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“Indeed. Tell us where the mechanism is, and you’ll live, you and your child.”
“My husband took it to the sages two evenings ago,” Liana replied. “Not long after you left.”
The knife tip poked harder. “You had better be lying. Now tell us the truth!”
“It’s… it’s in the barn. There’s a trap door behind the compost heap. An old wine cellar. We put it down there.”
“Truly? Well then, we’ll leave you here. You’re bound—so to speak—to tell us true.” One of the men slipped around her, pulling her arms behind her back, and bound her wrists with a leather thong. Then he knelt, bound her ankles, and lowered her to the floor. “You can shout and awaken your husband, but he won’t live long afterward.” A glint of moonlight on bronze told her they each held a dagger.
The shadows retreated, and soon Liana got to her feet. She laid the paring knife, concealed in her slipper, on the table before slipping outside. She jogged across the dark yard. The danger is yours now, love, she thought. May the lesser gods watch over you.
The juggernaut had been modified to include a driver’s perch. The driver, not expecting to be called to work at such a late hour, had already worked his way through most of a jug of ale. He managed to reach their destination, but then laid back on top of the carriage to rest. Stupid louts, he grumbled to himself, listening to the noise his passengers were making in the yard, I thought they knew how to stay quiet.
He dozed atop the juggernaut, ignoring the whickering and quiet scuffing of shod hooves on the old highway. A clicking noise, and then a smoldering smell, brought him out of his stupor. He looked over the side to see a figure backing away, and small flames licking the side of the carriage.
“What—hoy!” he rasped, leaping down. He barely felt the shock of landing, drunk as he was, but the vandal rounded the juggernaut and ran through the yard.
Gotta do something, he thought, giving chase. Ahead of him, the vandal leaped and dodged, running like a frightened rabbit before a hound. Then he stopped short and staggered backward a few steps. “What’s this?” he muttered, his hand around the rake handle that had stopped him short.
Liana grabbed up a piece of firewood—one of many stumbling blocks they had laid in the yard—and brought it down on top of the driver’s head. The man gave her a sad look that said, I never asked for such treatment, then his knees buckled and he fell down snoring.
“Gods, how do they stand it?” one of the men complained, lighting a small lamp. “They must let their oxen run loose in the barn.”
“Step carefully, then,” said the other. “That must be the compost heap over there. It don’t smell much better.”
“Ah, here’s the trap door,” one said, holding up the light. “I’ll go down and fetch it, you keep an eye out.”
“Yar.” He watched as his companion descended the rickety ladder, taking the light with him. Darkness filled the barn, except for what poured up from the trap door.
“A wooden box,” the other called up from below. “They must have put it in—”
The man above yelped and jumped at the sudden stabbing pain in his backside. Unfortunately, his jump carried him over the open trap door and he plunged downward, shouting in alarm and pain.
Chakan dropped the pitchfork and reached over for the trapdoor. The first man drew his dagger and leaped for the ladder, but Chakan slammed it shut. He shot the bolt and dragged the heavy stone box on top of it. Down below, the trapped men pounded at the door and shouted empty threats.
“Done and done,” he called.
“Likewise,” Liana replied, holding a lantern at the door.
“Gods, I hated letting you put yourself in danger like that.”
“Eh, it went the way I expected. Except they had a driver. He’s snoozing in the yard, now.” She gave him a lopsided grin. Those two years I spent as a soldier were useful after all.”
They embraced in the midst of the ox dung they had spread to confound the attackers. “And like anything else you set your hand to, you performed admirably,” he said. “But let’s get this cleaned up before Mirthan brings the reeve.”
to be continued…