Orsin meets us, standing alone at the Keep’s main door, smiling. I hide my concern, I have a lot of practice not showing what I feel, and I do it well. But if he is smart, if he greets us and goes back to court willingly, we might not have enough to convince the Lord Advisors to find him guilty. I see no signs of the desperation we believe drove his last attack.
Taver and I dismount, start up the broad steps toward him. This isn’t right, nor is the look of smug satisfaction now on Orsin’s face. As soon as I am in reach, I am going to grab Orsin and march him down the stairs; we will not enter the Keep until he is in chains and the city emptied of his mercenaries. We are half-way up the steps when there is a noise like a thunder-clap and the stone steps fall out from under us. The Sword eases my fall, but Taver hits hard. I hear screaming through the gaping hole above us, then there is grinding movement and a heavy slab falls over the hole, sealing us in the dank cavern.
I go to Taver, trying to see how badly he is hurt, but all I can tell is that he is breathing but not conscious. The few wavering torches brighten and I see Orsin standing on stairs above us, backed up by three bowmen. Another man stands to the side, out of the light. I hear the Sword, “Sorcerer.”
I reach for the hilt of my Sword, “Are you stupid?” I really do want to know. The Sword has defeated armies, and Orsin thinks to defeat me with five men, even if one is a Sorcerer.
“You are helpless, girl. Destruction has thrown a null around us, his greatest invention. No magic will work, and you haven’t the strength to even lift your weapon unaided by magic.”
I pull myself to my feet, as if I need the aid of the rubble to rise, let them think I’m hurt. “Good Plan, Wielder,” whispers in my ear. I smile at Orsin, not a nice smile.
“I’m going kill you, and take the Sword—no one will be able to deny me when I have the Sword.” Orsin seems to be fond of the sound of his own voice. I draw my Sword, but let the point rest on the ground, as if I am having trouble holding it. I look at the Sorcerer. “Destruction? Really.” My tone isn’t admiring. He ignores me, so much for distracting him.
“Shoot her,” Orsin commands, “But don’t kill her, I want to be the one to kill her.”
I throw one of my knives left-handed and hit the Sorcerer, while moving forward. Orsin gets a good view of the lightening on the Swords edge as I bury it in his head. When his body drops the archers decide it is time to run.
The Sorcerer is tougher. He’s back on his feet, my dagger sticking out of his bloody shoulder. He is focused, determined and chanting a spell. I guess I won’t be taking him prisoner. I put a second dagger through his eye.
“You all right, Sword?”
“Of course.” I could swear my Sword laughed.
I hear rock cracking, shifting, and try to move Taver farther into the cave. I’m slow, afraid of doing more damage. I underestimated Alan, the stone doesn’t fall, it is lifted up, moves to the side.
“Mechanical trap, that’s why I missed it.” I can’t tell if the Sword is apologizing or explaining. I decide it isn’t important as a mad-man slides down the rubble calling my name, guards and warriors following.
One of the priests is there too, and I wave him off, pointing him toward Taver, while I focus on soothing my mad-man back to sanity.
“I didn’t know you could do anything like that.” I wave toward the broken pieces of rock piled to the side of the opening.
“I didn’t either.”
We are surrounded by my guards. Of course, we are surrounded by my guards. “Is someone capturing the keep?” They really have more important things to do than stare at me.
“Yes, Wielder.” I sigh; they aren’t going away. One of them makes himself useful by caching Alan when he collapses. Before I can panic, another priest arrives, feels his pulse and pulls open his eye to look at his pupil.
“Just overextended himself. We need ropes and something to make a rigid pallet so we can lift Taver out. We can’t treat his broken bones down here. Alan can go out that way too.”
Guards start running, looking for the things he needs before I can draw breath to give the order.
“I’m trusting you to look after them,” I tell the priest. I can’t stay, I have a keep to capture.
