Thrust. Parry, bind, counter-thrust.
The Sesan staggered for his balance, swinging the short sword wildly to ward Peino off. The selkie paused as the blade swished by, then lunged–
And then there was a terrible shrieking, and Peino’s sword point chipped the stone wall.
“Eh?” He stepped back, looked down.
The Sesan was on his knees, tangled up in an enraged Lotye O’Tulvar, who cursed like a drunken soldier as she bludgeoned him with her new bumbershoot.
Peino started to laugh, until the Sesan raised his sword to jab it down upon Lotye.
A kick that smashed his arm against the wall ended that plan. A cry of pain and a satisfying crunch. The sword clattered to the pavement.
“Rot your guts, you scum!”
“Temper, sir, temper.” Peino ground his boot into the fractured wrist for good measure before sheathing his dagger and scooping up the sword. He looked to see if Lafitte needed help.
That was when he heard the eorman shout, “Do what you can for her!” He saw Jeneyeru staring, open-mouthed. “What? I…?” And he saw the woman on the ground, the bolt protruding from her shoulder.
“Elda!” the Sesan cried.
Peino rushed to the woman. Streams of her red blood flowed around the cobbles, washed away by the driving rain. She was gasping in near-breathless pain.
“What did you do?” Peino yelled at Lafitte. He tugged at his neckcloth. The shaft appeared lodged in a bone and stuck fast. That was probably slowing her bleeding, though not by much, and it might yet kill her later. The neckcloth came loose, and Peino yanked it off his neck. Wadding it up, he took her hand and pressed it and the cloth around the bolt shaft.
“Hold that there,” he said, looking into her panicked eyes.
“You filthy shit,” her partner cried again, “I’ll grind your bones for bread!”
Unarmed and broken-wristed, the Sesan still made to rush Lafitte, but Peino reached out and tripped him by a bootstrap.
“His death or hers,” he said, rising, “which concerns you more?”
The Sesan hesitated, glaring with hate at both of them, then he scrambled over his lady, and Peino took hold of Lafitte’s coat, half pulling him away and half checking him for weapons. He saw the pistols strapped to his body.
“You blithering twit, you can’t shoot off crossbows in a city street. Are you mad?”
Jeneyeru gasped, seeing what Peino was seeing. “Captain, what possessed you?”
A distant whistle pierced the storm.
“Someone ran for the guardians,” said Peino, “and her friends are even closer.” Cloaked figures splashed up the alley. “Let’s be off. Mistress, with me.” He beckoned to Lotye.
“We must get past them,” said Jeneyeru of the fast-approaching gangsters.
He raised the bone and ebony Staff of Ghosts and spoke the Atul spell of the Invocation of Darkness. The rain turned black, and then the air. The alley plunged into night eliciting cries from the bystanders who hand not yet found their moment to run off.
Peino reached for Lotye’s hand.
Jeneyeru drew a short bone from his sleeve and spoke another spell. The bone glowed with a bluish light.
Quickly retrieving his hat from the enchanter, the wizard led the way through a murk so deep, their pursuers wouldn’t even see the light of the bone lantern in his hand. The shouts and whistles fell behind. The last sound heard from the alley was a fading roar.
“This is not over!”
Indeed it was not, for Peino had a great deal to say about it on the way back to the Embassy of the Grand Navigators.
They went by land, avoiding taking the same route as before. The selkies, unfazed by the driving rain and wind that whipped waves over the docks and into the streets, led the two eormen over the bridges and up the now empty streets, and all the way, the prince kept up a now grumbling, now scolding barrage of invective against Jean Lafitte III. No defense could deter him and not even the fading of Jeneyeru’s conjuration could lighten the darkness of his scowl.
The main gist of his complaints was the unutterable stupidity of using that crossbow.
“With blades you could have claimed the rules of dueling, but if she dies of that wound, it will be murder, you fool. You should thank your stars it hit bone, or it could have passed clean through and hit a shopkeeper. Lyr’s blood, man, what were you thinking?”
He didn’t really care what Lafitte had been thinking or what he said now. He was eager to get to the embassy where, technically at least, they would be out of Raurugia and the King’s jurisdiction. And that was yet another thought — the potential embarrassment to the Sovereign Duchy if this incident should come to light ahead of his meeting with King Iviar. His scowl darkened more as he thought of all that was uniquely recognizable about the Flying Eorman.
They turned up the Temple Road and were soon within sight and then a few yards of the Embassy of the Navigators.