Tuesday, November 02, 2004


Day 41

Well, "a nice rest" is what I'd hoped for, but when Memree and I came down for our breakfast, the place was in uproar. Well, there was the ostler, the cook, one maid, Tayne, his wife Sharna, and their young son Taddeon, but six people can get pretty upset, and these people were certainly all over the place. Taddeon, Tid, was bruised and having a cut to his hand treated; his jerkin was spattered with mud and a little blood, and his knee scraped. I assumed that this was the cause of the commotion, but no - he and Anjela, the lovely 18-year-old daughter of the house, had been out shopping early at the market, and on the way home they'd been attacked, and Anjela had been abducted.

"It has to be slavers", Tayne yelled at me, before managing to moderate his voice. I'll swear that he was actually trying to pull out lumps of his hair, he was so distressed and angry. "There were reports of a gang nearby, but not actually in the town itself - where were the guardsmen? I'll kill them, kill them all!" He probably meant the slavers rather than the guardsmen, but I wouldn't guarantee it.

"It has to be a quick snatch operation, a few hours and they'll be away", I said, loudly and firmly enough to be heard. "So we haven't got much time. We must get out there, and search!"

"They'll still be at their filthy work", Memree put in. "Where would they be most likely to go, in search of unaccompanied young women?"

"Anywhere on a route to or from the markets", Sharna said quickly. "But by the time people get organised, it will be too late, they'll have gone..."

I looked at Memree. "I'm getting changed into my fighting gear - and Memree is going to put on something cute and figure-hugging, yes?"

She nodded. "I'll be scout and, if necessary, bait - but you keep close behind, don't lose my track!"

Taddeon stood up, his knee bandaged now. "They'll have been checking the town for days, and know their way around - Sera Charol, you need me as your guide, I know all the back ways and shortcuts!"

Tayne and Sharna exchanged glances, a mixture of worry and pride. "Agreed", Tayne said gruffly.

So, a few minutes later Memree, in a very short, figure-hugging dress Sharna had provided from the daughter's wardrobe, was casually walking through the early morning sunshine, basket in hand, heading for the market - and Tid and I were following, well back, Tid with a long dagger in his belt, and me with my sword strapped on, and a big hunting crossbow of Tayne's, ready-cocked.

It could have taken hours, or not worked at all, but as Tid and I reached a corner and peered around, I could see Memree speaking to an old woman in a shadowy corner. And then the "old woman" threw aside her tattered cloak, to reveal a rather shapely young woman, with a heart-shaped cut-out in the front of her tunic, and curly black hair. Memree stepped back, dropping the empty basket she'd been carrying... and from an archway at least three men pounced.

"They've got your friend!" Tid was excited, anxious, and eager to charge to the rescue. "It's working!"

I held on to his arm. "So far it's working - but we need to get your sister, and anyone else they've caught, last night or this morning, so we must follow." Memree was being dragged away, back into the archway. "Where does that lead, Tid...?"

He thought for a moment. "An overgrown old alley - a back route to old grain-stores, warehouses, that sort of thing."

"Is there another way we can take?"

He shook his head. "Only to the front of the warehouses - there are too many places they could be using, we need to see where they go."

So we hurried forward, keeping to the edge of the road, and quietly went through the archway, just in time to see the group turn a corner ahead. We ran after them, favouring quietness over speed - I gestured for Tid to look round the next corner. He craned round, and gestured for me to stay back, then ducked back himself. "They went into an old basement, there's a wagon outside - and two guards."

They'd see us coming, and raise the alarm. Not good. "Hmm... with your father's crossbow, I can take down one of them, preferably from a little closer than this." I looked seriously at the youngster. He was brave, and sensible, and Sergeant Tayne's son. "If you go and talk to them, distract them, I'll shoot one of them, then you kick the other, bite him, anything to keep him too busy to yell until I can get there." It would be quicker to run in than reload and rewind the bow.

Tid took a deep breath. "That sounds the best idea", he agreed. "Wish me luck!"

And with that he was off, walking jauntily down the road, a little boy without a care in the world. I waited until I heard voices, and edged round the corner, crossbow ready. Tid had their attention, so I moved a little closer, aimed, and fired - the bolt ran true, it took one guard in the chest, piercing his heart, as I ran forward, dropping the bow and ready to draw my sword. Tid was hugging the other man, nearly over-balancing him, I don't think he knew why his friend had fallen backwards. He didn't manage to draw his sword before I reached him, so I just punched him clean on the jaw, he fell, dazed... and we began to tie him up, stuffed his own dirty kerchief in his mouth and put rope over it.

