Here’s chapter 10 of Betrayal’s Hands. I have to admit, this one took a lot of editing to resemble something publishable. Very passive – but it does the job of telling the story. I hope to rework it more thoroughly down the road a bit, but I promised a chapter / week and I intend to come through on that!
Leagues away, Cor slipped unnoticed over the terrain on his way to Duth Darek. By the time he reached the city again Teri and Krev were in the half-ogre’s cottage and Makan and Darleth were waiting in an empty cave for bandits that would never come.
Cor knew where to go this time. He scouted Makan’s estates, only to learn that the Baroness and her youngest daughter had left the week before for their home, the capital of Makan’s barony, Kahltop. He also learned that Makan was out hunting him and his escaped slaves still. This amused him, and gave him a moment of levity from his otherwise dark mission.
Then Cor was on his way, traveling east to Kahltop. It took him two more weeks, since he had no horse and had to play the part of a wandering mercenary. He arrived to find the town quiet. With the baron gone the residents seemed relaxed and the guards were lazy. He kept his disapproval to himself, but studied everything. Corillius felt confident that with a dozen men he could capture the castle.
He spent three days studying the manor house itself. He noted the guards, their shifts and rotations, and the comings and goings of the baroness and her daughter. The soldier within him studied with a keen eye, noting opportunities and weaknesses. The man that he was despaired at the deed he must commit. He hated himself for it, and he suspected he might never sleep a night through once his mission was complete.
He had his chance early on his fifth day. D’lariana, with a pair of guards nearby, was in the garden taking her breakfast. Cor’s subtle questions had found out that she was 11 years of age, and promised to be quite a beauty when she grew up. She’d given her mother and nannies a handful of trouble while younger, and was still known for impropriety unbefitting a noble lady. This earned many of the commoners an unusual warmth in their hearts for the cute and winsome girl.
D’lariana was chatting with one of the guards, drawing both their attention away from the innocuous flowers, stone statues, and burbling fountain. Cor slipped over the chest high mortared rock wall and slipped in behind a hedge before the guards noticed him. He crept silently along the hedge until it ran no more, then hefted up some pebbles from the ground and tossed them in a high arc to the other side of the garden.
He waited a few seconds, then slipped out from behind the hedge and lightly ran the short distance to a column, stopping abruptly and peering around it. The guards were looking, with curious expressions on their face, away from him. He slipped back a little so he was out of site and closed his eyes, breathing deeply. He was all business now, but inside of him that part that despaired beat on the bars of the cage he had put it in.
Cor burst from around the pillar, throwing a hand axe and catching the further guard in the front of his shoulder. He grunted and fell back into the wall, stumbling and going down. The closer guard turned to see his partner fall, then turned back. The hilt of Cor’s sword crashed into his face, breaking his nose and knocking him unconscious.
Cor had D’lariana then. He slung the surprised girl over his shoulder and ran back to the wall. The guard he’d hit with his axe lifted himself up and cried out, making Cor curse. He threw the girl over the wall and vaulted up himself. He landed beside her and picked her up, hearing her breathing fast and seeing a brief glimpse of her eyes wide with fear and shock.
Tucking her over his shoulder like a sack of grain, he ran from the palace and ducked through a street and into an alley he’d scouted out earlier. The girl started to scream then, her fists beating on his back futilely. He kicked in a door to a nearby building and lunged through it.
He pulled D’lariana from his shoulder, his face a mask of rage. He’d built up his walls within himself to do what needed to be done, and now was the time. He had to be quick, before the people outside told the guards where he had gone.
Cor held her with one hand and drew his Kingdom sword with his other. He looked at her and drew the sword back. He’d meant to spill her blood in the garden, but for some reason he’d brought her there instead.
She stared at him, meeting his eyes, her mouth open in realization and horror of what was to happen. A tear leaked from her eye and then she did something that he could not have possibly been prepared for. She straightened up, nodded, and closed her eyes.
The rage drained out of him. He stood there and lowered his sword. He stared at her face, marveling at the innocence and maturity impossible for an 11 year old girl.
“What are you doing? Aren’t you afraid?” Cor whispered, unable to strike.
She opened her eyes and looked at him, spearing him with their green gaze. “Yes, I’m afraid. But there’s nothing I can do about it… my father’s upset someone, no doubt, and my death is to teach him a lesson. If it makes him a better man to my mother and sister, then maybe it will be worth it.”
“Wha.. how… Bah!” Cor said, slamming his sword back in his scabbard. “I’ve been bewitched, that must be it!”
He turned and looked out the door behind him. No one was readily evident but he wasn’t so naïve to think they’d escaped. He stuck his head out and saw a dozen guards at the end of the alley talking to some people. The commoners pointed down the alley.
Cor turned back and saw that the girl, his target, had tried to escape. She ran to a shuttered window and opened it. Already only her fluttering legs were visible as she tried to pull herself through the small opening. He cursed and rushed after her, grabbing her by the back of the dress and hauling her back in. She screamed for help, causing him to cuff her on the head.
“Be silent, wench, or you’ll force me to kill you!” Cor hissed.
“You’re going to do it anyway, you pig!” She spat at him, refusing to be intimidated by him.
