This was going to be the next Ethshar novel for Tor, after The Spriggan Mirror, if they hadn’t dropped the series. I had submitted the proposal before the decision came down, but when the series was cancelled they returned it unread. Once I was going alternate publishing routes there were others I did instead, so I still haven’t written all of this one.
The soldier grabbed Azraya’s arm and dragged her back into the shadows of the alley. She whirled and kicked at his kneecap, but he held on firmly. “Come on,” he said. “Just a kiss.”
“Do you really expect me to believe you’ll stop there?” she said. “Let go of me!”
“Well, I’ll admit I don’t want to settle for just a kiss…” the soldier said, grinning.
“Pig!” Azraya spat. “Let me go!”
He grabbed her other arm, instead, and pulled her toward him.
Azraya looked around the alley desperately, but saw nothing of any use. The shops on either side had no doors or windows at ground level, and the three upstairs windows were all shuttered. The only living thing she could see, besides the soldier and herself, was a scrawny orange cat watching from a corner. One end of the alley emerged into a courtyard that appeared entirely deserted; the other opened onto Panderer Street, and Azraya could hear distant voices in that direction, but no one was in sight. She had ducked in here to escape the attentions of a determined pimp, only to find this drunken soldier relieving himself against a wall. She had tried to turn and go, but he had been much quicker than she had expected, and had caught her easily.
“Come on,” he said. “You’re a thief, aren’t you? Give me a kiss, and maybe I won’t take you to the magistrates.”
“I’m not a thief!” she protested. “Let me go!”
“Then why were you sneaking into this alley?”
“To get away from someone!”
“Who? Your master? Are you a slave trying to escape, then? An unhappy apprentice?”
“No! I have no master, and I’d like to keep it that way!”
“So you aren’t dodging a master, nor anyone you robbed – an angry lover, perhaps?”
“Let me go!” She kicked again, and managed to connect with the soldier’s shin.
His grin vanished. “That hurt,” he said. He jerked her forward, pressing her against his steel breastplate and glaring down at her. “I think I’ll need more than a kiss after all.”
Azraya had never for a moment believed a kiss would be enough to buy her freedom. “You won’t get it,” she said.
“You think you can stop me?” He turned, dragging her around, and slammed her back against the wall. The back of her head hit the bricks, sending a shock of pain through her. Momentarily dazed, she did not immediately see that the guardsman had released her left arm to reach for her skirt. When she did realize what was happening she grabbed for his wrist, but he barely seemed to notice as he clutched a handful of faded green wool and pulled it up.
“Stop it!” she said.
“Make me,” he answered, grinning again – a very nasty grin this time.
At that, she brought her knee up between his legs, as hard as she could.
The difference in their heights was such that this would not ordinarily have been very effective, but he was holding her about four inches up off the ground, which gave her a much better position, while his fierce grip on her arm and skirt provided a firm base from which to strike. A guardsman usually wore armor against exactly this sort of attack, but he had removed that particular accoutrement to conduct the business that had brought him to the alley in the first place, and as Azraya had noticed, he had not restored it to its proper position.
She did not think he had simply forgotten, either. That was one reason she had not believed a kiss would suffice.
Consequently, the result of her blow was all she could have hoped for. The guardsman let out a gasping bellow and doubled over, releasing his captive as he dropped to his knees.
Azraya did not wait for him to recover; she staggered, straightened, turned, and ran, out onto Panderer Street, where she turned left, ignoring the few pedestrians.
Her home, such as it was, lay in the opposite direction, in the Hundred-Foot Field beyond Wall Street, but she had a suspicion that that was exactly where the soldier would look for her when he could stand again. Besides, most of the city was to the west, and if she could put a few corners between them she doubted the man would bother to search for her, while he would probably find kicking down a few tents in the Field very satisfying right now.
She turned right on Trinket Street, then left again on Pawnbroker, slowing to a trot as she made a right onto Games Street, and then breaking the pattern with another right onto Camptown Street. Then a left onto Moneylenders Avenue, where she continued several blocks without turning.
She heard no pursuit.
She wondered whether the soldier had realized how young she was – and would he have cared if he did? Maybe he preferred little girls. He might have backed off, though, if he found out she was only thirteen.