Maiden By Decree (Part 21)
Maiden by Decree
Or: Have Fun Storming the Castle
“Doesn’t this thing ever give up?” Deirdre grumped as the monster threw itself at the door for the third time.
“It has a brain about the size of a walnut.” Anthalas pointed out while strengthening the blocking spells he had on the doorway. “It isn’t smart enough to figure out that lunch isn’t all that anxious to be accommodating.”
“Oh.” She answered then charged forward to claw at the thing’s already shredded snout with her weapon. “I AM NOT LUNCH OR DESERT! GO AWAY!”
“Next time she hits it, I’m almost sure she’s going to shout ‘bad doggie’ or something equally idiotic.” Anthalas sighed.
Sestalphas watched the ‘tradesmen and farmers’ trickling out of the force’s main body, reaching the road leading to Arundel, then gradually dwindling into the distance. “Do you think we’re sending too many in too fast, my lord?”
“It’s not unusual for this area at all. Tradesmen, Farmers, Merchants, all come and go constantly. Lindsay’s climate is cooler than Chalmnessa’s so they depend on trade to obtain foodstuffs with a growing season that is too long for their own.” Garret answered then pointed to the stream of carts and figures burdened with heavy packs along the road. “The few score men we’ve sent will simply blend into the crowd.”
“So when do we move?”
“Give our infiltrators another day or two then we do it.” The knight said, obviously impatient to get on with the thing, but knowing it wasn’t time yet.”
“With what I personally know of your lady, and the things I’ve heard.” Sestalphas gently, but encouragingly answered. “I’m sure she’s giving Roric and whoever else is around fits that would please even the most demanding god of mischief.”
“I would imagine so.” Garret answered, but slammed a fist on the pommel of his saddle. “Damn Roric! He’s going to PAY for this! I swear it to every god listening!”
“He will, my lord.” Sestalphas answered. “He will.”
The news from Chalmnessa and Lindsay is more than a bit disturbing, your majesties.” Vertigan told Cedric and Evaine. “Troops on maneuver in northern Chalmnessa have dropped completely out of sight. And unrest in Lindsay has gotten to the point where peasants and tradesmen are actually lynching their duke’s representatives.”
“So I’ve heard, from other sources.” Cedric told his spymaster. “That isn’t news. Have you heard anything of what has become of Luc?”
“The Baron of Lindsay is still incommunicado and reported as terribly ill.” Vertigan answered. “Rumor has it that he is already dead, but Roric has chosen not to let that be known for some reason.”
“Or a prisoner in his own home.” Cedric nodded. “I think it’s a good possibility that those missing troops from Chalmnessa may just solve this for us if we simply allow things to play out without interference.”
“It has been intimated that Garret’s intended’s disappearance was orchestrated by Roric, as well, your majesties.” Vertigen added.
“Wars between nations have started over less.” Cedric answered slowly. “I think we should continue watching, but let things play out as they will for now.”
“I agree.” Evaine answered simply. “I believe we should let Garret recover his lady without interference from the crown.”
“As your majesties wish.” Vertigan bowed, pleased with the decision they had reached.
“Don’t gloat, Vertigan.” Evaine chuckled. “We would have reached this decision with or without your prompting.”
“Of that, I’m quite certain, my Queen.” Vertigan allowed himself to smile.
“Now, go find more trouble to get yourself and your agents into.” Cedric chuckled.
“I’m sure I can manage that, sire.” Vertigan responded with a grin.
Eel was ready to move. The creature, whatever it was had run into some kind of resistance that was not only balking it, but painful from what he was hearing. Carefully taking a vial out of his pack, he dipped the points of several very sharp throwing daggers into the viscous yellow substance then used a strip of cloth to spread the stuff over the cutting edges of the blade. While being very careful not to let even a drop of the stuff touch his flesh.
Killing a dumb beast was generally far below anything he would stoop to. But in this case, the creature was keeping him from his goal. As usual, he fully intended to make sure his target had no chance to respond to his attack.
Mina carefully drew out her previously prepared stilettos, careful not to let the edges even brush her skin. The poisons on those blades were potent enough to kill an elephant and she had no intention of trying to outdo one of those animals for either stamina or poison resistance.
