Jimmy the Hand Part 32

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Lorrie's hand went to her knife. Then she caught her breath and collapsed onto one knee despite the twinge in her leg, holding out her arms.

'Lorrie!' Rip squealed.

He ran to her so fast he skidded and didn't quite bowl her over. Three other children followed him out. Lorrie gasped.

'Oh, I'm sorry,' Rip said, drawing back. 'I forgot. Bram told me you hurt your leg.'

'Bram!' Lorrie said. 'Where is he?'



'He's up there.' That came from a blonde girl about Lorrie's age, in a dust-stained frock. She pointed to one corner of the room, where a stone staircase curled upwards. 'They took him away,' she said and her great blue eyes looked haunted. 'People don't come back, when they take them away.'

The other two children nodded. These two were youngera boy with a defiant yet frightened look about him, and a girl who desperately clutched a doll.

'We watched but we couldn't do anything,' the little girl said, taking her thumb out of her mouth. 'They're big.'

'They've got swords!' the boy said, trying to sound brave, yet revealing how frightened he truly was.

The younger girl pointed at Lorrie. 'She's got a sword.' The chubby finger shifted to Flora. 'She's got a sword too.'

'But they're just girls,' the boy answered, refusing to be reassured.

'You shut up, Kay!' said the older girl.

Lorrie forced herself back erect. 'We do have swords,' she said, patting the unused weapon at her side. Even if neither of us can use them much. But I'm a dab hand with an axe-handle! Even if neither of us can use them much. But I'm a dab hand with an axe-handle!

Flora spoke, leaning down a little. 'We have something better than swords,' she said, patting her pocket. 'Magic!'

The children's eyes grew round. 'There's magic here,' Rip said. 'Bad magic.'

'Take us to Bram, then,' Flora said decisively.

Lorrie went along; after a moment Flora gave her a shoulder, to help her hop up the stairs without putting too much strain on the wounded limb. It seemed to go on forever; she'd never been in a building this large, or imagined one until she saw Land's End. That was intimidating enough, but there was something else that made her teeth want to chatter, and it wasn't the lingering chill of her damp borrowed clothing. Things kept moving out of the corners of her eyes, things that she couldn't see but that seemed to be made out of black wire, things that tittered and gibed and made little lunges toward her.

And there was a tension in the air, like before a stormyet the very walls of the castle shook to the violence outside, so it couldn't be that. Her head felt tight, as if something were stretching it from the inside, and it would be a relief if it exploded.

'There,' Rip whispered at last. 'I...I can tell it's down there.'

He pointed down a long corridor. It was dark with a stone floor, heavy carved wooden tables along the walls and tapestries that fluttered slightly in the draught. At the end was a corner, and from beyond that a faint glow of lamplight.

'You go,' Rip saidhis head was turned to one side, as if he was listening to someone. 'We'll get ready. They're going to hurt Bram really soon now.'

Lorrie nodded, a little puzzled but trying to focus on the task ahead.

They walked down the corridor, their boots making thumping sounds on the carpeted floor. The light grew stronger as they neared the corner; closer, and she could see it was T-shaped, and she was walking down the long bar. Light to their right, darkness to their left.

'That you, Forten, Sonnart?' a voice called. 'You lazy swine, it's nearly midnight! You knew you should have been back an hour ago!'

Flora made some muffled sound, trying to make her voice hoarse, and Lorrie did likewise. From the sound of the voices, it wasn't much more than six feet or so from the corner to where the speaker stood.

Thinking inarticulate prayers to half a dozen deities, Lorrie dropped back slightly and ducked her head, taking a deep breath and working her fingers.

Bram. Think of Bram.

They turned the corner; lamps were burning in metal brackets on either side. Four men lounged in front of a tall closed door of polished wood. Two sat on benches; the other two stood together, leaning on halberds.

Jarvis Coe gasped as he drew rein before the wrought iron gate. It was open, but only a sliver; they had to slow almost to a halt from their pounding gallop to get through it.

Particularly since it's as dark as a yard up a sewer rats' nest, Jimmy thought. The saddle had pounded his hams back into pain, and the rapier had caught him under the ribs with a couple of good whacks as well; he hadn't wanted it out of reach if he had to dismount in a hurry. 'Something wrong?' he asked the older man, peering through the gate at the manor; distance and rain hid everything but a wavering light from a high window.

'Very,' Coe said tightly. 'We're late. We're very late. Things have already begun.'

They threaded their way through the entrance and booted the tired horses into an unwilling canter. They pulled up at the entrance to the manor, next to a dog cart with a horse patiently enduring the rain. 'That's Flora's aunt's horse!' said Jimmy. 'I've seen him in the little shed behind the house. Flora and Lorrie must have come here looking for us!'

'Or looking for the young man you encountered,' said Coe.

The main doors of the manor were slightly ajar, and Jimmy felt an unwilling grin curve his lipsFlora hadn't wasted time, or forgotten all she'd picked up as a thief before she went into the mattress trade. They swung down from their saddles, looping the reins over rings in the low wall that flanked the bridge across the moat.

