The woman’s screams pierced through the commotion of Cat’s Alley like a knife.
Braeden clapped his hands over his ears as the woman continued to shriek. Shite. Where was his hat?
“Demon, demon!” the woman cried. “Don’t let him eat me!”
“I’m not going to eat you,” he assured her and attempted a friendly smile. And a poor attempt it was; the woman immediately burst into hysterical tears. “Its fangs are showing!” the woman sobbed. “I don’t want to die!”
This was the thanks he got for saving the woman’s life? Why did he even bother? Braeden knew his eyes were funny, but his teeth were perfectly normal--most of the time, anyway. “Alright, milady,” he said, forcing a lightness he didn’t feel. “I’ll leave you be. See? I’m leaving.” He backed away hurriedly, hoping that he had escaped the crowd’s notice. Now where was his damn hat?
“An’ where d’you think you’re goin’, demon scum?” a man sneered, grabbing him by the elbow. “Thought you could make off with one of our women, did you?”
Braeden sighed inwardly. “Good sir, I have no intentions towards the lady,” he said, keeping his eyes downcast. “And I’m no demon.” It was only half a lie.
Thick fingers lodged under his chin and jerked his head upwards. “Those eyes ain’t natural.”
Braeden gripped the man’s wrist and squeezed hard enough to warrant a grunt. “Remove your hand from my person. Please,” he added as an afterthought.
“That strength ain’t natural, neither,” the man gasped, massaging his abused wrist. “Something ain’t right with you!”
Braeden gave him a tight smile. “Look, sir, I’m not looking for any trouble. So why don’t you go on your way and I’ll go mine?”
The man, still rubbing at his wrist, mumbled something in his mangled Cordobian accent that sounded like, “you ain’t worth it.” Good, thought Braeden. He’d been afraid there would be more trouble.
“There he is!” It was the voice of the woman he had rescued. “He tried to eat me, he did!” Braeden closed his eyes and wondered how long it would take before the situation escalated.
Not long, as it turned out. When he opened his eyes, a small mob had already formed in a semi-circle around him. They’d left him no room for escape; as narrow as Cat’s Alley was, his back was pressed against one of the red-and-blue buildings that lined the street. “No time to grab your pitchforks, eh?” he murmured.
“You say something, monster?” A man inched forward, wearing an apron stained with grease and animal blood that marked him as the city butcher. “That’s me wife you attacked, an’ demon or no, I won’t stand for it.”
“Look, I don’t know what I can say to convince you, but I never wanted to harm your wife. I wouldn’t have touched her, except there was this horse--“
“Like I’d believe your lies, you filth!” the butcher spat out. The mob stirred behind him, restless.
Braeden’s mind worked quickly. “Think about this logically, sir. Have you ever met a demon who was capable of conversing man-to-man, as you do with me?”
“I ain’t never met no demon before you. But if those eyes of yours are human, I’ll eat me own hat,” said the butcher.
Braeden rubbed his temples. Humans didn’t ever change, not really. “Listen to me, good man,” he said, with more patience than he felt. “I’m a trainee with the Paladins--“
The mob began shouting all at once. “ ’Ow dare you! As if the Paladins would associate with the likes of you!”
“That their name should even touch your lips is an outrage!”
“If the Paladins were ‘ere, they’d take care of you proper! Drive a sword right through you, they would!”
“Excuse me.” Braeden watched in surprise as Paladin Lyons pushed through the mob, Sam in tow. Though Tristan held himself with the dignity befitting a king, Braeden found himself fixated on Sam. The trainee reminded him of an angry cat, his eyes glittering with unrestrained fury, teeth baring in a snarl at anyone fool enough to look his way. Braeden hid a smile.
“…And I know you all are loyal to the Paladins,” Tristan was saying, the crowd hanging on to his every word. “I swear to you that this man, funny looking though he may be,” he paused to allow for the chuckles of his captive audience, “is a Paladin trainee. My trainee, in fact.”
“ ‘Ow can that be?” the butcher asked. “Me wife says ‘e tried to eat ‘er.”
“Your wife is mistaken,” Tristan said firmly. “Now if you’ll excuse us, my trainees and I will be on our way.” He wrapped his arms around Sam and Braeden’s shoulders.
“ ‘Ow do we know ‘e didn’t bespell you?” the butcher asked.
Tristan’s sunny expression vanished. “Good gods, man, he’s supposed to be a demon, not a witch!”
The muttering of the mob started up again, and they nudged each other and whispered in their neighbors’ ears. Tristan had miscalculated; his momentary loss of temper negated nearly all the progress he had made.
“Silence!” Tristan shouted. He waved a document in the air, a golden fleur-de-lis embossed at the top of the parchment. The crowd hushed, instantly recognizing the inimitable seal of the High Commander. “This document is written by the High Commander’s very own hand, and it expressly states that Braeden here--” he tightened his grasp on Braeden’s shoulder--“is a trainee of the Paladins serving under Paladin Tristan Lyons--that would be me--and any man or woman who seeks to do him injury is in violation of Section 3A of the Praesidium Code. By your leave.” He bowed and then escorted Braeden down the remaining piece of Cat’s Alley.
“Was that really from the High Commander?” Sam asked once they reached the main drag of the city.
“Aye,” Tristan affirmed.
“I don’t believe it,” said Braeden flatly. Why would the High Commander, of all people, write such a thing for him?
Tristan arched a blond eyebrow. “Oh, it’s from the High Commander, alright. It may or may not be a document authorizing me to pick up silks from the mercer in Westergo.” He smiled broadly, proud of his own cleverness. “But they don’t know that.”
YOU ARE READING
Sam is the most promising swordsman among this year’s crop of Paladin trainees...and knows it. Brash, cocky, and unbeatable with a sword (well, almost), Sam is the kingdom of Thule’s best hope against the violence wrought by demons. The only problem...