"Great work, Tid", I said, still panting slightly. "If he'd drawn his sword, I'd have killed him, so you saved a life."

He crouched down - almost entirely overgrown, there was a barred, soot-stained old window at ground level. He cautiously cleaned a small spot with his finger, and put an eye to it. "I see your friend Memree, and Anjela, yes! And three other girls they've captured. Two men, that woman we saw and another woman." He got up again. "Is that man you shot dead...?"

"Dead as mutton, Tid", I told him. "You stay here with the live one, once we've finished trussing him up - and if he gives you any trouble, slit his greasy throat!"

"Are you going down?" He nodded towards the steps to the basement door.

"Four of them - I think I'd better reclaim your father's crossbow if I'm to make a suitably impressive entrance!"

So I did, and rewound it, clicked a fresh bolt into place, and, with a smile I meant to be reassuring but which might have seemed a bit predatory, left Tid, went down the steps, took a deep breath, and knocked urgently on the door. In my best imitation of mannish tones, I shouted hoarsely "Boss! We've a small problem!"

Bolts were drawn back after a short pause, and the other woman, wearing tights and a mail shirt plus a headband over pale brown hair, looked out, saw me - and got a kick in the stomach and a punch to the side of her chin. If she wasn't still out of it when the others were down, I'd have a problem, but I wanted some survivors from this bunch. I burst in, raised the crossbow, fired, and one of the men went down, the bolt in his thigh. I dropped the bow again. The other man ran forward, his sword raised high - easy to see he'd never been in an army, Sergeant Tayne would have had harsh words for anyone under his command who'd tried to fight like that. I ducked, stabbed, and gutted him, putting a permanent look of stupid surprise on his face.

"It's just you and me now, Slaver", I said, holding my sword at the ready.

The woman smiled, and raised her sword. She was rather pretty, and no older than me, not my idea of the leader of a slaver gang. "Oh, do call me Griffin, my dear - and what size slave-collar do you take...?"

I do the jokes. "Well actually, I was hoping to measure you for one - if you'd care to surrender, Griffy?"

She came forward, and our blades clashed. She was a pretty good swordswoman - I can't really inject much suspense here as I'm alive and writing this, but it was a good fight, quite even to begin with. I taunted her about the little velvet costume she'd be wearing soon as a pot-girl. "The material's expensive, but we won't be needing much, will we?" Griffin fought hard, but I think she soon knew that I was a better fighter, and she probably expected me to have some back-up people coming, as well. She tried a desperate kick to my groin, I dodged, she fell - and found my sword inches from her throat. "Now - death or slavery, it's your choice, Sera."

"Cleve - protect me!" she said, and I knew she meant the other woman, the one I'd left dazed at the door. I couldn't turn to look.

"You couldn't move fast enough, Cleve -- she'd be dead before you reached me." I tried to give the impression of someone who had eyes in the back of their head, and gazed into Griffin's eyes. "If I have to fight her, then I have to kill you first, Griffin!"

Griffin stared at me for a moment, and then lowered her gaze, defeated. "Cleve...no, I surrender, do nothing."

"Are you accepting a collar, Sera?"

"I... Hells, it's got to be better than a slit throat," Griffin said, rather bravely. "Yes, I submit to you, Sera."

So, that was the end of the adventure, really. All the girls had been tied or chained up and gagged, but Cleve silently handed me a bunch of keys, with one held high, pointing at Memree - I unlocked her, and she set about freeing the others. Cleve knelt down, and held her sword out to me, hilt first...

"Cleve is mute", Memree told me. "I think she was imbonded to Griffin, so if Griffin becomes a slave, Cleve is free - and in need of a new employer."

"Mine by right, in fact, as I defeated her mistress", I commented, and turned to Cleve. "I don't have a need for a fighter to obey me, Cleve - but you are welcome to travel with us for a while, if you wish."

Anyway, I'll tie up the loose ends in tomorrow's report. Let's leave it here with Tid and Anjela hurrying off home to fetch Tayne and a few others, while Memree and I are freeing the victims of the slaver gang, and getting the remaining slavers into the newly-available fetters.

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