The fleeing archers have spread the word that Orsin is dead, and the mercenaries are all too ready to surrender. I am surprised, until thinking back I remember arrows falling to the ground around me, deflected. For the moment, they think I am invincible, and I make the most of it. And, after all, they are fighting for money, not a cause. The servants greet us as if they are liberated prisoners. There is little fighting, but way too much confusion. I hold my Sword unsheathed to reinforce my authority, not because I need it as a weapon. My demand for the keep’s steward results in warriors being sent to the cells beneath the keep. The steward is found, and Captain Conners, along with about twenty others. By this time Taver has been lifted out of the pit and brought into the great hall.
I send for Kale, we are going to need more physicians. And a place to hold the mercenaries. As Kale leaves to prepare a prison, I hear cheering outside. He has told the guard of Conners’ survival.
I secure Orsin’s rooms and the Sorcerer’s. Warriors and guards search the keep from the top of the tower to the cells beneath, making it our own. The great hall is turned into a hospital, and as each patient is identified, word is sent outside to weeping and more cheering. I allow one person inside for each patient, trying to limit the chaos.
I haven’t time to worry about Alan, I have to trust the priest, but I am glad to see two of my guards watching over him once he is brought in. Two of the priests are working on Taver, he is conscious but groggy.
“We have searched all of the mercenaries, there are no more ShadowWalkers.” The battalion captain is reporting to me, but glancing toward Taver.
“The priest will report on Lord Taver’s health once he has finished caring for him,” I try to reassure both of us.
“Should I send a courier to the King?” Tactful, asking a question instead of pointing out that I have forgotten something.
“Get one ready to ride, if you like, I will have a dispatch just as soon as I can include information about Lord Taver’s injuries.” I actually sound as if this is what I have planned all along.
We stand there for a while, watching the priests working over Taver.
A city matron pushes through my guards. From her dress, wealthy and accustomed to deference. “Wielder,” she bows her head, but is quickly looking me in the eye again. “My husband has important information. He is the Guild Master of the apothecaries of Blythe.”
I nod at the Captain in invitation and we follow her to the pallet where a city doctor is gently feeding her husband soup from one of the myriad of pots warming by the fire, brought from kitchens throughout the city as the need became known. (One of the priests would tell Kale of a need, Kale would yell it to the crowd waiting outside the keep, and people would start carrying what was needed up the plank ramp temporarily replacing the missing steps.)
“Princess,” the old man’s voice is weak, but his eyes are determined. “Orsin put me here because I would not procure the poisons his Sorcerer required. You must be very careful, if he obtained them by other sources, there could be very deadly potions…” His warning ended in a burst of coughing.
“I understand,” I assure him. “Orsin and Destruction are dead, and we will take extreme care searching their private quarters.” And I will be sure to mention the word ‘poison’ in my report to father.
“I want to take him home,” it was more a demand than a request from his wife, but her tone actually relieved me. She might recognize my authority, but she wasn’t afraid. I couldn’t bear it if our own people started fearing me.
“Of course, if the doctor says it is safe to move him. I will send two of the city guard with you, to see you safely home. But first, I need a list of those poisons, and what they may look like.”
She looks as if she wants to argue, but he puts his hand on her arm. “Yes, you will need that. And you will need help from my guild if you find any of them.” I readily agree.
“Perhaps we do need to get that courier on the way.” While I am writing the report, the Captain reading over my shoulder at my invitation, to be sure I don’t forget anything, one of the priests comes to add his information.
“Lord Taver had a broken arm and a sever blow to the head. He should remain quiet, and in bed for at least a day or two. Alan is exhausted, all he needs is sleep, and food when he awakens, but we advise he be left here for us to monitor, just in case.”
I agree, thinking we can always tie Taver to his bed, if necessary. “Perhaps,” I tell the Captain, “You should give him an abbreviated report, so he won’t worry. But after we get the courier on his way.” I am worried about what Orsin wanted with ‘poisons’.