The Broken Lance by Nathan Long

Description : The Broken Lance
An Untested Tool

THE HAMMER BRANDS were gone. The shameful scars that had been burnt into their flesh had been removed at last by a sorcery so painful it made the original branding a pleasant memory byparison. The skin of their hands was clean, unblemished, as if the red iron had never touched it. But the blood beneath that skin, that was another story.

Reiner Hetzau and his convictpanions; the pikemen Hals Kiir and Pavel Voss, the Tilean crossbowman Giano Ostini, and Franka Shoentag, the dark-haired archer who only Reiner knew was not the boy she pretended to be, had been given the deserters brand by Baron Albrecht Valdenheim as a way to force them to help him betray his brother, Count Manfred Valdenheim. He had promised them that when their service to him was done, he would remove the brands. But after they learned that he intended to betray them as well as his brother, they had helped Manfred instead, in hopes that he would make good on Albrecht's promise.

And he had. Manfred had been so impressed by the unorthodox ways in which Reiner and hispanions had escaped their predicaments, by their ability to adapt and survive in any situation, and by their utter disregard for what respectable men might call right and wrong, that he had decided to make them agents of the Empire whether they wished it or not. The country, he said, had need of blackhearts who would not flinch at dishonourable duty. So he had ordered his personal sorcerer to remove the brands - which marked them deserters who could be shot on sight, and therefore useless as spies - and instead bound them to him with a much more subtle leash.

He had poisoned...
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