Tornmile: Part 17

Part XVII: A New Venture

Brielle huddled close to Darian as they moved out of Ferrer’s complex and into the street outside. Darian’s curricle stood opposite the entrance to the complex, the horses’ reins being held by a middle aged man with specks of silver in his black hair. He had a strong jaw and dark eyes that seemed like two pools under moonlight. On spotting Darian coming across the road, he waved and stepped up into the driver’s seat. Darian made towards the curricule and just as before he lifted Brielle into the vehicle as easily as if she had been a child. The soft seat made her realise just how much her limbs were aching. A bath would not go amiss.

Darian stepped up into the curricle and sat next to Brielle. There was only just enough to room to seat three people and Brielle found she could not move with Darian’s body pressed firmly against her own. She could feel the hard muscles of his arms and the side of his torso. She imagined that she could feel the scar above his hip, puckered and twisted, but she knew that she could not. How had he got it? She began to ask him, opening her mouth to speak, but her throat was dry and she managed only a croak before she thought better of it.

“Any problems, Konrad?” Darian asked, handing a waterskin to Brielle as he did so. She freed her arms, trapped by the minimal room, and drank greedily.

“None, sir,” Konrad replied, flicking the reins to urge the horses forwards, “a few cut-throat types came thinking they would take the horses, but I disabused them of the notion.”

Darian nodded and sat back in the seat, putting an arm around Brielle. She could not tell if he was doing it to make sure she was all right, or because there was little room in the curricle and it was a more comfortable position. Either way, she did not complain, there was a certain security in leaning her head against his shoulder. Ferrer’s words were still in her head, softened by Darian’s absolution of her, his assurance that killing someone when they were armed was honourable. No-Neck and Weasel-Face had been as much about self defence as anger, and she hadn’t killed the door ward, though he would carry the scar from her forever. Ferrer’s face floated in her mind, his eyes alight with passion and she felt her blood surge in her veins. She hated him. She would kill him.

“Are you all right, Rose?” Darian asked quietly, drawing Brielle from her contemplation of revenge.

“I’m all right,” she said, “and my name isn’t Rose. It’s Brielle.”

“Oh, I thought you said –”

“I did say it was Rose. I’m sorry I lied to you, but I couldn’t be sure that Ferrer’s men weren’t after me. When you met me, when I ran into your horse, they were chasing me. They’d burnt down my inn because I didn’t want to pay them not to – I could never have afforded it anyway – and they were going to make an example of me. I didn’t want to put my real name about in case they had eyes-and-ears, but it doesn’t seem to matter now.”

“I understand.”

That was all he said, but she did not think he was upset with her. He brushed the hair from her face and smiled almost to confirm her thoughts. For a moment she thought he might bend down and kiss her, but he only smiled again. The curricle shook as it went over a bump. Konrad had his eyes for the road, but perhaps that was why Darian had not kissed her.

“How did you get the scar on your hip?” she asked, not thinking.

The smile dropped from Darian’s face immediately and she felt Konrad shift in his seat, as though the question was one which he too would prefer not to answer.

“Military service,” Darian said, at last, and then he looked out of the curricle into the night, the shadows of buildings looming around them, details obscured by the light from the lamps hanging from the vehicle’s side.

Brielle wished that she hadn’t asked, cursing herself inwardly. It was clearly a painful thing to remember. Perhaps it hadn’t been military service at all; he was a fencer, she knew that, and the way he had stopped her knife thrust in Ferrer’s office demonstrated that he was a skilled fighter, but he did not look old enough to have seen many campaigns.

He said nothing more and she could not think of anything to say, so they lapsed into silence as the curricle made its way back to his father’s residence. Konrad said nothing either, keeping his eyes firmly ahead and the horses moving swiftly in the night. The silence between them bore down on her and she wished she could take back her words.

“Do you have any family?” Darian said, quietly enough that it could almost have been to himself.

They were nearly at his father’s house; the streets here near the northern walls were wider and better maintained than the warren that formed the tanneries. Occasionally they would pass a tree rooted at the side of the street, and corners often opened into wide squares, as if this was not a city at all.

“My mother died when I was young and my brother died in the army. My father’s a drunk and he wasn’t home when they burnt down the inn, so I don’t know where he is. Perhaps he hasn’t noticed it’s gone – he’s been at the bottom of a wineskin since my brother was killed.”

“But he’s still alive as far as you know? Your father, I mean.”

“As far as I know. He drinks with a Stamm most of the time; I don’t know what the man’s name is. Father calls him Nev, but I don’t think that’s what he’s really called.”

“Did you get all that, Konrad?” Darian asked, turning towards the man driving.

“Yes, sir. You want me to find the lady’s father, then?”

“If you can.”

“I believe I can stretch to that. A quick tour of the taverns tomorrow and I should have a good idea of where he might be.”

“Good.”

