Authors: David Wells
Tags: #Epic, #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction
“How can you be sure?” Lucky asked. “We only arrived just last night.”
“Same way I knew you were here; they paid the gate guards to tell them when you arrived. Although, I doubt they were as thorough as me so they’re probably going from inn to inn looking for you right now, hence my humble suggestion that we be on our way quickly.”
This time it was Alexander who spoke. “But how would they know we would come to Southport?”
“They know you’ll likely be heading for the Rangers in Glen Morillian so you’d just about have to come through here.” Jack was growing visibly impatient. “My Lord, we really should be on our way.”
“Master Bard …” This time it was Abigail who spoke only to be quickly interrupted by Jack.
“My Lady, you simply must call me Jack,” he said with his most charming smile.
Abigail actually blushed. Alexander thought to himself that there was a first time for everything.
“Very well,” Abigail said, struggling to regain her composure. “Jack, if they knew Valentine Manor was home to the cursed bloodline, why didn’t they come for us sooner? Why not attack when they discovered our secret?”
Jack smiled again, this time with a hint of puzzlement. “That I do not know. I suspect the General Commander of the Reishi Protectorate saw no point in killing you until it became clear that Phane would wake. From what I know of the man, he appears to value life and only kills when necessary. Of course, that is only speculation on my part. He may have only recently become aware of your lineage.”
Abigail nodded in thought but before she could speak again, Anatoly motioned for silence. Everyone stood as one at the sound of several sets of heavy boots coming up the stairs. Anatoly motioned for them to grab their gear. It sounded like half a dozen men were gathering outside their door.
Everyone in the room jumped when a heavy hammer smashed into the door. The frame cracked and the wood around the bolt gave way, sending splinters flying into the room, but the bar across the door held.
Anatoly took up his war axe, Abigail nocked an arrow, and Lucky went to the window to see if they could get out that way.
Alexander acted without hesitation. He stood, swept his chair aside with one hand and drew his long sword with the other. Before the heavy hammer could crash into the door again, Alexander took a long step and drove his sword through a newly formed crack in the door. A man screamed. Alexander hoped it was the man with the hammer but it wasn’t. When he drew his sword back, the hammer fell again. This time it struck higher, at the level of the bar.
The door held, but only just. Alexander knew it wouldn’t withstand another blow like that. They were about to be in a pitched battle with a superior force and he felt surprisingly calm, almost like he was watching the scene unfold on a stage.
Anatoly tipped the long table up to provide some cover. Alexander found himself between it and the quickly failing door, so he vaulted over it just before the door burst from the force of another hammer blow. The bar shattered and the broken door swung wide and slammed into the wall, revealing a cluster of armed and armored men in the hall poised to rush the room.
The first man through the door fell back with an arrow sticking out of his breastplate. Abigail stood, feet planted, face set in stone as she drew a second arrow from her quiver.
“Grab the table and push!” Anatoly commanded.
Alexander and Jack took hold of the table and helped Anatoly use it like a cross between a battering ram and a shield wall to drive the next man back and block the door at the same time. Another arrow whizzed past them and buried itself in the shoulder of another enemy.
Lucky came up behind them just as they heard a whoosh followed by the shattering of glass. A wave of heat and the bright orange glow of fire rose up behind them. The wall facing out onto the street was ablaze.
“Rangle is hurling fire at the windows to make sure we can’t get out that way,” Lucky reported.
They were trapped.
Abigail loosed another arrow but it glanced off a shield.
Jack Colton was surprisingly calm in the midst of the sudden violence. He was squatted down low, lending his weight to the table to keep it in place blocking the door. “I don’t suppose there’s another way out of here?” he asked no one in particular in the most nonchalant sort of way, almost like he was asking if someone could please pass the butter.
Lucky actually chuckled, “I believe I might be able to help with that. Anatoly, where’s your rope?”
The big man-at-arms motioned toward his pack on the couch, then took a swipe with his axe at an arm that had the poor judgment to come over the table.
The heavy hammer slammed into the table and drove it back about a foot, just enough for a man to slip between the table and the wall only to be pinned there as the three pushed back. Another hit with the hammer and he’d be in the room. The enemy had a couple of heavy shields held high to protect against Abigail and her bow. She stood, arrow nocked, waiting for a clear shot.
Alexander called out, “Lucky, whatever you’re doing, do it faster.”
Lucky came out of his room with a clay fire pot in hand.
Anatoly looked twice at his old friend. “You sure about this?”
Lucky shrugged, “Desperate times and all. Quickly, all of you get into my room.” Abigail scooped up her pack and went without a word. The three holding the table released their pressure just as the hammer struck again driving the table back several feet.
Anatoly spun. He knew the man pinned between the table and the wall would be free the moment the pressure was off. When the enemy slipped into the room, Anatoly used the momentum of his spin to bury his axe blade in the man’s chest, cutting him nearly in half at the torso. Blood flowed freely.
Alexander and Jack were moving toward Lucky’s room, followed by Anatoly as Lucky tossed his clay fire pot through the doorway. It broke against the shields and splashed liquid fire into the hallway. Smoke began to flow along the ceiling, both from the now burning curtains covering the windows and from the new conflagration in the hall caused by Lucky and his well-placed fire pot. The screams of burning men could be heard over the growing roar of the fire.
Inside Lucky’s room, they were met with a three-foot hole in the floor, burned around the edges as if by some type of potent acid. Anatoly’s rope was secured to the bed and trailed down the hole. Abigail was already in the room below, which was thankfully unoccupied.
She called out quietly, “Come on,” and motioned for them to follow.
