Tornmile: Part 34

Part XXXIV: New Allies

As the cart passed into the tunnel and approached the gate, Mishak looked sideways at Marthe. He felt a frown cross his face and hoped that she would not turn and see it, though the single torch added no light to the meagre amount from the sun outside. She confounded him. Last night she had laughed at him and today she was telling him to be his own man – her Lord-killer. It was infuriating and bewildering and it made his head hurt, more than it already did from not sleeping enough and what little sleep he did get being on the cart’s front bench.

The darkness worried him – something connected with his dreams – and he was glad of the torch even if it gave no light. The flame was reassuring. His father’s face came unbidden to his mind. Should I have killed Minham’s killer. The Assassin had been brazen about it. Don’t be stupid. He’d have cut off all my limbs without me even touching him with the blade. Mishak’s side still ached from the sword blow, but he was not one hundred percent sure that it was not the Assassin’s foot that caused him the most pain. The man had strong legs. Why my father?!

“Still with me, Lord-killer?” Marthe asked, turning to watch him out of the corner of her eye.

“Yes,” he said, “just thinking about a dream I had.”

“If you believe your dreams, Lord-killer,” she said, reassuringly, “you may as well spend all your life asleep.”

Mishak frowned. Dreams were important amongst the Stamme – the gods could visit in dreams and give guidance. Not that Mishak thought that was what had happened last night, of course: the gods did not bother with the servants of dead foreign lords. But neither was he inclined to dismiss the dream out of hand. His father was in it; the person that had set him on the path to his current point. His father had left the Smrt to follow Lord Minham. His father had made the life-oath that bound Mishak to the man’s service. If the dream had been of anyone else, then Mishak could have dismissed it, but his father’s presence changed everything.

“Who goes there?”

A man had come out from the gate. He was tall and skinny, making him look as if he had been stretched on a rack, and he carried a large cudgel awkwardly in his left hand. He peered towards the cart as if he couldn’t see properly. Marthe smiled a little and answered.

“It’s Marthe, Pierrik, with Eloi and Josse. Open the gate, Mr Ferrer is expecting us.”

“Oh,” Pierrik said, “alright then.”

The man retreated to the gate, stepped through a postern gate and closed it behind him. After a few moments there was the sound of locks being drawn back and the heavy wooden gates swung open to admit the cart. Marthe flicked the reins and the horse walked forward between them. As they passed, Marthe nodded at Pierrick.

“A good boy is Pierrick,” she said, once they were through, “but he’s not all that bright. What was so special about this dream, then?”

“My father was in it.”

“Is that important? I dream about my father from time to time.”

“My father’s dead,” Mishak said, “but he was there. He was…running from something, from someone. He tried to give me something and then something happened to him. I can’t remember what. It’s all there like pictures in the back of my mind, but I can’t look at them. As soon as I try, they disappear.”

Marthe frowned and nodded as though she understood, but she said nothing. There was not much she could say, he supposed. Besides, she thought it was all just a dream. It was different, Mishak knew that. It had felt different. What was he trying to give me? What happened to him?! The images became confused again – colours whirled together, greens and browns, red and black. He rammed his eyes closed and tried to give them order, but they would not be controlled. He gave up trying.

When he opened his eyes again, the cart had passed out of the tunnel and into a large courtyard. Off to one side were stables, where grooms were busy mucking out the stalls, whilst others walked their charges around and sorted their feed. On all the other sides of the courtyard were buildings, but the one opposite the gate stood out from amongst them. It reminded Mishak of the keep of a castle.

“That’s Ferrer’s offices,” Marthe said, seeing where Mishak was looking, “that’s where we’re going.”

“Will you give me a hand with Eloi, Mishak?” Josse said from the cart.

Mishak nearly jumped; the man had been so quiet towards the end of the journey that he had almost forgotten that he was there. Mishak was not used to him speaking quietly. It was unnerving. Still, he agreed and dismounted to move to the back of the cart. Gently Josse slid the stretcher that Eloi was on out of the cart and into Mishak’s hands. Mishak steadied the poles and kept them rested on the edge of the cart until Josse had dismounted and could take the weight of the opposite end. Marthe went over to what Mishak thought of as the keep and knocked loudly on the door.

