Warriors surround the building. Nale, the merchant, gladly gives me his copy of the keys.
“You go now,” I tell him. “You have done your part.” He looks at me gratefully. I have eased his conscious enough to let him leave without feeling a coward. And I haven’t told him he is too old to be useful.
I give the keys to a guard and stand, Sword drawn, beside the door. I carry the Sword, I should be first through the door, but my guard won’t allow it. My Sergeant swears he will fall on his sword in disgrace before he will watch me enter first. I let them do it their way because he isn’t bluffing. Jes stands to my right side, his short sword in one hand and a long dagger in the other. The sergeant is to my left. The doors are wide enough to let three of us enter abreast. The guard with the keys moves slowly, quietly. When he nods, I let the sergeant give the order.
We enter through the unlocked front door while others break down the barred back door. Windows are broken open and crossbows pointed through.
We have captured a mostly empty warehouse with a large iron cage containing a whimpering Sorcerer pleading, “Don’t’ kill me, it’s not my fault.”
“The hell it isn’t,” my sergeant tells him, not even apologizing for sullying the ears of his princess.
My sword whispers ‘Sorcerer’ while Jes whispers ‘evil’. The summoning circle, as foul as they usually are, is to the left of the cage—almost touching one of its sides. This stench we can all smell.
I look at the cage; sides, floor and top of crossed iron beams. Iron by legend, proof against demons. Well made, but the door is warped. Falchen, or so I judge him to be, watches warily, growing more nervous as I don’t speak.
“The door was made to lock from the inside,” Jes says.
“And closed from the outside,” I point to the twisted bar holding the door shut instead of the broken lock.
“So you thought iron could protect you?” I ask Falchen in a condescending tone, as if I have always known better. “Why aren’t you dead?”
“Because it knows it will be sent back if I die.” He realizes that’s not an answer he wants to give as soon as the words leave his mouth. He is distracted by the guards forming a double ring around his cage, one row facing him, the other facing out. He cowers in the middle of the cage.
“And how does it know that?” He doesn’t want to answer me until I have one of my men loose a quarrel at him. He screams as it buries itself in the wood floor just inches away from his foot. “How does it know that?” I repeat.
“I told it,” he finally answers when my guard raises his crossbow again.
“So it’s keeping you alive, bringing you food and water.” Jes points to a small pile of supplies.
“Well then, let’s fix this.” My Sergeant aims his crossbow.
Jess and I speak in unison.
“We cannot send it back with the knowledge it has,” I quickly explain before he can decide it’s just my soft princess heart talking. “The demon must be killed, not banished.” Jes backs me up.
“You can’t kill a demon,” the Sorcerer whimpers, completely unaware he is taking sides against the two people willing to let him live—or at least as long as the demon is alive.
“We can,” my Sword whispers. “Trap.”
“Exactly what I was thinking.” I’m talking to my sword in front of people again. Really have to stop doing that. “How often does it check on you,” I demand of Falchen.
We have only a few hours before sunset, but we are motivated and move fast. Even allowing for a slight delay when Mynar throws a fit at not being allowed to join me. He and my training master are to stay with the king and queen and the Queen’s guards.
The rest of my and Mynar guards and a good part of the city guards are in the warehouses and stores around the building that houses the Sorcerer. Everyone else is gone. Guards in disguise keep the streets from looking empty. We’ve even moved five small ballista from the city walls to the top of nearby buildings. Jes stays close to me, just barely avoiding stepping on my heels. I watch the Sorcerer, ignoring him as he babbles all of the reasons I should let him live. There is only one reason, so he can be tried and hanged for murder—five murders.
“Did you choose who died?”
He thinks he isn’t going to answer me, but he looks at the sword’s lightning bolt glow and decides differently. “No. It doesn’t listen to me.”
I shake my head at his immense stupidity. He just as much as told me that he had someone, or a list of someones that he would have set the demon on, even caged as he was. I idly wonder if it was revenge or greed. With Sorcerers it’s always one or the other.
I wonder if we could bring back one of the old barbaric forms of execution, just this once. I decide ‘no’. We are better than that.
“You are good people,” my Sword agrees. “Better than the Stormborne ever were.”
