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Escort Duty – Part 25

In the hallway outside, the two servants listened to the noise and exchanged a knowing look.

“He’s found one with some fight in her, hasn’t he?”

“Remember that one from Pesht with the dark hair last fall? The duke spent three days in bed once he was finished with her.”

“Too bad about the woman, though. She’s the prettiest one yet. Hopefully, he’s more gentle this time.”

The pair stood next to the door and listened to the moans, shouts, and rumbles coming from the hall.

~~~

Simon eased his way along the wall. He could hear people talking in what seemed to be a summer kitchen on the far side of the tower as he crept closer to the tall building. The smell of roasting meat overpowered every other scent, but his ears did not pick up the sound of soldier’s boots on the courtyard’s flagstones. When he reached a door at the tower’s base, he silently pulled Gnarlthing from its scabbard and eased the door open a few inches.

Looking through the crack, he saw a hallway lit by torches. Two men wearing silver and black livery stood next to another door. The sound of a man bellowing and furniture moving across the floor came from beyond the door, and the two men chuckled and talked in a low whisper.

Simon slipped through into the hall and approached the pair. Their attention was on what was going on in the banquet hall, and the soft footfalls of Simon’s boots were lost in the ruckus. Simon brought Gnarlthing up, its blade gleaming in the torchlight, and brought its pommel down on back of the larger one’s head. The servant stumbled forward, bumping his head on the heavy wooden door, then dropped as Simon bludgeoned him again.

The second servant opened his mouth to shout. Simon flicked his arm down and rested his blade against the side of the youth’s neck. The servant closed his mouth immediately.

“Where is Princess Erika?” Simon hissed, “Speak!”

The boy, wisps of hair on his chin quivering in the torchlight, pointed to the door behind Simon and stammered, “In there!”

~~~

Erika kicked out at Kyrali’s knee and missed. Her heel impacted on his shin, drawing a howl of pain from him as he stomped down onto her ankle. Erika cried out and scooted away from the larger man. Kyrali heaved himself up onto the table and reached down at her. His fingers entwined in her hair, and he yanked her out from under the table. Erika twisted to get free, but the duke wrenched her around, tightening his grip.

“Bitch!” he growled, “You’ll pay for that!” He lunged forward to slap her again.

Erika let her legs go out from under her, her weight pulling the duke off balance. He fell to the floor beside her, his breath coming out in a whoof as he landed. She leaped onto his chest and struck at his face with her fists. The duke pulled back on her hair again, then struck her on the side of the head.

The princess recoiled from the blow, falling hard on the stone floor next to the duke. For a moment, both lay there, stunned and breathing hard.

Kyrali heaved himself up and used the table to regain his feet. Looking down at Erika, he kicked her in the ribs with his uninjured leg. The blow rolled Erika onto her side, her arms flailing away from the duke.

He reached behind his back and tugged at the knife. His eyes rolled into his head for a moment as he did, and his knees buckled. Catching himself on the edge of the table, the duke kept himself from swooning from the pain.

“We’ll just see how much fight you have left in you after a few months in the cellar,” he wheezed, turning toward the door, “You’ll beg me to put you up in that nice, dry tower.”

