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***Disclaimer*** This is not my story, it is the work of Ka Hmnd AKA Kenneth Hammond. I have not changed or edited this in any way. _____________________________________________________________________________________________ I woke to Sam's warm body pulling away from me.

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I turned to watch her cross the large room heading for the water closet, "You're not sick again are you?" She looked back and grinned, "No." When she came out she walked back to bed with a gentle sway. She slipped under the covers and snuggled up next to me. I caressed her round tummy and felt my daughter kick. Sam laughed every time I said it was a girl. She insisted that her daughter wouldn't be so inconsiderate as to kick her so much so it was a boy.

There was a knock on the door and then Adelia poked her head in. She opened the door enough for little Sarah to run through as she sighed. She looked from her daughter climbing into bed to me, "The duke sent a messenger. He's waiting downstairs with Tim." I smiled and nodded, "Thank you Adelia, I'll be down in a minute." Little Sarah snuggled up to Sam and Sam laughed softly and gave her a hug. As the door closed, I slid out of bed and moved to get dressed.

The messenger had an invitation for Sam and I to break our fast with the duke and duchess at the Guard's tavern. I sent the messenger back with my agreement and let Adelie know we would be going out. Tim had been a life saver to Adelia and they got along very well.

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She was always gentle with him and explained anything he didn't understand. William would follow him around all day to help with whatever he was doing. Adelia was a godsend us and seemed to know what was needed before we did. When Sam and I walked out the door later it was to see almost a full court sitting at the outside tables of the Guard's tavern.

It had been three months since the attack by Shermerez and things were just starting to settle down. We weren't surprised when many of our prisoners had asked for asylum. A lot of men had followed the skirmish commander to Morvine. The duke and duchess were sitting with James, Ali and Jonathan. Mona and captain Able were just crossing the square heading for the tavern as well. I grinned at Sam, "The tavern has become a popular place lately." She grinned back, "Teresa has been getting a lot of attention lately and Tess has been giving her a lot of help." I laughed as I saw both Teresa and Tess as they were busy serving the crowd of nobles, even their older sister Barbra was helping.

We slipped onto the bench across from the duke and he grinned as Mona slid onto the bench next to Sam, "Ready for another sparing match your grace?" I grinned up at Tess, "What happened to all your regular helpers?" She grinned back, "Momma is teaching them how to cook today." Breakfast at the tavern was something the court didn't do often but lately it had happened about once or twice a week. We talked quietly without getting into business. One of the nobles younger sons was with him and was loud and obnoxious towards Barbra who was serving him.

After a particular comment I glanced over and froze when I saw his hand slap the table top. It wasn't his hand that had drawn my attention, it was the ring he was wearing.

I looked around and signaled Edward and Peter before standing and moving around the table. Everyone at our table had quieted when I rose and then gradually other nobles began to take note. When I reached the baron's son I reached out and grabbed his wrist. I twisted out and back forcing him to stand with a cry of pain. The baron and others at his table came to their feet but I ignored them. I turned the arrogant young man to face me as I drew a dagger and put it against his throat, "Followers of Kirsh have been banned from this kingdom.

You will remove the ring and leave this duchy or I will give you the king's grace myself." There was instant silence as he glared at me, "How dare you!" The baron had puffed up and I only glanced at him, "The king's law on those that follow Kirsh is plain. If your father interferes I will bring him before the king's court and have his patient stripped from him and then he will be branded and whipped out of the kingdom." The baron's face paled and his son looked from him to me arrogantly, "Release me peasant!" I brought the hand with the dagger back and slugged him in the mouth, "Quiet!

From this day your name will be stricken from your family. Your belongings will be burned before the city and you will be stripped to wear rags. The king's court will be given your name and description. If you are found within the kingdom after a fortnight you will be staked and burned." I twisted and shoved as I turned, sending him sprawling on the cobblestones. I looked at Peter as he and Edward moved to grab him, "Have the Militia go to his home and bring his belongings to the square." The nobles were all quiet as the duke walked to the young man and grabbed his arm to see the ring for himself.

He looked around at all the nobles, "Hold up your hands!" I realized what he was doing and spun to look as all the nobles raised their hands. Finally the duke nodded and looked at Jonathan, "Send a messenger to the king." Jonathan nodded and turned to leave.