“Focus Adava.” Jes pokes me. I glare at him, but he is right. I’ll think about this later.
It is hard to stay alert in an empty warehouse. Even the Sorcerer has finally decided to shut up. If we have to wait many nights for this trap to be sprung, we will have to figure out some way to keep the men alert.
Pounding boots on the stone street outside alerts everyone well before the door flies open. One of Father’s guards rushes inside. “The demon is attacking the castle.”
“A diversion,” Jes suggests.
“Captain Maas,” I call for the city guard captain of this quarter, and look for something to open the cage.
“Right.” I swing my Sword and cut through the cage as if it were butter.
“Jes, can you knock him out without killing him?”
“Yes.” Jes understands and almost immediately the Sorcerer lays unconscious.
“He must be in contact with the demon. Take him; hide him. The City Captains will go with you. And keep him unconscious. Find an apothecary and drug him.”
Maybe five minutes after father’s guard arrived we are running out—me toward the castle and Jes into the back alleys.
“Stupid damn Sorcerers.”
The gate is breached, dead and wounded lying unattended. I run toward the greatest noise. The guard are fighting to keep it out of the royal tower, are dying in their attempt to keep it out. Archers have opened the windows in the old arrow slits and are using them as originally intended. Dozens of bolts strike the demon, only to bounce off.
It sees me coming, has to see me coming, my Sword bright as day. It runs, fast, so fast. It is going back to the city. If it finds Falchen—kills him—it will escape with its dangerous knowledge.
It cuts across the paddock, avoiding the great war stallions, going through the one containing new born foals and mothers. It knocks one foal out of its way, its claws raking its side. But it is slowed by the foal’s mother, raging, rearing high and pounding the demon with iron shod hoofs. She can‘t win, even her great strength is nothing compared to the demon, but she fights—how she fights. And buys me time to get there. She is down, but even as the demon turns to run, not fight, I get there. It isn’t a fight, it is a slaughter; the demon can’t touch me, can’t do anything as I cut it to pieces. I stare around me, not believing it is over.
“I was forged to deal with much greater beings than this,” my Sword dryly informs me. “Finding it was the hard part.”
I realize I am surrounded by guards. The horse is on the ground, the foal she defended muzzling her. A guard pulls his dagger. “There is nothing else to do,” he tells me looking at her wounds.
“Just a moment.” I go to her head, look in her eyes. “I will take care of your son,” I promise her. I think she understands. At least, I pretend she understands.
I try to stand up, but discover my legs won’t hold me. I sit on the ground as if that is what I intended to do, and look for something to clean my Sword, so I can sheathe it. Then I notice it is clean and bright. “A sword that cleans itself, that’s nice.” I look around, people are running to help the wounded. I decide that I don’t have to keep being strong, so I go a little crazy for a while.
Mynar tells me about it the next afternoon when I finally wake up to find the Sword lying across the foot of my bed, and the foal sleeping on a pile of blankets in front of the fire.
“You refused to be separated from both,” he explains to me.
“And the demon is still dead?”
“Dead, dismembered and guarded, and the Sorcerer is in the dungeon.”
“Then walk me to the vault.”
The Sword safely looked away, with the silent promise of a day in the sun later, I go back to a long hot bath and petting the foal. Someone else can decide what to do with the demon pieces.
Sometime later Mynar comes back and interrupts my dozing. While I wasn’t paying attention, the foal got to its feet and is poking its nose into anything it can reach.
“You do realize that’s a horse, right? Not a dog.”
“My horse.” I’m smug.
“At least you’re looking human again. We need to go visit father before he drags himself out of bed and down the steps. He has a broken leg.”
“Why didn’t you tell me.”
“You’re not a doctor, what could you do? Mother looked in on you a couple of times while you were asleep, but now he’s demanding to see you for himself. He’s accusing us of hiding something from him.”
“Oh.” Father isn’t a bad patient, he is worse than that. “How did he break his leg?”
“Part of a wall fell on him. They were trying to use a catapult against the demon and killed a wall instead.”
I call my ladies in to watch my foal while I go to reassure father. My youngest lady starts talking to it in baby talk.
“It’s a horse.” Mynar is exasperated.
“A baby horse,” I remind him.