Sunday, 20 March 2011
#SampleSunday – 20th March 2011
Something from the middle of The Key To The Grave. Sumto is sidetracked into a brief rescue mission.
I kicked the drover in the back of the knee; as he stumbled I stepped in and drove a rabbit punch into the back of his neck, though I hoped not to harm him too badly. I'd been ready, expecting his move. It was the screams that had overturned his reason, made him open his fool mouth and move to run forward. I sympathized, but I wasn't going to die from it. Without pause I spun and hissed at the other three, “You will be silent and make no move save at my command or you will be bound and gagged and left to wait here! Dannat,” I picked him out because right then his was the only name I could remember, “watch them like a damn hawk and don't hesitate.” A growl and some sounds of movement alerted me, so I turned back to the man I'd dropped. He was still facing away from me, on his knees and making to get to his feet. I grabbed him by the collar and pulled his head close to my chest. “Wait!” I hissed into his ear, making my grip firm. “We will free them now. It has to be planned to succeed. I know you need to act but hold it back, man! Hear me?”
He nodded, grunted and assent, half sobbed. Words were beyond his reach. I knew why.
“Stay by me, follow my lead,” I told him, “and then we will kill the bastards together.”
He came to his feet as I relaxed my grip, and rubbed the back of his head with one hand. He turned his head slightly when I released him, caught my gaze and nodded assent. In his other hand he held a meat cleaver. He hadn't dropped it.
Without another word I moved forward, seeing damn near nothing now that full night had stealthily crept over the town, sending the vultures back to their nests only to be replaced by braver scavengers. The street was deeper into the town than I wanted to go and the town was more active than I liked. Three times we had encountered small groups. The first had been a mob and I'd blooded my men on them gladly enough. The second were a small group of would-be refugees, trying to get themselves and their goods out of the town. Too burdened to run from us, they had talked and been recruited. I'd sent six men to escort them back. The third had been too small to challenge us and I'd let them go when they ran.
Ahead of us danced shadows and light, giving tantalizing glimpses of a square in which sat a single warehouse, squat stone and flat roofed. Staying in the dark, I led my men as close as I wanted to get and stopped, turning to the drover who shadowed me. I'd been intending to ask, just to be sure, but from the grinding rage on his face as he stared at the place I knew we had it right. I picked out Dubaku in the dim light and waved him to me. He had come out of the building with three names after talking to the spirit of Prestu, names the drovers had known; names that belonging to a gang whose lair they also knew. The names had been enough to bring us here. Now I had to decide what to do and how best Dubaku could help. As he came to my side I turned my attention back where it needed to be.
The flat-roofed building was well-lit; torches revealed two bowmen passing the time with tankards of beer while they pretended to keep watch. If they were intended as more than a deterrent they would not have torches to make them easy targets nor beer to dull their wits. Inside there was a riotous feast in progress. The noise they were making might work in our favor. Laughter and screams.
Six women, three girls, two boys. Not the list of the dead, but the count of the living. The drovers' families. The guests.
A big pair of doors to the front of the building was closed and doubtless barred. There were shuttered windows that looked no better means of ingress.
“Is there another way in?” I brought my head close to the drover and kept my voice lower than needful just to remind the man of the need for stealth.
“Just the door,” he hissed, glaring at it.
Damn. I turned to Dubaku. “The door?”
He looked and shook his head. He looked up to the roof and after a moment shook his head again.
I followed the direction of his gaze and thought about it. The bowmen had to go.
“Is there a way up to the roof or did they get there from inside?”
The drover turned a look of anguish my way. I could see the pressure building in him. He knew who was screaming.
“Just answer the damn question,” I hissed, holding his gaze.
“Inside,” he growled.
I couldn't hold him much longer. He'd go mad.
I turned back to the building, looking for a route and found it in the way the building was made. The corner was staggered, bigger blocks between pavings looted from our road. The difference in the sizes of the materials would give me a grip. Maybe.
I started unbuckling my belt, turning and moving away, deeper into the darkness, taking the drover and Dubaku with me.
“Hold this.” I passed the sword belt to Dubaku..
The armor came off quickly. I didn't need the weight if was going to go up that wall fast.
“Wear this.” I pushed the chain into the arms of the drover. He was about my size and it might keep him alive.
Taking back the sword belt, I hesitated. I didn't want it at my hip where it would be in my way as I climbed. Quickly, I stripped the sheath from the belt, tucked the weapon between my knees and buckled the belt at my waist. I felt the now familiar pressure of the magical armor it provided. I needed another belt and told Dubaku to get one. The sword slid snug through the back of my belt and I held it there, hilt jutting over my shoulder, and waited. A belt came my way out of the dark, thrust into my hands. I grabbed it and looped it over one shoulder.
“Help me with it,” I only had one hand free.
Dubaku looped it round my chest, found the other end and tightened it, slipping the tongue through the eye and securing the buckle. I moved, rolled my shoulders, raised my arms above my head, then tightened the belt at my waist another notch, all the while watched by my men, though I could see little enough of them. I didn't doubt they saw me as a shadow against the light behind me. I didn't worry about the archers. Their night vision was ruined by the torches. I could walk half way across the square without them seeing a thing. Satisfied that the sheathed weapon wasn't going anywhere, I could move.
“What are you doing?” The drover whispered, his surprise at my actions and obvious intent bringing him to something like sanity.
“The roof,” I whispered back. “The archers have to go. Dannat, bring the men on when I'm up. Dubaku, can you blind them?”
“I hope, Sumto, that I can.”