“We’re to go straight up,” Marthe said, when Josse and Mishak had borne the stretcher over to the door.

Josse nodded and Mishak followed suit. He was surprised by how little Eloi weighed on the stretcher, but he wondered if that was just because of how strong Josse was. The man was built like a fortress wall. They climbed the stairs slowly, anxious not to tip Eloi from his stretcher, with Josse walking backwards all the way. Then they passed down a corridor and came to rest in front of a door at the end. Marthe knocked. From behind the door, Mishak heard an order to come in. Marthe opened the door and held it so that the stretcher could pass through.

The room beyond the door was much bigger than Mishak had been imagining. It was well furnished, with carved wooden seats around the room, as well as pottery on the mantelpiece that clearly came from Moreana and carvings from Abboral and the lands beyond. Light poured in from a large window, glinting off a silver nibbed quill that scratched across a page amidst thousands of other parchments. The oak table and the piles of records reminded Mishak of Lord Minham’s study.

The person behind the desk was dressed like a noble, although he did not have the austere look that Minham often had. He was also a lot younger than Minham, who had been into his late middle years with grey hair. This man had jet black head, swept back from his forehead, and though there were lines of age on his face they were few. His eyes were a pale grey, though they did shine in the light like two moons. Ferrer.

He looked up from the parchment as they entered and smiled widely as Marthe came into the room. He did not move though, except to lean back in his chair, the leather of which squeaked a little. It needed cleaning, Mishak thought. Josse led them to the front of the desk and then indicated that they should set Eloi down on the floor.

“What happened?” Ferrer said, looking down at Eloi, whose injuries were plain even with the blossoms of blood washed from his face.

“We were attacked,” Josse said, “by Lord Abelard and one of his men. They’re outside on the cart.”

“Alive or dead?”

“Dead. Very dead,” Josse said, “courtesy of Mishak here.”

Ferrer nodded and then rose from his chair, circled the desk and went out the office door. It closed with a soft click behind him. Mishak stood waiting awkwardly, but Marthe and Josse seemed at their ease, or as at their ease as Eloi’s condition would allow. After a few moments Ferrer returned, accompanied by a man in a leather apron. There was blood covering the front. He could have been a butcher, but the small leather bag he carried marked him out as a surgeon. He crossed to Eloi and began examining him.

“How long has he been like this?”

“Since last night,” Marthe said, “he hasn’t woken.”

The surgeon muttered under his breath and continued his examination of Eloi. Josse knelt by his brother’s side, watching the surgeon closely.

“I need to get him to my surgery,” the surgeon said, when he had finished his examination, “the injury is severe, but with my ministrations he will make a full recovery.”

The surgeon moved to one end of the stretcher and gestured to Josse to take the other. Josse stood, but did not move to take the stretcher poles.

“What are you going to do to him?”

“I’m going to save his life.”

Josse’s face remained a stony mask, but his hands curled into fists. Ferrer raised an eyebrow at him, which Mishak took to be a warning. Marthe slipped her arm around Josse’s effectively stopping him from attacking the surgeon. At Marthe’s touch, Josse relaxed visibly, though his fists did not uncurl.

“What are you going to do to him exactly?” Marthe asked, “I’m sure you know your trade, but my brother and I are very protective of him.”

“I am going to lift the bones that are pressing on his brain,” the surgeon said a little impatiently, “it is delicate work, but I assure you that I have performed this task numerous times. He is more at risk the longer we leave it.”

“Fine,” Josse said, though the veins in his thick neck stood out with the strain of biting down his anger, “let’s go.”

Josse took the stretcher poles and with the surgeon lifted Eloi, taking them out of the office and down the corridor. The soft click of the door closing was the only sound for a moment and then the leather of Ferrer’s chair squeaked as he sat. He looked appraisingly at Mishak and then turned to Marthe.

“So who is this, exactly? I thought you were just freeing the boys.”

Mishak bridled at being discussed as if he wasn’t in the room. He was not sure he liked Ferrer – the speed with which he had fetched the surgeon confirmed Josse and Eloi’s assertion that he looked after his people, but he was not making a good first impression.

