Oath of Deception – Jennifer Anne Davis

Huddled beneath his moth-eaten cape, Savenek counted the ships on the left side of Dock M until he came to the eighth one. It was nondescript, no different from the hundreds of ships docked in this harbor. He scanned the area. The night was cool, the wind blowing steadily. Only a few clouds shone in the star-filled sky. At this late hour, no one strolled along the pier or nearby beach. That gave Savenek two options. He could either swim out to the ship and climb on board, or he could take the dock and hope no one saw him. He didn’t care to go for a swim this late at night, so the dock it was. Pulling the hood over his head, he slunk out of the shadows of the storage facility that housed the Great Bay’s records. A ship couldn’t enter the port without filing the proper paperwork. Which led to the reason for Savenek’s visit tonight. His assignment was simple: get a copy of the paperwork for the vessel in slip eight. But after searching through the storage facility, he hadn’t found a copy. Technically, this meant Savenek’s assignment was over.

He should return to his handler and report his findings. However, he knew there was a captain’s log aboard the ship in question. The log would provide the information the Brotherhood of the Crown sought. Might as well go straight to the source. Feeling beneath his cape, Savenek counted his weapons. A dagger on each arm; four knives strapped to his waist, and two daggers on his thighs. More than enough to complete this job. Now that he was sixteen and about to graduate from the academy and take his vows to enter the Brotherhood of the Crown, he hoped his missions would become a little more challenging. Usually he was given simple jobs like the one tonight: break in to a facility where nobody was to steal something easy to obtain. Sneaking aboard a ship was definitely next level stuff.

When he pulled this off, the Brotherhood would have to give him better assignments. He headed for slip twenty-three—the ship on the right side of the dock, catty-corner to his target. The records indicated that this ship was from Lanek. It had arrived early this morning with a load of fish. The fish had already been delivered, the crew was staying in Emperor’s City for the night, and it was due to set sail tomorrow morning. No one should be on board. When he reached the ship, Savenek climbed onto the deck and headed to the bow. There, he squatted and observed the area. No one was about. Savenek turned his attention to the ship in slip eight.

It was dark, the deck empty, the sails furled. The entrance to the hold was toward the back of the ship. The crew was probably sleeping at some inn in the city. All Savenek had to do was sneak into the main cabin, steal the log, and exit without anyone seeing him. It seemed simple enough. After scanning the area one last time, he disembarked. He quickly removed his cape and rolled it up, shoving it behind a nearby barrel. Crouching low, he slunk across the dock. He sprinted up the gangplank and hopped onto the deck. The only sound was water lapping against the nearby vessels and the whistling of the wind.

Savenek moved toward the back of the ship where the hatch to the hold was located. Pulling out a knife, he held it in his right hand while his left hand slowly opened the hatch. He could just make out a steep set of stairs. Closing the hatch, he went below deck. Everything remained eerily quiet. At the bottom of the stairs, he paused to let his eyes adjust. Three doors on either side of a thirty-foot corridor, one door at the end. Most likely, the door straight ahead led to the captain’s cabin where the log would be kept. Savenek made his way down the corridor, his senses on high alert. As he passed the second door on his right, he noticed that a putrid smell engulfed the area.

Holding his breath, he continued onward. When he reached the door at the end, he realized it was partially open. Pressing against the wall, he peered inside. There was a small desk and a cot in the corner. Someone was sleeping on the cot. The man’s chest slowly rose and fell as he emitted a low snore. Bullocks. Savenek could have sworn no one was on board. It was too late to turn back now. He slipped into the small room, his eyes on the sleeping man.

Two steps and he reached the desk. Several papers were strewn about, but there was no book in sight. Savenek scanned the room. Lying on the floor, next to the cot, was a small book. That was probably the log. It would require four steps to reach it. Four steps, squat, grab the log, turn, six steps to the room’s exit. Simple. But, instead of moving, Savenek remained still. Something felt wrong.

He looked at the man on the cot. His tousled hair was dark, his skin pasty white instead of sun tanned. His arms were large and beefy, and his toes hung off the end of the cot. He had the look of a Russek warrior, not a fisherman or sailor. In the corner of the room, several fur blankets were piled high. Russek was known for having a frigid climate. The man’s arm flopped over the side of the cot, his fingers only inches from the floor. Something caught Savenek’s eye—a longsword. A string of curse words built in his head. He weighed the consequences of trying to approach the book.

Did the Brotherhood need the captain’s log now that Savenek could report that a Russek warrior was on board? Probably not. The log was meant to provide that information. There was no need to go within arm’s reach of the man. Savenek turned and exited the room. He needed to get off this ship and report his findings. As he made his way along the corridor, the putrid smell once again assaulted him. It reminded him of the smell of death. While he wanted to get off this ship as soon as possible, preferably before the Russek warrior woke up, he couldn’t go anywhere until he knew what was behind the door from which the smell came. Savenek lifted his tunic up and over his mouth and nose, took a deep breath, and opened the door. Flies buzzed around a man sitting awkwardly on a chair, his head hanging to the side, his tongue protruding from his face.