Her target left his safe little hole, carrying several throwing daggers very carefully. Mina correctly inferred that those blades, without hilts, were poisoned. She decided to see what the man was planning to do with them before hitting him with her own poisoned blades.
“Bad doggie!” Deirdre shouted gleefully as she hit the already shredded snout of the beast with the goblin claw.
“I KNEW she was going to say that!” Anthalas griped.
“Is she hurting it?” Riddler questioned as he took a short break from the complex locks and actually laughed.
“It looks like it.” Anthalas answered.
“Then let her holler whatever she likes.” The thief shot back.
Eel moved into the opening of the large chamber and saw the beast trying to savage a closed door. It was quite evident that something besides the door was blocking its entrance, and it jerked back with another roar that didn’t quite cover a feminine shout that sounded suspiciously like it had said ‘Bad doggie!’
Eel couldn’t resist a little smile at that and shook his head. It was pity he had to kill this girl. She was something more than a little special, and always entertaining to be around for one reason or another. Disregarding that wayward thought, he gave some consideration to where to hit the still rampaging beast for best effect. Once that obstacle was taken care of, it would be a matter of simply waiting for the girl to show even just her head through the doorway and his mission would be finished.
“What do I do to kill this thing?!” Dierdre panted after fighting off another sally by the beast. Nasty green goo and gobbets of monster flesh were clinging to the claw and she not only appeared frustrated, but tired. “And can’t you cast a spell to kill the thing?”
“Not while I’m holding what’s left of the door in place and warding the holes in it.” Anthalas panted back, appearing as tired as the lady. “If I shift to an offensive spell, that might not work even if I did manage it, the thing would break through what’s left of the barrier.”
“It’s healing!” She complained as the thing, with a much less ravaged muzzle snuffled at the opening it had forced.
“It’s a troll hound.” The mage answered. “Named that because it regenerates, meaning…”
“I KNOW what that means, mage!” The dark haired little beauty screeched like a thwarted she cat on the hunt and found the energy to slash the thing’s snout open again. What I want to know is how to KILL it!”
“The right poisons, providing you could penetrate its hide.” Anthalas answered then thoughtfully added. “Fire might work, too.”
“Daddy dear!” She called back to the preoccupied thief. “Get me a torch!”
“Here you go.” Riddler answered then tossed her a rod of metal with the head wrapped in slow burning cloth steeped in oil.
“Thanks.” Deirdre looked at the torch, sighed then added. “I needed it already lit!”
“Why didn’t you say so?” Riddler questioned in irritation. “Make up your mind about which thing you want, the torch lit or me getting this grate unlocked?”
“Light it up.” She demanded, holding the torch out behind her. “If that thing gets in here, an unlocked grate won’t do us any good if we don’t have time to get into and up the shaft, now would it?”
“I hate it when a woman is right.” The thief opined, while striking flint next to the torch. “They never, ever, let you forget it.”
“Less talk, more lighting the torch.” Was all the response he got.
Eel gathered his concentration. Getting a mere throwing dagger, no matter how sharp or well thrown it was to accomplish anything, presented something of a problem against this particular beast. His first throw had bounced off its hide and the thing hadn’t even noticed it was under attack.
“Vulnerable points, need to find them.” The man thought, though he did have thoughts of letting the monster do his job for him. Pride wouldn’t permit that, though.
The beast actually reared, exposing a less armored underbelly, and Eel was quick to take advantage by throwing two of his knives in quick succession. One bounced away harmlessly but the second lodged itself between plates in the thing’s belly and showed no sign of falling out.
Mina simply watched as her old enemy first puzzled out how to hurt the monster then did so. She was impressed, but that admiration did nothing to change her intent. Sadly, his attention on the beast was too brief to allow her getting close enough to make use of her own weapons against him. Besides, if the man could help kill the beast, she thought that would be just as well. So, again, she settled into a comfortable but ready posture in the shadows and waited.
“What was that?” Elenth questioned his sergeant as horrible roars, screeches, and screams that were probably human echoed to where they stood with the rest of the squad.
“Something we probably don’t want to find.” The sergeant sighed. “But one we can’t ignore this time. Come on lads, take lances and have them at ready positions. Let’s go see what we’ve got down that way.”
The squad members, including the sergeant, took long lances from a nearby rack and sharing resigned, fearful looks, moved towards the ungodly sounds they all heard.