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The duke looked around at all the nobles, "You will each check those of your household for other followers." He turned to look at captain Able, "Put the word out to look for their drug den and chattel house." He looked at the white faced youth, "Have him staked to watch the burnings and then brand him." The duke looked around and then gestured to Armsmaster Henry who had appeared suddenly, "Extra guards and double the watch at the gates." He nodded and turned to one of the militia standing nearby.

The duke looked at me and nodded toward my house, as we started across Sam, the duchess, James and Ali fell into step. When we came into the house Adelia took everything in stride and moved towards the kitchen, "Tim!" Sam grinned as Tim walked through the big great room with William dangling from one foot laughing and little Sarah slung over his shoulder giggling.

Everyone just watched him and looked at me and I shrugged, "Don't look at me." They grinned and I smiled as I watched Tim's retreating back. I shook my head and looked at the duke, "If followers of Kirsh have set up a chattel house here we need to find it.

They will be moving more openly now and you and your family are in danger." He nodded and looked at Ali, "That means you too princess." Ali stuck her tongue out and James laughed as his arm went around her waist, "I'll make sure she starts carrying her sword again." The duchess laughed as the duke frowned at James. I shook my head, "Everyone gets extra guards and everyone you get, you check.

Don't just look for rings on the fingers, look for rings around the neck or in pouches." They nodded and I turned at the knock at the door. I opened it to see Mona and captain Able with both Edward and Chris, after they came in I led the way to the others. I nodded to Mona and captain Able, "You will need to check each guard. Like I told the duke, look on fingers on chains around the neck or in pouches. If they are Kirsh they will have a ring somewhere on their body.

Clear your guards and the oncoming guards including captain Hurst and lieutenant Belet." They nodded and I watched them leave before looking at Edward and Chris, "If they have a chattel house in the city they have to dispose of bodies.

Chris, I want you to check around the trade gate. You know what to look for." He nodded and turned to leave and I looked at Edward, "They need to bring in the spider dust and I doubt bringing it through a gate would work.

You know the gate cocks would scream bloody murder so that means either the docks or they have another way in." He nodded, "The guards have reports from the noble sector about mini dragons coming into the streets on certain days." I thought about it and looked at the duke as he snorted, "Try baroness Terness. The baron used to have a small stone dock." I nodded to Edward, "Get Dett and go take a look.

If they are coming in from the baroness's dock let me know. I want the two of you to set up a watch if they are using it. I'll come by later to look everything over. If they bring something in, I want them followed." He nodded and turned to leave. I smiled at Sam, "Since you promised Adelia we would take William and Sarah while she was shopping with Tim…" The duchess laughed, "Just don't hang them upside down." Everyone laughed and Sam grinned.

Everyone left shortly after that with guards that I made sure were safe. I found Tim and Adelia in the kitchen after sending Sam upstairs for the weapons I had gotten her. Adelia was cleaning up and Tim was fixing a cabinet while William and Sarah squatted beside him to watch. I touched his shoulder, "Tim?" He looked up at me, "Remember Beleme and the bad house we found?" His face tightened and he nodded, "I remember Armsmaster." I nodded, "We think there is another one here.

I want you to stay close to Adelia and put your weapons back on." He nodded and looked at Adelia before looking at me again, "I won't let anyone hurt her Armsmaster." I patted his shoulder and looked at Adelia who had turned to look at me, "Don't leave his side Adelia." She looked at Tim and then smiled tenderly, "I won't." I put my hand on William's shoulder, "As for you two scamps, ready to go out?" William nodded with a huge grin and Sarah just held her arms out to be picked up.

I picked her up and spun around quickly listening to her squeal, "If I always carry you, your legs are going to stop working." Adelia snorted while William giggled. Sam met us by the door and we stepped out. I looked at the two guards standing there and raised an eyebrow. Joseph, the older one shrugged, "Mona said to remind you that you are part of the duke's family too." Sam laughed and took William's hand, "Well, come along.

I could use extra hands if I find something I want to buy." They looked at each other and I grinned as I started off. Our first stop was a dressmaker, after what we all thought was an extra long time we headed to the next stop.