The man was dead. On the floor next to his feet was a wooden crate, the top open. Glancing about the storage room, Savenek saw that it was filled with similar crates. He needed to take a breath but was afraid to. Instead, he took another step into the room, peering in the crate. There were several small glass containers each filled with some sort of red powder. Examining the dead body again, Savenek saw the man had one of the glass containers opened on his lap. The man’s fingertips were red. Poison. Savenek hastily exited the room.

He made his way back up the stairs and onto the deck. Out in the fresh air, he pulled his tunic down and heaved in a deep breath. What the hell was a ship doing here from Russek? He knew from his studies that Emperion’s relationship with Russek was tense. The Russek king, Drenton, ruled with an iron fist and had a large army that was known for being unnecessarily brutal, vicious, and bloodthirsty. Savenek mentally recalled the storage room on the ship. There had to be fifteen crates. If they were all filled with those containers of poison, the Brotherhood needed to know immediately. He jumped onto the gangplank and traversed it to the dock. Not seeing anyone nearby, he retrieved his cape, draped it over his shoulders, and took off running toward the shore. When he reached the city streets, he slowed so he wouldn’t attract attention.

After two blocks, he hid in a dark alcove, leaning against the wall while listening for any indication he was being followed. Not hearing anything of concern, he slunk out of the shadows and headed toward the tavern where he was supposed to meet his handler. He was the only one at the academy whose handler was also his father. Of course, no one knew that. His father thought it best if their connection remained a secret so other trainees wouldn’t feel like Savenek received special treatment. The sign for Shipwreck Tavern blew in the soft wind, squeaking as it swayed back and forth. Crossing the street, Savenek ran his hands through his shaggy light-brown hair, trying to tame it. He pushed the door open and quickly surveyed the room, checking for anything unusual or out of place. One woman stood behind the bar, her low-cut dress revealing most of her chest as she leaned forward, wiping the bar with a rag. One man sat at a table to the left, head slumped forward as he snored over an empty cup of ale.

To Savenek’s right, another man balanced precariously on the back legs of his chair, hands clasped behind his head, feet on the table, and eyes closed. But the man’s calm demeanor didn’t fool Savenek. He knew Nathenek was a man of legendary skills. The best assassin in Emperion. He was responsible for killing the previous imposter emperor and putting the current empress and rightful heir on the throne. People often called him brutal, lethal, and unfailingly loyal. Savenek simply called him Father. Walking over, he slid onto the empty chair across from Nathenek. “You’re late,” Nathenek commented, opening his eyes. He leaned forward, and the chair’s front two legs landed with a bang.

“I have vital information.” Nathenek raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t ask for information. I asked for the ship’s paperwork. Do you have it?” “No. But we don’t need it. There are two Russek men aboard that ship. One is dead.” “How do you know they’re from Russek?” “They have the look of Russek men—large, pale skin, dark hair. But that’s not all.

The one man appeared to have died from exposure to poison.” “Poison?” “Yes. There were fifteen crates filled with some kind of red powder.” “How do you know it’s poison?” “The dead man was holding a bottle of it and had it on his skin.” Savenek hadn’t wanted to get too close to the substance. He’d been trained to detect various poisons. However, he’d never seen anything powdery red like that before. “Go home. I’ll take care of it.” “What are you going to do?” “I’ll take a look.

And if it’s what you say, I’ll destroy it.” It was a dangerous task and he didn’t want his father anywhere near the stuff. “How do you plan on doing that?” “I’ll sink the ship. The poison should be ruined once it hits the water.” “Let me help you.” Other students at the academy were traveling with their handlers to different kingdoms and returning with exciting stories of spying, infiltrating armies, and stealing documents. Savenek had never been on a mission with anyone other than his father, had never been on a mission to another kingdom, and had never been sent on anything considered remotely dangerous. “No. Go home. That’s an order.

” Savenek sighed. “Is something wrong?” “No.” He put his elbows on the table and knotted his fingers in his hair. He wanted to go with his father to sink the ship. Nathenek leaned back on his chair. “It’s too dangerous for you to be there. Something could go wrong.” Savenek nodded. He understood that; however, he wasn’t some whelp that didn’t know what he was doing. For the past nine years, he’d trained with complete devotion.

He deserved a real assignment, not to be sheltered when he could be of use. Nathenek suddenly leaned forward, placing his hand on Savenek’s forearm. “If what you say is on that ship, I need to get over there as soon as possible.” Savenek nodded and stood. “We’ll talk about your punishment when I return home.” “Excuse me?” Punishment? For what? “You didn’t follow orders. You were not to step foot on that ship.” “It’s a good thing I did.” Otherwise they wouldn’t know about the poison or the men from Russek. “You’re lucky you didn’t walk into an ambush.

The fact of the matter is, you didn’t follow orders. Period. You will be reprimanded for this.” Savenek ground his teeth together in frustration. He understood what his father was saying, but he didn’t like it. He turned and exited the tavern. He started running west— the opposite direction of his house. He had no intention of going home tonight. If he did, he’d end up stewing over his father’s refusal to let him help sink the ship. He couldn’t go to Hana’s house.