“No, I’m not,” Cor said, realizing it was true. “I’ll not murder a child. But you must come with me.”
“What, so you can have your way with me? I think not!”
Cor cursed again, something involving a troll having intimate relations with the Kingdom’s Queen. D’lariana blanched a little at the strong language. “I’m no rapist, now shut up and do as I say!”
Her lip trembled but she nodded. Cor saw her eyes look past him and widen. He spun about and ducked when he saw the threat. Two crossbows twanged as they released their deadly bolts. Both missed the dodging Northman, but both made wet sounds of impact, followed by a soft cry.
Cor spun again and the crossbowmen dropped their weapons. D’lariana collapsed to the ground, gasping for breath that would not come. Blood stained her expensive yellow silk dress red. She hiccupped a few times and then lay still, shuddering as death took her.
Cor couldn’t believe his eyes. She was dead! He’d promised himself that he’d do the evil deed, but he’d changed his mind. Yet the result was the same. How could she die? He turned back to the guardsmen, who saw him and were furiously cranking their crossbows back to reload. He reached them first.
Once outside the storeroom barely registered the ten guards that surrounded him. He carried his momentum and seized the initiative, attacking them without pause. They reacted slowly, and by the time they understood that death was in their midst three had fallen. The remaining didn’t last long against the raging Northman. It took Cor longer to chase down the final guard that fled than it did to butcher the others.
Cor stood up, the blood of his enemies dripping from him, and looked around. The street was empty, unheard of at such an hour. A few people were hiding and peering at him, but they offered no threat. He glared at them all, breathing hard, and then turned and ran towards the gates of the city.
He looked down at one point and realized that his sword, a Kingdom long blade, had broken in the fight. He held only a portion of it in his hand. He let it fall from fingers gone cold and did his best to melt into the crowd. The cry of alarm had gone up but he escaped out the gate before the confusion could be settled.
He spent the night far from Kahltop, staring at his hands even though he had long since washed the blood from them. They were responsible for the girl’s death, he knew. He was responsible. It had been his order and intent to do it, even if he discovered he could not. He’d shifted tactics, intending only to capture her and take her back to his people to hold as a hostage. But no, she’d died and her blood was on his hands.
Killing the guards was a matter of course. He spared no time nor grief over them. The girl’s death was different. She was young and innocent and impossibly brave. She might have even grown up to be someone with the kind of strength Anna had once held. Save from everything but the demons within, Cor wept. Murder had been his agenda and what he’d achieved. Was that, then, what he’d become?
* * * *
Baroness N’meria held her satin robe closed with trembling fingers. With Makan gone, she’d invited Karoak to her bed each night. Some nights all she wanted from him was to be held, sheltered and warmed in his arms. Other nights she wanted him to sweep her away with passion so she could forget that their lovely child had been taken from her by the northlanders.
The first night, Karoak had turned red with anger when he beheld the darkening bruise on her cheek.
“He has dared strike you! One day very soon should the northlanders not finish it, I will kill him.” He had softened his words by pulling her into his arms and kissing her softly.
Tonight she needed him. Needed to be swept away from this world. She had no tears left. She had been weeping since the guards had brought her the body of her youngest child.
Karoak entered the room, closing it softly behind him. His strong face was haggard and drawn. “I have failed you, my Lady. This is my fault.” He dropped to his knees before her. “If I had only been more vigilant.” Tears streamed down his cheeks.
“There was nothing you could do. Makan has done this by angering someone with his scheming. It is he who has killed my children.” She dropped down beside him, leaning in to kiss the tears from his face. “Come to me now.” She smiled wanly, standing and drawing him back to her bed. “Let us forget together, if only for a moment.” With that she dropped the robe and reached for him.
* * * *
It had reached the second week since Darleth and Makan had been waiting in the bandits cave for the return of Krev and his captive. Makan despaired that they might never arrive. Sven, who had survived his questioning and was mobile again. The man’s full strength had yet to return and with the passage of days he grew nervous that his usefulness would end. Darleth chafed at the chance to return home. It was obvious no more was to be gained, but he waited impatiently for Makan to be finished with it. He need Makan’s good graces still, now more than ever if his eldest daughter was no more.
Winter came quickly to the northlands, and although less harshly, just as quickly to the Kingdom of Aradmath. Baron Makan returned to Duth Darek and learned by messenger of his daughter’s fate. In a fury he ordered every man in his service he could spare to search for the spy that had shot her and then killed his guards. He even posted rewards for the assassin’s capture or death. Later that same day, when finally alone, he collapsed in his office and for a moment let his fears and his grief overwhelm him. The northern bitch’s vow was coming true.
Makan stayed at the capital, unable and unwilling to face N’meria. D’lariana’s death was his fault, he felt. He should have taken better precautions to have her protected, especially since his other daughter had already been taken from him. He alternated between raging and weeping. His concern for N’meria showed itself at one point, but he felt reassured that Karoak was there to watch over her. He even sent a missive to his captain of arms to spend every waking moment in her company. Word had already spread of his children’s fate; if his wife were to be taken as well Makan would be publicly laughed at by the other nobles.
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