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The Hunt for Bodamil - Part Two

Author: 
David Simpson
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
306

The Hunt for Bodamil

Part 2 OF 3

 

It was a bright fall morning as I crested the hill that overlooked Gravestaff. Birds were singing merrily amongst the colors of the autumn forest; I even whistled a little in the crisp air. I'd been three days on the trail of the infamous General Bodamil (and his plunder) and had no doubts that I was riding into danger and intrigue and all sorts of fell deeds, but I was enjoying myself immensely.

I'd passed through several small villages that were all starting to return to normal as the stink of war receded and I hadn't seen more than a handful of soldiers along the way - a situation that changed as I looked down into a small river valley at my destination.

Gravestaff was under siege.

It wasn't a particularly large siege as such things go, still there must have been two or three hundred men camped in the fields below me. To my right the river emerged from behind the hill I stood on and lazily curved toward the scene. A small merchant vessel was beached off that way, still smoking from a fire that seemed to have ravaged it. Before me the hill descended into farmland; a scattering of farmhouses looked to be the focal points for groups of soldiers. Through those the road continued to the river itself where a low, wide stone bridge spanned it. Directly in the middle of the bridge, supported by a river islet, a small fortification barred the way. Its walls were high and made of stone and iron gates barred the passage that led through it across the bridge. The flotsam of battle cluttered its foot. I could just make out a few bodies being pecked over by crows.

My good mood evaporated as I muttered to myself and spurred my horse forward.

It wasn't long before I was accosted by a couple of soldiers. Before they could say anything I loudly proclaimed, "About time. Take me to your commander immediately."

There were momentarily taken aback but one shook it off and demanded my name and business.

"If that's any concern of yours," I replied icily, "Your commander will fill you in. In the meantime you can take this ahead and point me in his direction." I flourished the writ from the local council that I still carried.

It worked, as a bit of bluster and confidence usually does. I was escorted to one of the farmhouses and politely ushered inside where several large, armoured men stood near a table draped with a map. A woman stood amongst them as well, her voice strong and loud and proclaiming this was no lamb among lions. It was a voice I knew and as they all turned to face me I did not know whether to smile or despair.

It was Fae.

#

"Yes, I believe we have met, haven't we?" said Fae in response to my polite, but cautious greeting, "Though I seem to have forgotten your name." She smiled sweetly, but her eyes looked sharp as knives.

"Harnig," said the burly, greybeard Captain as he looked up from reading the council's writ, "Though I'd think your memory would be better mi-lady since you signed this note yourself not a fortnight ago."

"Harnig," she replied slowly, "Yes of course. Forgive me Captain - the events of late must have addled my brain."

"Not so, milady," I replied as gallantly as I could manage, "When last you saw me I was costumed with a full beard and much finer garments as these traveling clothes. It is not surprising that you mistake me."

She looked at me for what seemed a very long time, then just as I thought she would disown me said, "Of course, and you affected a limp as well I believe. The Blackport Special Services makes some strange demands on its officers it seems."

I relaxed and launched enthusiastically into my well-rehearsed story.

#

Captain Thorn, as he was named, was not an easy audience. However given the writ, and the fact that it probably didn't matter much to him one way or the other, he decided to accept my story.

"Very well… Captain," he said with a steady eye on me, "The man you seek is on the other side of yon bridge. That being the case, I can offer you only company in frustration for we cannot break through that fortification, least ways not without the loss of more men than I care to risk. The fort is well designed and a mere handful can hold it against hundreds with ease. The nearest crossing is two days ride to the west."

"What of a boat?" I asked, "Are their no river craft in this village?"

"They made sure to burn or break everything capable of crossing the river long before we arrived," came the reply, "Though crossing is not our intent in any case. We wish only to bring those within the fort to justice."

I got the distinct impression that by ‘justice' he meant ‘put their heads on sharp sticks'.

"In fact," he continued, "The only craft that ply these waters belong to them, as the Lady Fae learned to her dismay."

"The smoking ship I spied from the hill?" I queried Fae.