Might have to get away in a hurry, he thought.

'I'll go first,' Coe said, alighting and drawing his blade.

'You go first,' Jimmy agreed, doing likewise.

A muffled shout came through the outer door of the sacrificial chamber. Bram heard a man shout in alarm, and the clash of steel on steel, and a high shriek that could have come only from a woman's throat, and then a cry of pain that could have been made by anyone.

The man in the velvet jacket spoke a sharp command. Skinny and Rox were standing by the door; one opened an eyehole cover set into it and peered out cautiouslynot wanting to be stabbed through it, probably.

'Probably the little rats again, my lord,' Rox said. 'Otto's downnot bleeding, that I can see. Looks like the others have taken off after them.'

'Get out there, but stay close to the door,' Baron Bernarr said. 'Let no one by, on your life.' He turned back towards the magician.

'Timing is very crucial now, my lord,' the man with empty eyes said. 'We must strike at precisely the right moment; and we will have only a few seconds while your lady lies between life and death. If you would take your position?'

Baron Bernarr came closer; the magician offered him a long curved knife, and he took it with a disturbing familiarity. The blade was also inscribed with symbols and, like the ones on the floor the young man could no longer see, they were somehow obscurely repulsive and unnerving.

'Be careful,' the magician said. 'The best symbolic representation of a sharp knife is a sharp knife.'

The other man chuckled a little, in a perfunctory manner. The way a man laughed at a joke he'd heard often before.

The room was cold, but Bram could smell his own sweat, and feel the prickling itch of it as drops ran gelid down his face and flanks. He'd always thought himself a brave manhe'd faced dangers before, fire, flood, a few fights working for caravan-mastersbut right now he suspected he'd be begging and pleading if it wasn't so obviously useless.

Lorrie saw the guard's eyes go wide as they turned the corner.

'Hey, you aren't Forten and Sonnart,' the man with the polearm said. He had a bandage on one hand, from what was probably a burn.

'Damn me!' the other halberdier said. 'It's a girl!'

Flora blew across her palm.

The halberdier collapsed with a limp finality. The two men on the bench sprang up with yells of alarm, reaching for their swords. Lorrie already had hers out, both her small hands clenched on the long leather-wrapped hilt. She managed to get it around in time to hit the head of the polearm as it stabbed at Flora. Steel clanged on steel, a harsh unmusical shriek; then her sword slid down the spike on top of the halberd until it caught in the notch between that and the axe. The man grinned and twisted his weapon with all the strength of his heavy arms and shoulders and the sword flew out of Lorrie's hands and over his head; his comrades danced aside to let it clatter against the door behind them.

Then the man yelled and leapt: Flora had stabbed him in the thigh with her belt-knife.

'Run!' she shouted.

Lorrie did, half-noticing that Flora had taken the other arm of the T, and that the two swordsmen were after herand not catching up, from their swearing. She ran as fast as she could, gasping every time her left foot hit the ground. The mercenary behind her was calling out a mixture of threats and obscenity. A brief glimpse behind showed he was limping nearly as badly as her.

Race of the cripples, she thought, almost grinning.

This is like being Hotfingers Flora again, she thought as she ran down the corridor, glancing from side to side for places to hide. But I can't keep this up. But I can't keep this up. Booted feet pounded behind her. Booted feet pounded behind her. They know the building; I don't. They'll trap me They know the building; I don't. They'll trap me. Breath was harsh in her throat, and she could feel the acid taste of fear. I could be back in Land's End, eating blueberry tarts and cream with Aunt Cleora! I could be back in Land's End, eating blueberry tarts and cream with Aunt Cleora!

Then the booted feet stopped and she turned to see her pursuers go hurtling face-forward on the floor. One gashed his left arm on his own sword as he fell, and howled as they floundered on the carpet. Behind them a dark cord lay across the corridor. One end was tied to the leg of a heavy oak sideboard. A panel popped out of the wall, and four small figures emerged, throwing thingsFlora caught the flash of a silver candlestick. Then pottery crashed, and she could smell the cooking oil in the jars.

Run! she told herself: the children were already ducking back into the wall, and the mercenaries heaving themselves up. She did; careered off a wall, and then down a shorter corridor and down a flight of stairs. she told herself: the children were already ducking back into the wall, and the mercenaries heaving themselves up. She did; careered off a wall, and then down a shorter corridor and down a flight of stairs.

'This way!' Jarvis Coe cried, charging up a curling stairway.

'Right behind you,' Jimmy panted. Running through a lord's house at night wasn't anything particularly new to him, but the feeling of tension behind his eyes was getting worse. 'You can deal with this magician, I hope?'

'I have bindings,' Coe replied. 'Leave him to me.'

'Oh, no argument.'

'I can feel what he's doing. By the Goddess! There isn't much time.'

They ran down a long corridor and whisperings seemed to follow them. Now Jimmy could hear a voice rising, muffled as if by a door, but harsh and commanding, the words dropping like syllables of burning ash.

