Tornmile: Part 32

Tornmile
Part XXXII: A Captured Spy

“Konrad’s been captured.”

Darian’s voice did not waver as he said the words, but the tone was flat. The joy and charm with which he usually spoke had gone; it frightened Brielle a little and part of her wished that he showed more of his concern on his face. There was a frown there, of course, but it did not seem enough to go along with the toneless quality of his speech.

The ripples caused by Brielle’s sudden movement when she had awoken made a faint sound against the metal tub, the only sound in the room as Brielle contemplated what Darian’s voice might mean. As she became aware of the noise of the water, though, she became increasingly aware of the silence between her and Darian. He was waiting for her to speak, but no words came to her head. Images from her dream flashed in her brain – the arrow stood out as vividly in her mind as it had from her chest. The pain that had accompanied it seemed to exist in the waking world; her heart hurt, though she had suffered no injury that she could see. She pushed the thoughts away – there was serious business at hand.

“When?” she asked.

“I don’t know. A few hours ago maybe,” Darian said, shaking his head a little, “he wasn’t at his watching spot. There were signs of a struggle; blood had been shed there.”

“Do you know where they might have taken him?”

“No,” Darian said, and there was regret in his voice now. It was comforting to Brielle – it was not as frightening as the lack of tone. “To the compound in the Tanneries I suppose, but Ferrer has lots of bolt holes all across the city. Konrad could be in any of them.”

Brielle stood up and stepped out of the bath, causing Darian to turn away from her. She shook her head at his back. The man had seen her undressed the previous night and yet he turned away from her now. Men had such strange ideas about what was right. But then, a candle lit room was hardly the same as a sunlit chamber and there was no harm in retaining a little mystery.

Throwing on a robe, she pulled it closed around herself. Just at that moment, Léa came in through the door, almost as if Brielle had called her with her mind. The girl was carrying the blue fencing dress, along with the boots. Tucked in a bundle under her arm was the mermaid blade and what Brielle suspected were the matching daggers. Can the girl read minds?

“I heard the news about Konrad,” Léa said to Darian, though his back was still turned and he did little more than nod to acknowledge her presence. It was unlike him to be discourteous, but there were more important things than formalities at stake at the moment. Léa seemed a little put out, but she hurried over to Brielle and handed her the clothes she had brought.

Brielle dressed herself and then strapped on the knife belts – the two at her hip and the one at her thigh – as quickly as she could. She was surprised how quickly she managed to get them on, given that she had only worn them once before. She was more surprised by how much she had missed the weight of the mermaid blade on her back, the hilt sticking just above her shoulder. It felt good to have it there, ready to be drawn at a moment’s notice. It filled her with confidence.

“Do we have any leads on where they might have taken him?” she asked Darian, who turned to look at her once more when she spoke.

“No,” he admitted, his voice regaining the toneless quality that had worried her. With the sword on her back it worried her less, she found.

“Then what should we do?” she asked him, “What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know.”

Now the toneless quality had an explanation: Darian didn’t know where to begin. He always seemed such a bright person, filled with confidence, but Brielle saw that it was only because he knew what he was doing most of the time. Now he had a goal but no means of achieving it, he was as lost as any other human. Brielle chewed her lip thoughtfully and wondered what there was they could do until they knew where Konrad was being held.

“It seems to me,” Léa said in a little voice, that nevertheless filled the otherwise silent room, “that there are two options. You either sit here, waiting to see if you hear from Konrad or the people holding him – in which time he could have been seriously injured, or worse – or you go out looking for him in all the locations you know Ferrer uses. That’s the way it seems to me anyway.”

Brielle looked at her – she had never taken the girl for particularly bright, but that analysis summed the options up entirely. She wondered why neither of them had thought of it so clearly. Too busy worrying about other things. Léa, for her part, was clearly not aware of how well she had spoken on the matter, since she examined the floorboards, her hands moving nervously by her sides, closing on the material of her dress and then opening again. She was not even thrusting her chest forward as she always did around men, Darian especially.

“Well said, Léa,” Brielle said, reaching out to touch the girl on the arm. She responded with a small smile. “Although, I’ve never been much of a sit about and wait sort of person. Nothing gets done by doing nothing, as Caiden would say.”

She flinched a little and stumbled over her words as she mentioned her brother by his name. She had not done so since that day in the rain. She could feel her cheeks grow hot as the blood rushed to them and she was sure Léa’s mouth dropped open a little way. Darian seemed not to notice, though he knew how Brielle felt about her brother. This was not the time for worrying about the dead, though, not with the living in peril. She offered up a quick prayer for Caiden and then turned her attention back to the problem at hand.

“Where was Konrad watching when he was captured?”

“One of the bolt holes I mentioned. He was hoping to tail some of the people there and see if he could find more. We know of seven so far, all in different locations around the city, but Konrad though there were many more than that.”

“Then that’s as good a place as any to start searching for him,” Brielle said, “and we’ve still got daylight on our side. We can search most of the places you already know of before night comes and then we’ll have an adequate cover to try to tackle the compound. We know Ferrer’s men operate in the Tanneries at night, so we can get information from them if we need to. Léa can stay here in case Konrad comes back.”

“But you can’t go into the Tanneries, Brielle,” Darian said, crossing and taking her arm, “it’s too dangerous. If any of Ferrer’s men recognise you, you’ll be captured or worse. Konrad was trying to help me protect you – he wouldn’t want you to risk yourself so that he could be free.”

“That’s as maybe, but he isn’t here to object,” Brielle responded.

She fixed the young lord with the firmest look she could. It was a hard look, one she generally reserved for drunks who looked like they were about to cause trouble. Darian withdrew his hand from her arm. He took the point she was making.