"Yes," she agreed with impotent anger, "My late husband's boat. I decided to use it to bring what aid I could to those in need along the river. They slipped ashore the night I arrived and burned it to the waterline, along with many of the supplies we carried." She looked as if she might say more, but changed her mind and looked away.

"As I said, the nearest crossing is two days west," said the Captain, "That is likely your quickest way."

"No, the quickest way is across the bridge," I replied, scratching my chin, "Besides; there is someone inside that fort that I need to talk to."

They both looked at me with raised eyebrows.

"Tell me Captain," I said with my eyes raised to the ceiling in thought, "If that portcullis were opened, would your men be up for a battle tonight?"

#

I exited the farmhouse and Fae accompanied me as I strolled the streets of the hamlet in search of a means to enter the river fort. She seemed about to speak several times but checked herself, her brows knitted in thought. I studiously ignored her and whistled tunelessly as we strolled the dirt lanes that connected the homesteads. Finally, she broke.

"What are you up to?" she blurted in an overloud voice, coming to a stop with her hands on her hips. A group of children playing nearby stopped to watch.

"Hmm?" I replied innocently, "What do you mean milady?"

"I mean, what are you doing here?"

"By that I must assume you still don't trust me," I sighed theatrically, "Here I stand, having fought my way leagues inside a war-torn land, on the trail of a heinous villain and about to risk my very life in an attempt to break this siege… and you still question my motives?"

Her face reddened in embarrassment, but before she could reply I pushed my advantage.

"Do you remember our agreement?"

Her eyes narrowed.

"I believe you agreed that, should I be proved to be truly engaged in this endeavour, we would spend some time together. Did you not"

Her mouth moved soundlessly, searching for a reply.

"And if this is not proof that I am so engaged, then truly lady I know not how to sway your opinion. Unfortunately," I continued without pause, "I must collect on that promise later, for now duty calls. Perhaps, if you are willing, I will seek you out at sunrise…"

I adopted a serious look and stared into her hazel eyes as I pushed the dramatics to the edge.

"…should I live to see it."

I turned abruptly and strode purposefully away, leaving her standing speechless in the diminishing light.

#

I didn't go far, as I walked directly to the group of children that had been watching our little drama. There were several young ones of indeterminate gender and two boys of eight or nine years. I smiled and hunkered down in front of them.

"I'll bet you gentlemen play about that river fort all the time?" I said, holding up a shiny silver coin.

#

I am not overly fond of children. My experience was that they were typically noisy, smelly, demanding and emotionally unbalanced. Since those traits are easily accounted for in most of my friends, I am free from the desire to have their shorter versions about. Still, they came in extremely useful at times.

In fact, this was not the first time I had enlisted the help of youngsters in assessing an objective. They had a knack for getting into places they shouldn't and a natural ability for finding places where adults wouldn't think to look for them; extremely useful attributes to one of my vocation. Thus it was that I found myself clambering along the underside of the bridge in the pitch dark a few feet above a frigid, rushing river.

The timbers were slippery and chill to the touch, but the crossing itself was not particularly difficult. I wore thin lambskin gloves, which helped with my grip but had little effect on the cold. In fact, I was not dressed for the weather at all as my current acrobatics required lightweight clothing. I told myself that the discomfort was worth the freedom of movement that stood between me and a swim in the turbulent river; besides the exertion would warm me soon enough.

It took me the better part of an hour to cross, moving cautiously as I was, and by the time I made the other side it was well into the night. My sources had informed me of several large cracks in the foundation of the fort that penetrated into its lower levels and I slid from beneath the cover of the bridge to find them. I looked up and confirmed that no one would see me from the top of the walls lest they leant over and looked straight down. I would give them no reason to do so.

The fort itself stood upon a small, rocky islet, with the bridge running through it to the other side. The base of the fort was set into the rock and stone, but the upstream side was littered with debris that had piled up and battered the foundation over the years. It was here that I crept to, peeking between the boulders and logs that were strewn about on the thin beach. Several openings presented themselves, but none were suitable for ought but vermin. Then finally I came upon a likely candidate. A largish breach had been opened in the stone and mortar foundation, leaving a low gap almost wide enough for a man to squeeze through. It was partially filled with gravel and flotsam, which I quietly scraped away until it looked passable.

