Tornmile: Part 9

Tornmile
Part IX: Into the Lion’s Den

Brielle prodded her captive forward, urging him to a faster walk with the sharp point of the mermaid inscribed dagger. She kept a sharp eye on him as well, even though she would rather be watching the shadows for signs of Ferrer’s men, or even the City Watch. She didn’t think that they would take too kindly to her forcing a man forward with a dagger in the night, particularly once it became clear she was responsible for the body several streets away. Besides which, she had no way of being sure that the Watch weren’t in Ferrer’s pocket. Given how he ran his business – you pay or you die – he had plenty of cast to spare.

Her captive was playing along, for now, even if he stumbled and walked slowly to delay their progress. Each time the dagger pressed through his rough tunic, however, he quickened his pace again. He was not eager for her to make good on her threat, or to end up like his companion, but Brielle didn’t want to make the mistake of assuming he was a willing participant in her plans. Her victory over him was total but only for the moment. One slip and he would turn on her or simply run away and she could not afford either. One slip and there would be no vengeance. One slip and it would be her on her back, looking up at nothing in a pool of her own blood.

She tried not to think about No-Neck; it had seemed very simple to run him through when the sword was in her hands and the cut on her cheek was fresh. The danger had been immediate and her response had been second nature. Now, as the cut on her cheek had stopped bleeding and only throbbed dully, she wondered whether she should have killed No-Neck after all. He wanted to rape me. He would have killed me. All true, but she still felt guilty. She wondered if Caiden had felt like this when he had killed men in battle. She would never be able to ask him, not since the fall of Lapion. Had the man who’d slaughter Caiden along with the rest of the garrison felt guilty when he’d killed her brother? Had he thought that somewhere a family would wait, desperate for news of their relative, hoping that he would come back to them alive and well? Of course not. There was no room for such sentiment in war.

“If you stumble or slow down once more, I’ll cut you so that you’ll never sit down as long as you live,” she hissed in cold fury to Weasel-Face. He doubled his pace, and Brielle had to take two strides to his one just to keep up.

They had walked deeper into the area known as the Tanneries, till they were nearly at the city walls. Narrow streets, some not even cobbled, let alone paved, ran like a maze from one end of the area to the other, and she eyed the openings into them warily as they passed. Now was not a time to lapse into melancholy, not when one dagger in the night would end all her plans as quickly as she could blink.

Weasel-Face turned down one of the side streets, and Brielle loosened the sword in its scabbard at her shoulder. If they were getting close she needed to be prepared. If it was an ambush Weasel-Face was walking her into, doubly so. She kept the dagger pressed to the small of his back, above his kidneys. One wrong move and he would die in agony. She pushed forward a little, pricking the skin, to remind him of that. He gasped and only Brielle’s hand on his shoulder stopped him from running off down the street.

“Why have you brought us down here?” she asked.

“We were being followed,” he replied, “This leads to Mr Ferrer’s place as sure as the main street, but it’s harder to be followed here.”

“Who’s following us?” Brielle asked, suspicious that this was all part of a plan to trap her.

“I don’t know, I didn’t see.”

Brielle took the dagger and held it to his neck.

“Who is following us?”

“I don’t know. Truly. Please!” he stammered.

She withdrew the blade, moving it back to its previous position by his kidneys.

“How far to Ferrer’s?”

“Two streets.”

“Then let’s go, quickly.”

He set off again at pace, and she glanced behind her before she followed. Were they really being followed? She hadn’t seen anyone, but then she had been keeping her attention on Weasel-Face to stop him from gutting her with her own dagger. Darian’s dagger. She needed to be at Ferrer’s before whoever was pursuing her caught up with her, and she hoped that they would have lost her to the warren of streets.

Weasel-Face turned left into a narrow street, in complete darkness. Even the moonlight couldn’t shine through the crowded, overhanging buildings. She kept close to him, dagger at the ready. But he turned right before long into a short alleyway that lead back to the main street. In the row of buildings opposite and archway was visible, torches burning inside, throwing a yellow light across sturdy wooden gates.

“That’s Ferrer’s place,” Weasel-Face said, pointing at the gates.

“What’s the layout? Where can I find Ferrer?” Brielle asked, pushing the dagger in a little.

“Beyond the gate’s a courtyard with stables off to the left. There are warehouses and so on all around the complex and Ferrer’s office is three storeys up in building opposite the gates. He’s got rooms in there too on the floor above. “

“Guards?”

“Lots. At least four on the gates and then anyone in the complex could be a guard. If they think you’re there when you shouldn’t be or if Ferrer gives an order, the whole lot will be on you.”

She didn’t like the sound of that. Caiden had taught her well, taught her to fight like a soldier, but even a soldier couldn’t defeat a gang of armed heavies alone. Not in straight fight anyway and Brielle doubted that Ferrer’s men would fight honourably in any case.

“Well done,” she said to him, giving him a sardonic smile, “you’ve captured yourself a prize to present to Mr Ferrer.”

