Tornmile: Part 41
Part XLI: Questions & Answers
The sound of horses’ hooves echoed around the courtyard, announcing the arrival of Dunstan Ferrer to the safe house. Mishak sat on the edge of the hayloft looking down into the stable, just as he had been since Marthe left to fetch Ferrer. Mishak had considered moving the bodies but had thought that Ferrer would prefer to see what had happened without anything being disturbed. Five men dead in the main room, where the rose had been carved, and another in the kitchen; it seemed like a waste of men. Mishak had never had cause to deal with dead bodies – every so often a renowned man would die and he would be displayed in the Spire for public mourning, but by then he would have been washed of any blood and his features would have been arranged to look peaceful. There had been Minham, of course, and the guards, but that was something different: he had known Minham in life, and the agonised, twisted features had sent Mishak into shock. These men here were strangers in death as they had been in life. Their deaths had been futile, but Mishak could feel little about them other than that.
He did wonder why, though. Why had someone here and killed all these men? They had left the man guarding the door unconscious, rather than killing him, so why kill the others? Mishak knew that Ferrer’s men had captured a spy, so he presumed that someone wanted their spy back. That was not out of the ordinary, but the lengths they had gone to had been extreme. He wondered what kind of people Ferrer was dealing with and whether this was a common occurrence. Marthe had said that Ferrer looked after his men even though he was a little on the wrong side of the law. Mishak wondered just how far on the wrong side she had meant – he had seen Josse and Eloi kill guards to save themselves from prison, but six dead men in one small building seemed like a different thing entirely. Was this Ferrer looking after his men? These thoughts had occupied him since Marthe had left.
She was the first to appear in the stable, her skirts swishing as she made her way towards the hayloft, giving him a smile as she approached. Seeing him was easy for her despite the dim light; her eyesight was almost unnaturally good. Mishak stood up and raised a hand in a wave to acknowledge her presence. She made her up the ladder with her customary nimbleness, though she reached for his hand to help her up. He grabbed her arm, fingers closing around her thin wrist, and pulled her upwards. He pulled her up harder than he’d intended and she stumbled into him, throwing her arms around him to steady herself.
“You have such a light touch, Lord-killer,” she mocked, as she regained her balance, though she hesitated before letting go of him. That means nothing. She laughed at me.
Ferrer followed soon after, striding into the stable with a sense of authority and familiarity. Behind him, leading a horse each, were two other men, both well built. Mishak could see little more of them at a distance, but it was clear they were here for Ferrer’s protection. They lead the horses into two of the stalls, tying their reins to the uprights with slip hitches – sometimes a quick getaway was everything. Particularly if you’re a crime boss. Ferrer watched the men carefully, keeping a close eye on the horses.
“Go and get the curricle,” he ordered when they were done.
The men nodded and moved back into the courtyard to do as Ferrer instructed. Ferrer move to each horse in turn, patting each one’s neck, and muttering words to each one that Mishak couldn’t hear. Clearly they were prized possessions: Ferrer treated them like friends. Mishak turned to Marthe and raised his eyebrows in a silent question. She nodded and shrugged, which he took to mean that Ferrer had never explained.
“How’s Eloi?” Mishak asked Marthe, turning away from the stables below.
“I don’t know,” Marthe said, frustration seeping into her words, “the surgeon was still working on him and I didn’t have much time for questions. Mr Ferrer doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”
“I certainly don’t,” Ferrer said, stepping off the ladder into the hayloft, “Let’s see this calling card, shall we?”
“Yes, Mr Ferrer.”
Marthe lead the way into the safe house, with Ferrer following behind her and Mishak bringing up the rear. Mishak wondered how much Marthe had told Ferrer of what was in the room and whether he should warn him about the bodies. Then again, Ferrer was probably used to the sight of bodies. They descended the stairs and moved across into the main room, Marthe careful to keep her skirts out of the pools of blood. Ferrer, too, avoided the blood; his riding boots looked like they had been polished earlier that day.