Hoping fervently that this wasn't simply a cave filled with nasty creatures, I slithered in, shovelling more wet gravel behind me as I went.

Pitch-blackness.

Slimy stone.

Scuttling sounds.

Then suddenly, a breath of less stale air. I pulled myself through into a cavernous darkness and waited patiently until my eyes could resolve the gloom into dim shapes.

It was a high roofed cellar, empty save for a jumble of crates and barrels along one wall. I could barely make out a set of wooden stairs along the other side, which rose to the darker outline of a door. Through the gap at the bottom a ruddy light, only slightly brighter than the surrounding darkness, was visible.

I was in.

#

Padding silently through dark corridors, I made my way upward. The bridge level was lit with torches and groups of two and three armed men wandered about at infrequent intervals. It wasn't a large place and hiding spots were few, still I managed to find a likely spot in a small room next to the bottom of a stair. A little farther down the corridor a door faced inward to the fort. I slipped into the room and waited for a stray.

I was not long in waiting. The sound of a single pair of boots coming down the stair prompted me to slip a dagger into my left hand, reversed so that the blade lay hidden against my wrist. Assured that I could hear no other footsteps beyond the one set, I opened the door and strode conspicuously out of the room; reaching the steps just as I judged my quarry was reaching the bottom.

I had judged well. A tall man in mail and leather was coming down, one hand resting on the pommel of a long sword at his hip. He wore a plain, conical helm covering long, stringy black hair and his eyes showed momentary confusion as I appeared in front of him. It took him only a second to register that I was not one of his company, but by that time I had mounted the two steps that separated us and flipped the dagger in my hand. I drove it upward hard and fast, straight into his widening left eye, using my right hand to grab hold of his shoulder and pull him close. He was a heavy man and I could not hold him up completely, but I was able to cushion his fall and guide it more or less softly down to the bottom of the steps.

It was still rather loud.

I did not hesitate, but dragged the body into the small room and pulled the wooden door shut. In the darkness, I quickly stripped his hauberk and mail shirt from him, stopping once as footsteps approached and two of the corpse's companions mounted the stairs. I donned his over large mail shirt, along with his sword and helm, then felt for my knife, which I had left embedded in his eye socket so as to minimize the blood. I jerked it out, quickly wiped it on his underclothes and sheathed it before slipping out the door and shutting it behind me.

I had to move quickly now.

Up the stairs I went, on the theory that the man in charge would want the best view. The fort only had two floors, so it was not a long climb, though it seemed to take an age.

The top of the stairs opened onto an open walkway. To my left was Gravestaff, to the right fifty feet of stone wall with three stout doors set in it. A glance showed that Captain Thorn had his men well hidden on the riverbank; awaiting the opening of the portcullis I had promised.

I made my way to the first door. There was no guard outside, so I took a deep breath and entered quickly, pulling it shut behind me.

Wrong room.

The space I entered was quite large with a wood beamed ceiling and narrow windows along the back wall. Five piles of bedding lay on the floor at intervals; on each lay a young girl. They were tied together at their ankles, each linked to the other by a stretch of rope. They huddled naked under their thin blankets, bruised faces looking up at me in dread, all save one.

A soldier lay atop the last girl in line, breeches around his ankles, thrusting and grunting over her low whimpers of pain and humiliation.

I quickly crossed the room, slipping my garrotte from a pocket. The man was oblivious to my presence as I stood over him, but took notice quickly as I looped the wire about his throat and pulled him bodily off the girl. She was young I saw, barely a woman with straw blond hair and breasts only just budded. To her credit she stifled her scream of surprise as I jerked the man from her and stared at him struggling and clawing for breath at the end of my garrotte. I glanced at her sitting there, naked and bruised, and thought angrily of the dozens that must have passed through this makeshift brothel.

My hands held steady as the man scratched and fought for his life; his feet kicked for purchase, tried to trip me, but I was pitiless. It took long moments, with all the women staring at the tableau is silence throughout, but his convulsions eventually became feeble then stopped altogether.

I laid him out and wiped the bloodied wire on his clothing, then drew a knife and went to the young girl, cutting the rope around her ankle. I proffered the hilt to a slightly older looking girl who was next in line, saying "Cut the rest loose. Did they lock the door?"

