WHEN Kit Porter slipped out of the goldsmith’s shop in Huntingdon and caught a fleeting glimpse of two men he’d spotted earlier in the day, he began to suspect that he was being followed. By the time he reached the market square and realized that the men were still behind him, he was absolutely certain of it.
His pursuers had kept their distance as they shadowed him, neither of them drawing attention to themselves. But Kit had been schooled by the best, and Marcus de Crecy’s lessons had been hard won, so though the men were good, they were not good enough to deceive Kit.
He increased his stride, putting more distance between himself and his trackers. Marcus had taught him that the best way to shake an unwanted follower was to blend into a crowd, so Kit joined the thronging pilgrims making their way to evening service at St. Jude’s, bending his head as he hurried alongside them.
For several moments it seemed as though his ploy had worked, and he was about to double back and rejoin his accomplice when one of the pursuers suddenly loomed in front of him, barring his way. Kit stopped abruptly, his mouth drying when the man pulled aside his cloak to reveal a badge of office embroidered on the front of his surcoat.
“Do you know what this means?” the man asked.
Kit nodded. The insignia was unmistakable: the Black Swan emblem identified the man as a ranking member of the City Guard. He looked up, momentarily startled by the intensity of the blue eyes above him. “What business do you have with me?” Kit asked, hoping he sounded more assured than he felt.
The man raised an eyebrow; then his hand darted out, and he yanked the string tied around Kit’s neck, ripping away a small leather pouch that contained the coins Kit had just stolen from the goldsmith. “I’d say this makes you very much my business.”
Kit flinched and took a step backward.
“I wouldn’t think about running,” the man warned. “Robert wouldn’t take too kindly to it.”
“No, I bloody well would not,” a gruff voice murmured from behind.
Kit tensed as the sharp point of a dagger pierced his tunic and pricked the skin at the base of his spine. A practiced hand frisked him thoroughly, sliding his stiletto out of its sheath.
The man in front of him smiled. “That’s settled, then,” he said amiably. “Why don’t you come along with us?”
“Where are you taking me?” Kit demanded.
“Don’t worry about that,” the man said. “I promise we’ll take very good care of you.”
The knife at his back pressed harder, and Kit had no option but to turn and allow himself to be escorted back the way he’d come. He stiffened in surprise when they marched him past the goldsmith’s shop without stopping, even though the owner was outside complaining loudly to the Watch about the theft of his coins. Kit’s head whipped around, but the man called Robert growled out a curse and ordered him to keep moving. His confusion deepened when they skirted the stockade on Morland Street, hurrying past without so much as a backward glance.
As they steered him toward the village green, Kit looked around surreptitiously. He hadn’t been working alone; one of the Sun League’s most accomplished thieves had palmed the coins and handed them off to him before distracting the goldsmith while Kit slipped away, and Kit knew that Stephen would be hiding somewhere close by. Sure enough, he soon became aware of two dark eyes watching intently from the shadow of a recessed doorway. As he passed, Kit quirked an eyebrow, and Stephen made a rapid hand sign and melted into the deepening dusk.
Kit recoiled when they rounded a corner onto Lime Pit Lane to find two mounted soldiers waiting for them with extra horses saddled and at the ready. Clearly these men intended to take him out of Huntingdon.
“How far do you want to travel tonight, Captain?” Robert asked, glancing at his companion as he withdrew the knife at Kit’s back.
The other man shrugged. “Not much past dark.”
Robert nodded and snapped his fingers, and one of the guards trotted forward. “Hearst, we’re heading back to the inn at Shifnal. Go ahead and make arrangements.”
Hearst saluted smartly and turned his mount toward the village that Kit knew lay five miles to the west of Huntingdon. He stored the information away carefully.
Robert signaled to the other guard, who tossed him a length of rope. He motioned with his finger, and Kit turned around and linked his hands together behind his back. As Robert looped the rope around his wrists and pulled tightly, the captain stepped in front of him. “I should introduce myself,” he said. “My name is Alec Weston. I’m a captain in the City Guard.”
Kit clamped his lips together tightly; he had absolutely no intention of revealing his own identity. But Weston simply smiled. “No need to stand on ceremony, Kit Porter,” he said pleasantly. “I already know who you are.”