Maiden By Decree (Part 23)
Maiden by Decree Chapter 23
The Walls Come Tumbling Down
Or: Should I stay or should I Go?
Deirdre watched Mina and Riddler move to commit what quiet mayhem they could manage while trying to ignore the muttering Anthalas was doing to enable the spell in support of Riddler’s mission to wet all the powder for the cannon on the walls of Leslie Castle to happen without the thief returning for refills on the water bag he carried.
Taking advantage of the numerous shadows offered by the ramparts in the evening sun, Mina moved carefully from one gun emplacement to another, leaving the spikes originally meant to keep doors open or give convenient hand and footholds for climbing walls in the mouths of the cannon Roric had managed to acquire.
Not happy about simply sitting there while her friends were taking action, Deirdre started scanning the courtyard and surroundings for something she could do without ruining what the others were up to. Seeing something that caught her eye, she grinned. “Aha!”
Bridgette seated herself in the Lord’s chambers without waiting for permission and ignored the glower Roric gave her for the presumption. “There are an inordinate amount of merchants from Chalmnessa here right now. I ordered the guard to search them all, and take care of the ones who have more in stock than a regular merchant should have regarding weapons.
If nothing else, some of them have to be spies.” The woman continued. “I would suggest clearing the courtyard, send all them packing with whatever explanation you like. Or I could come up with one. We need them outside the walls. Inside they are a potential threat that can’t be ignored.”
“Garret may be moving.” Roric answered confidently. “But he would have at least another week before he could marshal a force capable of taking Leslie, or even threatening the castle. I wouldn’t worry about those merchants so much just now. We could better spend our time thinking about where he will attack from, not worrying about a few inconsequential merchants.”
“Garret will be here sooner than you or any of your other advisors believe.” Bridgette answered firmly. “We can’t discount the possibility that he was able to get his troops through Sentinel Pass. We need to be wary now, because if he did manage that, we could find hostile forces at our doorstep tomorrow.”
“If he was foolish enough to try that.” Roric shrugged. “The rock trolls are even now picking their teeth with his bones and those of his troops. No one gets through Sentinel Pass.”
“Complacency like that.” Bridgette snarled. “We will lose the prize we’ve worked so hard to achieve. Plus, has anyone come up with something about Garret’s bitch?” She questioned.
“Don’t worry about that little trollop.” Roric answered with a shrug. “She couldn’t have survived some of the things in the bowels of this castle. She’s dead, eaten, and is probably the droppings of some beast down there right now.”
“Can you be sure of that? Absolutely sure?” Bridgette questioned acidly. “The little bitch has confounded us at every step so far.
“Even her gods be damned luck has to run out some time.” Roric responded with gritted teeth. “Something will catch up with her and put an end to that problem.”
Deirdre appropriated a cloak that covered her to the ankles and had a hood to cover her head, though it was still wet from the laundering that had made it available to her then worked her way down from the walls into the courtyard.
“Dammit, Bridgette is gone already.” She muttered while moving towards the merchant she recognized. Once she was at his stall she pulled her hood back slightly and greeted the man by name.
“My Lady!” He answered her in horrified amazement. “It was thought that you were a prisoner here! What are you doing here!?”
“I was.” Deirdre shrugged then grinned. “But things tend to change around me, you know. And I’m sowing confusion among my enemies.”
“Indeed, M’lady.” The merchant answered carefully, knowing full well how things involving this young woman tended to go south in a hurry no matter how careful one was. “You shouldn’t show yourself like this! And what is it that you require of me?”
“These fireworks of yours.” The petite brunette answered. “Are magical, correct?”
“Yes, M’lady.” The man answered carefully.
“But they blow up like the new gunpowder, correct?”
Nudging one of the rockets the man had on display so it pointed at one of the gun emplacements, Deirdre innocently went on. “And they make fire and explosions, right?”
“Yes, M’lady. Though they are light and noise, without harming the things around them.” The merchant answered carefully watching as she carefully moved more of his rockets into different positions.
“Excellent. I’m not trying to hurt more people than necessary here. The men at arms and other soldiers are simply obeying their lord, and since Roric’s father is either indisposed, incommunicado, or otherwise gone, he is their lord. You can’t punish them for following their lawful lord, can you? So your fireworks would be perfect, I’m simply looking for a distraction when the attack comes, and come it will, I know Garret. Would you object to them aiding him in his siege of this place?” Her smile was dazzling and he found himself caught up in her charm.
“And how might I do that, M’lady?” He questioned. “Though that is one of the reasons I am here.”
“Allow your rockets to go where I’ve pointed them when the alarm of an attack is raised.” She told him just before she gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Can you do that?”
“Oh, uh, easily, M’lady.” The merchant responded a bit breathlessly while he understood what Garret saw in this young woman. “Just let that happen and what you ask will be done.”