She nodded, but it was the young girl who spoke, "From the outside, he'll have a key."

She indicated the corpse, so I quickly searched his pockets. Sure enough I produced a large iron key and noted that the lock was visible from this side of the door as well.

I tossed the key to the girl.

"Lock it when I leave," I said, "There is about to be quite a commotion. Don't open it until Captain Thorn's men come to get you. I'll tell him you're here."

They all stared at me in various stages of shock and bewilderment, but the girl who was busy cutting their bonds glanced at me to reply.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome," I smiled grimly, "Now, can you tell me where I might find Captain Oram?"

#

The Captain's quarters were spacious, a bookshelf stretched along one wall and a long table, covered in maps and papers, along the other. It looked like a common room where men might gather when not on duty. An older man with a splinted leg was seated at the table and another, younger one, stood attentively beside him. They both looked up upon my bustling entrance.

Captain Oram, for I was sure it was he, was rough of appearance with piggy eyes and a heavy beard. His helm sat on the table and a large axe leaned against the wall behind him. I seemed to have interrupted him in the midst of composing a letter. The other man was young, blond and clean-shaven; he held his helm under one arm.

Striding quickly toward them, helmet pushed low and arms held wide, I grinned and greeted them loudly, "Good news my friends!"

"Who..." Oram began and tried to rise from his chair.

He didn't get far, for by that time I was on them. My right hand dropped behind my neck and grasped the knife secreted there. It flew as I approached to within a few feet and buried itself in the throat of the young soldier. He dropped to his knees pawing at the knife and gurgling horribly. I kicked him to the floor.

Oram went for his axe but his splinted leg slowed him. I leapt on his back and rode him to the ground, a fist embedded in his hair and another knife already in my free hand. His breath went out of him in a rush as I pulled his head back cruelly, exposing his neck. I looked into his upturned face as I placed cold steel against his throat and whispered, "Shhh."

He froze and stared into my eyes as we listened to the soft, strangled sounds of his companion dying.

"Tell me where I might find Bodamil and I will not cut your throat," I promised him with a smile.

#

I am not a particularly moral man by any stretch of the imagination, but I do hold to my promises. The throat on the body I left behind me was pristine, though the bloody hole in his ear was a poor trade.

Four men were dead by my hand, but I had what I wanted. I was not exactly enjoying my murderous little spree, but I felt a certain satisfaction in the fact that these were killers and rapists and criminals of the worst sort, though they wore the livery of soldiers. Besides, their deaths were only an early start on the justice that Captain Thorn was waiting to hand out.

Still, I was not feeling particularly cheerful. Oram hadn't given in easily and the so-called ‘arts' of persuasion were not my favourite pastime.

It was closing in on dawn when I crept into the courtyard. It wasn't really a courtyard as much as a long, wide hallway; roofed by the fort's second floor which stretched across it. It was floored by the cobbled stone bridge and bounded on either end with portcullis's blocking the entrances. Torches lit the area fairly large area, perhaps fifty yards in length and twenty across. Gatehouses stood to one side of each entrance; just small rooms set into the walls. The one I was interested in had its door open revealing the geared opening mechanism inside. A single soldier leaned against the wall a few feet from the doorway. Several other men were about: three by the rear gate and two others by an archway that led inside the fort. The only other way into the courtyard was the way I had come – through a previously locked side door leading to a narrow set of stairs.

The guard beside the door was yawning and it was simplicity itself to slip behind him into the room. I quickly took stock, making note of the mechanism to release the portcullis – a large crank that could be locked in place with a metal ratchet. I also noted that the door could be barred from the inside. Perfect.

Taking a deep breath in anticipation of the chaos that was about to break loose, I slammed the door shut and slipped the crossbeam into place.

Panicked shouts came from outside and fists began beating on the door.

The room was now pitch dark. I felt my way to the gate crank and began turning it as quickly as I could. It was heavy, but I heard the satisfying sounds of grating metal as the portcullis outside began to rise. More shouts followed, this time joined by yells of fierce elation from outside and the pounding of heavy feet as Captain Thorn's men leapt from their hiding places and rushed across the bridge into the fort.