“He helped them escape-” Marthe began, but Mishak cut her off.

“I am Mishak, son of Miska of the Smrtritter, and you are?”

“Dunstan Ferrer,” the man said with a smile, offering a hand. Mishak took it and shook. “You wouldn’t be Mishak the Stamm who used to be servant to Lord Minham, would you?”

“I am not a Stamm, I am of the Smrtritter stamme.”

Marthe raised both her eyebrows and shook her head all at the same time, the effect of which was a little strained. Mishak flicked his eyes away from her and back to Ferrer, who was still smiling, though he let go of Mishak’s hand.

“Vertzei mi,” he said, “I didn’t mean to cause offence. I have the greatest admiration for the stamme and their cultures. But you are Lord Minham’s servant, yes?”

“I am,” Mishak said, taken aback that Ferrer spoke Stammish. Even speaking a few phrases was unusual amongst Tornmilians, except for those who fought to conquer ‘Stammland’.

“Is that a problem, Mr Ferrer?” Marthe asked, “as I was saying, he helped Eloi and Josse to escape. It was him that killed Abelard and his man. He saved all our lives.”

“Oh no,” Ferrer said, “not a problem at all. I’m always glad to have another recruit, especially one with such good connections and reputation. Looking for work then?”

Mishak nodded.

“Good. I have a situation that needs managing over at another of the safe houses. They tell me they’ve caught someone spying on my operations and they need some extra help. Talk to Wieland in the courtyard – he’ll set you up with a weapon and tell you where you’ll find the safe house. You go with him, Marthe.”

“But what about Eloi, I need to know that he’s better,” Marthe said.

“I’ll send word as soon as anything changes,” Ferrer said, “but I want you there to keep an eye on things. You brought Mishak in, you’re responsible for him. Understood?”

The last was directed at both of them. Mishak nodded immediately, but it took Marthe a second more of indecision before she inclined her own head. Mishak wondered if it was because she didn’t want to spend more time with him. But then she’d been the one to remind him who he was. It was all too confusing. He pushed the thoughts from his head and left the room, with Marthe trailing behind him. He could hear the swish of her skirts and the faintest touch of her scent. Gods, but she was confusing!

Once they were outside, Mishak looked around for what he assumed would be a smith. Marthe took the lead and walked across the courtyard into a building in the opposite corner. It was an inferno inside – the heat from the forge made sweat come to Mishak’s skin in buckets. He looked at Marthe: there was a faint sheen on her brow, but aside from that it did not look as if the heat touched her. He shook his head.

A large man with arms like ship’s masts came forward on their entrance and looked them up and down. There was soot across his cheeks and he was wiping callused hands on a blackened cloth.

“Marthe,” he said by way of a greeting, “still got those knives I made you.”

“Of course,” she said, slipping one from her dress sleeve and twirling it in her hands.

The smith smiled at her.

“You always were a fast one,” he said. He turned to Mishak as if seeing him for the first time, “and who’s this?”

“I am Mishak, son of Miska of the Smrtritter,” Mishak said, “Mr Ferrer said you could set me up with a weapon and give me the information about the safe house that’s caught the spy.”

“Mishak of the Smrtritter, eh?” the smith said, “I’m Wieland, son of Winfried of the Zelezbissen.”

“Glad to meet an Iron Biter,” Mishak said, smiling and shaking Wieland’s hand, “best smiths and better allies.”

“We make the weapons and the Smrt perfect their use,” Wieland said, “or we did before the Tornmilians made us all Stamms.”

“Only in name, Wieland,” Mishak said, “only in name.”

“True enough,” the smith said, nodding wistfully, then jerking back to the present, “now, the safe house is in the north of the city, not far from the wall. Marthe’ll know how to find it. As for a weapon, I’ve got swords and so on like the Tornmilian favour, but I also happen to have a battle axe in the stamme style, which might be more appropriate.”

Mishak felt like he’d been hit in the face with a bucket of water. Images came rushing through his brain of his father being shot with arrows, his body dissolving into shadow, and a bowman hidden in the trees. He had the sensation of wood grain in his hand, the mournful song of steel cutting through air heading towards flesh.

“Yes,” he said, “the axe is better.”

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