Chapter 43: The Steady Blade
King Braeden watched Rustag and Absalom move down the street below, disappearing into the shadows. His son’s words weighed on him. Once again, he was sending another in his stead, forcing another to clean his mess.
“Soldier.” He motioned to the armored figure standing behind him. “Ready my horse and the men. Whether Absalom’s trap fails or succeeds, I’ll not be unready to face the enemy.”
A guttural laugh echoed in his ear.
Braeden spun around and caught the assassin’s blade hand. The serpentine dagger missed the King’s face by inches. Braeden glanced down to see a dead guard at the killer’s feet. The soldier’s lifeless stare smeared by the blood convulsing from his slit throat. The Amorite grappled the king and threw him onto his back. In a flash, the assassin straddled the regent and strained to push his dagger down into Braeden’s chest.
The King’s arm shook as he held back the dagger’s embrace.
“Father!” Alexandra’s voice screamed and the armored soldier behind him jumped onto the Amorite, knocking him off balance.
The assassin fell back and Braeden instantly kicked him away. His eyes widened as he saw the soldier’s helmet fly off and his daughter face struggle as she grasped for the killer’s blade.
“Alex? Guards! Guards!” Braeden yelled.
The assassin smashed his fist into Alexandra’s face and threw her off of him. Another royal guard ran up the stairs and plunged his sword into the Amorite’s side. The assassin screamed and dropped his dagger before grabbing the man by the neck and throwing him from the roof. The Amorite reached for his dagger and found nothing. He turned around and found his blade, as Alexandra pushed it into his chest.
The Amorite fell to his side, lifeless. Braeden looked on at his daughter standing above the killer, bruised and bleeding from her nose.
He picked himself up and embraced her. “How in the Maker did you . . .no, never mind. You’re alive, that’s all that matters.”
Tears rolled down Alexandra’s face. “How could you expect me to stay away? How could you think I’d leave you to face this alone?”
Braeden nodded. “I shouldn’t have. But you’re all I have left. Absalom despises me, as he should. Yet he still risks his life to free us from Mariselle’s grasp. I’d hoped to spare you that pain. You’ve already dealt with so much.”
“And if your bastard son will fight for you, why wouldn’t I?” Alexandra pushed away from him.
“The night is long Alex. Don’t take my ill planning as a slight,” Braeden replied. “I know you are capable. You are the Lion in the hall of Judah, but sometimes you are blind to those that would help you. I won’t ask you to sit idle again. You fight for our future as much as any man here. Just don’t fight it alone. Find Egan. Help him if you can.” Braeden looked over the armor fastened about her. “I know you can.”
“And you? Will you promise to be with me come the morning?” she asked.
“No matter what happens to me, daughter, I will always be with you,” Braeden said and hugged her once more.
Alexandra nodded as she pulled away and turned towards the steps leading down to the street below.
* * * * * * * *
Mariselle brought her horse around. The woman had not been her intended target, but it mattered little. The rest of the commoners would fall as soon as Mariselle’s men could be rallied. She raced back towards the fighting on the moor. If the king’s men were bolstering the walls with defenseless peons, then they were desperate, and any fighting men on the field were no doubt their last. As she darted towards a grouping of her guards fighting off three guerilla attacks, she was thrown from her horse. Egan landed on top of her, and slammed his pauldron into her side, making her drop her bow.
Mariselle delivered a swift knee to his crotch and pushed him off. She lept to her feet, brandishing a twisted dagger in each hand. Like a cobra, she bit into Egan’s shoulder with her left-hand blade as he struggled to stand. Egan screamed and slapped the other blade from her right hand. He stood and wrenched the blade from his shoulder, gasping from the pain. Mariselle took a step back.
“Come boy! Make your last misstep here and be done with it!” she spat as she pulled another dagger from her belt and smiled, “I’ve outmaneuvered you and your pathetic people for years and--”
Egan slashed the knife forward in a perfect arc and severed off three of Mariselle’s fingers. She wailed as she dropped her weapon and fell to her knees. Blood gushing down her hand. The last vestige of her beauty, the last reminder of herself, was gone.
“Enough!” Egan screamed and pressed the dagger to her chest, Tell them to drop their weapons or you die here and now!”
“Stop!” Mariselle croaked. The pain from the wound coursed throughout her body and clouded her senses. The men near her dropped their weapons.
“You’ve killed enough innocents tonight witch, and you’ll answer for it.” Egan barked at her. “Call off your men at the harbor and perhaps the king will spare your life.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she clenched her mouth. “My men? You give me too much credit. No. What you see rampaging through the city is not my doing alone. The full might of the Black Throne has crushed your kingdom. The Dark Lord has sent Dagon himself to your shores! Kill me if you wish but it’s you and the old fool you serve who’ll be hanging from the archways by morning!”
Egan stood and, with the help of his guard, pulled Mariselle to her feet. His other men had Mariselle’s warriors kneel while they restrained them.
Egan faced Mariselle with cold steel eyes and grabbed her bleeding hand. She flinched. He pulled a loose swath of fabric from his tunic and wrapped her wound, never breaking his stare.
“You’re under arrest, for crimes against the kingdom. You’ll face a tribunal and see justice done. May the Maker have mercy on you.”
Mariselle spat into Egan’s face. “I will use you as a footstool when this night is over! You’ll see your friends slain before I rip out your eyes!”
Egan set the tip of his blade to her neck, “If there’s no hope for me, then there will be no mercy for you.”
Mariselle’s eyes went wide and she quieted as she saw the quiet rage grow in Egan’s face and felt the sting of his blade on her neck. Then, as if the universe were responding to her outrage, she felt a strange force pulling at her. The ground became as pliable as water and she felt herself sinking into it. Egan’s shocked face melted into the darkness.
Suddenly, Mariselle was falling into an empty abyss and then, in an instant, she landed hard on rough gopher wood. The impact was painful. She looked and saw she was on the deck of a ship under the same darkened sky. She had somehow been ripped away to another place. A familiar face came into view. Standing over her, staring with those nightmarish reptilian eyes was Dagon.
“I should have you killed,” his unnatural voice echoed in her ears, “but you’ll serve a purpose yet.”
Mariselle felt the saliva leave her mouth and wondered if Egan’s blade wouldn’t have been better.