A guard runner stopped me to give me a note which was from Dett, "the Baroness's dock is the entrance the smugglers are using." I stopped Sam and we grabbed a few meat rolls from a street vendor and headed towards the baroness's estate. She was a nice old lady and her eyes had lit up at the site of William and little Sarah.

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She had even squatted down to be even with Sarah and told her that was her name too. She was happy to let us see the dock but mentioned a nice sandy beach that would be better for our picnic. The two guards stayed in the rocks above while the baroness led us to the beach. I watched the rainbow of mini dragons take off and Sarah clapped while William's eyes lit up, "Can you catch one Armsmaster?" I smiled and pulled out one of the meat rolls, "I can't, but you can.

Just throw some bread crumbs on the ground and when one eats it wait and hold out some tiny pieces of meat on your hand." I should have known what would happen. I mean, I knew all about mini dragons but not really that much about children. The next thing I knew Sarah was demanding to feed the little dragons too. Sam was grinning and seemed delighted to just talk with the baroness while watching the children.

I gave Sarah the same instructions I had William as Edward appeared. I backed away as a small flight of dragons descended on the two children.

I talked to Edward who said all the signs pointed to visits every few days. That was consistent with spider dust since it went bad quickly. When I looked back at the children I knew I had made a mistake. William had three clinging to his shoulders and a fourth on his forearm sleeping.

Sarah… I don't know how a girl that small could have so many mini dragons clinging to her. After I sorted everything out with Sam laughing as she helped, William had four mini dragons claiming him and Sarah had nine.

They were all different colors and it was an experience to walk down the street with them wheeling around us. When we got home I opened the door and just held it while Sam brought William and Sarah in. The mini dragons didn't hesitate long before swooping down and zooming through the door. Adelia screeched and Tim was looking around trying to watch all the mini dragons at once.

Adelia looked at me crossly and I shrugged, "I never thought they would try to feed all of them." Sam laughed and Adelia frowned. Sarah was sitting down by the iron fire box with William. The mini dragons whirled around and finally settled down on the two children. Adelia finally sighed, "Do they do anything besides eat and make a mess?" I grinned as Sarah started draping lizards over her legs and stroking and petting them.

I looked at Adelia, "They will protect them with their lives." She looked away from the kids with a tender smile, "I guess they can stay." When I looked back, Tim was sitting down with the kids petting the small flying lizards. I smiled and looked back at the door as someone knocked. I crossed to the door and opened it to see Peter. He stepped in and looked around and then grinned when he saw the children and Tim.

He sobered as he looked at me, "We found five more in the guards." I wasn't really surprised and nodded, "They won't keep the rings on them anymore." He nodded, "Mona had captain Able bring gate cocks to the guard barracks and the duke's keep. There should be enough residue to set them off. He recalled all guards to check them too." I nodded to the door, "Edward and Dett are at baroness Terness. They are bringing in the spider dust through her private dock.

Check with Chris by the trade gate and then meet Sam and me at the guard barracks. If we do have a chattel house, where are the slave women coming from?" He frowned and nodded before leaving. I glanced at the kids again and then headed towards the kitchen where I found Sam and Adelia, "Adelia, when you can get Tim's attention, have him block the back doorway." She smiled and nodded from her place by the stove. I smiled at Sam nibbling at cookies, "Stop eating sweets.

I'll take you to Maria for something to eat before we go next door." She grinned and finished her cookie before walking to me, "Maria is making those small meat pies today." I laughed because I knew Sam loved the pies. I took her hand and walked to the door. As soon as I stepped out I knew there was trouble. I pushed Sam behind me back into the house, "Tell Tim to watch the back door and get your weapons ready." There should have been at least one guard by our door.

There was a small crowd and as I pulled my dagger, three men shifted in the crowd and I rolled to the side as they threw knives. I came to my feet as a throwing dart dropped into my hand and I threw it. A man screamed as it struck his eye and the other two men scrambled to hide in the running crowd.

I pulled the front door open and shut it behind me, dropping the bar into place. I could see the agitated mini dragons in the kitchen and moved through the large common room to step into the back hallway. Tim looked back calmly with four bodies at his feet. Sam was behind him with a throwing spike in one hand and a short sword in the other. I shook my head, "Block that door so no one can come through Tim." He nodded and reached down with one hand to toss a body out the backdoor.