“Still no word on the search?” Bridgette questioned while she watched another merchant enter the small town within the castle walls. “And aren’t we getting a pretty heavy influx of traders and farmers recently?”
“No, the girl hasn’t been rounded up yet.” Roric grumbled and joined his intended at the window to watch things below. “As for the traders and farmers, they tend to arrive in cycles. Farmers get their crops in and come to sell the surplus; merchants follow with the hope to relieve them of some of that extra income.”
“Still, simple economics just doesn’t quite jibe with the numbers we’ve seen arriving the past few days.” The woman answered thoughtfully then turned to a maid attending her. “Get my cloak, and have an escort assembled for me.”
The girl curtsied and quickly moved away to do her mistress’ bidding while the pair continued watching the scene below them. Roric glanced at Bridgette with a slight sigh. “Going shopping, I take it?”
“Among other things.” She answered with a small grimace that could have been a smile. “I’ll have a few of my maids mingle with the crowd once we’ve left the castle itself and see if they can pick up some useful gossip or anything that would seem out of place down there.”
“I’ll see if I can’t light a fire under the guard, on the search. There are a lot of places to hide in that warren under the castle, but surely the girl and her companions have left some traces of their passing.”
“Do that, my love.” Bridgette nodded then gave him a kiss on the cheek while thinking that her hound would be likely to find the girl before any of those idiotic guards even got a sniff of where she was.
“Take that!” Deirdre shouted as she rammed the burning torch into the thing’s maw and just about lost it to the snapping jaws. But the beast did pull back rapidly with another yowl of pain. Catching her breath again, she noted to the others. “I think it’s slowing down.”
Several things happened at once following that statement. The beast collapsed with a loud thud, the much abused door finally fell to pieces as Anthalas’ reserves finished themselves off and his spell failed, Riddler crowed “It’s open!”, and a familiar if unwelcome male form started entering the chamber.
“Ah, m’lady.” Eel almost purred as he took in the exhausted mage and the still off balance male – probably a thief given what he’d just heard the man say then considered his prey with a predatory, admiring smile. “You’ve led me through many a twist and turn to get here, well done. Unfortunately, not quite good en--.”
Mina watched the beast shudder and collapse to the floor, with smoke and flames coming from its nostrils and partially open mouth. Good one, girl! She thought as Eel moved with the sinuous grace and speed he was known for to move past the dying or dead creature and moved into the now very open doorway.
She matched the speed and stealth of the man’s moves, and got close enough to hear him gloating at Deirdre then suddenly moving back without finishing what he had been saying.
“Not good enough?” Deirdre actually growled without sounding like an annoyed kitten and rushed forward with the goblin claw already sweeping to rip off the man’s face.
The assassin was actually taken by surprise. He hadn’t expected the girl to directly attack instead of trying to run, dodge, or hide behind one of her companions for protection. He pulled back, but not before the ugly clawed thing she was wielding sliced three painful furrows down his cheek, barely missing an eye.
“You’re going to pay for that, girl.”
Deirdre only glared at him in response, ready to launch another attack that Eel admitted would be far faster and deadlier than he or anyone else thought the girl capable of.
“You’re still going to die, you know.” He told her, watching for the slightest twitch of muscle or eye movement that would warn him of an impending attack.
“No.” Mina, having moved into position behind her target whispered. “This time you die. Once and for all.”
Before he could turn she delicately inserted both blades into his kidneys and savagely twisted them. “Like someone once told me. You should have made very sure I was dead before leaving me just lying there.”
Eel felt the blinding pain in his lower back then the heat that he recognized as poison just to add the insult to the already fatal injury. Forcing himself to not simply fall to the floor in reflex with an effort that would have done a god credit, he turned to face his unexpected assailant with a poisoned blade ready in his hand. “I may die, but I won’t go alone.”
“Well it won’t be with her.” Deirdre grated out as the goblin claw in her hand shattered his skull and splattered blood and brain matter against the wall.
“Nicely done.” Mina grinned at Deirdre then took a look at the weapon in her hand and gave an appreciative little whistle. “How did you manage to get that?”
“My back scratcher?” The girl grinned and shrugged. “Just found it while we were trying to find a way out of here.”
