Trent was the first to hear the commotion outside.
The three sailors had booked a room at the inn, as Anala had ordered, and they’d waited, not so patiently, for six days.
They all worried about their lady, Dagon knew, though the younger ones found it more difficult to hide their frustration.
Trent had suggested they go to Clifton and join the bellica, for he was sure she was in danger.
“And disobey ‘er orders?” Dagon asked him. “Ye want her ta slap ye again?”
“No, but I dinnae want her ta die either. A slap shows she’d still be alive, at least,” the man had retorted.
Merrik cut in then, before Dagon could reply, shaking his head. “We could be endangerin’ ‘er life, Trent, if’n we’d be of a mind ta go. It was ‘is Lordship who ordered us ta stay ‘ere, not Anala. ‘e might kill ‘er if’n we think ta disobey,” he said, and they all fell silent, for he’d said out loud what none of them wanted to think about. None of them liked feeling helpless to save their bellica.
Trent kicked the wall in frustration. “I’d be going fer a walk,” he said, and left without waiting for permission.
Merrik moved after him but Dagon held his hand out, stopping the other man. “Dinnae. He’d not endanger ‘er.”
The two had gone downstairs to have a drink. Or four.
They sat by the fire for hours, Trent joining them eventually, nursing pints of ale.
Late in the evening, close to midnight and the new year (not that anyone on this Goddess-forsaken island seemed to care), Trent sat up straighter in his chair, head cocked to listen to something only he could hear.
“Ye hear that?” he asked, voice a whisper.
The other two shook their heads; Dagon cocked his head to listen and saw Merrik do the same.
Trent listened a moment longer, then his eyes widened. “It’d be Anala!” he said, and then he was leaving, flying out the door before the other two understood the import of his words.
A second later Dagon and Merrik followed, rushing out after Trent onto the street.
There, at the corner of the road, where it curved to leave Tellangia and go further up the mountain, there was Anala on a great black stallion, her sword drawn, fighting off a party of guardsmen from the palace. She’d taken down two already, but there were easily ten, fifteen more.
Trent was running and shouting out battle cries already, cutlass drawn to slash at the tendons of the nearest guard. The man screamed and fell off his horse, and then Dagon lost sight of Trent for all three were in the fray at that point, hacking and slashing, careful not to injure the horses.
Anala fought with renewed vigour at the sight of her honour guard, but Dagon could see she was unwell. They had to win, and quick.
They were down to a few men and many scared horses milling about. Dagon mounted one in time to see reinforcements come in – elites, by the look of them, with those strange weapons on their belts.
“Merrik, Trent!” he shouted a warning, and Merrik looked up from the guard he’d just dispatched to see the new force. Dagon couldn’t see Trent but he hoped the other man had got himself a mount.
“Feck!” Dagon heard Merrik say, and then he was mounted too, and they stood to face the men coming down the hill towards them. Dagon still couldn’t see Trent, but had no time to look for him, as the elite troops were upon them.
They fought for what seemed an eternity, hacking and slashing at whatever they could reach that was unprotected. Soon they’d taken down another four men, but Dagon knew already they’d lose. He was bleeding from a dozen small wounds and doubted the others fared much better. If only he could get Anala to run – at least she’d have a chance.
“Bellica!” he shouted. Her head snapped in his direction briefly before she turned back to the man she was killing.
“Bellica, ye must go – leave us!”
She shook her head as she thrust her sword at another elite. “I’ll not leave ye, Dagon – till death!” With a savage stroke of her sword the man fell to her horse’s feet, and she turned then and Dagon saw who he really served.
“Fer Bellona!” he screamed, and took to battle as his standard the image of his Lady, blood-soaked hair plastering a sweaty, dirty face, teeth bared in a non-human smile, sword held in a strong arm ready to cut down everything in her path. It gave him courage.
He fought viciously, eyes barely registering the sight of Trent’s broken body on the cobblestones of Tellangia, trampled by the horses he’d not avoided. He did not notice the wounds he sustained. All he could see was the image of his Lady, Bellona Incarnate, battle queen, sovereign of death.
A bang and a flash of smoke got his attention, and he heard a woman scream in pain. He looked to see Bellona-Anala clutch her side and double over, fresh blood leaking around her fingers.
He followed the line of sight and saw an elite pointing that strange weapon at her, smoke curling from its tip. Before he could move Merrik was there, his cutlass slicing through the man’s wrist like it was butter. The man cried out and clutched his arm, but his cries were replaced by gurgles as Merrik’s cutlass then sliced through his jugular and his lifeblood spilled out onto the sailor, the horses, and the street.
Merrik smiled at Dagon, happy to have killed the man who’d wounded their lady. Another BANG!, and Merrik’s smile was replaced by a look of surprise. His hand lifted to his chest, where a red flower bloomed across his tunic, a symbol of impending death, and then he fell to the cobblestones, body limp.
“NO!” Dagon heard his own voice scream, but he knew it was useless.
He looked to see the nose of one of those weapons that had killed his friend and injured his lady pointed in his direction, and knew it was over. There were two against two now, but Dagon could never beat them with just a cutlass, and Anala had fainted onto her horse.
He kneed his horse to walk forward, in front of her, so that he might be her shield in his last moments. Then he faced the elites, and waited.
…but the darkness didn’t come.
Dagon opened his eyes to see the two men slide off their horses and to the ground, eyes blank. He frowned in surprise. Did they shoot themselves?
A clatter of hooves was his answer as their dour-faced escort galloped up, one still-smoking weapon in each hand.
The man nodded at the stunned Dagon. “More are on their way. We need to get her to the ship – now,” he added, moving to the stallion’s side, where he lifted the unconscious Anala into his arms and sat her across the saddle. He gestured with his head to the stallion. “Mount Endymion. He’ll be better off with us.”
Dagon found his voice back. “Me friends – they need a sea burial.”
The man made an exasperated noise. “We don’t have much time.”
Dagon was already gathering up Merrik and carrying him to the stallion. “Then go on without me. I’d be able ta catch ye up.” He tied Merrik’s lifeless body to the back of the saddle and went to gather up what was left of Trent, keeping the tears that threatened to come back out of sheer stubbornness.
The dour-faced man still waited for him, holding Endymion’s reins. Dagon did not question it but simply mounted and angled the stallion in the right direction.
A crowd had gathered at the noise, and people were pointing and whispering in shock. Someone had dared to kill elites? And wasn’t that His Lordship’s man with these strangers?
They ignored the commoners’ confusion, and with a shout the dour-faced man was off, Dagon hot on his heels.