As Erika returned to her senses, she felt something cold and hard under her hand. She wrapped her fingers around it and wobbled to her feet.

~~~

Simon looked around the hall, but saw nowhere to stash the two servants. For a moment, he considered slitting the young man’s throat and moving on, but thought better of it.

“Kneel,” he hissed, his eyes ablaze in the torchlight. The young servant gulped hard, but obeyed.

Simon pointed to the prostrate form of the other servant.

“Take his belt off and wrap it around your wrists,” he ordered.

With shaking hands, the servant reached over and pulled the leather strap from around his friend. He wrapped it loosely around his wrists. Simon took a hand from his sword’s hilt and pulled the belt tight.

Cinching it down, he said, “Now, don’t make a sound, or I’ll come back and finish the job.”

“But the duke…” the servant replied, flinching as the leather strap bit into his wrists.

“Sounds like he has his hands full,” Simon said, lifting his blade from the young man’s neck.

Just then, the door swung open, striking the half-elf in the back and shoving him forward. His blade skimmed along the servant’s cheek, laying it open before falling from his grip. Simon stumbled to his knees, then twisted toward the new threat.

Duke Kyrali stood in the doorway, his fists raised. He roared incoherently at Simon and pounced upon him. Simon was quick, but Kyrali was upon him before he could bring his sword around or dodge out of the way. The big man clubbed the half-elf with his fist, sending him to the floor in a heap.

Kyrali snatched up Gnarlthing from where it had clattered to the floor and swung it up to stab at Simon. He stopped, though, as he raised the sword, a look of shock on his face. Then, with a gasp, the duke slumped, face first, to the floor. He lay there, his breath coming in short, gurgling gasps.

Simon looked at him in shock, then saw the carving knife sticking out of his ribs. As the half-elf watched, a pink foam came from his mouth and dripped to the stones. The duke took another shuddering breath, then stilled. His lifeless eyes stared at Simon in disbelief.

Erika stood over him, her hair tangled and her dress ripped and smeared with blood. Her lower lip was swollen, and the skin under one of her eyes was already beginning to bruise.

The young servant took all of this in, opening his mouth to scream, both from the pain of the wound on his cheek and at the sight of his dead master sprawled on the floor.

Erika pointed to him, snarling, “If you make a sound, I will cut your throat and send your liver to your mother!” Her teeth gleamed sharp and white in the torchlight as she spoke.

The servant closed his mouth.

~~~

Hollo squatted in the bracken, looking down the chalk bluff at the city below. His purse was much lighter than it had been before he had entered Booda, but he had been able to get through the gate and across the bridge without anyone raising an alarm. Now, he gnawed on a crust of bread while he waited for Simon.

Where is he? Hollo thought as he looked at the dimly-lit road which led up from the river, We’ll need to get far away before sunrise.

He waited some more, each minute making him more impatient. Finally, he heard footsteps on the cobblestones.

He pursed his lips and whistled in a low tone. After a moment, a whistle from down the hill responded.

Hollo stood and stepped out onto the road. In the dim moonlight, he saw Simon and Erika walking up the road. Hollo’s smile at seeing his friend melted when he saw that the princess’ dress was stained with blood as Simon helped her hobble up the steep incline.

Erika saw his concern and said quietly, “It’s not mine,” before following Simon off the road and toward the tree where Hollo had tied their horses.

Simon collapsed next to the tree, his hand on his bruised ribs.

“You didn’t happen to steal a skin of wine, did you?” he asked bleakly.

“Nope, but we’ve enough money left to buy some if we can get into those hills without getting caught. My cousin has an inn on one of the side roads.”

“Thanks be to the gods,” Erika said, holding up the gold chain around her neck, “I hope this will be enough to buy me some decent clothes, too.”

“How did you get across the river?”

“A woman saw a phantom drenched in blood looking through her window. Her screams drew the guards away from the bridge,” Simon replied.

Hollo mounted his pony, and his companions followed suit.

“If we get moving, we can be there by mid-day.” he said, “How far back is the pursuit?”

“Well, unless someone discovers the duke’s body or his servants know how to get out of my knots, we’ve probably got a few hours before they even know to come looking for us,” Simon replied.

“Apparently, it’s not unusual for his lordship to spend the night…. entertaining his lady guests in that hall. The servants know to not disturb him. Those two will lay there, trussed up like Yuletide gooses all night, and I doubt their master will stir to raise the alarm,” Erika said through her fat lip.

The three rode away from Booda in silence. The only sound that split the gloom was that of their horse’s steps across the field of soft bracken and fern as they left the road behind them. Soon, the lights of Booda’s watch fires faded from view as they crested the hills above the city. They rode through the night, putting more distance between them and anyone who tried to track them.

As they rode into the foothills of the mountains, the eastern horizon turned a rich pink and gold. Erika turned to look at it, then looked around at the ground around them.

“I’m starving,” she said to Simon, “Do you think you could find us a couple of squonks for breakfast?”


I hope you’ve enjoyed Escort Duty.  There will be more stories of Simon and his adventures in time.

Other episodes can be found here.  The entire anthology can be purchased at Amazon.

1 Comment

  1. OldNFO

     /  June 18, 2018

    Well done, sir. WELL DONE!

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