The Emperor’s Hunt: Sample Chapter
(last updated: July 31, 2015)
Maevis, part 1: The Emperor’s Orders
Maevis raced through the empty streets.
She didn’t know why the two men were chasing her, but she wasn’t going to wait and find out. They looked like thugs; perhaps some merchant’s bodyguards. And she knew what merchants’ bodyguards did to little thieves.
If they caught her, they wouldn’t just beat her. They would cripple her. Or worse.
The old stone houses loomed above her as she ran, most of their windows shuttered. She knew she wouldn’t find help from anyone inside. Not at this time of night, and not in this part of town.
She ran as fast as she could. Faster than she had ever run before.
She took a left, then a right, then another left, and skidded to a stop as she entered a dark alley. A large barrel stood next to the wall to her left. Quickly, she hid behind it.
She took a deep breath and listened. The heavy footsteps were not coming. She allowed herself a smile.
I must have lost them. I am safe now.
She leaned against the wall and willed her pounding heart to slow down.
She waited for a few minutes, but nothing disturbed the quiet night. Her pursuers were gone; she was truly safe.
With a sigh of relief, she left her hiding place and walked towards the end of the alley. It curved to the right. She turned the corner and found herself at a dead end.
Then she heard a low growl from behind.
She whipped around, and her heart jumped in her chest.
The wolf was the largest beast she had ever seen. It fixed her with its bloodshot eyes as it advanced. And its teeth… its teeth…
She tried to move, but fear held her in place. Then suddenly the wolf stopped, as if on an unseen command. And as Maevis looked up, she saw the others.
Behind the beast stood a tall, thin stranger, clad in furs; a hunter from the Eastern lands. Perhaps the wolf’s master. The men who had been chasing her were at his sides. They did not carry weapons, but they didn’t need to. They were bare-chested, even in the cold night, and each of them was a mountain of muscle.
She had nowhere to run, and no time to cast her spell. Besides, her ice daggers were harmless; they shattered upon touch. And somehow she sensed the men would not be fooled.
Trembling, she spoke the first words that came to mind. “I don’t have much, but what I have is yours.”
Even as she said it, she realized her mistake. A beastmaster wouldn’t chase me for my meager coin.
The man smiled. Maevis noticed the strange glint in his eyes.
“I know you, young Maevis,” he said. “Little thief. I’ve been watching you.”
“I only steal to feed my family, my lord. Have mercy.”
“Little, but not young,” the man continued, ignoring her words. “You are what, eighteen?”
“Yes, my lord.” How does he know?
“She looks younger than that, master,” said the man on his right. “Much younger.”
The fur-clad stranger glared at him. “Of course she does, Sal. All elves do.” He turned to Maevis again. “Catch, little thief.”
He tossed three coins towards her, one after the other. Maevis caught them easily, and as she brought them in front of her eyes, her heart soared.
They were silver. It was more money than she had ever had.
“These will feed your family for a while,” the man said.
They will feed us for months, she thought. “Thank you, my lord.” But why would he be so kind to me?
“Do not thank me yet,” the stranger said. “You don’t know what they are buying.”
At this, Maevis rebelled. “I am not a whore.” Not even for three silvers.
“No, not that. The Emperor has asked for you, and we’ll take you to his palace. The journey takes many days. You will give your parents the money, and then we must leave without delay. The Emperor is not a patient man.”
Why would the Emperor ask for me? Maevis thought. I am nobody. But there was no reason for the man to lie.
“Come willingly,” the man continued, “and we won’t harm you. But try to run away, and my wolf will have you for lunch. Those are the Emperor’s orders.”
The wolf growled. It looked ready to pounce — and Maevis knew that, if its master ordered it, her life would be over in a heartbeat.
There was only one thing she could say. “I will come with you.” And the money will feed my family until I return.
“Very well,” the stranger said. He whispered a quick command and his wolf retreated behind him. Then he beckoned Maevis forward.
As she walked towards him, one of his companions whispered to the other. “Do you think she stands a chance?”
The other man shook his head. “No. This is a waste of time.”