To begin at the beginning, click on Prologue in the Table of Contents, then on Chapter One, etc.


When he had completed his round of the marketplace he saw that Philip Carbold had set up his leather booth and was waiting on a customer. With a knot of apprehension that sat in the pit of his stomach like a cold rock, Taraval stood to one side of the stall, prepared to wait his turn. But to his surprise, Carbold turned the customer over to his apprentice when he caught sight of Taraval and approached him with a broad smile on his normally surly face.

“Well, a fair morning to you, minstrel,” he boomed, and gave Taraval so hearty a slap on the back that he winced. “You have come to do business at the market?”

His skin smarting where Carbold’s hand had struck, Taraval replied, “I have come to talk with you about the pack and waterskin I need, as we agreed on.”

Carbold’s eyebrows knit together and his oily gaze fastened on Taraval’s lute. “That is a handsome lute you played last night. May I look at it?”

Taraval had no desire to show Carbold the lute, but he didn’t want to risk spoiling the man’s unaccountable good humor, so reluctantly he pulled the instrument from its leather case and held it up for Carbold to see. There was a small, hoarse rasp from inside, and instantly Taraval realized his mistake. But it was too late, for Carbold was reaching toward the lute, his deep-set eyes glowing greedily.

“Ah,” he purred, running his sausage-like fingers over its glossy surface. “I’ve never seen wood like this. I could get you a good price for the instrument.”

The explosion of sparks Taraval expected did not come. He was astounded to hear, instead, what seemed to be faint whimpering sound coming from the lute. She’s afraid of him! he thought, and a protective impulse surged up in him so sudden and strong it startled him. He jerked the lute back, out of Carbold’s reach, and secured it once more in its case. “It has no price,” he said firmly, but trying not to sound unfriendly. “I will never part with it.”

Carbold’s steely eyes widened and he licked his fleshy lips. “Everything has a price, minstrel,” he said slowly. “It’s only a matter of finding it.”

“I will never part with it,” Taraval repeated, keeping his voice light. “I’m a minstrel and it’s my livelihood.”

“Of course you must have a lute,” Carbold replied caressingly. “But there are many good lutes to be had. I could trade you another fine lute for this one, and throw in your pack and waterskin at no extra cost.”

“When they’re ready I’ll have money to pay for them. You can be assured of that.”

“But you need that money for your trip,” Carbold said, reading Taraval’s face the way the gypsy had read his cards. Taraval tried to pull a curtain over his expression as he would over a window, but Carbold had caught a glimmer of worry there already, and sensing his advantage he plunged ahead. “You must buy supplies and warm clothing before winter sets in,” he said, watching Taraval’s face.
Then he narrowed his eyes, like a fox ready to make a kill. “I’ve seen your companion’s horse,” he said. “That broken down nag will never make it through the winter, you know. It will die under him, or you’ll have to put it out of its misery in a snow bank, and then where will the two of you be?”

Taraval felt the hot glow of anger filling his chest, fed by his fear that Carbold might be right. With the uncanny instinct of an experienced hunter, the man had found his vulnerable spot.

Seeing Taraval’s hesitation, Carbold rocked back on his heels, a smug smile playing about his lips. The prey was his, and he made his strike. “Here is my offer,” he said. “For your lute, a good lute in exchange, plus the waterskin and pack, and a serviceable horse for your companion.” He paused, relishing Taraval’s predicament, and when he spoke again his voice was smooth as honey. “You won’t find another offer like that, minstrel.”

Taraval looked at Carbold’s hand manipulating a piece of leather on his display table, and he felt the same loathing as when he’d seen that hand slide up Lisa’a arm the night before, like a slug crawling over a white moonflower.

“Carbold, I came only to tell you how I want the pack made,” he said, his jaw tight. “That’s all.”

Slowly the smile faded from Carbold’s lips, and his eyes turned hard as agates. “You haven’t been listening to me, minstrel.”

“I’ve heard everything you said, Carbold, but I’m not interested. The lute is not for sale, for any price, as I told you before.”

Carbold’s face flushed red and a large vein in his temple bulged and throbbed. “Then the pack and waterskin will not be made for you, at any price,” he snarled.
Taraval felt his own blood rising. “In that case, we are finished here.”

“You will not find another craftsman in Landshut who will make them for you, I guarantee you that.”

The two glared at one another, and Taraval saw hatred burning in Carbold’s eyes. Abruptly he turned to go, but Carbold’s hand clamped on his shoulder in a grip like iron. His voice was venomous. “Beware you, minstrel. I intend to have that lute, and I have made you a more than generous offer. I will give you a day to think it over, but if you persist in this stubbornness, both you and your companion will repent it.”

He loosened his hold, gave Taraval one last fierce glance and said, “In this village it doesn’t pay to cross Philip Carbold.” Then he turned and walked back toward his apprentice, who was still showing the othercustomer an assortment of leather belts.


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