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Gambits - The Copper Knight II

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TheCopper Knight II

Derren found himself at the Westcher for the second time within a fortnight. The first time was for William, and now William's house had been burned down, with two female corpses found inside the remains. They were blackened and charred, and entirely unidentifiable. Derren couldn't even tell they were female, not until the Grey Sage told him.

The lanky old man spoke so quietly Derren struggled to hear him. "If you would please repeat yourself, Sage," Derren said feeling irritated.

"I said that they didn't die by the fire," the Sage said once again, only slightly more audible than before. "One had her throat cut, and the other was shot in the heart with an arrow fired from a crossbow."

"They were murdered? Then why the fire?"

The Sage gave him a sardonic look, then said, "Perhaps killing them wasn't enough. But that's not my job, Captain. Perhaps the arrow recovered from one of the bodies might help you find the answers you're looking for. It's been cleaned off and is sitting on the silver tray," he lifted his hand and stretched a finger outward. "Over there on the back counter, at the end."

Derren walked over to the back counter and picked up the broken shafted arrow. He recognized the arrowhead, it was the kind crafted in the Riverlands, just like the one that killed Captain Lewis Gren. Could it be a coincidence? He wondered. All of the arrows crafted in these parts were in the fashion of the Greenlands; though it wouldn't be hard to obtain arrows from the Riverlands, or even the Highlands.

Eventually, he decided he was putting too much thought into the arrow and set it back down in the tray. It mattered not where the arrow originated, what mattered was who fired it, and why? Derren sighed, he wasn't good at solving mysteries like this. It was time to he would report his findings to Jorden and then continue his hunt for the Baron. But first, he had other priorities.

"What is it you have come to report, Captain?" The king’s hand, Duncan Whitetree asked. He had a pile of papers in front of him on the wide desk, his attention set on them.

"The two dead bodies found in the burned down house of William Royce, they seem to have been murdered beforehand. And I believe that they were William's fiancée Katrina, and her Aunt. That is given these two bodies and the disappearance of those two as well."

"And you waste my time to report this?"

Derren cleared his throat awkwardly, feeling very anxious all of the sudden. "Erm, no, no sir. It's just... I would like to know what it is you would have of me. I mean now that Albert Hathen is dead, along with William Royce, it seems you no longer have need of me. I mean in the City Watch that is."

Duncan paused in his paperwork and looked up at Derren for a moment, and then he settled back in his chair. "The Sky Cloaks have such a wavering loyalty," he said to himself as if Derren were not even there. "And Jorden is a stubborn old man who has great resentment for the people at courts, but he'll put the needs of the city first so I'll allow him to do his job. As for you," he studied him carefully as if he were a tool that had been used up, and now wondered if it was time to toss it aside. "You're not nearly as smart as Royce."

"I'm a far better fighter than him, ser," Derren replied quickly.

Duncan scoffed, "So is Gerald, yet he hasn't had to use a sword in years. Fighting isn't everything. That Baron down there, the self-named lord of crime. He's a distraction, probably someone being used by whoever has been taunting us, and killing everyone off. He needs to be handled, you want to be of use, take care of him.

"I don't care how; if I need anything more of you, I will summon you. Otherwise don't seek me out again. You’re a man of common birth and a simple captain of the Sky Cloaks. Your intrusions on my business are suspicious."

Down at Traders Square, Derren watched the unloaded merchant carts setting off down the road, leaving the city. He was absent-minded of anything else, though, the kids running around throwing small rocks at the fat men who insulted them for being poor, the grown men fist fighting shirtless for the entertainment of a crowd who threw in copper coins as they cheered them on, all of it phased him, and all he saw was those travelling merchants who got to see the world outside the city walls.

The furthest he had ever been outside of the city was the field of gravestones, where they buried the bodies of fallen guards with no burial site of their own. Maybe when all of this was over, and they found the Baron, then he would take his savings and go see more of the world. If for nothing else, his job as a city guard had put some nice coins in his pocket, which stacked up over the years.

Derren may have owed his allegiance to Gerald, for saving him from the noose and raising him up from the slums, but he had no intention of being a servant for the rest of his life. For now, though he dreamed of the world outside the city; until his daydreaming was disturbed by the shift of commotion at the Square. It wasn't the noise or the chaos that brought him back to the present, rather it was the eerie silence. He looked around and saw the Square was all but deserted.

The children were gone, the merchants had taken their carts and fled, and all others had a sudden desire not to be there. Leaving only Derren and the fifty men with him. They gathered together in the center of the square; hands gripped tightly around their spears. And after a calm moment of tension, countless of armed men began pouring out into the square.

Derren looked to his men, one of the newer recruits, a lad of about seventeen, was shaking with anxiety and fear as the men kept coming. Derren put a firm hand on his shoulder and whispered in his ear, "Soon as we can, we'll make an opening for you, then you run fast as you can to the barracks. Don't stop, don't look back just go and find the commander, tell him we need reinforcements."

