Vol.1, Ch.5, P.4
“Tr-trespasser, is it!?”
A gasp from another guard greeted us as we surfaced from the stairway, this one leaning over his concussed and belt-bound colleague. Likely just arrived to relieve his mate of watch duty.
And right as he caught sight of me, the sentinel scrambled to unsheathe his sword. I acted in tandem, charging up the stairs with a freshly drawn blade of my own.
Naught but a hid room this was, dark and confined: my opponent’s blade rose, only to bite the low ceiling.
A moment of clumsiness.
Seizing it, I brandished my own blade in a precise arc.
Iron sharpness flew through the tight quarters.
The air whistled. A thumb then spun through it, cleanly severed.
“Hyeh!?” the guard whimpered, letting his sword fall from his bloodied hand.
But not before a hand of my own caught his face.
With the full weight of my body, I rammed his head into the stonework wall. An immediate knockout: the guard collapsed completely, joining his comrade on the ground.
“Wh… oi! What’s that just now?” Frieda whispered loudly from behind, her mouth agape. “Where’d you get chops like that, eh?”
“Chops?” I blinked, before turning instead to salvage the guard’s sword. To our mercenary it went. “I chopped his finger. What of it?”
“Not that ‘chop’—ach, never mind,” Frieda interrupted herself, taking the blade.
The four of us then emerged into the drawing room proper and sidled up against the wall near the doorway. With an ear pressed upon the surface, I listened.
“…next lass… her ready…”
“…sellsword’s next, as well… young master Kenneth’s had his fill…”
Vague conversations yonder.
Six voices, was it? Perhaps more. I couldn’t tell; not from here.
Nonetheless, our options grew scant. Dire straits awaited were we to be met with magicks from any of those men. And forcing our way through with Ina and Carola in tow, vulnerable as they were, was to beckon the fates’ foul humour.
“The way is barred,” I whispered, shaking my head. “We search for another.”
“Er sorry, lad. We scarce know the plain lay o’ the mansion,” Frieda confessed. “How you reckon we quit this place?”
“The front bristles with guards at the gatehouse, from what I’ve seen… We ought to flee from the side, but not through the east where we are now. No—the west. There’s a stable and a small gate there. That’s where we’ll aim. What think you all?”
“Fine ‘nough for me,” Frieda nodded. “This here floor, though… ‘Tis a pinch too perilous, I think, to be snoopin’ ‘round-like. Best we move up to the second. Chances are, there’s a window we can drop from, in the west wing.”
“The second floor?” Carola shivered at the thought. “Is… is it safe up there?”
“‘Safer’ is more the word, but it’s no guarantee. Both Frieda and I will keep you two from harm, that much I can promise,” I assured. “Viscount Albeck… I’ve a hunch that he’s not a man to suffer the low-born upon the higher floors. We can expect fewer guards up there.”
“Me thoughts exact,” said Frieda, looking to the other girls with a soothing smile.
Nods of agreement from each of us.
I then listened further for activity, and hearing naught, cracked the door open and peeked through. No guards now in sight; the prior men must’ve moved off. But by Frieda’s words, the first floor should be teeming with more of the viscount’s varlets. An upward stairway loomed not far off; that would be our immediate destination.
Carefully, but with hearts drumming, we exited the drawing room, scurrying to and up the stairs. At the top, we found ourselves at the eastern wing of the second floor. Our next destination awaited at the very opposite side of the mansion; a gruelling prospect, to cross so uncertain a distance.
Our group stepped to it. Frieda manned the rear, and I the front. We soon came upon our first turn of the corridor. To the corner wall we congregated.
Slowly, I chanced a glimpse at the adjoining hall…
A guard. He sauntered our way, oblivious.
I signalled to the others to stay where they were before pressing myself up against the wall.
There, I waited with bated breath.
Unhurried footfalls neared.
Fear frayed Ina and Carola’s nerves in the meanwhile. But a comforting hand from Frieda alighted upon their shoulders, and looking up, they found upon her face both a faint mirth and a reassuring nod. A well-steeled woman she was, despite suffering her own fair share of horrors in this hell-house.
Just then, the guard began to turn the corner.
I lunged at him, seizing his collars and jerking him towards me. Then with a twist of my shoulders, I sent his scalp straight into the corner wall.
“Agh—!?” he yelped, before fading into silence.
“Showy much?” came Frieda’s comment.