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After the last body was thrown out he closed and dropped a thick cross bar into the brackets. I nodded, "Sam?" She put her sword away and carefully tucked the throwing spike back were she had been hiding it. She followed me to the front door and I cracked it before opening it wider and stepping out. Mona stood beside the struggling man my dart had blinded. Two very large angry guards were holding him and I walked towards them, "Tim tossed four bodies out the back door." Mona grinned, "To bad, I miss watching him work." Sam laughed, "I still can't believe he is that good.

It's like he goes away and a lightning demon takes his place." Mona laughed, "That is the best description I have ever heard." I nodded to the struggling man, "Find out what he knows and check every location he gives you." She nodded to the two guards who dragged him towards the guard building. I looked around the square, "They'll be trying the duke and his family next." Mona nodded, "They already did.

Armsmaster Henry brought in militia to guard them after checking them. Six men, two of them guards tried to enter the manor and were all killed.

Henry himself was attacked coming from the militia compound and killed four more." I nodded, "Anyone see the others that were out here?" She shook her head, "They were dressed like guards. That was how they got close to your guards." I nodded, "The gate cocks?" She sighed, "A small party attacked the guards bringing them." I sighed too, "dead?" She nodded and I stood looking around while thinking. I smiled as I remembered something from last week, "Get some guards you can trust.

Go to the Merchants Stockyards. See Merchant Penner. He was trying to sell the duke, Scent Hounds." Mona grinned and nodded, "They'll work." I nodded and she turned to start calling out names. The guards pushed through the crowded square and she finally nodded. I looked at her, "Mona? Watch your back." She smiled, "I will." I nodded and took Sam's hand. I poked my head into the house, "Adelia? Tim?" Tim was standing by the back hallway and looked towards me while Adelia poked her head out the kitchen doorway.

I smiled, "It seems to be over for now. Keep the doors and windows closed and locked." Adelia nodded and I turned after closing the door and led Sam across the square to the tavern. George was just inside the door with a large wood cudgel and Sam grinned at him, "You can't protect Maria's meat pies with that, it isn't allowed." He laughed as he stood aside to let us pass.

It was an hour before we came out. Sam smiled as she tucked her arm in mine, "I always like Maria's meat pies." I laughed and smiled at her as we crossed the square to the guard building. It was crowded with guards, most were off and had been called in.

They had all been checked and a skinny scent hound sat between two guards I knew were very good with the naked swords they held. I glanced around and headed towards captain Hurst and lieutenant Belet. They looked up as we approached and captain Hurst nodded for the Belet to continue. He was talking about a cart of dung Chris had stopped.

They had found the body of a tortured woman under the dung when he tipped the cart back, dumping it on the street. The driver had been… questioned but didn't know where the body had come from.

I looked at Hurst when an angry growl from the guards surrounding us rose as Belet said she had a guard's emblem branded into her chest, "Any luck getting a location from the man you caught?" Hurst shook his head, "Abandoned." I looked around and raised my voice, "Alright, you men go home but be careful. When you work tonight, start asking around for any information about women going missing or abandoned builds suddenly having people in them." I waited until the crowd thinned and Peter walked towards me from the water barrels.

I looked from him to the barrels and then nodded, "You checked the water for poison?" He nodded and then looked around, "I know the Temple always goes crazy when they are discovered but all these open attacks are a little much." I nodded, "They should have known better then attacking Henry or me." I looked around again as captain Hurst and lieutenant Belet joined us, "I think it might somehow be a faint, distracting us from something else." Peter nodded as Hurst and Belet looked at each other.

I turned to look at the door as I thought and then it hit me.

I nodded to Peter and took Sam's hand and led her out with Peter following. I led Sam and Peter to our house and stopped just inside. I looked at Peter, "The king's visit." His eyes widened and he nodded. Sam had gasped and I squeezed her hand as I looked across the large room at Adelia and Tim as they sat with the children and mini dragons.

I looked at Peter, "Get someone to replace Dett and Edward. Replace Chris and tell him I want every entrance and exit into the city checked. Tell him what I suspect." I walked to the door with Peter and let him out. I gestured to the guard, "I need a runner." He nodded and I went inside.

