Tornmile: Part 10

 

Tornmile
Part X: Escape from the Spire

Mishak stood at the door of the torture chamber wondering how Josse and Eloi planned on getting out; besides the numerous guards assigned to the prison itself, there would be more if they went through the Spire who would immediately attack anyone branded with an ‘M’ as Mishak had been, even if he was not actively recognised as Minham’s erstwhile servant. The only other way out that Mishak knew was through the Door of the Condemned and that seemed to him as bad an ill omen as any. Death swiftly followed those who passed that door, and he was not eager to set death on his heels. Death would surely come quickly if they tried their luck at getting through the Spire as well.

He turned from the door and saw that Josse and Eloi had taken off their sack cloth prison clothes and replaced them with the livery of the guards. Mishak followed their leads, trying to avoid the guards with sword gashes in their chests, lying in their own gore. He stripped the livery from the guard Josse had killed by snapping his neck, and tried to conceal the gash in the thigh of the trousers, which Mishak had given the man himself. The tunic was a poor fit. It was too loose around the arms and too long to truly belong to him, but he supposed it may never have truly fitted the guard who had worn it. Mishak knew only too well that liveries often were handed down from servant to servant, and a good servant knew better than to complain to their master about it. He belted on the guard’s sword, the weight heavy at his belt, pulling him to one side, and he placed the guard’s helmet on his head. It fell over his eyes.

When he lifted it to a more suitable position which allowed him to see where he was going, he saw that Josse was turning a brand over in the flames, heating the metal end. Eloi had taken three of the guards and was fitting to their wrists and ankles the irons that the three prisoners had so lately worn. Josse turned from the flames, the ‘M’ at the end of the bran glowing hot, and pressed it into the shoulder of the first of the bound guards. The dead flesh seared and Mishak grimaced, feeling the pain in both of his shoulders, remembering his mother’s betrayal.

“What are you doing?” he said, his hand straying to the hilt of his sword.

Josse looked at him contemptuously and continued, marking two guards with definite ‘M’ brands, but holding it to the third for a much shorter time, with the metal much less hot. The brand left showed only faintly on his skin. Eloi was holding the guards up in turn so that the brand could be applied, but he gave Mishak a look that implied he understood the Stamm’s reservation.

“It has to be done,” he said, “If they think we’re dead they won’t look for us. It might work only for a day or so, perhaps only a few hours, but the longer they think we’re the dead ones in the chains the better.”

Mishak nodded. It made sense, but he wasn’t happy about it. Neither was Eloi by the look of it, but the younger of the two Tornmilian brothers was more resigned to the deed than Mishak. Josse seemed not to care one way or another; he finished his work, placed the bran in the dead hand of the sickly soldier and closed the man’s grip around the handle. Eloi took up two swords and two helmets, handed one of each to Josse, and they both put them on to complete their disguises. Suitably attired, they made their way into the corridor, Mishak following at their heels.

“Where are we going?” Mishak asked.

They were moving along the corridor with Josse in the lead. Eloi walked beside Mishak, keeping an eye on the rear, in case guards came from that way. If they saw the mess in the torture chamber they would start asking questions. Questions at the point of swords.

“There’s a small postern gate next to the Door of the Condemned,” Eloi responded, “They use it for bringing in the bodies when the hanging’s done. We’ll get out that way.”

“Shh!” Josse hissed, stopping to peer around the corner of the corridor and checking their route was clear. Eloi fell silent, moving up to look down the corridor with his brother. Mishak waited, hoping that the postern gate would be unguarded, hoping that no one else would have to die so that he could live.

When Josse was satisfied, they continued to walk the corridors, checking at each turn for more guards. The prison was large enough, but they had been kept within proximity of the Door of the Condemned, more especially since they were the ones condemned to die, and so it was not long before Josse called a halt.

“There’s a guard,” he said, “just one. I’ll take him.”

He cracked his knuckles in preparedness. The sound echoed down the dark corridors and reminded Mishak of the snapping of the guard’s neck in the torture chamber.

“No,” he said, “He doesn’t need to die.”

“We have to get out. I told you that we’d kill you if you tried to stop us,” Josse was drawing himself up.

“I’m trying to help us,” Mishak said, “If he dies they’ll know we went this way. If anyone else dies, they’ll know it didn’t end at the torture chamber. I know the Spire well enough to convince him to leave.”

Josse nodded and backed down, pulling Eloi with him, so that they shrank into the shadows. Mishak steeled himself, and then walked unhurriedly around the corner towards the guard on the postern gate. The Door of the Condemned stood next to it, and Mishak gulped as he saw that the words “Have Mercy Upon Them” that were worked in stone above the lintel of the Door had been copied in all the tongues of the world, scrawled into the brickwork by prisoners waiting to walk to their deaths.

“It’s cold down here, isn’t it?” Mishak said as he approached the guard, who turned and eyed him suspiciously. Seeing the helmet and livery, though, he relaxed his face.

“Yes,” he said, “it’s a cold night. What are you doing down here anyway?”

“I’m your relief,” Mishak lied, “They said to come and take your position.”

“I’ve not been here more than an hour. Why would they send a relief?”

“Beats me. I just do what I’m told. They called us in because of the murder of Lord Minham; extra security or something. I don’t see why. I mean, didn’t they catch the culprit?”

“Yes, he’s in one of the cells down here, waiting to dance at the end of the rope. Was it Captain Severin that sent you down here?”

