Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Little Town Called Tolometto--Part 21

Gregory felt a sinking feeling in his stomach as he listened to Colin’s ultimatum. Or rather, Cyrus’ ultimatum, delivered by Colin. This was a nightmare. He looked at the Erls standing there, hands tied and heads bowed. One was a man he recognized--Diogenes Dragoman, the town guide and crier. A pleasant enough fellow--at least, as anyone could be under the circumstances.

The Mayor’s words pounded in his head. “But you would follow them. If it came to that.” And for the first time, Gregory realized that he couldn’t. Not if he wanted to remain a man. He nodded to himself, and thanked the Seven and the Black Bitch that it was Colin and not Cyrus. “Colin,” he said quietly. “It’s over. Let them go.”

Colin sneered at him. “Always knew you were weak, Gentleman. And now you’ve gone and committed insubordination. And the Captain doesn’t stand for that…” Colin drew his sword, as two fellow former Loyal Friends stepped forward to flank him. Olwen, who’d served the Loyal Friends as an archer, trained an arrow at Gregory. Gregory took a deep breath. He’d known death could be a consequence of his outburst. He just had to be sure that following these orders would be worst. And he was. Very sure indeed.

“Cyrus de Sang is not the Captain,” came a rumbling voice. Gregory saw Bald Bill Braddock standing there, Ancient Evreux and Mosca by his side. “I don’t know how you did things in the Loyal Friends, but in the Scarlet Shrikes, we vote when the Captain dies.” He glanced at Ancient Evreux. “Ancient Evreux--who’s the Captain?”

“Bald Bill Braddock is the Captain,” shouted Ancient Evreux. Mosca joined him as did quite a few others. Gregory smiled despite himself and joined the cry. “Bald Bill Braddock is the Captain!”

Braddock nodded, then glared at Colin. “Release the prisoners, Dupre. That’s an order.”

Colin smiled. “Well, seems we have a disagreement. ‘Cause we’d say ‘Cyrus de Sang is the Captain’.” He gestured to the little knot of ex-Loyal Friends and Ghouls. “And I don’t think we’re few enough to ignore.”

“I see. Then, you’re right. We have a disagreement.” Braddock drew his sword. “Release them. Your final warning.”

Colin snarled--and then suddenly one of the Ghouls screamed. “It is the Monker! She is here! And… moving!”

Gregory turned and saw it. Morgaine Cthonique was walking towards the battlement, head held high. The Ghouls were all cowering in terror. Colin glared at them. “By the Black Bitch, you poltroons--it’s just a woman! Olwen--fire at her!”

Olwen turned his bow towards Morgaine and loosed his arrow. It flew straight through the air, striking Morgaine clean in the eye. She noiselessly fell to the ground. The Loyal Friends laughed among themselves. “See?” said Colin to the Ghouls. “Witches die same as anyone else when you stick an arrow in them.”

Morgaine stood up, and continued marching towards the barricades. Colin blinked and stared at Olwen. “Fire again!” Olwen gulped, notched a new arrow, and fired. It struck Morgaine in the shoulder. She neither paused, nor seemed to even register it. Olwen turned to Colin in desperation. “Keep firing!” he screamed, then turned to the fleeing Ghouls. “Don’t run you cowards! Don’t…” But it was too late. The Ghouls were already running away, leaving the badly outnumbered Loyal Friends alone.

Gregory sprang on him. Colin barely managed to parry Gregory’s blow. “Damn you, you little traitor!” shouted Colin, preparing his counterattack. “I’m going to split your sk--” Gregory’s lightning-fast thrust caught him under the armpit. Colin screamed in agony, as Gregory stabbed him in the belly, and then in the throat.

Meanwhile, Morgaine had by now reached the barricades, pincushioned with arrows. Behind her, the Guard and the Kizaks were following, a chubby short Erl holding an axe leading the charge. Olwen stared at the battered, bloodied figure in horror, and dropped his bow. He turned to run, only for Ancient Evreux to knock him out with one withered fist. Morgaine waited for Braddock to get the townsfolk clear of the barricade, then picked it up with her own hands, and tossed it away. She glanced at the group. “So--whose job is it to surrender here?”

Braddock stepped forward. “That’d be me, Your Excellency.”

“The giant baby?” said Morgaine in surprise, her eyes--or rather the one eye that didn’t have an arrow sticking in it--going wide. “Okay then. Let’s hear it.”

“We surrender,” said Braddock.

“Very good,” declared Morgaine, slapping her hands together. She glanced at the Guardsman who’d followed her. “Woodash, you go spread the news who’s in charge here now. For those who haven’t got the message.”

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