Cole pulled Harl behind him, pushing the hilt of a dagger into his stunned and shaking hands.
“Get ready!” he hissed. Cole had his crossbow out from its leather harness, and was holding the bolt down towards the ground. Harl stared at it, all thoughts gone from his head. And as Cole raised it Harl followed the head of the bolt, until it stopped. Aimed squarely at Eris.
“No!” Harl shouted, suddenly granting the giant knowledge of what Cole was intending. Harl watched this ‘Nem’ pull her quickly behind him, before the edge of his sword whirled about to point at Cole from across the room.
“Estille.” Said Jerekyn casually. “Kill the boy.”
Estille nodded and took a step towards Cole. “You only have the one crossbow, woods-voln. We have many blades. Set it down and there might still be a place for you in the firm.”
“Take another step, bitch.” Snapped back Cole, daring her.
She shrugged, the bare pale shoulders Harl had only just begun to admire flexing before she pulled out two stiletto daggers from within the folds of her dark grey dress.
Harl went back to staring at the girl pointed to by Cole’s crossbow bolt, and saw that she was staring back. There was nothing but hate in her forest green eyes, but a hate he could understand. He would want him dead too, if their places were reversed. “Cole…”
“Shut up Harl.” Hissed back Cole, one hand pushing the boy back behind him, behind his long coat, and slightly out of sight.
“Oh by the bastard gods!” Exclaimed the priest in frustration, and he shot his roarer, the loud crack of it deafening the room.
Jerekyn groaned, and staggered a step or two back before he even noticed the blood blooming on his chest.
“Nem! Get Eris!” The priest barked, and the mountain-voln swept up the girl, dragging her furious eyes away from their lock with Harl’s, and swinging her, kicking and screeching, onto his shoulder. With his free hand he swept his greatsword at the nearest of Jerekyn’s men, catching them off guard and scoring their flesh with his steel. Others ran forward to face him and the priest, leaving only Estille focussed on Cole and Harl as the men’s swords clashed.
She took that step closer, a murderous challenge on her smiling lips.
The crossbow bolt suddenly pierced a bare shoulder and got stuck part way through. Her soft lips parted in a surprised shape, air rushing from her chest.
“You wouldn’t…” she began, but slumped to a chair as the wound leaked her life down her satin dress.
Cole ignored her and pulled Harl with him by his arm, heading to the back of the tavern where the storyteller and a few of the remaining patrons had taken refuge in the shadows to watch the fight with wide and terrified eyes.
“There’s a way out here?” Cole demanded of Orrin, whose normally friendly face was now paled by the bloodletting and the casual violence of the mountain-voln and the priest.
“Yes, um… yes. But its been locked. Ever since the woman brought the child in through here.”
That meant nothing to Harl, but he was also more focussed on the brawling in the tavern between Jerekyn’s men and the two men he’d stolen from. He gasped. The pendant!
Before Cole could stop him he’d darted back to Jerekyn’s table, avoiding where the master thief now lay sprawled and grabbed up the pendant.
“Mountain-voln!” He shouted, and the man swung his head towards him, pushing the man charging at him with full force into a timber column without even a glance. He ignored him as much as he was ignoring Eris still kicking on his back. He was entirely focussed on Harl and what he held in his hand. aHarl threw the leather and stone towards him, watching him catch it with his sword and it swinging and looping its way down to the dented cross-guard. The man gave Harl a broad smile, and then twisted quickly to bring the point up and through the winded man, pinning him against the column but keeping the pendant down by his hand even as the thief’s blood dripped down on it.
Harl saw no more, Cole grabbed him and pulled him back just as Barlow was charging the larger man.
“Idiot!” the woods-voln hissed, and dragged him, almost by the scruff of his neck, to the back rooms of the tavern and a bolted and locked door. Orrin was already there with a few patrons, fumbling with it.
“Honest, sir, I’m not one of Jerekyn’s thieves! I can’t open this.”
Cole grunted and passed the crossbow to Harl, before crouching and considering the lock. Slivers of metal appeared suddenly in the woods-voln’s hand from hidden places, and he put them to work on the locks, a skill Harl had not known about before, and one which he seemed to be able to perform even given the great distraction of the fight coming from behind them. When the door was opened the storyteller gabbled a thanks and darted off into the night, other patrons going out and off on their own way.
Again, Cole had to drag Harl away, the boy still distracted by the battle and the presence of Eris. But finally the boy also put his feet to work, and the two dark shapes were running through the streets of Bara again.
“Is he dead?!” Harl managed to get out when they’d stopped finally under the dark arches of a bridge by a canal. “Jerekyn?!”
Cole got his breath under control. “Seems that way.”
“Are you sure?!”
“Can’t be sure, lad. Master thieves don’t get that way by being easy to kill.” His voice was low and dark, but for once Harl could make out his serious eyes, even in the shadow of the bridge.
“Lost it back there. Don’t matter.” Cole snapped dismissively. He looked tired. “What was that with that girl?”
“Don’t you remember her?”
Cole paused. “Woods-voln…? Fuck. The girl in the woods, the tainted one? She’s alive?”
“She wants me dead!”
“Do you blame her, boy?” Cole laughed darkly. “By Lios, you’ve got some harridan hunting your tracks, that’s for certain. She’d have sold her soul to Jerekyn just to watch you die back there. But she called you the ‘Gyreblack boy’, what’s that about? You aint a Gyreblack, there aren’t any of them left. Sure as blood is blood.”
“I gave her that as my name. And she still remembers.”
“You took her foot, doubt there’s anything she don’t remember about you, boy. Gods, I would love to sick her on Rickarn’s trail and see what happens there.” He laughed darkly.
“Do you think it’s true what Jerekyn said, about her being a true healer. She didn’t look like she were missing her foot…”
“Magic?” Cole laughed again, and now that he could see them clearly he was intrigued by how his humour, dark as it was, actually seemed to reach his eyes. “Aint no bloody thing as magic!”
Cole looked across the canal, Harl watching him staring at the flecks of moonlight dancing on the slowly moving water. He was thinking, planning next steps.
“Why did you throw the mountain-voln his pendant?” Cole said, finally, surprising Harl who’d expected some decision about where they were to go next. “He would have got it in the end, the way he was carving up Jerekyn’s men.”
“Seemed the right thing to do.”
“Heard somewhere that they kind of fade away without their mountains. Lose the will to fight, to fuc- to reproduce, to live. Of course, I thought that meant the whole damned thing. Might just be simple superstition. But then… maybe no more simple than believing that fucking Lios sees all, or that the bastard gods give a shit about us.”
Harl didn’t know how to respond to several kinds of blasphemy, so he kept his tongue still. But then something itched inside him, and he found the need to speak, urgently.
“Is Jerekyn dead?”
“You asked that already, lad.”
“He knows my mother. Has done for years.”
Cole met Harl’s green eyes with his own. Harl saw concern tug at the corners of the man’s mouth, thinning it even more underneath his pointed nose. “Can you find the way back to your… her lodgings from here?”
Harl looked about. “I think so. Will he come for her…?”
“Best hope he’s dead boy. Come on!”