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King of Foxes: Conclave of Shadows, Book Two (Conclave of Shadows #02)by Raymond E. Feist
A bird soared over the city.
Its eyes sought out a figure in the throng on the docks, one man amidst the teeming surge of humanity occupying the harborside during the busiest part of the day. The Port of Roldem, harbor to the capital city of the island kingdom of the same name, was one of the most crowded in the Sea of Kingdoms. Trade goods and passengers from the Empire of Great Kesh, the Kingdom of the Isles, and half a dozen lesser nations nearby came and went daily.
The man under scrutiny wore the travel clothes of a noble, all sturdy weave and easily cleaned, with fastenings that allowed him to remain comfortable in all weathers. He sported a jacket designed to be worn off the left shoulder, leaving his sword arm unencumbered. Upon his head was a black beret adorned with a silver pin and a single grey feather, and upon his feet he wore sturdy boots. His luggage was being offloaded and would be conveyed to the address he had specified. He traveled without servant, which while unusual for a noble, was not unheard of — for not all nobles were wealthy.
He paused for a brief second to drink in the sights. Around him people scurried: porters, sailors, stevedores, and teamsters. Wagons loaded so high their wheels appeared on the verge of buckling rolled slowly by him, cargo heading into the city or out to the ferry barges that would load them onto outbound ships. Roldem was a busy port by any standard; not only were goods delivered here, but also transshipped, for Roldem was the trading capital of the Sea of Kingdoms.
Everywhere the young man looked, he saw commerce. Men bargaining over the cost of goods to be sold in distant markets, others negotiatingthe price of offloading a cargo, or insuring one against pirates or loss at sea. Still others were agents of trading concerns eagerly watching for any sign that might prove an advantage to their sponsors, men who sat in coffee houses as far away as Krondor or as close as the Traders Exchange, just one street away from where the young man now stood. They would dispatch young boys with notes, who would run to those men who awaited news on arriving cargo, men trying to sense a shift in a distant market before buying or selling.
The young man resumed his walk and avoided a gang of urchins dashing past with determined boyish purpose. He forced himself not to pat his purse, for he knew it was still where it was supposed to be, but there was always the possibility the boys were sent by a gang of pickpockets on the lookout for a fat purse to rob. The young man kept his eyes moving, seeking out any potential threat. He saw only bakers and street vendors, travelers and a pair of guardsmen. It was exactly who he would have expected to see in the crowd on Roldem's docks.
Looking down from above, the soaring bird saw in the press of the crowd that another man moved along a parallel course and at the same pace as the young noble.
The bird circled and observed the second man, a tall traveler with dark hair who moved like a predator, easily keeping his eye upon the other man, but using passersby as cover, dodging effortlessly through the crowd, never falling behind, but never getting close enough to be discovered.
The young noble was fair-skinned but sun-browned, his blue eyes squinting against the day's glare. It was late summer in Roldem, and the dawn mists and fog had fled, burned off bymid-morning to a brilliant sunny sky, made tolerable by a light wind off the sea. Trudging up the hill from the harbor, the noble whistled a nameless tune as he sought out his old quarters, a three-bedroom flat above a moneylender's home. He knew he was being followed, for he was as adept a hunter as any man living.
Talon of the Silver Hawk, last of the Orosini, servant of the Conclave of Shadows, had returned to Roldem. Here he was Talwin Hawkins — distant cousin to Lord Seljan Hawkins, Baron of the Prince's Court in Krondor. His title was Squire of Morgan River and Bellcastle, Baronet of Silverlake — estates producing almost no income — and he was vassal to the Baron of Ylith; a former Bannerette Knight Lieutenant under the command of the Duke of Yabon, Tal Hawkins was a young man of some rank and little wealth.
For almost two years he had been absent from the scene of his most significant public triumph, winning the tournament at the Masters' Court, thus earning the title of World's Greatest Swordsman. Cynical despite his youth, he tried to keep the illusion of superiority in perspective — he had been the best of the several hundred entrants who had come to Roldem for the contest, but that hardly convinced him he was the best in the world. He had no doubt there was some soldier on a distant battlement or mercenary riding guard duty somewhere who could cut him up for fish bait given the chance; but fortunately they hadn't entered the contest.
For a brief instant, Tal wondered if fate would allow him to return to Roldem in three years' time to defend that championship. He was but twenty-three years of age, so it would be only circumstance that would prevent him fromreturning to Roldem. Should he do so, he hoped the contest would be less eventful than the last. Two men had died by his sword during the matches — a very rare and usually regrettable outcome. Nevertheless, Tal had felt no regret, since one of the men had been among those responsible for the destruction of his nation, and the other had been an assassin sent to kill him. Memories of assassins turned his mind to the man following him...
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