“‘Lucky’ is more like it,” I sighed in relief. “And looks like we’ve guessed right—only the more esteemed guards are to be found here.”
“True, if our ‘lucky’ lad here serves any sign,” said Frieda, eyeing the embroidered mantle and cape enshrouding the downed guard—raiments of great luxury in our moment of need. Hastily, I undressed the man, and then handed the mantle and cape to Ina and Carola.
“My gratitude… Ser Rolf.”
The two then donned their bare bodies with the boon of clothes. It wouldn’t have been wise to take the window curtains for this same purpose; the men outside surely would have sensed something was amiss.
And that I was able to disable the guard without a single swing of the sword was most fortuitous indeed. Ina and Carola had suffered enough; to drape them in blood-drenched fabrics would have teased from their hearts recollections too wretched to bear.
“Right. On we go—softly now,” I whispered to the others, but not before binding this guard too with his own belts. To the shade was his limp body tucked, and then down the corridor our group crept, caution guiding our course.
My hunch proved true: the second floor really was empty of the manor’s sentries. The guard earlier was the only soul we’ve crossed thus far. Hence were we able to reach the west wing without further trouble. It was there that we soon found ourselves gathered about a double doorway, beyond which was the lord’s study.
But convenience was a contrivance of the fates, for here ended our ease: whiling within were multiple men.
Slowly, I cracked one of the doors open, just enough to let the voices inside seep out.
“…then, Lord Father. I trust the good messenger from House Mernesse makes his way to the 5th?”
“You trust well. The Order should have welcomed him no more than two nights ago. And I made certain that he is well-apprised of the wedding’s day and time, details ready to meet your fair lady’s ears.”
Hearing such, I turned to the others. Frieda simply nodded, but the other two had all hale sapped from their faces. The fear in their eyes implicated the voices as being none other than their oppressors’: the Viscount Albeck and his heir, Kenneth.
“Oh, my loins! Afire they are!” sang the son. “My bride-to-be… a mareschal, she is! You don’t suppose she’d expire too soon were I a bit… rough with her, do you Lord Father?”
“Not at all, my boy. She is the vaunted Lady Emilie Mernesse, no less. Liberator of Godrika, whisperer of the levinblade—her strength is attested, I can assure you. Why, they say she is the dame to succeed Tiselius herself!”
“Vaunted, indeed!” cackled Kenneth. “Ah, such a winsome woman… all mine! Oh, if only it were the wedding night!”
“A fine wife I’ve chosen for you, if I do say so myself,” the viscount said smilingly. “I’ll not stay your hand from breaking her to pieces, but do be a bit more gentle, will you? She may yet please you for a longer while, my boy.”
“You’re hardly one to speak of treasuring toys, Lord Father!” the adolescent giggled again. “But I’m afraid her limbs won’t stay on for long; I’ll savour their sweet severing as soon as I’m able. Yes… nipped from the knees and elbows down. A barking bitch I’ll make of her! Leashed and collared! Oh! And for her abode: not a dungeon, but a doghouse!”
A sneer from the lord. “Your fidelity is moving.”
My blood boiled.
Anger pulsed through my arteries and straight into my head.
No. I couldn’t.
This was a battlefield in and of itself. There were hostiles about, victims to rescue—surrendering all composure was tantamount to admitting defeat.
Deeply, I filled my lungs and slowly exhaled. Stilling the storm inside, I then took a peek through the cracked doorway.
A large desk. There, the viscount was seated. Across was his son, Kenneth, flanked by a guard on each side. Cajoling jeers were plastered on the grunts’ faces as the nobles’ sinful talk slithered into their ears.
Four in total then. Manageable. We’ll break in and cuff them up. Simple enough.
Frieda stood vis-à-vis, taking in the scene for herself. Our eyes met; we nodded. The guards would be mine to deal with, while Kenneth would be Frieda’s target. The viscount, being the furthest from our reach, would be dealt with last.
By hand signs were such details relayed to Frieda, who gave another nod.
The lion’s share of the ambush would be mine to shoulder, but this was for the best. By any measure was our mercenary exceptional with the sword, but loath was I to burden her any further than her tired and tortured body could bear. She was as much a victim as Ina and Carola were. This, I could not ignore.