“Besides,” she continued, giving him the hint of a smile, “Konrad would also know better than to try to dissuade me from something I plan to do, as should you. Also, he knows that I can look after myself when I need to.”

“Alright,” Darian said, “let’s just hope that he’s in one of the bolt holes, that way we’ll avoid the Tanneries for the most part. If we find him before dark we won’t need to worry about it.”

“I hope that we do,” Brielle said, “but if not, we will go to the Tanneries and I will put my sword into anyone who works for Ferrer until we get Konrad back, even if it means cutting down every single man in Ferrer’s rag tag army. And I will have you to keep me safe whilst I do so.”

“Of course,” Darian nodded, “you always will have. Let me fetch my weapons and I’ll meet you in the entrance hall.”

He kissed her briefly, though there was a good deal of passion in it, and then he strode from the room, not bothering to close the door behind him. She could hear his footsteps retreating down the corridor at a determined pace. Brielle checked the draw of the daggers and the sword blade – they slid comfortably out of their scabbards. She nodded to herself, satisfied, and then set off towards the entrance hall, with Léa in tow.

The servants curtsied more readily, she found, when she was wearing three blades openly and most scuttled off once she had gone. Some talked behind their hands thinking themselves out of sight as she walked away from them. It was apparent that servants were not used to their superiors noticing them much at all. As they passed along the corridors the wave of her coming seemed to arrive just ahead of her. By the time she had reached the dual staircase in the entrance hall, the corridors were all but empty as people changed their routes to allow her free rein.

About halfway down the staircase a thought struck her and she stopped dead, her foot still an inch or so above the next step. Léa’s arm bumped against her own as the girl behind didn’t notice her stopping.

“What are you doing?” Léa asked, perhaps wondering if she was actually going mad.

“How did you know I would need the sword and this outfit, Léa?” Brielle asked.

“I heard that Konrad had been captured and assumed you’d want to do something about it, so I made my way back to the rooms via the armoury.”

“No one else seems to know, though,” Brielle said, “all the servants are talking about the sword on my back. They’re wondering why I’m wearing it.”

“I suppose they are,” Léa said, “it does look a bit odd to see you in that. Not wrong, though. Somehow it fits you, if that makes sense?”

“Thank you,” Brielle said, not quite containing the urge to smile at this compliment. She was glad that she looked the part – she knew how to use the sword, of course, but that it looked right was a bonus. It meant that she would be taken seriously by any she chose to draw blades against. “But that doesn’t change the fact that no one else has heard about Konrad. That begs the question how you did.”

“I heard it from one of the scullions,” Léa said, “when I went to check on your laundry. He was washing pots in the kitchen.”

“Do you think you could bring him here, please, without letting on why I want him?” Brielle asked, the beginnings of suspicion turning in her mind.

“I think I can manage that,” Léa said, and she turned on her heels and made her way back up the stairs, already beginning to swing her hips as she did so. For once, Brielle was glad of the girl’s tendency to flirt with any man she laid eyes on.

Brielle continued down the stairs and then waited by the ornate doors at the front of the mansion, taking the sword from its scabbard and propping it out of sight in the guardhouse by the door. She did not want the scullion to suspect anything when he did arrive. She did not have to wait long for that though. Before long, Léa’s voice could be heard from the top of the stairs, laughing melodiously and falsely at whatever her companion was saying.

The man that followed in her flirtatious wake was little more than a teenager, possibly no more than a year older than Léa herself. He seemed skinny and well built all at the same time, as if he had recently begun to develop muscles on an otherwise underdeveloped frame. His hair was slicked with water, so that it lay flat on his head, and his mouth seemed thin even though he was smiling.

“Léa!” Brielle called in a mock-conspiratorial whisper, “over here!”

“Who’s that?” the scullion asked Léa, who flicked her head back and laughed.

“A friend of mine,” the girl said, “she’s always keen to misbehave.”

Brielle wondered vaguely what enticements Léa had given the man, but she decided not to pursue that line of enquiry. It didn’t really matter anyway. Instead, she leaned coquettishly against the door frame and tried to turn just one side of her mouth up in a smile to suggest seductiveness. She was not sure the effect was what she had been going for.

“Name’s Rose,” Brielle said, as Léa and the scullion came closer.

“This is Gaetan.”

Léa nudged him ahead of her, so that he was between her and Brielle. He smirked back at Brielle, rather than smiling, and looked her up and down in a way that she was not sure she liked. With her hands behind her back she was able to push her own chest forward in a reasonable imitation of Léa, whilst simultaneously reaching for one of the daggers.

“A kitchen boy, eh?” she said, as if she were admiring him.

“S’right,” he said, pushing his own chest out a little, accentuating what muscle he had, “but that’s not all I do. I have another job as well.”

“Oh yes?” she asked; her curiosity was genuine.

“Yeah, it’s a lot better paid than kitchen work and a lot more fun. I like a bit of fun in my life.”

He moved towards her, encouraged by a nudge from Léa, but Brielle managed to side step his clumsy attempt to plant his lips on her own. He turned in time to prevent himself from hitting his face on the door frame, and found himself face to face with Brielle’s dagger instead.

“Does this fun work involve Dunstan Ferrer?” she asked.

The coquettishness was gone from her voice, replaced with steel as real as the sharp blade in her hand. She saw him gulp and he seemed to shrink visibly, turning his head this way and that as if there would be someone there to rescue him.

“Yes,” he said, his eyes reckoning the distance between the end of his nose and the dagger in Brielle’s hand, “he pays me to keep an eye on things here.”

“Good,” Brielle said, moving the blade upwards slightly, “Now you’re going to tell me everything you know about Konrad and exactly what else you’ve told your boss, or I’m going to make your eyes a little less valuable. Are we clear?”

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