If he showed up and her father caught him, he’d never be allowed within a mile of her ever again. Not that he couldn’t easily sneak into her house, but she shared a bedroom with her four sisters. The likelihood of Hana tripping over something as she got out of bed and rousing one of her siblings was too great to risk. There was only one other place he could go to. He made his way to his aunt’s apartment. Aunt Tayek lived with her husband, a baker of some renown. Their children had all married and moved out, and she encouraged Savenek to come over whenever he wanted. He enjoyed visiting her because she was the only one who talked about his mother. Nathenek refused to say anything about her. The only thing his father had ever told him was that she died in childbirth.

At least his aunt wasn’t afraid to say her name. Tayek was the closest person to a mother he had. The apartment was located directly above the family’s bakery. The sun wouldn’t rise for another three hours. Not wanting to wake anyone, Savenek climbed the steps to the front door and picked the lock—as he’d done a hundred times throughout his childhood. He opened the door and went inside, feeling his way over to the sofa. He laid down, trying to relax so he could sleep for a couple of hours. The comforting smell of baking bread filled the silent room. His uncle must be down in the bakery already working. Listening for his aunt, he didn’t hear her lightly breathing from the adjacent bedroom.

Which meant she was already awake. “It’s just me,” he mumbled, not wanting to scare her. “Figured,” Aunt Tayek replied. She exited her bedroom and came over to the sofa, sitting by Savenek’s feet. “You don’t seem surprised to see me,” he commented as he fluffed one of the pillows below his head. “Nathenek came by earlier tonight.” “Cows tits,” he cursed. His aunt whacked his head. “Don’t use that word.” “Why?” he asked, rubbing his head.

His aunt usually didn’t care if he cursed. “You can use breast, bosom, or even chest, but not that vulgar T-word you used just now. I won’t have that in my house.” Savenek chuckled. He loved his aunt. Besides being the kindest person he knew, she was also funny, always there for him, and she only saw the good in other people. Usually so laid back, he found her aversion to a specific word humorous. “Only for you, Aunt Tayek.” He shifted on the sofa, trying to get comfortable. Why was she up at this hour? What had his father said to her? “Is everything okay?” he asked.

“Yes,” she replied, patting his feet. “Get some sleep. We can talk tomorrow.” “I have to go to the academy in the morning.” “I’ll make sure you’re up in time.” She stood. “Did my father mention anything about my assignment tonight?” Tayek paused in the doorway. “No.” Her voice sounded mildly surprised indicating she told the truth. “We did talk about you, though.

I hear you found yourself a young woman.” Her voice turned cautious, inquisitive. “Is that what my dad’s upset about?” Nathenek claimed that he didn’t want Savenek distracted by a young woman when he was about to graduate and take the vows to enter the Brotherhood. “No, not upset. He asked for my advice since I’ve been through this before with my own children.” Whenever Savenek had a close friend or he became interested in a woman, Nathenek always turned into a prude insisting that Savenek stay focused on training. Just because Nathenek never remarried and didn’t have any friends, didn’t mean that was the life Savenek had to live. After he took his vows, he intended to marry Hana—regardless of what anyone had to say about it. “Did you tell him you would talk to me? Try to convince me that I’m young and don’t need to marry yet?” Aunt Tayek laughed, the sound soft and breathy, making Savenek instantly miss the mother he’d never known. “Hardly,” she said.

“I told him that you were old enough to make your own decisions and that perhaps he should take after you and find someone to settle down with.” Savenek chuckled, trying to envision his aunt saying that to his father. “As you can imagine,” she continued, “that didn’t go over well. He insisted he didn’t need a wife and could handle raising you on his own. Which, I must admit, he has done decently.” “Decently?” “You are a little stubborn at times.” She nudged him. “Like my mother?” “Oh, no,” Aunt Tayek said. “She was very easygoing.” “I wish Dad would talk about her.

” “He has to have told you some stories about her,” she said, her voice etched with shock. “He hasn’t.” Not a single word. Ever. “Do I at least look like her?” Because Savenek sure as heck didn’t look like Nathenek. Where his father was tall, lean, fair skinned, and had blond hair, Savenek was shorter, darker, more muscled, and had light brown hair. “You don’t look a thing like her,” Aunt Tayek said, staring up at the ceiling, lost in memories of the past. “Your mother was tall, skinny, and she had long blonde hair.” “Did she know what Dad did for a living?” And was she okay with him being an assassin? Would she want her son to follow in his father’s footsteps? “She did. She was very proud of him.

” Her voice sounded different, almost hesitant. “What is it?” “When your mother died, it was a very dark time for your father. Even though you’d just been born, none of us saw you. Nathenek left the city and didn’t return for almost a year. When he came back, he was a changed man. I think you saved him.” It was hard for Savenek to picture his father grieving over his mother. It was hard for him to imagine his father being so…emotional. “Go to sleep,” Aunt Tayek said. “I’ll wake you when it’s time to get up.

” She left the room before he could ask another question.

.

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