I looked at Sam and she bit her lip, "I am not staying inside. You have that look like you did…" I stepped close and pulled her into an embrace, "You are carrying our child.

I will try to do most of what I need to here, but… You… will stay here… in this house until this is over." Sam had stiffened and then sagged against me, "I don't have to like it." I laughed and hugged her before nodding towards Tim and Adelia, "Use some of Adelia's soda crackers and teach the little monsters to fetch." Sam grinned and then laughed, "Or play hide and seek." She pushed me back and walked towards Adelia and Tim. I turned to open the door and nodded to the lad waiting with the guard, "You will be going to the duke, the sheriff, the Armsmaster and the Militia Commander.

Tell them I request their presences here as soon as possible." I gestured and he turned to start running. I looked at the guard, "Tell the Captain, I need to see him and the lieutenant." He nodded and turned away as I closed the door.

I turned to see the kids running for the stairs with the mini dragons chasing them. Sam was chasing them too and laughing as Tim counted slowly. Adelia was shaking her head as she headed towards the kitchen. I grinned and turned to the door to answer a knock. It didn't take long but I ended up with more people than I expected. The duke brought Sam's mother and James, Ali, Catherine and Amanda. The Sheriff brought his wife and two ten year old sons.

Henry brought a shy girl of twelve or thirteen. I also had both guard captains and lieutenants. The building echoed with William and Sarah as they were chased up the stairs by Sam and Tim with the dragons wildly following along behind.

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The duke looked at me with a grin which Elizabeth shared, "You let them feed the mini dragons?" I shrugged, "I took my eyes of them for a second…" Everyone laughed and I shook my head. I looked at Sam's sisters, "Would you be so nice as to save Sam?" They laughed and headed towards the stairs only to jump back as a flight of dragons swept down. The other children suddenly took interest and it was just us standing there watching them rushing up the stairs with Catherine counting.

I sighed and then turned to face everyone, "It's a hoax. The whole Temple of Kirsh thing. Someone is setting the king up to be assassinated." The duke's eyes narrowed, "Are you sure?" I nodded, "The actions so far haven't fit the normal pattern. Plus, we haven't received any reports of girls or women gone missing. That means someone brought them in. They may have set up a house and recruited a few people, but it isn't a full temple." The duke pursed his lips and I smiled as Sam dodged three children and looked after them before shaking her head and walking towards us.

I smiled and turned to the duke, "Whoever is behind this has eyes on you and anything you say will alert them." He nodded and then grinned, "Your home is smaller and more isolated.

Elizabeth and the girls can stay here with Sam." He looked at James and Ali, "The two of you can stay here as well." Ali grinned at me, "Good, I can get a rematch from Charles." James laughed, "Last time he spanked you and you want to try him again?" She grinned, "I have a new trick." I grinned too, "I like it when someone tries new tricks." Everyone laughed and I sighed, "okay, this is what I am going to do." I looked at the two guard captains, "The guards will continue their hunt for Kirsh followers.

Put a few trusted men on the entrance point for their drugs and follow it. Also start making checks of carts leaving the docks. I think that is where the women are being brought in.

I want them and the bastards behind the slave trade doing it." I looked at Henry and the Militia commander, "I want the militia outside the walls. Tell the men you're planning an exercise. Start patrol sweeps of all the roads coming into Whitecliff, not just from the capital.

Anyone they find hiding along the roads is to be brought to the Armsmaster." The commander grinned and looked at Henry, "Sounds like fun." I looked at the duke, "You hold court like normal and continue to openly look for Kirsh followers. Because of all the attacks, no one is allowed to come armed into your presence." I looked at everyone, "I will find who is behind this and protect the king." The duke nodded and looked around, "We meet here every evening to give each other what information we have." Everyone nodded and started towards the door.

When it opened, Peter, Dett and Edward were with the other guards. Elizabeth touched my shoulder, "I'll have our maid bring our clothing." I nodded and glanced past her at Sam. She nodded and turned to go find Adelia.