“What happens when you’ve found him?” Brielle asked, frowning at Darian, though she doubted he could see that in the meagre light from the lamps.

“Konrad will find him and get him out of the wineskin. Can’t have him wandering the streets looking for drink where anybody could recognise him.”

Konrad nodded and laughed to himself. Pressed against him in the small room of the curricle, Brielle felt a change in him. Before he had been relaxed, confident, but almost bored by what he was doing. Now the man was tense but eager, like a dog straining to be unleashed to chase the hare.

“What’s funny?” Brielle asked.

“I believe that our Master Astur here might be starting a war.”

“Just a little one, Konrad. Just a little one.”

Darian was laughing too now, one corner of his mouth turning up as he did so. Brielle could not make out what was funny in starting a war, or what that meant at all, but as the men on either side of her shook with laughter and the curricle pulled into the stables at Darian’s home, she felt safer than she had since Caiden left. It was a good feeling and long overdue.

She waited until they had left Konrad in the stable yard, unhitching the horses from the curricle, to ask Darian what he had meant about starting a war. He walked beside her, carrying the weapons she had stolen from him, and she recognised that they were heading towards the room he had let her sleep in earlier that day. It seemed as if it had been weeks ago that she had first stepped in the house. Her time prowling the corridors had made everything seem very familiar.

“Not a real war,” he said, as they turned down a narrow corridor that linked the entrance hall with the bedrooms, “but if Ferrer thinks he can burn your inn and have his men kill you without any form of recompense then he is even more mad than the reports make him. I was very close to running him through tonight, but I doubted if I had done that we would have got out of there alive.”

“You and me both,” Brielle said, her mind delighting in sliding a sword into the man’s chest. She pushed the image away as a flood of guilt swept into her. “But why? This is not your fight. It was my inn, it was my life. What does any of that matter to you?”

“Because I took you in and offered you my aid; that puts you under my protection. Because Ferrer’s evil spreads further and further whilst the high lords sit on the Council and play cat-and-mouse with one another. Because if anybody deserves a sword through the chest, it’s Dunstan Ferrer. Because I can and I want to. Besides, you’re a lady. It’s a sacred duty to help a lady in distress.”

“I’m not a lady. I’m just an innkeeper’s daughter.”

“Is that all you are?” Darian asked as they stopped outside of her rooms. The light from the stand lamps in the corridor showed the smile on his face. “No, you’re much more than that. Like a rose, there is much more to you than softness and beauty. Here.”

He held out the sword and daggers that she had taken from the cabinet in the armoury. The lamplight danced across the mermaid under the stars. She did not reach for them, though.

“You want me to have them?”

“They belonged to my sister, but she never really took to them. She preferred embroidery and playing instruments to swordplay. The mermaid below three stars, that was intended to be her mark. My father placed it there in the hope that she would use them more, but it made little difference to her. She did always like mermaids.”

“What happened to her?”

“Same as what happens to most noble women. She was married to another noble and went to be part of his family. It was what she wanted and father was able to arrange a good match for her. She loved him as soon as she met him; he was a good man, if not a great fencer. She’s very happy with him, by all accounts, and that’s all anyone can ask of life I suppose. She wouldn’t mind me giving them to you.”

“And what about your father; wouldn’t he mind?”

“No, he’d rather they were used than sat in a cupboard gathering dust. Swords should be used, not looked at. Besides, if we’re going to war you’re going to need weapons.”

“Thank you,” she said, lifting herself onto her toes and planting a kiss on his cheek.

“It’s nothing,” he said, dismissing her thanks with a wave of his hand. “Is there anything I can get for you; food or drink?”

“I think I need a bath and sleep more than anything, and I’ve kept you from your bed for long enough. You didn’t have to come after me.”

“I told you, you’re under my protection. Not that you need it, according to Konrad. He says you know how to handle a sword.”

“When has he seen me fighting?”

“I asked him to keep an eye on you. He’s very good at remaining unseen. He says he’s seen soldiers of three terms that can’t fight like you can.”

There was admiration in his voice and eagerness, as if he wished he had been there to witness it all himself. An image of the two of them sparring in the armoury, lit only by the moonlight came into her head. She smiled.

“My brother taught me. But I’m always willing to learn more.”

“I expect you’ll learn a lot before our little war is done,” he said, handing her the weapons.

She slid the sword and daggers into the scabbards and tucked the misericorde into her belt. It seemed a little too far to sheathe it in the scabbard on her thigh with Darian so close to her. The weight of the weapons felt good, as if this was how she was always meant to dress.

“Do you think they’ll sing songs about us?” she said, laughing as she tucked the weapons away.

“Of course,” he said, joining her in laughter, “I can hear them now: now I will sing the beautiful Ballad of the War of the Rose.”

He paused in his laughter, thinking to himself.

“The War of the Rose,” he repeated, “yes, I like that.”
 

Part 16

Part 18

Chapter Index

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