“Back scratcher.” Mina briefly closed her eyes then grinned again. “Do you happen to know exactly what your back scratcher is?”
“A petrified goblin claw.” Deirdre answered with a little moue that might have been the beginnings of a grin. “Anthalas and Daddy have been going kind of nuts over it since I found it.”
“I can imagine – wait a minute! Daddy?” Mina looked first to Deirdre, then at the two men in the chamber with her.
“Riddler, m’lady. Master thief and sometimes lover to Deirdre’s charming mother.” The thief moved forward smoothly and took Mina’s hand to place a soft kiss on its palm. “It seems I have the honor of being the young lady’s real father, though we just discovered the fact recently.”
“She has your chin.” Mina distractedly responded, not quite sure what to say at the moment.
“I thought you were dead!” Deirdre interrupted that confusion by hugging the one time assassin tightly.”
“Not quite.” Mina, on firmer ground with that, grinned. “I got better.”
“And you came for me!” The girl, make that woman answered with gratitude and something like love in her voice and expression.
“I’m not the only one, dear, dear lady.” Mina answered without pulling away from the hug and giving one of her own in return. “Garret has half Chalmnessa’s army on the way to rescue you.”
“He does love me!” Deirdre grinned.
“You ever doubted it?” Mina shot back.
“No.” She admitted then grinned. “But bringing an army to rescue me? That’s sooo romantic!”
“You and I need to talk about what romance really is.” Mina chuckled.
“Ummm, ladies?” Riddler interrupted. “We do have a way out of this maze that is now open and ready for use, courtesy of my poor skills.”
The mage finally managed to rise out of his cross-legged sitting position, though he still appeared exhausted. “Just give me a few minutes and I’ll be ready.”
“Oh, Mina, Anthalas.” Deirdre made the quick introduction. “Anthalas is a mage and Mina is my bodyguard, and an ex-assassin.”
“You must make things interesting for men trying to court the lady.” Anthalas told Mina as he nodded in her direction with a grin.
“I would, if the sister of the only man to successfully do that wasn’t my Liege.” Mina answered with a returned grin. “My lady’s brother is the only one who has even dared to pay court to this rather unusual young lady. No one else has even tried. I think it’s an innate sense of self preservation. M’lady Deirdre seems to – umm – attract, shall we say, interesting circumstances?”
“Point taken.” The mage actually laughed. “No longer than I’ve known her I could readily attest to that one.”
“The lady is a trouble magnet of legendary proportions.” Mina confided to the mage in a whisper.
“I heard that!”
The guard detachment stopped to gawk at the dead monster, though none of them was quite willing to walk up and make sure it was really dead, the dead man sprawled in front of the creature, and hearing voices from the door both the monster and dead man seemed to have been interested in.
“If they killed that I don’t think I want to bother them.” One of the guards said quietly.
“Neither do I.” The sergeant answered then put in. “But we have to do it, at least yell at them to surrender. If they don’t want to comply and show signs of a real fight we won’t pursue the issue more than is expected from ‘stupid’ guardsmen, all right?”
“If they show too much fight or magic we run?” One guard asked.
“Sounds good to me.” The sergeant answered. “We aren’t getting paid enough to deal with whatever they used to kill the beast or that fellow in the doorway. Half his head is gone.”
With that he shouted. “HO! You in the chamber! Come out without weapons and your hands in plain sight!”
“Figures.” Deirdre grumbled. “After all we’ve gone through already, some idiot guards stumble into where we are.”
“Be nice, Deirdre.” Mina answered. “Those guards have probably been trying to follow you since your escape, and now they find you, they think, to find a dead monster and assassin in front of the door leading to where you are. They are probably less inclined to show themselves than you are under the circumstances.”
“So what?” The midnight haired lady questioned. “Does one of us just shout ‘Go Away!’ and expect them to do that?”
“We could, you know, just a suggestion.” Riddler put in. “Get into the shaft and pull it closed behind us. After fighting those locks for so long I can tell you that the grate will lock if it’s pulled shut.”
“Sounds good to me.” Deirdre nodded after a little consideration. “Once we get in could I at least shout ‘come and get us!’ before we disappear?”
“That would work.” Riddler chuckled.
“It’s the mystery thing.” Anthalas put in.
The guards heard a shouted response. “Come in and get us!”
When they got there, no one was present to take.