I waited for everyone to leave before waving Peter, Dett and Edward in. I closed the door and looked at Dett and Edward, "Did Peter tell you what I think is happening?" They nodded and I looked at Peter, "Check the inns and rooming houses, you know what to look for." I looked at Edward, "Check the roof tops for prepared blinds." I looked at Dett, "I think any attack will happen in the city. Check the main routes from the gates to the duke's keep for signs of someone using the alleys and slip throughs." I looked at all three, "Look for large groups of men hanging around those routes as if they are waiting." They nodded and left as the crowd of children returned.

I shook my head at the flight of dragons as they spun and wheeled above the children. Adelia headed towards the stairs calling Tim. Sam slipped under my arm and held me, "She's preparing rooms for everyone." I nodded and walked with Sam beside me to the seats by the fire.

The house was louder that evening and full of children. We had the Sheriff, his wife and their two sons, Henry and his adopted daughter, all of Sam's sisters, James and Ali, the duke and duchess and of course all the mini dragons. I woke to a sense of wrongness and rolled out of bed, "Sam?" I quickly dressed as she sat up, "Charles?" I nodded to the door, "Get dressed, something isn't right." I slipped out the door and moved to the stairs.

I looked down and then realized whatever had awakened me was above. I started up and had only taken a step when men rushed down the stairs towards me. What happened next surprised everyone. The air was suddenly full of mini dragons that attacked the men on the stairs and I pulled two daggers, "Assassins!" As one man stumbled closer, waving at the dragons I stabbed him through the neck.

I glanced back as doors burst open. Sam stepped out with her daggers, Ali and James with their swords. Above I could hear fighting and started up the steps. I stabbed a man waving his dagger at the dragons and kept going. After the forth man I stepped out of the stairs into the hallway filled with men and even more mini dragons. At the other end of the hall was Henry. He had everyone behind him but only leaned against the wall shaking his head as the assassins blundered around fighting the dragons.

I moved forward slowly stabbing men as I went. When one group of dragons was free because the man they were attacking died, they went after another.

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After the last one fell the dragons screamed and then headed for the stairs. I looked at a grinning Henry, "Have you ever seen anything like that?" He shook his head as the duke came forward, "Where did they all come from?" I shrugged, "there were way more then what the children brought home." He nodded as I turned to follow the dragons downstairs.

I found them on the bottom floor where William and Sarah were sleeping with the other children in one of the cells. Tim sat beside the open door in a large cushioned chair smiling happily at all the mini dragons draped on and around him.

I shook my head and went to open the front door. The guards turned to look at me, "My lord Kristin?" I gestured, "Get a few of the others. We have several dead men in here." The corporal looked at the others and then at me, "we didn't see anything." I shrugged, "I think they came in through the roof." He nodded and I waited until a small group of men came back with him. I smiled at the crowd gathered at the back hallway door to stare at Tim and all the mini dragons. It didn't take long to remove the bodies and close the roof trapdoor.

I helped Adelia clean the blood and she actually grinned at me, "Did you see the little devils protecting the children?" I grinned, "I've never seen anything like it. The wild ones must have followed the assassins in." She smiled, "they can stay as long as they want." It was an early morning when Chris slipped into my room.

My eyes had snapped open and my hand pulled the dagger from the bed post. He smiled, "I see you aren't losing your touch." I smiled and slid out of bed and Sam groaned, "What now?" I caressed her face, "go back to sleep." I dressed quickly and slipped out with Chris. He smiled as we headed towards the stairs, "I met a woman." I looked at him, "Recently?" He grinned, "At one of the gates, she a farmer's daughter. One look and the little witch knew me for what I was." I smiled, "A city guard?" He actually laughed, "Yes." I crossed to the kitchen and started a fire in the stove to heat some water.

I glanced at Chris, "Did you find it?" He sobered and nodded, "You were right. They have hidden watchers at the Nobles gate." I nodded and leaned against the large kitchen table, "So somewhere along the route to the duke's keep will be their ambush site." He nodded, "The others will be here shortly." I turned to fill the water pot and bring out my tea. Peter slipped in the front door with a bound and gagged man. Almost right behind him was Dett and Edward.

They crossed to the kitchen and sat at the table while Peter dumped the man on the floor and Edward grinned, "We heard the mini dragons invited their families to come visit." I smiled and looked at them, "It was the strangest thing.

