to take her daughter in her arms.
Amateurs,’ Valerius turned to where Shabolz was vaulting the fence. ‘They never learn when to keep their mouth shut.’ The auxiliary put his booted foot against dead man’s throat and grunted as he pulled the little weighted Pannonian throwing dart from his skull. ‘It’s time we were moving, and you,’ he turned to Lucius, ‘will have to find us supper. I was looking forward to that pig.’

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