Tornmile: Part 11
Part XI: Vengeance Denied
If Ferrer was at all surprised by Brielle’s pronouncement of a death sentence, he did not show it. Instead, he raised a hand to his face, leaning on it, elbow propped against the edge of his desk. He could have been exceedingly bored.
“I see,” he said, “then perhaps you would do me the courtesy of moving your sword to the left slightly. The blood is going to drip on this letter and it did take some time to write.”
Brielle looked at him, sure he must be joking, toying with her, but his face moved into an expression of polite request. She pulled the sword back, touching the point to the ground by her foot.
“Thank you,” he said picking up the letter, sealing it with wax and laying it to one side. “Now, where were we? Oh yes, you’re here to kill me. May I ask why?”
“You burned down my inn because I refused to pay you not to. You burned my home to the ground, everything I owned, and everything I worked for since my brother died at Lapion. That is why I am going to kill you, every single one of your men that held a torch, and anyone who tries to stop me.”
“Your brother was at Lapion when it fell? A bad business that. I’m sorry for your loss. Out of interest, before you spit me with that very fine sword, how many of my men have you killed so far? It’s good to keep track, that’s all. For business, I mean.”
“Three,” he repeated, raising his eyebrows, “I see.”
“Are we done now? Talk won’t stop me taking my vengeance.”
“I have nothing more to say to you,” he said pleasantly, “but they might.”
He pointed over her shoulder and she turned to see a group of men standing in the doorway. Some she recognised from the courtyard, others she did not. All of them brandished weapons; cudgels, knives, swords, and staffs. She flicked her sword up towards Ferrer, the point in front of his face.
“Move and your boss dies,” she said.
They watched her, eyes narrowing, but they stayed where they were. Circle the desk, take him hostage. She stepped to her left, keeping her eyes on the men at the door, and felt a heavy thud as Ferrer shoved the table forward, knocking her off balance. The blade whisked away from his face and the gang came forward.
Brielle ducked awkwardly under a swipe from a cudgel, sticking her dagger into the wielder’s thigh and then pulling it loose to twist around him and drive the mermaid sword into the next man’s chest. The dagger in her left band went backwards and found the kidneys of the man with the cudgel, and then she whirled around, sidestepping a sword stroke and blocking a thrust from a knife. Attackers came at her from all directions, and she focused on trying to cut a path to the door, focused on staying alive, but a swift blow from a quarterstaff to the back of her head sent her sprawling to her knees, weapons spilling free of her hands.
Someone grabbed her wrists, pulling her to her feet, preventing her from grabbing the second dagger, which another of the men found and pulled from its sheath and tossed on the desk with its counterpart and the sword. Ferrer exhaled heavily and returned to his seat, pulling the table back into position.
“Thank you, gentlemen,” he said, returning his attention to the stack of parchments in front of him, “rest assured you will be rewarded for your troubles.”
“What shall we do with her, boss?” the man holding Brielle asked.
He did not look up, merely waved a hand at them.
The command came from the doorway, but Brielle could not turn to see who had issued it. The gang hefted their weapons ready for use but Ferrer, looking up from his parchments again, waved them down. A young man in riding boots and clothes equally as fine as Ferrer’s, if not more so, strode into the room. It couldn’t be!
“My name is Darian Astur,” he said, “and I offer you a trade. This woman stole her clothes and weapons from my house where she was a guest, receiving treatment for some injuries. I took her in and she repaid me by stealing my clothes, my weapons, and my money.”
Darian pulled the coin purse from Brielle’s belt and opened it, emptying the contents onto Ferrer’s desk. The gang eyed the golden coins greedily.
“You can keep all the gold, divide it however you like amongst the men who have apprehended her, but in return I get to take her with me, along with all my other possessions.”
He gestured to the sword and daggers on the table. Ferrer looked up from the gold to Darian as if weighing up the pros and cons.
“She has killed several of my men; I cannot let her go for a simple bit of gold. You may take the weapons and the clothes in exchange for this purse, but not the girl.”
Brielle struggled to free herself. Take the clothes! She would spit him where he sat if she could get free and damn the consequences. Without the inn she had nothing to live for. She had no idea what had happened to her father and it was unlikely he was in any state to notice her absence. She could not find him dead, true, but at least she would die avenging his property.
“She seems to be quite the handful, but it would a shame to waste such a pretty face. I offer you double the money to take her with me.”
Darian drew a purse from his own coat and threw it down on the desk. Ferrer nodded.
“That would adequately compensate my men for their trouble. I agree to your bargain, Darian Astur. I hope you know what you are doing; this Rose has thorns.”
“Not for long,” Darian said, laughing. Ferrer joined in, and his gang came in much later, eager to please their boss. Brielle’s rage exploded; she wrenched herself free, pulled the misericorde from the sheath on her thigh and stabbed it towards Darian. He caught her wrist as easily as if she had not been moving, strong arms stopping her thrust.