Lucky went next, followed by Jack, then Alexander, and finally Anatoly. They could hear shrieks of pain coming from the hallway above as they slid down the rope. The fire was growing and the other guests were in a panic to get out of the building. As guests fled, more soldiers raced up the stairs to reinforce the Reishi Protectorate in the hall above, leaving a clear route to the kitchen where they could flee out the back door.
Anatoly cracked the door just enough to see down the hall. “It’s clear this way.”
Alexander took a look out the window. Wizard Rangle stood across the street, looking up. He was flanked by a dozen men with crossbows. Fortunately, they were all looking at the second floor. “We have to move fast. Anatoly, lead the way to the kitchen and out to the stables. We have to get out of here before they realize we’re not still in our room.”
Anatoly considered for a moment. “Agreed, but they’ll have men waiting for us at the stables, probably with crossbows. Jack, do you know of another way out?”
“I’m afraid not,” Jack answered. “There’s a way into the Southport underground a few buildings down but that can’t help us unless we can get there.” Just then they heard the bells of the fire brigade. “Perhaps the authorities will provide us with the distraction we need.”
Alexander had his bow out with an arrow nocked. “I’d rather face whatever’s out back than that wizard and his crossbowmen. I say we go out the back way and hope we can make it to the stables in one piece.”
Anatoly nodded, slung his war axe, and drew a throwing knife in each hand. “Hit them before they hit you and move fast.” He checked the hall again, stuck his head out, then back in quickly. “There’s one at the end of the hall guarding the door to the kitchen.”
Alexander took a deep breath. He’d never killed a man before, unless you count the guy he just stuck with his sword through the door, but he didn’t even know if that guy was dead. “Open the door for me,” he said as he put tension on his bowstring.
Anatoly nodded, positioned himself and looked to Alexander for the go. It happened very quickly. Anatoly swung the door wide, Alexander glided into the hallway, drawing his bow as he moved. The enemy saw him and pulled his crossbow up to take aim. Alexander was faster. The soldier took the arrow straight in the chest and staggered back with a look of confusion and disbelief. He looked Alexander straight in the eye for just a moment before slumping to the floor.
“Move!” Anatoly commanded as he turned the young Lord of Valentine Manor away from the first man he had ever killed and toward their escape route.
Alexander obeyed, even drew another arrow, but all he could see in his mind’s eye was the shock and surprise of the man he’d just killed. He felt like he might throw up.
Then he heard the shout of a guard from the staircase above. “They’re downstairs!”
Alexander’s heart skipped a beat when he heard the sound of heavy boots running in the hall above. The shock of killing a man slipped into the background of his mind, and the need to survive shouldered its way into his consciousness, demanding his full attention.
They made it to the kitchen, which was now deserted because of the fire. The door leading outside behind the inn was standing open. There was only an alley between the inn and the stables, and the side door to the stables stood open.
Anatoly stopped and crouched at the door to poke his head out. He yanked it back quickly. Crossbow bolts whizzed past and glanced off the side of the building from both directions. There were men at either end of the alley and probably in the stables. They were trapped again and more men were coming from behind. They only had moments before they’d be in a pitched battle in tight quarters.
“Over here … it leads down to the cellar.” Jack had found a trap door in the floor of the kitchen. The stairway leading down was steep but sturdy. The air in the cellar was rank and musty.
“What if it’s a dead end?” Anatoly said as he unslung his war axe. “I’d rather face ’em where I have room to work.”
“We might be able to get into the underground from down there. I know for sure there are passages that run down the street out front. Besides, we won’t do well against all those crossbows.” Jack made his case while he took a kitchen rag, wrapped it around a long wooden spoon, and lit it on fire from the stove.
Anatoly still looked skeptical.
Alexander made up his mind for him. “I’d rather not be caught in a crossfire. At least they have to come down the stairs before they can get a clear shot off, and we can shoot at them from the dark.”
The cellar was dank and musty but well stocked. The shelves were lined with tightly sealed jars filled with all manner of vegetables and preserves. A few jars contained chickens. Boxes and crates were stacked all around the low-ceilinged room. But there was no door out.
Anatoly was the last one down. “You picked a fine spot for a last stand,
Colton,” he growled as he pulled the trapdoor closed, then worked a leather strap free from his pack to tie the hatch closed.
Alexander enlisted the assistance of Lucky and Abigail in stacking a few of the heavier crates for cover.
Jack was busy examining the walls, for what, Alexander didn’t know, but didn’t take the time to ask. The room above filled with the sound of heavy boots and the shouts of at least a dozen men as the enemy burst in from both entrances. They sounded confused and angry, each group accusing the other of letting their quarry escape.
There was a moment of quiet before the men of the Protectorate began to search for another way out of the kitchen. Alexander knew it wouldn’t be long before they found it.
“Here! Anatoly, bring your axe.” It seemed that Jack had found what he was looking for. “This wall is all that separates us from the Southport sewers. Can you knock this wall down right here?” Jack pointed at a spot in the wall.
Anatoly gave the bard a grim look, spun his war axe around to bring the long spike on the back of the gruesome-looking weapon to bear. With a mighty swing, he shattered a single brick, leaving a small hole in the wall. Cool, foul-smelling air flowed in from the sewers beyond. He gave Jack a quick smile and picked a brick several rows down for his second strike. As the brick shattered, the men above found the trapdoor and tried to open it. Anatoly’s leather strap held.
He swung at the wall again and another brick shattered into dust. He was picking his targets carefully to weaken the wall enough so that he could push a large section through all at once.
Alexander and Abigail stood behind the hasty barricade of crates, looking from Anatoly to the trapdoor, wondering who would break through first. Alexander had an iron grip on his fear. He knew without doubt that there were powerful forces hunting him, trying to kill him for an accident of birth. He also knew they would kill his sister as well. He thought of Darius and deliberately changed the pang of grief he felt into anger. There would be time for mourning later, but he had to live through the day first.