The boy swallowed the lump in his throat and said with a quivering lip, "Y-yes. Yes, ser!"

Derren nodded and looked back to see the armed men still coming, taking their time. They blocked all escape routes first and started spreading out to surround them on all sides. "Form up, back to back. Spears at the ready!" Derren commanded.

The men replied by closing in together tight as they could with those of them wielding spears in the outermost circle, holding them out in front of them.

"This here's our city now," one of the men shouted as they drew closer. "We'll be the new keepers of the peace."

Derren said nothing, not wishing to provoke them. What they needed above all was time, and doing as little action as possible before they charged them would be the best way to get it. They may have been outnumbered, but they were trained, most of these men seemed to have never held a blade until today.

Gerald had taught him battle formations for a commander, and strategies as well; he was grooming him to be a captain in some army. Instead, he was captain of a handful of guards for the city, still his teachings might very well save him now. As the men outnumbered them five to one, they hesitated for a moment seeing the guards work together, they fought it would be chaos and they would pick them off and surround them.

And for a moment Derren actually believed they had a fair chance, but when the men surrounding them charged, their formation fell apart. The first wave of men came at them like barbarians, twirling their axes above their heads and running right into the spears. Most of them died right away, and Derren couldn't even fathom what would compel men to act in such a way, but a few of them lived long enough to wound two of his men and kill a third.

The others, who were of more sound mind, rushed them while they were distracted, battering away their spears and slashing at the guards with their swords. Screams of steel clashing, and men being cut down mixed in together as some of Derren's men blocked the attack, others, Derren included, parried and cut down the attackers, and the rest were themselves cut down. He soon got separated from his men as more and more of them charged recklessly.

He was left to fend for himself and kept backing away so he wouldn't get surrounded. He blocked a swing, stepped back, parried another from his left and shoved the man into his comrades. A couple stumbled back and more came. He could barely keep up, they kept advancing on him, gradually getting further and further around to his side.

Now and again the men would get too eager and make a fatal attempt to swing at him. Derren would dodge or parry it, then cut them across the chest or even neck if he was real lucky. But they kept coming, and he stopped worrying about trying to counter attacks and focused solely on backing up and dodging or parrying their strikes.

Derren got so focused on trying to survive their attacks he missed his footing and fell on his back. The men launched at him with their swords, and he rolled away, narrowly avoiding the gleaming steel. He rolled right to the feet of another man who grinned at him triumphantly. Derren thrust his blade up and into his thigh and got to his feet. He kicked the man into the others and ran.

He tried to return to his men but hardly a third of them remained, and they were scattered, fighting for their own lives in smaller groups. He slashed at what men he could while he ran, never daring to slow down. "Retreat!" he shouted to his remaining forces. "Return to the barracks!"

The men didn't need to hear it twice; soon as they got the chance they turned away and ran. Not daring to look back once Derren ran, a few of his men in front of him and the others behind him. He could hear the cries for help by some of the men behind him that weren't fast enough, this caused him to pump his legs harder and go faster.

All the streets they ran down were emptied until they got further into the city. That's when they saw slain bodies of men, some in sky-blue uniforms, some in everyday clothes. All of them scattered through the streets, dark puddles formed around them, of dirt and blood. Derren didn't bother to think what this meant, he just kept running.

He heard the sounds of the men chasing right behind them all the way on their tails until they made it to Bulwark Street, where they were faced with a row of Sky-Cloaks, armed with bows aiming straight for them. Despite all his instincts Derren stopped, his men too, and the archers let loose their arrows.

Derren flinched as the arrows flew right past him, some grazing him on the cheek, and side of his neck. He let out a frightened breath and turned to see the attackers that were right behind them felled by the first wave of arrows. More arrows flew a moment later, soaring just over their heads, and felled the next wave of men coming for them.

And then the third wave of arrows flew, and more men fell. Then the guards rushed past Derren and his men; spears pointed ahead, once they got past them, and met the final wave of enemies. The Sky Cloaks made quick work of those that were left, cutting them down in sprays of scarlet, and cries of pain. The few enemies left turned to flee and had several arrows fly into their backs.

Jorden soon approached Derren, "How many men did you lose down there in your ambush?" He asked him.

Derren waited to catch his breath for a minute before surveying his men. Of the fifty-two he had with him down at the square, only fourteen remained now. "Fourteen, they just came out of nowhere and surrounded us, five to one. The lad I sent off to meet you?"

It took Jorden a minute to realize what Derren was asking, and when he figured it out he shook his head. "Our scouts saw you and your men running for the barracks. No one else made it." Jorden turned to the others and said, "Any of you too wounded to fight get inside the barracks to the Healer Bay, the rest of you wait outside here and await further orders. Those of you on patrol round up your men and search out any remaining captains and get them back here and send them to my office."

He looked back to Derren and said, "You too, with me in my office."

Written by Starfallfantasy
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