“When it has been done.” Deirdre gave him a smile that nearly melted his bones. “Come back to Chalmnessa and you’ll have exclusive rights to fireworks during celebrations. I promise you.”
Garret gave Sestalphas a long, careful look.
“Let them know we’re here.” Garret answered. “Move the troops out of the forest and let them see us.”
“Yes, sire.” Sestalphas answered. The order passed and over ten thousand troops moved from the cover of the forest to begin setting up for battle at the skirts of castle Lindsey.
“Where did she go?!!” Riddler questioned with clear murder in his eyes. You were supposed to be watching her, mage!”
“I was making sure you didn’t run out of water, thief!” Anthalas shot back then added. “Besides, she’s your daughter. Can you keep track of her?”
“To be honest, all gods as my witness.” the thief grudgingly replied. “just thinking about trying that gives me a headache.”
“Then don’t accuse me of losing her when you can’t keep track of her.”
“Losing who?” Deirdre innocently questioned as she rejoined the group and shed the disguising cloak.
“Where were you!??” All three others would have shouted if they hadn’t been worried about attracting attention to themselves.
“Oh, is it me you lost?” The girl grinned mischievously.
“Daughter, you’re going to give me heart failure!” Riddler grabbed her by the shoulders. “What were you doing?”
“Just helping out with the siege.” She answered with a shrug.
“What siege?” Anthalas questioned.
“The one Garret is going to mount to get me back.” Deirdre answered as if the question had been idiotic in the first place.
“Sure of yourself, aren’t you?” Anthalas asked.
“He loves me.” Deirdre shrugged. “What else would you expect?”
“Deirdre.” Mina quietly put in. “You approach things as if you’d been a girl all your life and were waiting for the right man to come along.”
“Well, not all my life.” The little brunette smirked. “But I’m learning as I go.”
“I’d have never guessed.” Mina opined with a straight face though she was stifling a belly laugh.
“Is my daughter a wanton?” Riddler questioned with a chuckle.
“Only with one person.” Deirdre answered, actually appearing offended by the idea. “I wouldn’t do that with you, or Anthalas.”
“I’m devastated.” The mage responded cheerfully. “Though if you loved me, it could be a lot more devastating.”
“Should I be insulted here?” Deirdre questioned while raising an eyebrow and giving the mage a sexy little smile.
“Uh, no, M’lady.” Anthalas swallowed before he got the answer out, making sure that other parts of his anatomy weren’t betraying him. “I – Uh. I just don’t have an army to come rescue you with, dear lady.”
“Aww, that’s sweet.” Deirdre grinned and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“Aren’t you the one who wasn’t going to be a girl?” Mina questioned almost innocently. “You’re doing really well at being one, just for your information.”
“No getting out of it.” The lively young woman grinned. “I may as well have fun with what I have, right?”
“Garret is doomed.” The former assassin sighed then laughed.
“Oh, I already have Garret.” Deirdre answered with a shrug. “I just need to catch all the other males around to cement my status and the women will understand.”
“Gods.” Mina sighed. “You were a woman all along, just wouldn’t admit it.”
“Hey! I watched my sister and mother work guys through most of my life!” Deirdre shot back. “How would I NOT know how to do that if I was paying attention at all?”
“Point taken.” Mina admitted. “But you learned really, really well.”
“No masculine influence in my life, you know?” The petite beauty shot back. “What was I going to choose as a role model? Lalo, the village idiot?”
“You’d have done well at that, too.” Mina grumbled.
“I’m NOT an idiot!”
“Could have fooled me at times.” Mina quietly answered.
“Girls aren’t idiots.” Deirdre answered with a smirk. “We’re airheads, clueless, or lovable.”
“Hey!” Riddler interrupted. “Focus here! We’re in enemy territory and the bad guys are actively hunting us! So why are you discussing girl stuff right now?!!”
“You got a better idea while we wait?” Deirdre asked as both women gave the men looks that would have curdled milk at a hundred paces. “What? We should go out and actively attract attention to ourselves? Like I should just go out to the middle of the courtyard, throw off my cloak and shout. “Hey, idiots! Here I am! Come get me!”
“Might not be the best idea.” Riddler acknowledged.
“Okay.” Anthalas nodded then looked at Deirdre. “But what did you accomplish by talking with that fireworks merchant?”
“I suggested that he could kind of aim things at specific spots.” Deirdre shrugged. “Lots of noise and lights, but no real explosions. Confusion, but no real fatalities. I hope.”
Mina just grinned. “If it works, it works. If not, we still have the fireworks.”
“But Roric will corral every merchant from Chalmnessa.” Riddler put in.
“Ahh, there’s the beauty in this.” Deirdre smiled beatifically. “Crenshaw is from Ithalca.”
“And you got him to agree to going into harm’s way?” Mina questioned.
