Tornmile: Part 35

Tornmile
Part XXXV: A Little Message

Brielle screamed and kicked a drinking cup, which flew through the air and smashed against the chimney on the opposite side of the room. Frustration overtook her anger and she sank to her knees, breathing heavily and with tears starting to form in her eyes. It was hours after dark, and this was the seventh of Ferrer’s bolt holes that she and Darian had checked. Konrad was not here and, in all likelihood, never had been.

The scullion, Gaetan, had been compliant when Brielle’s dagger had been in his face and he had confirmed the locations of bolt holes that Darian had already found, but he did not know where Konrad was being kept. He didn’t seem to know much at all really, except that he was being paid to spy on the mansion by Ferrer’s men. He had never been to Ferrer’s compound nor had he been to any of the safe houses. He hadn’t even met Dunstan Ferrer in person, rather he had been given instructions by one of Ferrer’s thugs every night in the common room of one of the nearby inns. The only reason Gaetan had known of Konrad’s capture was that he had been going to the market to fetch the cook some meat and happened to bump into the thug in the marketplace. ‘All mouth and no trousers,’ Léa had remarked. Brielle had been forced to agree. Darian had delivered the man into the hands of the guards and he was now in the dungeons below the Spire. A pathetic end to a pathetic charade.

Since then, Brielle and Darian had gone out to search those bolt holes they knew about, leaving Léa at Darian’s manor in case Konrad escaped and returned. They had been hoping to find Konrad, of course, or at least someone who might be persuaded to tell them where he could be found. But every last one had been empty. Some looked like they had not been used in months, others recently vacated, but that did not change the fact that they were all empty. Each empty bolt hole was a defeat and each one meant more time that Konrad spent in captivity, more time in which his captors could torture and kill him. Time was rapidly running out.

It now seemed certain that they would have to go to the complex in the Tanneries and confront Ferrer directly. For all her courage and desire to free Konrad, the thought scared Brielle. She would not have let Darian know – he must never know – but it scared her all the same. Ferrer was not like other men. Her encounter with him had shaken her, made her feel weak; it was a feeling she had not had since Caiden did not return. She hated it almost as much as she hated Ferrer and that made the feeling worse, because the person she wanted more than any other to spit on the end of the mermaid blade was the person who made her doubt herself. Why does he affect me? I hate him. Why can’t I ignore what he says!

Feeling stupid and frustrated, the tears began to roll down her cheeks. She snarled to herself and wiped them away. It was not a time for tears. It was a time for action. She would find Darian, who was checking the adjoining stables, and they would go hand in hand to the complex. They would get Konrad back and gut Ferrer and leave him to die like a dog.

She pushed herself to her feet and sheathed the mermaid blade in the scabbard on her back, savouring the gentle song of the steel as it moved through the air. It made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and gave her goosebumps of excitement. She wondered if Darian felt the same when he heard his sword move. She longed to ask him, but these were questions for a different time, a time when they were alone together and free of Ferrer. Will that ever come?

She left the bolt hole and went across the small courtyard to the stables. There were no lights, but that of the stars, and the buildings were dark shadows and grey ghosts. The door to the stable stood open, which she could only see because the interior was pitch black compared with the pale shadow of the starry night. She hesitated at the threshold.

“Darian?”

There was no answer but the faint keening of the wind. She stepped inside, wishing that she had brought a candle from the bolt hole and half tempted to turn back to retrieve one. The stables smelt of earth and stone. Brielle was surprised – she had expected the smell of dung and horse flesh. Her footsteps echoed on the paved floor, each one ringing out and then dying away as she tentatively stepped deeper and deeper into the pitch black building.

“Darian?”

The wind seemed louder inside the stables than out or perhaps it was just that Darian had not answered again that made it seem so. Brielle moved a little further in and her eyes showed her shadowy figures lurking in every corner as they adjusted more to the darkness. The figures disappeared replaced with the faintest difference between air and the wood that divided the room into stalls. At the far end of the stable, a faint orange light flickered into life and then died again. A lantern. Darian.

Brielle plunged towards it, suddenly gripped by fear that he was lying face down on the stones, close to death. Images rushed through her brain of his blood stained brow and that horrific scar at his side burst open and oozing blood. Her knee hit something hard, unseen in the darkness, and she tumbled forwards, unable to stop her headlong rush or herself from falling heavily to the stone ground.

The impact drove the wind from her and she lay sprawled on the floor struggling to regain her breath. Her forearms and elbows smarted, her knee throbbed, and there was the faint taste of blood in her mouth. Her hair clung to the sweat on her face. Slowly she eased herself back to her feet, wanting to keep moving towards that lantern. Her knee shifted as she tried to put weight on it, but she gritted her teeth and hobbled forwards. Work through the pain. Work through the pain.