Assassins came in through the roof trapdoor. They left it open and when they attacked all the mini dragons went after them. They were so busy with the dragons they couldn't defend themselves." They laughed and I nodded to the bound man, "Who is he?" Peter grinned, "He was leading several mercenaries. The other's don't know he went missing yet." I smiled, "Did you find out anything?" He looked at the man, "The temple is behind it. The goal is the king and the duke, the rest was preplanned without direct connection to the main temple." I nodded and looked at the four men that had become my friends and aids, "So they are planning something between the Nobles gate and the duke's keep.

You have our friend, does that mean you have the rest?" They nodded and I smiled, "Someone in the court is in on this." They looked at each other and I sighed, "You don't plan something like this unless you have inside knowledge." They frowned and I glanced at the kitchen doorway as Henry came in.

He looked down at the bound man and then ignored him, "You have your answers?" I nodded, "All but one, the inside man." He nodded and crossed to the stove, "the informant." I smiled, "someone the duke trusts." He added tea to a cup and then hot water before turning, "It could only be one of three men. Count Edjers, Baron Tomlin or Earl Simos." I thought about it and looked at Peter, "Earl Simos." He nodded, "He's the king's cousin." I looked at Henry and he nodded.

I sighed and made a cup of tea before walking into the other room. It was a couple minutes before the others followed me out.

I glanced at Henry, "It explains why the assassins came for us last night." He nodded and glanced at the stairs as the duke came down and I moved to start the fire. When I finished I knew what I was going to do and looked at the duke, "I need you to stay out of my business until I finish." He looked at me and then at Henry who nodded slightly. He finally nodded, "You're my son in law Charles. Do what you need too." I looked at Dett and Edward, "get a few men you trust and take the mercenaries.

Don't give them a chance to do anything, just take them fast." I looked at Chris, "No one knows this but a few people. Unfortunately Earl Simos is one of those people, the king will be arriving this morning.

I want you to meet him outside the city and stay beside him when he enters. You will talk to him in private so he knows you are there to protect him in case we miss someone." I looked at Peter, "Take Earl Simos. Bring him to me behind the guard building." The flight of mini dragons broke our meeting up and I crossed to the large window looking out onto the square. I pushed one side open and ducked as the mass of mini dragons rushed out.

I looked out at the guards as they laughed and ducked the swooping creatures before they rose up heading back to the ocean. I left the window open and turned, "Alright, get going." Everyone broke up and I headed upstairs to dress. I wasn't surprised to find that Sarah had snuck into bed with Sam and was snuggled up against her.

I washed and dressed before bending over the bed and kissing Sam awake. She held my head as she kissed me back and then sighed. I caressed her face, "Dress nice and go with your mother to the Keep.

I'll see you when I finish this business." She pulled me down for a fierce kiss, "Be careful." I left through the back door and listened as Tim barred it behind me. The three guards standing there looked surprised and started to say something but I ignored them and turned to walk towards the back of the guard building. One of the guards hesitated and then followed me. I smiled as I turned to him, "Go back to your mates.

What you see you tell no one about." He looked at me and then nodded before turning back. I stood waiting until Peter stepped out of an alley pulling the Earl behind him by the scruff of his neck, his hands bound behind him. When Peter reached me, he shoved the Earl down at my feet. I used a boot to turn him over, "My lord, I am very disappointed with you." He blustered, "Do you…" I kicked him in the mouth, "If I want you to speak I will tell you." I glanced at Peter, "You'll need a boat and heavy chains." He nodded but didn't move as I looked down again, "Aligning yourself with the Temple of Kirsh was a very bad idea.

I know about the diversion, I know about the mercenaries, I know about the attempt on the king. Your biggest mistake was the temple though.

You see Peter and I have had dealings with the temple and we have a serious dislike for anyone that is a part of it. As the duke's Kristin, I find you guilty of treason and willingly associating with the Temple of Kirsh. You will be taken to sea and your legs will be bound in chains before you are set free." The earl licked his lips, "You can't… I'm… I'm royalty!" I smiled thinly, "That is why I am not striking a post and having you hung." I nodded to Peter and his action was swift.