“Well, I did make him a few offers.” Deirdre admitted.
“What KIND of offers?” Riddler had to keep himself from shouting.
“Oh, nothing compared to one I’m going to give you, dear father.”
“Why do I feel as if I should run now, and not look back?” The thief questioned.
“You’re wasting your talents as a mere thief.” His erstwhile daughter responded with a brilliant smile. “I do have plans for you, dearest Daddy. To compensate for the years I went thinking my father was dead.”
“Why do I think I should be worried?” He questioned.
“I’ll put an end to your thieving ways, daddy dear.” Deirdre smirked. “Except for dodging taxes.”
“I know I should be worried.” Riddler sighed.
“It will all be legal, too!”
“WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING?”
“You’ll find out.”
“That worries me. A lot.”
“Good.” Deirdre answered with a chuckle.
“Besides, Garret couldn’t possibly get an army here in the time since you were taken.” Anthalas put in.
“Care to wager on that, mage?” Deirdre seemed preoccupied with something in the distance as she asked that. “Say five gold Jhalms?”
“If you’re willing to throw your money away, I suppose it would teach you a lesson.” The mage nodded.
“Then you agree?” Deirdre asked with a funny little smile on her face.
“Yes, yes.” The mage nodded. “It’s a wager. He won’t be here for at least another ten days, I’m sure.”
“Pay up, then.” She smirked while pointing in the direction she had been watching. “I do believe those banners are Chalmnessa’s colors.”
After glancing that direction, then performing a double take that would have justice to an overstressed sapling returning to its upright position after being bent almost double he acccused. “You set me up for that one!”
“You could have looked before you agreed to the wager.” Deirdre chuckled then held out a small hand. “Now you don’t go back on your word do you? Pay up.”
“I don’t have any money on me.” Anthalas grumbled. “But I can get it, you devious little hellion. Later.”
“I’ll accept your IOU, then.”
“You’re a hard woman, M’lady.” Anthalas grinned in spite of his discomfiture.
“You’ll be wasted as a mere Duchess.” Riddler shook his head in admiration.
“Why, daddy, did you just compliment me?” Bright blue eyes sparkling with mischief she tilted her head fetchingly while probing a cheek with her tongue.
“Practicalities here.” Mina interrupted as the alarm bell sounded. “There are going to be soldiers swarming the walls and high points soon. It would probably be a good idea to move before that happens, don’t you think?”
“Probably so.” Deirdre agreed. “Just don’t ask me to go back down that shaft. Please.”
Roric was still arguing with Bridgette when the sonorous tolling of the alarm bell ended the conversation. “What the?”
“I believe the impossible has just happened.” The woman grimaced. “That has to be Garret, or perish the thought, the King himself.”
“If it is Garret, he’s bitten off more than he can safely chew on this time.” Roric growled as he moved towards the door. “He’ll be outlawed for breaking the King’s Pax.”
“Unless he can prove that you broke it first.” Bridgette answered almost sweetly.
“Then find his little bitch and get rid of her, permanently!” Roric ordered.
“Oh, of course, my lord.” With a curtsey and obedient enough smile she avoided his wrath by demurely exiting the chamber through one of the secret doors opening into halls leading to other parts of the castle.
Under a flag of truce, and with his personal guards in attendance, Garret approached the gates of the castle shouting. “Roric! I would have words with you!”
Roric appeared a bit shaken once he reached the wall to glare down at Garret. “You are violating the King’s Pax, cousin, by bringing your troops to my doorstep this way! Take your army home now and I won’t have you hunted down as the outlaw you’re becoming.”
“I violate nothing that hasn’t already been shredded by you, cousin!” Garret glared back. “You know why I am here. Send her out and I’ll leave you to your mistress and whatever other mischief you think you can get away with. Refuse, and I’ll take Lindsey from you.”
“I don’t have your trollop!” The nobleman answered truthfully enough. Though he did neglect to mention that the lady in question had slipped his grasp earlier and was probably somewhere within the castle.
“Then you’ve either killed or lost her.” Garret responded. “I know beyond doubt that you had her spirited away. This is your last chance, usurper. Produce her or suffer the consequences of your faithless act.”
“Kill him.” Roric ordered several archers standing nearby. When they hesitated, he turned on them with a roar. “He’s an outlaw damn you, by his own acts here! Parlay does not apply to such. Now do as I ordered.”
The bowmen nodded, drew arrows and nocked them before taking careful aim.
“You, know,” Riddler pointed out as they found a convenient niche in the wall and tried to make themselves comfortable. “A lot of unpleasantness could be avoided if you simply showed yourself on the walls and waved to Garret.”
“Oh, I’m so sure Roric would let me live long enough to do that.” Deirdre snorted. “I’m a living testament to his guilt in the kidnapping at least, and that would have people looking far more closely than I think his other affairs would bear. He wouldn’t, couldn’t allow that. I’d be dead the moment I showed myself.”