The door to my dark little chamber was suddenly splintered as some bright lad brought an axe to bear. It wouldn't take too many such blows to breach it. I cranked faster.

Quickly, sounds of battle began to rage outside and to my gratification the beating on the door stopped. I heard the grunts and screams of men locked in mortal combat not five feet away from me. Another jolt on the door signalled someone being thrown against it, followed by a tearing sound as steel ripped into flesh and a cry of pain.

I locked down the crank and sat on the floor to wait.

It seemed to take a long time but eventually the sounds of fighting moved farther away and shouted orders replaced cries of panic. Then, someone knocked on the door.

"Yes?" I answered pleasantly.

"Captain Harnig I presume?" said the familiar voice of Captain Thorn.

I opened the door and stepped out into a bloody dawn.

#

Fae leaned over me, with shining eyes and a loosened bodice that revealed the ample swell of her breasts. Her dark hair enveloped my face and she smiled as she opened her blouse and pressed her nakedness against me. I put a hand on her leg and she covered it with hers, sliding it upward to her hip beneath the cloth of her skirt. She wore nothing underneath and my breath caught as she murmured her desire.

"Oh Hardy, you beast. Take me now. Oh Harding! Hernig!"

"Harnig!"

I jolted awake with a start, looking around in momentary confusion at the blanket laid beneath me and the remnants of a meal scattered about. I finally focused on Fae sitting next to me, smiling. She was fully clothed.

Damn.

We were on a hill overlooking the village, where we had taken a picnic. It had been a pleasant and companionable morning with little impropriety, much to my dismay, and it seemed my sleepless night had caught up to me as I relaxed in the pleasant autumn sunshine.

"Perhaps we should head back," Fae suggested, "You're obviously exhausted."

I stretched and shook my head, "Oh no. You won't be rid of me that easily. Besides the dream I just had was enough to wake the dead. You'll never guess what it was about."

"Oh I think I can guess," she answered with a pretty blush and a glance below my belt.

Hope sprung anew. I grinned and rolled onto my side. She looked me in the eyes, despite the reddening of her cheeks.

"In my dream," I said, "I saw you clearly, though your bodice was much less tightly tied."

Her hand strayed to her chest and her face flushed even more. I held my breath as she wavered then let it out slowly as she pulled open the bow that held the laces together.

"More like this," I said and reached out to her. I loosened the ties more, revealing the full curve of her bosom. I brushed my hand lightly against her skin and she began to breathe heavily. Then suddenly she pulled back, drawing her blouse together with one hand.

"I cannot," she breathed, "It's… too soon. And I don't even know you."

"You know me," I disagreed, "I'm a scoundrel, remember? You were the only one who recognized me."

"I was wrong. You are here."

"No, you weren't wrong. But even a scoundrel can be of use. I may seek my advantage, but not at the expense of innocents. I do not bow to any, though what I attempt will achieve a common cause. I do not hold to any laws, yet I will dispense justice."

"Why?"

I saw that this was the core of her uncertainty. She had seen through me only to find another wall and wondered if it too was made of lies.

"The camp," I said as the truth of it erased the smile from my lips.

Her eyes watered and she bit her lip. I sat up, arms around my knees, and looked down into the valley.

"Women and children. Widows and orphans. Homeless, hopeless, hungry… all for what? Greed? Power?" I waved my hand at the hills beyond Gravestaff, "Not good enough. When I find him I'll kill him. It may not change the world, but it'll make me feel much better."

"And what about your ‘advantage'?" she asked as a single tear slid down her cheek.

I wasn't sure who she was crying for: Bodamil's victims, or me, but I decided to assume the former and grinned.

"Well now," I said flopping back onto my side, head propped upon one hand, "I will take what I can get in that regard."

The resulting silence lasted only a few seconds, yet it seemed much longer. I realized I was holding my breath again and only let it out when she brushed the tear away from her cheek. As she did so, she let go her bodice and her breasts again pushed against the loose fabric. She lay down beside me and I felt my fatigue slip away.

 

THE HUNT FOR BODAMIL - PART 2 © David Simpson

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