“It’s a mess, isn’t it?” Ferrer said, looking down at the body without the eye.
“This is what made us think you should come, Mr Ferrer,” Marthe said, pointing at the rose carved into the wall, stained with blood from one of these bodies.
Ferrer looked up at the rose and he seemed to freeze for a moment. Mishak wondered if it was fear that made him stop or something else. The man’s jaw clenched together, then released, and then clenched again.
“That bitch,” he said, fiercely, “that bloody bitch.”
Anger, then, not fear. Mishak still didn’t understand what the man meant, but at least he didn’t seem to feel in immediate danger. That was a plus, because it also meant that he and Marthe weren’t in immediate danger. But it did mean that Ferrer had an enemy, and enemy that he was not expecting to attack him and they had done exactly that.
“You know who did this?” Marthe asked.
“Yes,” Ferrer said, lips drawn tight, “She’s called Rose – apparently we burnt her inn down and she wanted revenge. She attacked the compound, killed a couple of the cutpurses, stabbed Warin in the stomach, and was about to kill me. Fortunately, the boys arrived and they subdued her, though she managed to kill Belbin and Cathan in the process.”
“Why did you burn her inn down?” Mishak asked.
Ferrer turned towards him, with a look on his face that implied that Mishak was simple. Mishak could see Marthe over Ferrer’s shoulder and she was frowning at him. As their eyes met, she shook her head slowly from side to side. She didn’t think the question had been a good one.
“There are a lot of dishonourable people in this world,” Ferrer said slowly, as if he was explaining to a child, “and that can mean trouble for businesses. Trouble for businesses means trouble for all, so I offer to protect a business for a modest fee. That way the businesses don’t come into any trouble and if they do, I sort it out for them.”
“How is burning down someone’s inn good for business?”
“Now isn’t the time for questions, Lord-killer,” Marthe said, pulling one of her knives from her sleeve, spinning it around, and then replacing it, “it’s a time for action. What needs doing, Mr Ferrer?”
“This place needs clearing up, in case our thorny little Rose has gone to the City Guard,” he said, turning away from Mishak and gesturing at the bodies still lying where they had fallen, “and then we’re going to find her and pluck off her petals one by one.”
Mishak frowned to himself; was this the wrong side of the law that Ferrer was on? It didn’t seem a very good side, but then this Rose and whoever had been with her had killed six men. Mishak may have grown up in Tornmile, but the life-oath to Minham was not the only part of the Smrt warrior code that his father had brought with him from Stammland. If someone attacked you, you attacked back. If your men died, you avenged them. That didn’t mean you rushed into conflict, but you saw that honour was satisfied. He looked at Marthe and the image of Straton and Abelard’s corpses appeared in his mind; you stopped those who tried to hurt you and yours. Especially when it was Marthe: she had helped free him from prison, even if it was merely chance that had chained him to Eloi and Josse; she had saved him from the wound his own mother had given him when it had festered. He owed her his life, and more than that, he owed her for giving him new purpose in the wake of Minham’s death. She had made him see that he was more than a servant to a foreign lord, more than a duty he had no choice in.
That was not all of it, either. Words leapt into his head and before they had even begun to resolve themselves into thoughts, his mind rebelled and tried to squash them. The words roared back again, stronger than ever, a torrent rushing down river and unable to be stopped. His brain gave him the image of Marthe laughing at him and the torrent shattered it, dissipating it like a Blud-wraith exposed to sunlight. I love her.
“Are you alright, Lord-killer?”
The fanfare that had been playing in Mishak’s mind stopped abruptly. If it hadn’t he was not sure he would have been capable of replying. The euphoria that had come with it did not stop; it was lightning filling his veins. He hoped the feeling would never stop.
“Yes,” he said, smiling at Marthe, “I’m alright.”
“You don’t look it,” she said, “I think I should check your wounds.”
She started towards him, but he waved her back. He could barely feel the wound in his side where Straton’s short sword had cut into him and the two wounds on his shoulders were healing nicely. She stopped short of him, but narrowed her eyes as if deciding whether she should believe that he was not suffering from his wounds.