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His foot lashed out connecting with the earl's head. He was slammed sideways and knocked unconscious. I nodded to Peter, "Don't take chances and don't turn your back until he is dead." He nodded as he pulled a black hood from under his belt, "You should have hung him." I smiled, "Nobility means he would have to be tried before the king for his treason." Peter shook his head, "They should be no better then anyone else." I nodded, "when you finish, met me at the keep." He nodded and bent to put the black hood over the earl's head and lifted him to his shoulder.

I watched him walk off and turned to walk down the street and then through the alley to the edge of the square. I headed towards the gate and only made it a couple of blocks before a large group of guards came out of a cross street.

They were pulling bound prisoners behind them as they headed towards the guard building and the goal. I reached the square just inside the Nobles gate when the nondescript man stepped out. He would have blended into any crowd if there had been one. I knew what he was the moment he appeared. I shifted and slid into a fighting stance as he smiled, "I'm not impressed with Armsmasters." I didn't say anything as I drew a dagger and my sword.

The guards at the far gate were staring but I knew better then to let them distract me. Slowly we closed and almost at the last moment the assassin shifted slightly and his hand jerked towards me. I spun my sword in front of me and the poison dart was knocked away.

Our dance began as he spun, his sword slipping from its sheath as it sliced towards me. I smiled and shifted into a eastern technique that deflected the curved blade.

After that it was lightning fast slices and cuts that went back and forth. It was when he shifted to pull a dart that I drew first blood. I side stepped and ignored the sword as it spun past me and stabbed into his hand with my dagger before twisting. I felt the bones snap as the blade ripped his hand apart and he screamed.

My sword flashed out and the flat side of the blade contacted with the side of his head. He staggered and I moved in and stabbed through his thigh with the sword. He jerked back snarling but almost collapsed as he tried to put weight on the leg.

My next strike took the shoulder of his good hand in a lunge that put six inches of steel in it. He jerked away but I followed him and struck again, this time a slice across his forehead that rained blood down into his eyes.

He screamed and tried to rush me but I side stepped and struck him in the head with the pummel of my dagger. I watched him fall and looked at the small crowd of guards, "Bind his hands behind his back and strip him completely by cutting off his clothes.

Burn the clothes and take him to the Guard square and have a post struck. He is to be fastened to a post and a strangler is to be applied. His hands and feet are to be bound with hot coals.

His tongue is to be cut out and his eyes removed. The glyphs of grace are to be cut into his body. When that is done, no one is to be allowed to go near him." The guards had all gone white faced as I looked at the unconscious man, "This is a Grandmaster of the Temple of Kirsh." They nodded and moved forward to bind the man and do as I ordered.

I cleaned my weapons and turned to walk the route to the duke's keep. I found his court gathered around the entrance and sighed as they made an opening for me. I nodded my thanks as I walked through them to the duke standing with Elizabeth and the rest of his family.

I bow my head, "I have taken a Grandmaster my lord. His sentence is being carried out." There was a gasp as others overheard my remark. Grandmasters were said to be unbeatable and couldn't die.

Sam slipped under my arm as the duke looked past the crowd, "A runner came from the king. Your man killed an assassin as he was mounting his horse." I smiled, "I take it the king is willing to let Chris ride with him now?" The duke smiled and nodded and we all turned to wait. A boy appeared from the street entrance and crossed quickly, "He's coming! The King's coming!" Everyone started talking until the duke called for quiet.

It wasn't long before the column of horsemen appeared. They fanned out and faced the keep as a small party of richly dressed nobles rode out of the street. I smiled at the plainly dressed man beside Chris. The nobles stopped as the king dismounted and turned to face the duke. I nodded to Chris as he slipped to the king's shoulder as if he were his aid. After greeting the duke, he turned to look at me with a slight smile, "Armsmaster Winston… excuse me… Kristin Winston.

King Farhahie Ghadishah had good things to say about you and some of the reports your duke have sent me are very… let's just say hard to believe." I smiled and bowed, "People have a way of exaggerating your majesty." He laughed, "And some people tend to down play…" A swirl of mini dragons descended into the square and I glanced around to see Tim, Adelia and the children entering the square.

Sam laughed, "Sorry your majesty. Our new house guests have little regard for…" He laughed as his eyes sparkled and followed the wild flights of the dragons. He smiled and glanced at me, "you have an interesting household." I grinned, "You have no idea your majesty." He sighed and turned to the duke, "We have business my lord."

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