“Your faith, or lack of it, in human nature is nearly as disturbing as your cynicism in one so young.” Riddler rolled his eyes, but nodded in agreement. “Unfortunately, I think you’re right.”
“I know I am, Daddy.” Deirdre sighed as she rested a delicate hand on his cheek affectionately. “I’m also sure that if Roric isn’t taken down now, he will be a much worse source of grief for the kingdom in the future. His ambition has no restraint, and acknowledges no limits. That man desires to be King, and won’t give up that ambition until he gains it or someone stops him.”
“And you think you’re the one to stop him?” Anthalas questioned softly.
“Oh, no.” Deirdre shook her head while smiling beatifically over the wall. “That is someone else’s job. I’m simply the catalyst to see that it’s done.
“Bridgette, on the other hand…” she thoughtfully nodded as the woman appeared in the courtyard chivvying a group of soldiers into rounding up all the merchants from Chalmnessa and sending others off on other missions.
“She’s yours, daughter.” Riddler assured her.
“I have a few things to discuss with her.” The young woman grinned nastily while stroking the mace the others insisted she use instead of the goblin claw she still carried.
“Sweetie,” Mina quietly entered the conversation. “you do know that you’re one very scary person at times don’t you?”
“Oh yeeesss.” Deirdre nodded with an altogether too pleasant little smile given what she was contemplating. “I fully intend to discuss a few things in depth with that bitch.”
“Why am I glad we’re on her side?” Anthalas whispered to Riddler.
“Oh, it’s probably that human instinct for self preservation.” The thief chuckled. “Those who oppose her tend to suffer in one way or another.”
“You’re right. She’ll be wasted as a mere Duchess.” The mage let out a sigh of near wonder and shook his head.
“Just don’t forget to pay on that bet you lost to her.”
“You got five Jhalms I can borrow?”
“Not at the moment, but given the situation, I’m sure I can rescue your honor within a few hours.” The thief laughed and clapped the mage on the shoulder.
“I believe this parlay is finished.” Garret wheeled his horse after seeing three arrows bury themselves in the earth mere inches from him and led his guards away from the walls at a gallop.
The flag of truce, lashed to a spear, was buried point down at Lindsey’s gates.
“How could you have missed at that range?!” Roric raged, batting the unfortunate archers aside and taking one of their bows. “I’ll show you how it should be done!”
Watching the tableau on the wall over the gate, Anthalas muttered something that sounded like, “Oh no you don’t you faithless, forsworn bastard.”
He then started gesturing with his hands and almost singing in a language that none but him understood. Drawing in a careful breath, he pointed a finger at Roric and said one more word. The bowstring parted at the longest reach of the man’s draw, and viciously lashed at his face.
“Nicely done, my friend.” Riddler patted the mage on the shoulder. “That should have our unpleasant host in a rage that will cloud his thoughts for a few minutes at least. Long enough for Garret to reach his lines safely, at any rate.”
“Consider your gambling debt paid in full.” Deirdre gave the mage a hug. “Thank you!”
“Garret’s buglers are sounding the call to arms.” Riddler noted almost idly. “The siege engines are moving up now.”
“Then we need to get ready ourselves.” Dierdre replied then started snapping out orders with a tone and force that implied she had far more experience at command than she really did. “Mina, Anthalas, once things really start use the confusion to free the merchants who have been locked up. Find some way to arm them and head for the gates, get them open any way you can. Riddler, you’re with me. We have some hunting to do, father.”
“Indeed we do, daughter.” The thief nodded grimly while noticing without comment that the petite, if somewhat bloodthirsty beauty he had just recently discovered to be his own flesh and blood pull out her goblin claw. “Indeed we do.”
“What do you mean the cannon are useless?” Roric questioned the white faced gunnery captain in front of him.
“The guns have been spiked, my Lord.” The man answered quietly, we have removed most of them, but the powder is wet as well. Wet powder won’t take fire, so our guns would be worth more as something to drop on the enemy’s heads just now.”
“Deirdre, you bitch!” Roric roared out. “Once I’ve taken care of your lover, I’ll find you and make you curse your own mother for giving birth to you!”
“Do you think our little tricks made him angry?” Mina questioned with a little smirk.
“I would say so.” Deirdre nodded judiciously then chuckled. “Now the real fun starts.”
As the first stones from the catapults thudded into the walls and booms of a few cannon were accompanied by shattered masonry, the walkways on the walls, especially around the gate parapets were engulfed in a thundering, blinding display of fireworks.
“Ahh, I do love a good fireworks show.” Deirdre grinned as she motioned her compatriots into motion.
“I do believe that fiery, prancing pony is dancing on Roric’s head.” Riddler observed.