He looked at her confused. She sighed and slid the dagger into her sleeve, where she could still get to it before he could run or say the wrong thing.

“You’re taking me inside,” she said.

“No way. You said to bring you here and I have done. I’m not helping you anymore.”

“I said take me to Dunstan Ferrer or I would make sure you could never force a woman. I don’t see Dunstan Ferrer in front of me, so I can only assume you’re ready to live the very short life of a man emasculated with a dagger in a dark alleyway in the night.”

“No!” he said, shrinking back, his legs clamped together as if to prevent her from making good on her threat.

“Lead on then,” she said, “and hold my arm to make it look real. But if you so much as squeeze too hard it will be the last thing you ever do.”

He took hold of her arm, gingerly, and then they set off towards the gates, hurrying across the wider street to avoid whatever eyes might be watching them. Brielle looked for any sign of someone following them, but couldn’t see anything in the time it took to cross the street. They passed under the archway, which formed a tunnel through the building to the complex beyond, if what Weasel-Face said was correct. The gates barred their way. They were large, filling the space almost perfectly, with a division in the middle. There was also a wicket, a person-sized door set into the main gate, which Brielle approached. She knocked three times and a part of the gate slid aside to reveal a peephole behind a grille.

“What do you want?” said the person peering through it.

“I’m here to see Mr Ferrer,” Weasel-Face said, looking sideways at Brielle, “I’ve got a captive he’ll want to look at.”

The gate guard shifted behind the gate to look at Brielle better through the peephole. She looked up briefly, then back at the floor, acting as if she were cowed by Weasel-Face. The sound of bolts being drawn back followed, and the wicket was opened. Brielle took the lead, stumbling through the gate as if Weasel-Face had pushed her.

Once she was through the gate, she looked up at the courtyard beyond. As Weasel-Face had described, it was a wide courtyard surrounded mostly by two storey buildings, the warehouses, and with stables on the other – a stone building with a wooden extension. The central building directly opposite the gates had four storeys as Weasel-Face had said. That was where she needed to be. The courtyard itself was full of carts and men labouring to empty them, whilst others took care of the horses. They looked towards her, all fierce eyed, and she ducked her head in case any of them recognised her from the inn. She suddenly felt very alone.

By contrast, Weasel-Face had regained some of the confidence he had shown before she had killed No-Neck. He grabbed her arm more forcefully and moved her forward, her feet slipping on the cobbles.

“I told you…” she began in a whisper, but he cut her off.

“Stab me then. These men will stop you before you can get anywhere, and you better hope the first stab kills me, or I’ll make you wish you’d never been born and even if you beg me, I still won’t kill you.”

“What are you going to do then?”

“I’m going to take you to Mr Ferrer just as you asked. Maybe when he’s done with you, he’ll let me have the first turn.”

The blade was in Brielle’s left hand before she had time to think and another moment later it was sliding into his groin.

“I don’t think you’ll need your turn,” she said, ripping the blade down until it came free.

He gurgled, clasping his ruined manhood, and sank to his knees. Brielle didn’t waste time watching him though. She ran, heading for the tall building, drawing the sword and keeping the bloody dagger out and ready. Shouts went up around her as Weasel-Face sank down, but she didn’t pause. She had the edge so long as she kept running.

She threw open the door as she moved, knocking a fat man from his stool behind the door. Taking advantage of his temporary disorientation, she slammed the door shut behind her and slammed the bar down over it, locking Ferrer’s men out. And me in. The door ward recovered, slightly, drawing a cudgel and staggering to his feet. The mermaid blade plunged into his midriff, catching him unawares, and then she pulled it free and ran forwards to a set of stairs.

Presuming Weasel-Face’s description still held true, Ferrer’s rooms would be on the top floor, and his office below that. If she had him as a captive she could get out through the gang, or else there might be another exit from this building. Either way, she would not have anyone spoiling her revenge. Ferrer would pay for what had happened to her inn.

Besides the door ward, she saw no one in the building as she ascended the stairs and walked the corridors. She could hear the gang from the courtyard hammering on the door, perhaps trying to break it down, but she carried on her way. When she reached the third storey she slowed, taking deep breaths, and moved along the wall, peering into the rooms. One was a small storeroom, one a broom cupboard. Stairs led up to the next level, but Brielle went through the door at the end of the corridor.

She was in an office; candles burned on the mantelpiece and there was a fire in the grate. Braziers lit the room. A large oak table stood at the end of the room opposite the door, behind which a man was sitting, dressed in fine clothes, his quill scratching across a sheet of parchment. He did not look like a crime lord. Brielle approached the desk and swung the sword towards him, bloody point hovering inches from his face.

“Dunstan Ferrer?” she asked, narrowing her eyes.

He looked up, registered the blade, and then leaned back. The leather backing on the chair squeaked a little as he moved, laying the quill down and putting his hands in his lap.

“Indeed,” he said in a rich voice, “and you are?”

“My name is Rose and I am here to kill you.”

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