Many souls in her line of work have I met during my outings in town. All were imbued with the same iron-will; no doubt they would have turned their noses up to such a plan as this. Indeed, those soldiers of fortune would be most fain to shoulder their fair share of the work, proud of heart as they were.
Yet I found agreement from Frieda without so much as a twinkle of discontent in her eyes. She understood well the situation at hand, whether in regards to our foes’ numbers, or the spent state of her own body. In her, I found a complice deserving of utmost trust as we stood face-to-face against the doorway.
One last look was shared between us.
Our wills were steeled.
The doors boomed open.
“Mm?” the viscount murmured, during which I was already in motion. A tall cabinet stood beside the doorway: with a mighty heave, I toppled it over onto the left-standing guard.
“Wagh!?” the grunt yelped. An oaken crash. The floor rumbled. The impelled piece of furniture was heavy indeed; he would not escape unscathed.
The other guard was quick to reveal his sword. To me he sprinted, intent upon running me through with it. This, I predicted—too close was he to Kenneth, his charge, and so could not dare to swing his sword broadly.
With a twist of my body, I let the blade pass through, and pouncing into his midst, I then thrust my elbow deep into the guard’s face.
“Bwugh!!” Air and spit spilt out of him as the full momentum of my body smashed right into his nostrils. Down to my side he collapsed, and from his person, I purloined a dagger. It would not remain mine for long: at once, I wound about and hurled the little blade.
“Gagh!?” Deep into the thigh of the first guard it bit, who, after freeing himself from the downed cabinet, had thought to unsheathe his own sword.
Kenneth was left stunned, but the chaos continued. Already was another blade sailing through the air, one in the hands of Frieda. A ribbon of blood flew from the adolescent’s left arm.
“Hyeh!?” he yapped, stumbling from the fresh wound not longer than a mere thumb. But it was one produced with astounding precision, a slice of the sword purposed to do no more than suppress the youth.
Yet the energy of the mercenary’s actions would not cease there: Frieda’s body breezed about and bounded right back into Kenneth’s midst. The movement, brilliant in its use of her slender, featherweight form, ended with a heel diving straight into the adolescent’s knee.
A cheap scream that concealed the sound of a broken kneecap. The boy then fell to his bottom. Not far from him was I, leaping onto the lord’s desk. My sword free from its scabbard, I drave its pommel into the viscount’s visage.
The noble clamoured back, chair and all. I dropped down, and standing at his side, trained my blade to his neck. Frieda followed suit, bringing hers towards Kenneth’s nose.
So far, so good.
But the lord’s son was not one to stay quiet: he shrank back and opened his foul mouth.
“Wh-what’s this!? Why are you here!?” Kenneth barked, pointing to Frieda. “A toy! That’s what you are! A plaything should know well to stay in the playpen!”
Fiery redness fumed from Frieda’s countenance. Long had she shown composure in the course of our escape, but Kenneth’s ill words had at last unlocked from her heart a secret rage. But the anger amounted to nothing more than an opening. It was certain: for the briefest moment, Frieda’s judgement was blinded.
For his part, Kenneth seemed not the sort to concoct such cunning. Frieda was but a doll to him, made for his pleasure and delight. And so to weep and whimper in the face of her defiance was most unbecoming of him. Yet that was his exact plight, and so what issued from his lips were merely words wrought wretchedly from the irony of it all.
The knife he then issued from his breast pocket was clearly not the kind for combat. No, it was a dainty little thing, used only to cut up his “toys”, none of whom could’ve done more than let him have his way.
Up into the air it went, amidst the pathetic tears and screams of its wielder.
A knife, by chance imbued with precision.
A thrust of its blade, aimed at a chance opening.
To Frieda’s flank, it flew.
A cruel course closing in on her unguarded flesh.
Then—a sound, like a thundering thud.
Before thin iron could bite bare skin, the knife’s wielder was struck down whence he stood by whom but two more of his “toys”: in their bid to save Frieda, Ina and Carola had flown into the room, and with what might they could muster, threw themselves upon the depraved youth.
The sound of it all was like a bell to the mercenary, for the light of reason then returned to her eyes. Once more, her blade bounded through the air…
…and with it, Kenneth’s ear and weeping wails.
Frieda stepped up to him. Her next words were as cold as her steel, trained once more to the screaming, sobbing mess of a lordling.
“Still that tongue. Or lose it.”
Not more than ten seconds had passed since the doors were first flung open. The fight was finished. The nobles were captured.