Oh, I really don't want to meet this man, Jimmy thought, and kept running. Except for Alban Asher, every encounter with a magician recounted by members of the Mockers had ended badlyif anyone distrusted and feared magicians more than thieves, Jimmy couldn't imagine who they might be.

They turned right. A door stood a dozen feet in from the turning, and two men stood before it, swords drawn: a big dark man and a slight skinny one; they both moved forward a little.

Jarvis Coe didn't waste any time; he went straight at them in a lunge, point extended. The big dark man beat the sword aside, then tried to kick Coe in the knee as the blades locked. Coe let the kick glance off the side of his leg, and rammed the big man in the pit of his stomach with his shoulder, throwing him back against the door and stumbling into the room beyond.

'Hurry up!' a young man shouted from the room. 'For the love of the gods, hurry up!'

Jimmy didn't bother to watch any more than that: the thin mercenary was coming at him, sword in his right hand, a long knife in the other, knife-hand advanced over the same foot. The young thief frantically tried to remember everything Prince Arutha had told him, all at once and without using words.

'Skinny's gonna carve you up proper, me good son,' the scrawny mercenary said. 'Come to poppa, yer little bastard, an' get a spankin'!'

'Help!' the young man's voice in the room beyond shouted. Steel clashed in the room. 'Get me out of this!'

Skinny made a walking thruststepping forward and lunging at the same time which gave him tremendous reach. Jimmy didn't try to back up: instead, he used his shorter stature to lift the other man's sword-thrust and went in under it, trying to run him through the throat. That didn't work: the rapier went up over the mercenary's shoulder, and the hilts locked. Jimmy twisted desperately as the dagger in the soldier's other hand stabbed, and then they were chest-to-chest, with the knife-arm trapped against Jimmy's side by his own.

Not good, Jimmy thought, as he tried to knee the older man in the groin, and hit his thigh instead. He's a lot stronger than I am He's a lot stronger than I am.

They circled for an instant, with breath nearly as bad as Foul ol' Ron's issuing from the mercenary, and then Jimmy managed to stamp downward and land his heel on the other man's instep. Skinny howled and pushed. Jimmy bounded backwardand found himself inside the room beyond the door; they'd got turned completely around without his noticing.

The room was brighter than the corridor outside. Jimmy took the situation in with a single flashing glance even as he gave more ground and then lunged with a stop-thrust that nearly spitted the eager Skinny. He backed off in turn and they circled, Skinny on the outside, Jimmy turning on his back leg, left hand on hip, point presented from a turned wrist as the Prince had taught him.

There was a man in a rich coat and breeches standing with a curved knife above a naked young manwho must be Bram. Bram had a red line painted down his centre, shouted too. 'Five thousand gold crowns if you can keep them off!' the man screamed. 'Five thousanda free pardon, and five thousand!'

Even then, Jimmy felt his eyes grow wider. I could buy this manor house with five thousand. I could buy this manor house with five thousand.

Skinny thought the same. He bounced forward again, grinning even wider, and a trickle of saliva ran down from one corner of his mouth.

Through it all, the chanting ran like millstones grinding at the foundations of the world.

Flora turned a corner, and shrieked. Lorrie was at the other end of it, limping toward herand the guard she'd stabbed in the leg was limping after Lorrie!

What to do, what to do? Flora thought. Then she shouted, 'Lorrie! Turn right at the door in the middle of the corridor!' Flora thought. Then she shouted, 'Lorrie! Turn right at the door in the middle of the corridor!'

They sped toward each other, and the cries of the pursuers rose to a baying eagerness. The two girls almost collided; then they threw their shoulders against the door together, swung through, slammed it closed again.

The room was a sleeping chamber, with four double bunk beds, empty except for a clay lamp burning on a table and a single wooden chair. Flora's eyes searched frantically. 'Get me that chair! We can prop it against the door!'

Lorrie tried to dash for it, nearly fell as her leg buckled, grabbed the chair and came back dragging it. Flora was reaching for the chair as the door slammed open and together she and Lorrie tried to hold it closed, but the weight of the guardsmen threw them back with brutal force.

The door swung open, and two men crowded each other as they tried to push through at the same time. Flora staggered back until the table struck her buttocks. She threw her hands back on either side to keep from falling and splinters bit painfully at her palms. The men were raving: mouths spewing hate and frustration, their beards glistening with the flaxseed oil from the jars the children had thrown...

Flora's mind moved quickly, but everything else seemed very slow. She half-turned and picked up the clay lamp, careful not to douse the wick by grabbing it too hard. Then she took two steps forward and threw it, watching as it turned to spray the spirits of wine from its reservoir into the men's faces.

The oil caught at once: not a flare of flame like pine resin, but quick enough, the flames yellow and thick in their hair and beards. Both men seemed to dance in place, screaming as they beat at their own faces and the fire spread to the oil-soaked cloth and leather on their bodies. Flora stood stock-still, watching with wide eyes.

Lorrie took a step past her, stooped to lift one of the swords the men had dropped, grabbed it in a clumsy two-handed grip and swung it over and over again. Her aim was sure, though.

Jimmy the Hand Part 32

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Jimmy the Hand Part 32 summary

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