Finally, she reached the place where she had seen the lantern. A second door, leading out into a different courtyard, stood open and the wind rushed through it, roaring as it came. Brielle took hold off the door and pulled it shut. The wind died and silence fell. It felt wrong after all that noise and it took Brielle a second or two to adjust to the quiet. She bent to the lantern, the wick of which was still glowing faintly. A small breath produced a flame, which spread a warming glow across the final stall. Darian was not face down on the stone. He was not here at all. The wind roared again.

“Rose?”

The door had been opened and a man stood in the doorway, shielding his eyes from the sudden brightness of the lantern. It was Darian. She knew his shape in the darkness almost as well as in the day, and there was no mistaking the voice. Besides, no one else would call her that. Darian had insisted on doing so. Rose would be more recognisable to Ferrer’s men, of course, but it also protected her real name.

“Where were you?” she said, as he shut the door, meaning that she didn’t have to raise her voice to compete with the wind.

“I went to find this,” he said, shifting a ladder from one hand to the other so that he could lean it against the wall.

Brielle looked up and raised the lantern. There was an opening from three quarters of the way up the stable wall to the roof.

“Hayloft,” Darian said, “good place to sleep if you haven’t got any other choices. You didn’t find anything then?”

“Nothing. Empty.”

“Last chance then,” Darian said, mounting the ladder.

Brielle handed him the lantern and then stood with her foot on the bottom rung to steady the ladder as Darian climbed. He climbed quickly, reaching the top and placing the lantern into the hayloft so that he could see to pull himself up. His boot left the ladder and he was gone from view, in the hayloft. Brielle started to climb after him when the lantern went out and the stable was once again plunged into darkness.

“Darian? What’s happening?”

There was no response. Brielle drew one of the daggers from her belt and began to climb, slowly. Each step up the ladder echoed in the space and Brielle worried that if she was walking into a trap that her movements would betray her. There was nothing else she could do but climb and pray. She paused with her head just below the level of the hayloft; she could feel straw brushing against the top of her head, pushing through her hair. She listened hard but could hear no noise. In a rush, she climbed the next two rungs and flung herself forward into the hayloft. She fell against a wooden wall, scraping her arm on the bare wood.

She waited for a moment, drawing breaths as shallowly as she could and not daring to move, but no attack came. She bent, feeling the ground to try to find the lantern. Her hands touched bits of hay and bare board as she crawled across the floor, still holding her dagger in her right hand. She expected an attack at any moment, but none came. Her hand touched metal and she grabbed at it. It was the lantern. For a few moments she fumbled with it, drawing the flint and steel from the base and opening the lantern’s front. Moments later, a flame flickered into life on the wick.

The hayloft was a small space, no more than a pace and a half wide each way. The floor was covered with loose bits of hay, but there were no bales stored here and nothing else of note. Darian was not in the space. Where could he have gone? Brielle turned a dial on the lantern to release more oil and the flame grew slightly, burning more brightly. There were scuff marks on the floorboards on one side and the hay there had been swept aside. A hidden door. Brielle knocked on the wood loudly.

The door, built into the frame of the wall, began to open slowly. Brielle pulled hard on it, throwing it open. A short man in dirty clothes came with it, knocked off balance as the door was dragged away from him. A swift kick knocked his legs from under him and another drove the wind from his lungs. Brielle put her foot on the man’s back, grabbed a fistful of matted hair, pulled the head back and touched her dagger to the man’s throat.

“If you shout, you die,” she said, digging the blade in a little for effect, “how many others are there?”

“There’s six of us,” the man said in barely more than a whisper. His eyes rolled upwards and he lifted his head in attempt to get away from the blade.

“And you have two men captive now, correct?”

The man did not answer; he was too busy struggling to get away from the blade.

“Hold still or you’ll cut your own throat,” Brielle hissed in his ear. The man went limp. “Now, answer my question: you have two men captive, correct?”

“Correct.”

“Good,” Brielle said, “I am going to rescue them now. If you have hurt them, I will come back and I will kill you.”

“Please–”

Brielle cut of the man’s protests by slamming his head into the floorboards. He went limp and she let him fall to the ground, making sure that he was still breathing before turning towards the door. She didn’t like leaving a man behind her – there was no way she could be sure that he would remain unconscious whilst she rescued Darian and Konrad, if he was the other man, but she had no choice. She would have to be quick.

She moved through the doorway, sheathing her dagger and drawing the mermaid blade. The door opened from the stable hayloft into a hallway. There were stairs opposite, leading down to the ground floor, and there were two rooms on this floor. She moved along the hall to the first of the rooms and listened at the door. Hearing nothing, she gently slid the door open, sword poised to strike a blow if necessary. The room was empty.

