Gemmell, David – Dark Moon

Gemmell, David – Dark Moon

Gemmell, David – Dark Moon

Chapter One

Tarantio was a warrior. Before that he had been a sailor, a miner, a breaker of horses, and an apprentice cleric to an elderly writer. Before that a child: quiet and solitary, living with a widowed father who drank in the mornings and wept in the afternoons.

His mother was an acrobat in a travelling group of gypsies, who entertained at banquets and public gather­ings. It was from her he inherited his nimbleness of foot, his speed of hand and his dark, swarthy good looks. She had died of the plague when Tarantio was six years old. He could hardly remember her now, save for one memory of a laughing girl-woman who threw him high in the air. From his father he had – he believed – inherited nothing. Save, perhaps, for the demon within that was Dace.

Now Tarantio was a young man and had lived with Dace for most of his life.

A cold wind whispered into the cave. Tarantio’s dark, curly hair had been shaved close to the scalp to prevent lice, and the draught chilled his neck. He lifted the collar of his heavy grey coat and, drawing one of his short swords, he laid it close to hand. Outside the rain was heavy, and he could hear water cascading down the cliff walls. The pursuers would surely have taken shelter somewhere.

‘They may be just outside,’ whispered the voice of

Dace in his mind. ‘Creeping up on us. Ready to cut our throats.’

‘You’d like that, Dace. More men to kill.’

‘Each to his own,’ said Dace amiably. Tarantio was too tired to argue further, but Dace’s intrusion made him sombre. Seven years ago war had descended upon the Duchies like a sentient hurricane, sucking men into his angry heart. And in the whirling maelstrom of his fury he fed them hatred and filled them with a love of destruction. The War Demon had many faces, none of them kind. Eyes of death, cloak of plague, mouth of famine and hands of dark despair.

War and Dace were made for each other. Within the beast’s hungry heart Dace was in ecstasy. Men admired him for his lethal skills, for his deadly talents. They sought him out as if he were a talisman.

Dace was a killer of men. There was a time when Tarantio had known how many had died under his blades. Before that, there was a time when he had remembered every face. Now only two remained firmly in his mind: the first, his eyes bulging, his jaw hanging slack, blood seeping over the satin sheets. And the second, a slim bearded thief and killer whose swords Tarantio now wore.

Tarantio added two logs to the fire, watching the flame shadows dancing on the walls of the cave. His two companions were stretched out on the floor, one sleeping, the other dying. ‘Why do you still think of the slaughter on the beach?’ asked Dace. Tarantio shivered as the memories flared again.

Seven years ago the old ship had been beached against a storm, the mast dismantled, the sail wrapped and laid against the cliff wall. The crew were sitting around fires talking and laughing, playing dice. Against all odds they had survived the storm. They were alive, and their relieved

laughter echoed around the cliffs, the sound drifting into the shadow-haunted woods beyond.

The killers had attacked silently from those woods -appearing like demons, the firelight gleaming from raised swords and axes. The unarmed sailors had no chance and were hacked down without mercy, their blood staining the sand.

Tarantio, as always, had been sitting away from the others, lying on his back in the rocks, staring up at the distant stars. At the first screams he had rolled to his knees, and watched the slaughter in the moonlight. Unarmed and unskilled, the young sailor had been powerless to help his comrades. Crouching down he hid, trembling, on the cold stones, the incoming tide lapping at his legs. He could hear the thieves plundering the ship, tearing open the hatches and unloading the booty. Spices and liquor from the islands, silks from the southern continent, and a shipment of silver ingots bound for the mint at Loretheli.

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