“Leave him be,” Ferrer said, “We have work to do.”
Marthe stepped back from Mishak the second that Ferrer spoke, and Mishak tried to control the smile that wanted to spread itself across his face. It was an odd feeling to have in a room where pools of blood congealed on the floor and the bodies the blood had spilled from still lay, but he couldn’t help it. All this time that his mother had been trying to set him up with saddler’s daughters and milkmaids and the Gods alone knew who else and they’d all been dull as ditch water or as unpleasant as a hag. Now his mother had turned her back on him and he was a convict, without hope or prospect of a respectable job and he was in love. The whole situation made him want to laugh, but he stuffed the urge down to save for later. Moving to the nearest corpse, he bent to take it by the wrist.
“Wait,” Ferrer said, “there are only five men here. There were seven in this safe house.”
“The other two are in the kitchen,” Mishak said, “one dead, one alive.”
“Alive?” Ferrer said, “Show me.”
Leaving Marthe in the main room collecting up the discarded weapons, Mishak let go of the corpse’s wrists and lead the way back through the hall and into the small kitchen. The body was slumped in the fireplace, head leaning against the stone mantle. If it hadn’t been for the large open wound across his right forearm and the stab wound above the heart Mishak could have believed that the man was just drunk and had fallen asleep there. The ashes of the fire were splattered with the man’s blood and there was spray on the cobbled floor. The wounds looked different to those on the men in the main room and it looked as though this man hadn’t even had the chance to raise his weapon. One slash to the arm to stop just that, one stab forward which went straight through the heart. Whoever killed him was an expert swordsman.
Noak, the man who had been guarding the hayloft door when the attack had happened, sat on a stool at the far end of the kitchen, head leaning back against the wall. Mishak suspected that he had only chosen that position so that he couldn’t see the body in the fireplace. He held a cup of tea in his hand and there was bread and cheese by his feet. When he heard their footsteps on the kitchen’s flagstones, he sat forward to look at them, leaping to his feet when he saw that Ferrer was with them.
“The place is an awful mess, Noak,” Ferrer said, moving forwards, “but I’m glad to see that you’re provided for.”
“I’m sorry, Mr Ferrer,” he whined, “There wasn’t anything I could do. She took me by surprise.”
“Save your explanations, Noak. Marthe already told me everything. No one would have known the spy was here if it wasn’t for you.”
“It won’t happen again, Mr Ferrer, I swear.”
“I know it won’t, Noak,” Ferrer said, smiling broadly, “Mishak, kill him.”
The lightning in Mishak’s veins crackled and died and the sense of euphoria sank like a stone in a river. He wasn’t sure if he had heard correctly.
“Please-” Noak began, but Ferrer silenced him by jabbing a hand into the man’s neck. He stumbled back, grasping at his throat.
“No,” Mishak said, taking a step back.
“Excuse me?” Ferrer said, turning towards Mishak now. He cocked his head to one side, as if he was the one that had misheard.
“I said ‘No.’ I won’t kill him.”
Ferrer narrowed his eyes, brows drawn tightly and his teeth clenched. Noak was trying to speak, only managing to make guttural sounds at the back of his throat as he tried to back as far away from Ferrer as possible. He stumbled over the stool and trampled the bread and cheese, trying to press himself against the wall. It was all in vain. Ferrer turned, drawing a thin bladed dagger from his belt, and thrust it into Noak’s throat. The gurgle of blood in the man’s throat was loud, silenced only when Ferrer pulled the blade free. Noak’s lifeless body slumped down the wall and Ferrer bent to wipe his blade on the man’s tunic. As he did so, he looked up at Mishak.
“I rescued you from the gallows, so you belong to me now. You disobey me again and I’ll make sure you swing from a rope all the same.”
Sliding his blade back into its scabbard, Ferrer stalked from the room, leaving Mishak alone with Noak’s blood beginning to pool around his boots.