Gods. Sometimes the spirits didn't come when called, I remembered. Hope wasn't good enough.
“If not that, think of something else. Quickly.”
“I will. I am. Good luck.”
“Luck be damned.” I turned and moved away before I could think more on the matter. It would work. Tonight these bastards died. The fear was feeding my anger.
I walked softly, watching the bowmen and giving Dubaku time, letting him judge it. I snatched glances at the corner of the building where I intended to climb. I made it seventeen or eighteen feet straight up. The darkness made me unsure but it looked climbable. A big block to start, a couple of paving slabs worked into the corner, another bigger block. Foot on one block, hand on the other and other hand on the third. I was tall. I could do it. The archers fell silent. I moved faster.
I didn't pay any more attention to them, a few fast paces and I was at the corner, reaching high, foot up and just finding purchase, other foot higher, I gripped and pulled. It hurt my hand but I reached and pulled again, moving one limb at a time. I moved as fast as I dared, ignoring the voices that questioned, then cursed. The belt across my chest snagged on the bottom of a block and I had to stop, drop, lean back and move on, mindful not to let it happen again. The roof was close. I didn't know how long I had. I tried not to think about it. My head came over the lip of the roof and I snatched a glance before pulling myself over, unmindful now of the noise it made. Any noise might be covered by the din coming from below and I didn't have time to be fussy. I scrambled over the top and got to my feet, reaching back for the hilt of my blade and hoping I'd find it. The archers were together at the edge of the roof, each with a hand on the other's shoulder, bitching about their plight and cursing but not doing anything. I grinned fiercely, finding the hilt of my sword, pulled it awkwardly free and moved forward. Then their darkness lifted. The one facing me over the shoulder of his fellow saw me and pushed him into turning and bellowed a warning. That one reached for a knife as he was turning. His eyes widened as he saw me and he began to crouch, pulling the knife free and trying to step away from my thrusting blade, much too late. As my blade slid into him I relaxed my sword arm and shouldered into him, knocking him back and all but jumping over him; he fell into his fellow, who went down under our combined weight. I landed on the dying man with one knee and pushed myself up with the other, my foot well braced on the roof. I wrenched my blade free of him as I lurched forward, bringing the sword in front of me and stabbing down as I stepped forward heavily to catch my balance. My foot came down at his side and the point of my blade slammed into the centre of his forehead, knocking his head back and bashing his skull on the roof. He howled and twisted, rolled hard against my leg and overturned me. My guts lurched as I went over the edge with no hope of doing anything else. The fall lasted long enough to swear and twist pointlessly in the air before I hit the ground hard. The wind came out of me explosively and I found myself lying on my side facing the door. Nothing hurt until I moved. Then my left arm screamed at me. I wanted to swear but couldn't breathe. I tucked my left arm slowly against my chest and hoped it wasn't broken, then forced myself to my knees, taking my weight partly on my one good arm. I was a foot from the door, facing it.
“The drunk probably fell of the damn roof,” a voice said, coming from just the other side of the door.
True, I thought. I'd lost my sword; I looked for it and saw it behind me and to my right, turned to reach for it and sucked in my first lungful of air just as the door opened. A big gutted man with a heavy black beard looked down at me.
The sword was too far away. I had only a moment to act. I bunched my fist and slammed it into his groin, ducking into the blow and putting my shoulder into it. He folded and I slammed my head up so that the back of my skull smashed into his face. I remembered to grit my teeth just in time. A flash of white light burst behind my eyes. My grunt of pain was for the movement in my arm not the impact. I was aware that he went over backwards, crumbled into a heap in the doorway, though I wasn't paying attention. I got one foot under me and reached back for my sword, stepped up as soon as I had a grip on it, turned into the open doorway and walked through.
Only two men were aware of me, the rest intent on their own business. I grinned as I stepped in, left arm still pressed against my chest, swinging my blade hard and fast to kill one and then the other before they could do much more than begin to move. A couple of shocked faces turned my way but still the room was mostly unaware of me. The lower spine above a pair of pale, bare buttocks was my next target; I slid the blade home with deliberate care, not wanting to slice open the slender legs that he was holding up with both hands
“Why, you bast...” A big man, maybe a blacksmith who'd been sitting and watching, didn't finish his thought before he felt my sword in his mouth. He wasn't even reaching for a weapon.
I maimed or killed two more before the room was full enough of my own men that I could put my back to the wall and let them get on with it. They didn't hold back.
I was drinking beer long before they were done, but when the drovers wanted to settle into torturing the survivors I put a stop to it.
It took time to get control of them. Time to finish the survivors and more to loot the place and get the men moving. Every moment's delay made me nervous and I longed for more experienced soldiers. Luck alone kept other scavengers from finding us in disarray.
I was sick at heart as we trudged back through the town. I could hear other screams in the night, other laughter. The women could hear it as well and every scream was echoed with a sob or a whimper, a gasp. I didn't dare try and bring anyone else out of it. It would have to wait. They would have to suffer. I hated myself for it but if we stayed longer there was a chance of a force gathering against us. It was a risk I was already taking and counted us lucky as, although we weren't alone in the streets, all of those we saw were small groups and none came close enough to threaten. Every available hand was laden with sacks, bundles and boxes and casks containing hams, cheeses, bread, and most importantly, beer. All the way back through the city I hoped we wouldn't run into a mob; if you drop a cask of beer to reach for a weapon, the cask breaks.
When we got back to the enclosure Jek was waiting for me. He'd brought the magistrate in and the magistrate had brought over a hundred people with him.