Brielle walked along the corridor as quietly as she could to the other room and eased the door open in the same fashion. Darian was leant against a bed, his head lolling and his mouth open. Brielle moved to his side, kneeling, and called his name in his ear whilst gently shaking him. His eyes snapped open and he made to shout, but Brielle caught him before he was able to and placed a hand across his mouth. He saw that it was her and nodded.

“Are you alright?” she whispered.

“Just a sore head, but unhurt otherwise. Where are we?”

“I’m not sure. There was a hidden door in the hayloft and I think this is another bolt hole. I’ve incapacitated one of the guards, but there are five others. I can’t be sure, but I think this is where they’re holding Konrad.”

Darian nodded and made to stand, stumbling a little dizzily. Brielle caught him and then raised him to his feet, before he nodded again. She took his weapons from the bed, where the guard had left them and handed them back. He belted them on and drew his sword. Together they left the room and moved cautiously down the stairs. At the bottom there was a halfway, leading to a door, with two rooms leading off.

“The far one is the kitchen, I think,” Darian whispered, “you check that, I’ll get the other one.”

“You can barely stand,” Brielle countered, “you’re taking the kitchen.”

He looked like he was about to argue, but she moved towards the other door before he could. Darian moved behind her and gently opened the kitchen door, slipping inside. She turned back to her own task and opened the door enough to peer through. The room was like most of those she had seen in the bolt holes: there were chairs and tables that had seen better days, threadbare rugs, and rickety stools.

In the centre of the room, Konrad was tied to a chair. His face was bruised and swollen, and there were open cuts on his lip, brow, and nose. Blood ran from his nostrils. It looked as if he was unconscious. There were three men in the room with him that she could see. One was stood behind the chair, holding Konrad’s shoulders, whilst another, a short sword hanging from his belt, was punching Konrad. The third stood with his back to the door, inches away, watching and laughing. They did not seem to be asking Konrad any questions.

“Who’s funny now?” Brielle said, as she stepped forward and drove the mermaid blade through the back of the laughing man. His laughter switched to a gurgle as the blade pushed out of his chest and then he went limp. Brielle pulled the sword free and moved towards the others. Someone grabbed her from behind, closing their arms around her middle and lifting her. She had not seen the fourth person from the door.

“Someone else wants to play,” the man who had been beating Konrad said. He had a rope scar around his neck and a cruel smile.

“I’m not playing,” Brielle said, flicking the mermaid blade across her shoulder and driving it backwards. She felt it catch on skin and there was a howl of pain. Whoever had caught her let go and she hit the ground hard, but managed to keep her feet. She stabbed behind her once more and felt the blade scrape against bone. That should take care of him.

Rope-scar came towards her, drawing the short sword from his belt, but Brielle took the initiative and stepped forwards striking the blade away and stabbing into his arm. He squealed and she flicked the blade across his neck, finishing what the rope had started.

“Stop!” his companion ordered. He had drawn a dagger and was holding it to Konrad’s throat. “Come any closer and he dies.”

Brielle knelt, her eyes never leaving the dagger man, and wiped the blood from her sword on Rope-scar’s tunic. The dagger man shifted a little nervously, watching her in case she moved, reminding her of his warning by digging his hand into Konrad’s neck. Brielle put her foot forward. She was only a step away from being able to kill him.

“Don’t move!” the dagger man warned, “I mean it!”

Konrad eyes snapped open, fury burning deep within them. He seized the dagger man’s hand in his mouth, biting deep into the flesh. The dagger fell from the man’s hand and Brielle lunged forward, driving the mermaid blade through his throat, not stopping until her fist bumped against his chin. Grimacing, she pushed his chest and he slid off the blade, slumping with a dull thud to the floor.

“You alri–” Brielle began, but the door burst open and she span on her heels. It was Darian, sword slick with blood and completely untouched himself. She lowered her blade and he lowered his.

“You alright?” Brielle finished, turning back to Konrad and cutting his bonds.

He groaned as the circulation was restored, rubbing at his hands and grimacing.

“I’m alright,” he said, “better since you two arrived. Told you she could fight, my lord.”

“Evidently,” Darian said, moving across to pull Konrad into a hug, “you look terrible by the way.”

“You always say that.”

“Are we done?” Brielle said, “We ought to move. I left one alive up there. I don’t know when he’ll wake up.”

“We’re done,” Darian said, starting for the door. Konrad stopped him. “What is it?”

Konrad took up the dagger and started cutting into the wall.

 “Just leaving a little message for Dunstan Ferrer.”

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