Mishak was glad that Minham had been in charge of appointing the Spire guards.

“No, it was that new Lieutenant, what’s his name? Royer. Lieutenant Royer. He said to relieve you.”

“Fair enough, then. I won’t question it. I’d rather be getting some hot food and a warm bed than stuck down here with nothing but the wind. Have a good watch.”

“Thanks,” Mishak said, and watched as the guard moved off down the corridor, pulling the helmet from his head.

Once he had rounded the corner, Mishak waited, tense in case the guard saw Eloi and Josse in the shadows. He tried the postern gate, but it was locked.

“Leave that to me,” said Eloi, rounding the corner, with a nod to Mishak for a job well done. Josse said nothing, but he did not scowl, which Mishak took to be an improvement.

Whilst he waited for Eloi to open the gate, picking at the lock with small bits of metal, Mishak looked more closely at the Door of the Condemned. It was a sturdy oak wood door, studded with metal, but shorter than the postern. An adult would have to duck to walk under the lintel, bowing their head in supplication as they passed under it, before facing the ling walk to the short drop. The inscription above the door always seemed to catch the flickering light of the torches and Mishak found himself hoping that the gods would be merciful on the people that passed through the door. A quick death and small suffering after. He shivered involuntarily, nothing to do with the cold in the passageway, and reminded himself that he was innocent.

Eloi pushed the postern open with his boot, metal hinges squealing a little as it went. Night air prickled Mishak’s skin, and for a moment all three of them stood there savouring the feel of it; the breath of freedom. Then Josse led them out into the night, and Eloi closed the postern behind them. The Spire rose tall above them, ominous in the night. The sound of hooves approaching caused Josse to force them back against the wall, driving the wind from Mishak’s chest. Eloi pressed himself into the wall beside Mishak, checking he was all right with nothing more than a nod. Mishak grimaced, but nodded back. The hooves stopped, not more than a few feet from them, and the sound of someone dismounting was heard; the dull thud of boots on cobbles. His breath seemed deafening, even though he could hear the other two breathing beside him.

“Josse? Eloi? Are you there?” a voice called, the speaker hidden from view by the porch of the postern. Josse leaned forward, peering around the shadow of the wall.

“Marthe,” he said to Eloi in a whisper.

“We’re here,” Eloi said, stepping forward with Josse, “I’m glad you came.”

“Of course I came,” said Marthe, rushing forward to embrace the brothers, “how could I not?”

“Ferrer could have sent any of his boys,” Josse said, and Mishak saw that he, too, was smiling.

“They were busy,” she said, “But who’s that?”

She was pointing directly at Mishak and he thought she must have very sharp eyes to have picked his shadowy shape from the darkness of the postern’s porch and the Spire’s bulk above. He stepped forwards, a little behind Eloi.

“It’s a Stamm who was with us when we made our move,” Josse said, sounding a little annoyed.

“They say he killed Lord Minham,” Eloi continued, “we thought he might be useful in a fight. Sorted a guard for us.”

“What is your name, Lord-killer?” Marthe asked. He could not see her very well in the poor light from the stars – she was not more than a shape with vague features in the darkness, but there was something about her that seemed strange, though he could not put his finger on what it could be.

“My name is Mishak, son of Miska of the Smrtritter and I didn’t kill Lord Minham.”

“If you say so, Lord-killer. I am Marthe, as you have heard.”

“We’ve heard too much,” Josse said, interrupting, “we can’t stay here all night chatting.”

“Come on then,” she said, “into the cart.”

Josse and Eloi moved forward immediately. Mishak hesitated, lingering in the shadows. Was he supposed to go with them?

“You too, Lord-killer,” Marthe said as she walked towards the front of the cart. She looked back over her shoulder as she walked.

He followed her and Eloi gave him a hand to help him climb into the cart. It was small, pulled by a single horse, and covered over with a leather and fabric shelter arranged over metal hoops. Marthe had already taken the reins and urged the horse forward, the sound of its hooves echoing off the round walls of the Spire.

Josse moved to sit by Marthe’s side at the front of the cart, having already changed from the guard’s livery to plain clothes from a bag. Eloi was following suit, pulling a brown tunic and trousers from the bag and handing them to Mishak. He took them gratefully, murmuring thanks, before hurrying to rid himself of the cumbersome helmet and the ill fitting livery. He threw the sword down as well; it had been a strange weight at his side and he was not even sure he could use it to much effect.

“Who is she?” he asked of Eloi, nodding to Marthe in the driving seat, as he pulled the tunic on. It fit him so much better and he felt right again for the first time since the torture chamber.

“Marthe is our sister,” Eloi said; Mishak detected a note of warning in his voice, and changed his question as he went.

“Where are we going?”

“To a safe house by the West Gate. We’ll be down for a night, maybe two, before we go back to our employer’s complex. You’re welcome to stay with us whilst we’re there – that was good thinking on the postern guard.”

“Thanks.”

“If you want to, you can come with us when we rejoin our employer. He can give you work; Mr Ferrer protects the people who work for him and the pay is good. Better than servant’s wages anyway.”

“Right now I’d settle for a bed in a room without bars,” Mishak said, “and something to eat that doesn’t look like I vomited it up hours before.”

“Wouldn’t we all,” Eloi said, laughing, “I’m glad we brought you along, Lord-killer.”

“So am I,” Mishak replied, “it’s much better than twisting in the wind.”

 

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