“That is mine too,” he said, pulling it from her grasp and tucking it into her belt. He span her round by her wrist and bent her arm up behind her back, pinioning her. She did not struggle, worried that if she did he would push her arm upwards and snap it.
“Quite the specimen, is she not?” Ferrer said, “Be sure to break her well, won’t you?”
“Bastard!” Brielle yelled, “I will be back and next time I will kill you. I will have my rightful vengeance.”
Ferrer stood and for the first time he looked affected by something that had been said. Even when he had laughed with Darian there had been the composed reserve. Now the beginnings of a fire kindled in his eyes. He circled around the desk and strode over to her, gripping her face in his hands and turning it to the two corpses on the floor. She tried to twist from his grasp.
“Look at them!” he growled, “Look at them!”
She stopped trying to free herself and looked at the men she had killed. Blood was soaking into the floorboards where they lay, seeping from the wounds in their chest and back. Only one was face up, his eyes open; a glassy-eyed stare that saw nothing. She swallowed nervously. Ferrer did not look at them. His face was close to hers, his eyes boring into her. She could feel his breath on her cheek and spit as he spoke.
“You think you are better than them, do you? You kill a man with a sword, you look him in the eyes when he dies, and you think you are a soldier or the hand of the Emperor of Heaven himself, but you are not. I have watched the lights die in the eyes of men, women, even children, just as you watched the light die in the eyes of my men, but I have never pretended that it was just. That is where our similarities end. You are a murderer as much as I am, killing people for you own ends. Thinking that what you do is justice might help you sleep more easily, but it won’t comfort the widows and orphans you make with your blades. Talk as much of vengeance as you like, but there is still blood on your hands and nothing will wash it away.”
He released her face and Brielle braced herself for the strike she thought was coming, but he seemed to think better of it. The room was completely silent. No one moved except Ferrer, who turned away from her and strode back towards the desk, speaking now to Darian.
“Get her out of my sight before I change my mind about our deal, Darian Astur.”
Darian shoved her in the back to turn her, scooped up the weapons from the desk in his free hand and marched her towards the door. The gang of Ferrer’s men parted like waves split by the prow of a warship. None of them took their eyes off her though and Brielle could feel them watching her even after Darian had started them down the stairs.
Ferrer’s words rang in her ears, and the faces of the five men she had killed tonight rose in her memory; the fat square face of No-Neck, the thin one of Weasel-Face, the surprised look on the door ward’s face when she had run him through, the confused mix of features that belonged to the first man from Ferrer’s office whose face she had not seen properly and worst of all, that glassy-eyed stare. Looking down at her free hand, she saw that it was red, caked with blood, dirt, and sweat. She wiped it on the coat, trying to get it clean, beginning to weep with frustration when it remained steadfastly crimson.
“Stop it,” Darian said, “Rose, please. It’s going to be all right.”
He released her other arm and she turned to look at him. They were halfway down the stairs between then first storey and the exit. He shifted the mermaid blades in his hands to slide them under his belt and took her hands in his own.
“Rose, listen to me. Pay no attention to what Ferrer said. You are not a murderer; those men, they’re criminals all of them, most taken from the prisons before they can be executed. They’re doomed by the law to die. But even if they weren’t, you faced them in combat, they were armed, and they would have killed you if they could have. There is no shame in that, but honour. Do you understand?”
Brielle nodded, but she knew the door ward and Weasel-Face had been different.
“I’m sorry I said those things about you,” he said, “I had to or he wouldn’t have let me take you at any price.”
She managed a smile and nodded once more to show her understanding. He nodded back, and then took her arm gently to lead her to the bottom of the stairs. The bar from the door had been splintered and its debris lay across the floor. She glanced to the upturned stool, but there was no body lying there. When they emerged into the courtyard, she saw the door ward, torso bare, and a thick band of cloth wrapped around his stomach. No blood showed through the material and he sat quite at ease, being tended to by another of Ferrer’s men. Seeing Brielle, the door ward scowled and tried to rise, but the man’s hand on his shoulder and Darian’s hand moving to the hilt of the mermaid sword made him sink down into his seat.
The body of Weasel-Face lay face down in the centre of the courtyard, surrounded by a small pool of blood. Darian glanced at the corpse and Brielle clenched her arm around his.
“He tried to force me before I made him bring me here. He threatened to make good on that attempt when he realised I was alone against all of Ferrer’s men.”
She tried to find the hatred that had made her stab him come into her words, but she could not, only managing to sound pleading and apologetic. Darian pulled her closer to him and moved her passed Weasel-Face’s corpse.
“Good riddance,” he said, and lead Brielle out into the street.