Tornmile: Part 7

Part VII: A Thief in the Night

It was only a few hours to dawn and Brielle stood at the window looking out over Tornmile, the night air cool on her skin. She shivered slightly and goose bumps made their way up her arms, but she did nothing to adjust the silk sheets wrapped around her or to move away from the chill breeze. She was not interested in the cold; she was building a plan in her head, looking out towards the tanner’s pits and wondering exactly where she could find Dunstan Ferrer. Find him and make him pay.

There were advantages to her meeting with Darian other than the expensive sheets and the doctor who had told her she was absolutely fine, but ought to rest: as Darian had shown her to one of the many bedrooms in the house, promising to find her something better to wear than a night dress for the next day, she had had a glimpse of an armoury stocked with weapons of all kinds. All she needed was one good sword, maybe a dagger or two. The shock and fear that had forced her into Darian’s curricle and caused her to lie about her name had been taken away by a few hours’ rest, and she had awoken free of both. Anger had not left her, but she knew that it would only be of use if she reined it to her purpose. She spent some time forging her anger into a sword of vengeance that she could carry into battle against Ferrer and his men. White-Eye will pay. Every single one of them will pay for what they’ve done.

All she needed was to find Dunstan Ferrer; whilst everyone knew he operated out near the tanner’s pits, she suspected few knew the exact location and she didn’t have time to find people who had been brought to see him and question them. Especially since most would not talk for fear of Ferrer’s retribution. It was Brielle’s retribution that mattered now and she already had a plan how to get it.

Turning from the window, she laid the silk sheets back on the bed and adjusted the night dress she had been wearing when Ferrer’s men had come. There was a tear in it where she had wrenched herself from the strong-arm’s grasp, just under her ribcage. Along with a sword she would also need something else to wear; you had to dress properly to go into battle. Besides which her plan necessitated that she look rich, and that meant being well dressed.

Carefully she unlatched the bedroom door, emerging into the corridor, bare feet making a soft tap on the floorboards. The swish of her dress was loud in her ears as she moved quietly down the corridor, hand following the walls in the darkness. In her mind’s eye she followed the layout of the manor, planning the quickest route she knew to get from her room to the armoury, but she had one stop to make first. She came to the door and paused to listen. From the other side she could hear snoring, which reassured her enough to open the door a fraction. When the snoring continued, she slipped inside.

The room was much more luxurious than the one she had been given, which she wouldn’t have thought was possible. Tapestries hung on the walls and all the furniture was ornately carved. The room was lit by the soft glow of two candles on tall gilt candlesticks, which Darian had not put out when he had retired to the four poster bed which dominated the room. He had not bothered to draw the heavy velvet curtains either, yet he slept soundly. The sheets were drawn about his midriff and Brielle could see the fine hair’s width white scars that crisscrossed his torso, marking him out as a fencing champion, but her eyes were drawn to a wide puckered scar on his left side, just above the hip. Fencing accident? A pair of fencing swords hung above the mantelpiece, thin rapier-like blades which were responsible for the thin scars on Darian’s chest. She could not imagine them creating the wound in his side.

She could not stop to wonder, though; she had other business in this room. She crept across to the ornate chair on which Darian had flung his clothes before going to bed. She briefly considered taking the clothes, but he was much taller and broader than she and there was no way that they would fit her well enough to allow her to fight freely. Besides, he had mentioned something in passing about sisters, so there was a chance she would find something more suitable elsewhere. If she could not, she would have to make do with what she had; she couldn’t spend the night searching all the rooms in the manor for a better dress. She would need shoes of some kind, though, that was a necessity. She checked the pockets of his coat and drew out the lump of his full purse. I’ll be needing that.

Slipping from the room, she pulled the door closed behind her, and paused to see if the noise had woken Darian. The snoring continued and Brielle nodded to herself and continued down the corridor, following the map in her mind’s eye. Cutting left through a servant’s corridor hidden behind a tapestry, through which she had been brought earlier in the night, she emerged in the wide hallway lined with family portraits that led to the armoury. She could not see the portraits, she could barely see her hand in front of her face, but she had the sensation of eyes watching him in the darkness. She shivered and quickened her pace.

