The front door had been breached, and pirates were trying to push in, but the heavy fire from the crew of The Covenant kept them at bay. Two corpses lay strewn in the broken doorway, and besides the general shouting from outside I could hear the wailing of a dying man. Syman and Tatianna were crouched by an overturned table, Wilhar was hidden at the corner of a hallway and Fotti lay at the top of the stairs, looking through the scope of her rifle, trained on the door.
“East is clear.” I said, sliding into cover beside Tatianna. “It’s Ingesbror – he’s in command, and I think there are about forty of them out there.”
“Darrus and Baen sure chose a good time to be elsewhere.” She said, echoing my own thoughts from earlier as she handed her spent rifle to Syman, who began hurriedly reloading it. “If there are that many it means the other captains probably aren’t here yet – just him making a run for the crown ‘fore they get here. Bastard.”
An idea came, and I holstered my pistol, instinctively ducking my head as Fotti’s rifle boomed behind us. “I’ve got an idea!” I said, shouting to be heard over the fresh roar of gunfire.
“Well, what is it?” Tatianna shouted back as she ducked back into cover. “Anything you’ve got would be more than welcome!”
“Ingesbror’s doing this so he can be the one that took out the people that took out Levaunt, right?”
“So I’m going to give him what he wants.” She stared at me in puzzlement for a moment, but before she could reply I darted out of cover and ran for the outside wall.
“Cover her!” I heard Tatianna yell, and there was a frantic note in her voice, but I was already in position, pressed against the wall and edging my way closer to the front door before the pirates had seen me.
I was close enough now that I could see through the eyes of a few of the pirates, some of them pressed less than a stride away, pressed against the outside of the same wall I had my back to. It didn’t take me long to spy the giant figure I was looking for – there were other norn, but only one was barking orders.
“Ingesbror!” I shouted as loud as I could as soon as there was a break in the gunfire, and the norn immediately raised a hand, shouting for his men to hold their fire. “Ingesbror!” Silence fell for a moment, then a booming voice answered.
“What you want?”
“So you are out there.” I forced a laugh into my tone. “Figured you’d be too much of a coward to show up yourself! It’s Kaede, you know, the new one? From The Undermarket?”
“I ‘member you. What’d you want?”
“Give Aurcattio up and I’ll kill you quick.” He shouted back, but the clipped anger in his voice was obvious. “Y’re dead anyway!”
“Why do you want her?”
“Me ‘n the boys’re goin’ to teach ‘er a lesson in what happens to those what betray us.” He growled back. “Payback for what she an’ ‘ers did t’Captain Levaunt.”
“She’s not the one who killed Levaunt.” I answered. “I am.”
“Then I won’t kill ye quick.” He said simply, and though he didn’t know I could see him, the giant shrugged. “But y’re dead ei’er way.”
“I’m willing to give you the opportunity.” I said. “You and me. One on one.” I heard Tatianna snarl under her breath, saw her about to get to feet before Syman pulled her back down. I raised a hand in her direction, gesturing for her to stay back.
There was a long moment of silence from the pirates, but I could imagine what Ingesbror was thinking. There was no way he could refuse, he knew that as well as I did. He needed all the backing he could get and if he was seen to turn down a challenge – from a human no less – it would weaken his base considerably. Levaunt’s other captains were on their way, and if they arrived and Ingesbror didn’t have the situation under control he’d be lucky if he manage to stay as second mate. A brute he might be, but he clearly wasn’t entirely blind.
“You an’ me.” He called back. “No guns, no friends, no tricks. Just you an’ me.”
“I win, your people pull back and let us leave the city.” He considered this for a moment. “Agreed?”
“’Greed.” He answered. “I win, you all give yerselves up.”
“Agreed.” I didn’t even pretend to look at Tatianna as I said it. I knew that her crew wouldn’t meekly roll over and give themselves over to the norn even if I lost, so the situation wouldn’t be any worse than they were in now.
And I would be dead, so what would it matter to me?
“Come on in.” I called out. Hesitation.
“You come out ‘ere.”
“You’ve five times our numbers.” I said. “My people know that if we double cross you your men’ll storm in and kill us all. My killing you one on one is our only chance of surviving.” He seemed to consider this, then nodded to the men flanking him.
“Call yer people back. I see ’em takin’ aim and my boys’ll come in from all sides.” He said. “I’m comin’ in with one.”
“Understood.” I turned back to Tatianna, who was on her feet now and grabbing me by the arm. “Wilhar, go tell Laissa what’s happening – everyone else, stand down and back off.” I managed to say before the captain dragged me off to the side.
“What’re you doing?” She hissed.
“Saving our lives.” I said, pulling my arm free so I could unbuckle my sword belt. “I kill him, the rest of the pirates either scatter. If they don’t then we’re in the situation as before, except they’ve lost their leader. How many of them are going to keep rushing into this killbox without Ingesbror to push them?”
“And what if he kills you? Levaunt picked his people for their viciousness, and Ingesbror was second mate for a reason.” She said as I handed her my belt. “I was just telling you how you’re in this because of me, and now you’re going to get yourself killed to try and save us?”
“I’ll be fine.” I said as the massive norn entered the shattered entrance hall, rolling his shoulders. “I promise.” Tatianna looked at me for a long time, then nodded slowly.
“I’ll hold you to that, Kaede.” She leant forward conspiratorially, as if about to tell me a secret, but instead of speaking more she only squeezed my hand. I felt myself smile at her, then took a deep breath and turned to face Ingesbror, who’s second – a burly human – took his brace of heavy pistols from him.
The Cloven Maiden’s second mate was as much a monster as I remembered him to be. A lantern jawed face, brown bearded and bronzed by a life at sea, his long, dirty hair was matted against his scarred head by the rain. Though he wore a leather coat to ward off the elements, there was no hiding his physique – biceps that were nearly the size of my torso, hands that could crush my skull if they got a firm grip, and though I thought him to be slightly less massive than Fiegrsonn I doubted he would be any less vicious of an opponent.
Of course, my fight with the late Lionguard had been under entirely different circumstances, and I let out another long breath as I stepped forward, already feeling the adrenaline begin to rise.
He drew a well worn sword and spun it a few times to loosen his muscles, rolling his shoulders and cracking his neck from side to side, to whether it was genuine attempt to prepare for the fight or just to intimidate me I couldn’t tell.
“Are you ready, human?” He asked, confident, sneering, seeing how puny his opponent really was.
I felt something tugging on my lips, a smile, and I couldn’t resist as it grew. Spreading across my face, I heard a laugh, realised it was me, and gave in. Leaning my head back, I laughed and laughed as everyone in the room turned stared at me.
This was what it came down to in the end. All the lies and schemes didn’t matter because now it had come down to what I was good at it, what I loved and knew I shouldn’t. It was simple – all I had to do was kill this man, and seeing him swagger in the way he did told me everything I needed to know.
“Kaede…” Tatianna began, but I held up my hand, still laughing.
“It’s fine. It’s all just fine.” I managed, raising my rapier and turning to my victim. “Come on then, norn. Let’s get started.”