The armoury was lit by moonlight through a large window in the ceiling, the glass panes a testament to the grandeur of Darian’s father’s house. The silvery light reflected off the suits of armour, more for display than for use in battle, and the swords, axes, and halberds that crossed each other on the wall behind shields marked with a golden hawk. That was Darian’s father’s sigil. In the centre of the room, beneath the window, was a large open space. A large mat covered the floor, marked with one large fencing circle and then smaller circles within it – a practice ground for Darian’s sword-sport. Racks of weapons lined the walls and between them tall cupboards stood, each marked with a different badge. She could see the golden hawk of Darian’s father, a golden hawk carrying thunderbolts, which was Darian’s sigil, and a mermaid under three stars. His sister’s?

Feeling a tug in her mind that she could not quite place, she approached the cupboard and turned the ornate key in the lock. The wood panels opened with a satisfying click. A dark blue dress hung there, the material fine, and clearly designed to be worn whilst fighting. The fabric was light to allow movement and would hang just above the knee so that it didn’t impede the wearer’s footwork. Checking over her shoulder, despite the knowledge that she was alone, she pulled her night dress over her head and pulled the dress on in its place. It fit her almost perfectly. There was a coat made of thicker, but no less fine, material and she draped that across her arm to put on when she had found a sword. Best of all, there were boots of soft leather which laced up to the knee. She pulled them on and revelled in the fact that they too fit her well.

The rack next to the cupboard contained a number of different weapons. Most of these were fencing swords like those hung above Darian’s fireplace, but she was not interested in those. Her brother had taught her how to fight with a soldier’s sword – footwork was all very well, but fancy swishing and deft points would get you killed in battle. There was a battle axe, a single cruel blade balanced by a spike, but it was heavy in her hand. She needed something she could use quickly, something she was sure of. There was a heavy mace, much like the cudgel she had used at the inn, but it would be cumbersome and her plan relied on being able to conceal her weapons at first. Last in the rack was a broadsword, a little shorter than most blades of the type. She drew it from the rack. It was light and well balanced, comfortable in her hand. This was what she had been looking for. The moonlight played along the blade, dancing along the sharp edge, and illuminating an etching at the base of the fuller just above the hilt. It was a mermaid surmounted by three stars.

She leant the sword against the open cupboard door as she opened a drawer built into the wooden frame, hoping to find a scabbard within. Her hunch was correct – a stiff leather scabbard with the same sigil marked above the opening, matching its position on the blade. She slid the sword home and then took belts from the drawer that allowed her to strap the sword to her back. Inside the drawer was a secondary compartment, which she paused to open. Inside were three daggers, all marked with the mermaid and star badge; two daggers possibly designed for use as gauches and a thin misericorde, its long needle-like blade glinting in the moonlight. She took the daggers and the double belt that came with them and belted them about her waist. The misericorde had its own sheath too, with buckled straps to attach it to the thigh. She pulled the skirts up and strapped it on. It was always good to have a blade that the opponent couldn’t see.

Fully armed now, she pulled the coat on over the top, concealing all the weapons. The sword hilt sat just above her left shoulder, uncovered, but the darkness should hide it as well as the material. No one would think she was armed until it was too late, and that was all that mattered. She stuffed her white dress into the cupboard, closed the door and locked it, and placed Darian’s purse in the pocket of the coat. That done, she left the armoury and retraced her steps to the entrance hall.

A grand marble double staircase occupied most of the hall leaving a wide space just in front of the tall oak doors. They were barred and no doubt locked as well, but there was a small guardroom to one side from which anyone approaching the main door from outside could be viewed. Shutters of wood and metal bars covered the windows, but they were kept in good order, the metal locks barely making a sound as she pulled them open. She stepped out into the night air and closed the shutters behind her, before moving at speed to the shadow of the next building along.

From Darian’s manor she walked down the hill away from the northern walls and towards the Spire, turning south-east before she reached the open ground of the market place and heading towards the tanneries. It took her some time to cross the city and she ran over the plan in her head as she did so, moving as quickly as she could. The nearer she was to the tanneries when she found what she was looking for, the more likely it was she would achieve her goal.

She had barely arrived in the maze of streets and only just begun to catch a faint smell of urine from the tanneries when she realised she was being followed. She slowed her pace, turned into a side street, and drew the purse from her pocket, scattering coins on the ground and making it clink as loudly as possible. Her father had taught her to fish down by the docks and this was no different – bait the hook and wait. She knew she would not have to wait long.

Sure enough, as she emerged from the side street, a broad man with a square shaped head and no neck blocked her path. She could hear footsteps coming up behind her, and she hoped that the dress was visible enough in the darkness that they wouldn’t just put a dagger in her and take the purse. Bleeding to death on the cobbles wasn’t the vengeance she wanted.

“Bit late to be out by yourself, missy,” No-neck said.

“I’ve been working,” Brielle said, trying to step around him. He allowed her out of the side street, but stopped her from going any further. The person who had been following her stepped out behind her, and she stepped away, back against the wall. He had a weasel face and was much shorter than No-Neck. A glint of moonlight on metal told her he had a knife in his hand.

“Must have worked hard to get a purse like that,” Weasel-Face said, leering at her, “reckon we should work her twice as hard before we take her purse.”

No-Neck chuckled his agreement and took hold of Brielle’s arm.

“I won’t be forced,” she said.

“The point of being forced, love,” he said, a wide grin breaking across his face, “is that you don’t get a choice.”

His breath was hot on her neck as he shuffled closer to her, his free hand fumbling for the hem of her dress. She could see Weasel-Face leering, reaching for the buckle on his belt. Her left hand reached across her body closing around the hilt of a dagger inside her coat. She drew it slowly out as No-Neck pulled the bottom of her dress up and then she stabbed three times in quick succession, dagger tearing into his stomach. He roared in pain, stumbled backwards, and fell to the ground with a thud, scrabbling at the wound as blood seeped through his tunic. Weasel-Face looked between her and No-Neck, giving her enough time to pull the sword free.

“Kill the bitch,” No-Neck yelled.

Weasel-Face lunged with the knife in his right hand and Brielle moved her feet, cutting his attack away. The knife skittered away across the cobbles and Weasel-Face pulled his hand into his body where the sword blade had nicked his flesh. Pointing the sword to his neck, she backed him against the wall. It was all part of the plan.

“I want to know where to find Dunstan Ferrer,” she said.

He hesitated, looking left and right, but she forced the sword forward. A drop of blood escaped from his neck, but he did not speak. A demented leer broke out across his face and she narrowed her eyes, heard the scuff of boots on the cobbles, and leaned away as No-Neck swung a knife in his huge fists. It glanced across her cheek; blood trickled down her face and the cut stung, but she had no time to think about that now. She shifted her weight to receive his next attack, parrying his wild thrust with the dagger in her left hand, and thrusting the sword forwards. It caught him below the chin, pushed through his throat. He did have a neck after all. Pulling the sword free, she watched the light die in his eyes.

“That’s for my inn,” she said as his massive frame hit the cobbles.

Weasel-Face looked on in horror as if he was trying to force his legs to carry him away but couldn’t. She turned the gore-covered sword back to him, point hovering in front of his neck. He eyed it warily.

“Take me to Dunstan Ferrer.”

“You’ll have to kill me, bitch,” he said, though it lacked conviction.

Brielle shifted her stance so that the edge of the blade pushed against his neck. His companion’s blood marked his skin, and Brielle held the knife in her hand to his groin.

“Take me to Dunstan Ferrer or I’ll cut you so that you won’t be able to piss let alone force a woman. That’s if you don’t bleed to death or the rats don’t finish what I start.”

She pressed the point into his flesh to show she was serious.

“All right,” he said, “I’ll take you.”

She moved the blades away from him and he sank to his knees, sucking air in as though he had been drowning. She cleaned her blades on No-Neck’s tunic to stop the metal from pitting with rust, and then sheathed her sword. It was too conspicuous to parade about the streets and the dagger would be persuasion enough to keep Weasel-Face moving.

“On your feet and let’s go,” she said, kicking him to get him up, “Oh, and I should say, you try to escape or anything like that and I’ll gut you worse than No-Neck here.”

He glanced at the bloody mass on the cobbles and nodded his understanding. She nodded and pushed him to get him moving. Nothing was going to stop her vengeance. Nothing can stop me now.

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