tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Blood Pact Ch. 32

The Blood Pact Ch. 32


With the first muted flickers of morning light shining through the cracks in the shutters, I lay there under the covers of my bedroll with Nikelle's soft body cradled against me, smiling at the dingy ceiling of the old hunting lodge

I'd really done it. I'd finally escaped. In maybe as little as an hour, after we'd both had amble opportunity to wake and ready ourselves for the journey ahead, we would be on our way, never to return. Nikelle had yet to give me a firm answer as whether or not she would accompany me, but I knew she would come. She had to.

With the money I'd embezzled from Lord Ruvano, we could live like royalty -- but without any of the compromising obligations and secretive games. We'd head for Treppenkarrow. I'd invest in shipping with the southern islands -- I'd always heard that was a surefire way to increase one's funds without having to do any real work. We'd buy a mansion in the city and a villa in the country -- nothing too ostentatious, maybe something like this hunting 'cabin.' As a free man, it would certainly be more than I would ever need.

I'd get new dice of carven ivory and Nikelle would wear the finest dresses of the most expensive silk, cut in those risqué fashions they favored in the south. I could just sit back and watch her body move beneath that revealing silk all day long. We'd make love through the nights, maybe even have some children, raise a family.

I'd won. Everything I'd been through, everything I'd endured to reach this point, had all been worth it. I shook my fist overhead. I'd won!

As if to defy me to the very end, the neighing of horses cut through the woods outside the lodge. My eyes shot open wide and I lay perfectly still in order to catch some further sound. I knew I'd heard more than one of the animals, but even if it had been only one, the sound had come from too far away to have been Diamondhead. Nikelle sat up, instantly wide awake.

"What it is?" she said.

"I don't know," I started to say, even as we heard the sharp bellow of a man issuing orders. Nikelle was on her feet in an instant. Still naked, she bounded into the hallway outside our room and peered through a small crack in the frame of a window. Within moments, she was donning her dress.

"Soldiers," she said in response to my questioning look. "Lots of them. And some of Lord Ruvano's men, as well. They're coming with swords drawn. Damn it! I knew we shouldn't have stayed here so long!"

"But...Nikelle, what are we going to do?" I stammered as I fumbled with pulling on my pants and boots at the same time.

"You'll go out the back while I draw them away."

Stumbling to the window I could now see why she was so frantic. There was an entire army out there, all stalking across the grassy meadow in front of the cabin, all headed directly toward us. This was not a mere search party, they knew their prey was near. There was no way Nikelle would ever be able to draw them away, she wouldn't even be able to get past them.

"Nikelle, we have to run for it. If we leave the gear behind, Diamondhead might be able to outpace them if we can find a way through the forest."

As I turned away from the window, Nikelle leaned in and kissed me passionately. I was too shocked by current events to do anything but stand there stupidly.

"No," she said. "That's far too many 'ifs.' They want their assassin, and you won't have a chance unless they get what they've come for. You just need to go, now! Don't argue with me on this."

"Wait, Nikelle, don't do this!" I cried after her, but she was already out the door. I went to follow, but my pants became tangled around my legs and I fell to my knees. It took several excruciatingly long moments to sort them out, but by then, the front door of the cabin had been thrown open. The soldier's voices all rose up to a roar at the same instant, every last one of them charging toward the front of the cabin.

Pants still unfastened and shirt hanging loose from my shoulders, I ran after Nikelle. My feet stopped of their own volition at the end of that dusty hallway, however. Through the open doors of the cabin, I could see Nikelle locked in battle with the soldiers. The elegant scimitar blade extending from her blood dagger flashed in the morning mists. Soldier after soldier fell before her lightning-quick strikes, but there were simply too many of them. I should have been there at her side, but in my haste, I hadn't thought to grab my own sword. With wide eyes locked on that frantic scene, I couldn't move my feet, either to her defense or in retreat.

Nikelle gritted her teeth as a sword point sliced her shoulder and then cried out and fell to her knees as a second blade pierced her abdomen. It was over before I even managed to prod my craven mind into action. Not that I could have possibly done anything except delay the inevitable. What had Nikelle even been thinking to take on all of them at once like that?

She was trying to give me an opportunity to save myself, that's what. And by standing there with mouth agape, I was going to make her sacrifice worthless.

Tears streaming down my face, I turned and dashed back to the room. I grabbed those few essential supplies I could carry in one load and dove out the back window. I didn't have time to saddle Diamondhead so I threw myself on bareback and charged away into the swirling fog, climbing the ridge behind the cabin.

At the crest, the fog parted enough so that I could look back down the way I'd just come. Though my escape had apparently gone unnoticed, I gazed in horror at what was playing out before me. Nikelle was brutishly dragged to the edge of the pond by several soldiers and tossed to the ground. Her pained cry cut through the forest like a knife. Her jaw was clenched and the side of her dress was quickly turning a deep shade of red, but at least she was still alive. The voices of the soldiers carried through the fog as they spoke of taking her back to the palace to face the king's judgment. That would almost certainly be a death sentence.

How could I have ever left her to such a fate? Twice now I'd left her to die. How could I ever claim to love her? How could she ever claim to be a coward. I was, through and through. I needed to go back down there and fight as she had. It didn't matter that I'd die, I had to do something. I couldn't just sit there doing nothing.

However, before I could even reach for my sword, the soldiers remounted. Trussed up in heavy ropes, Nikelle was thrown across the horses like a sack of grain. Within moments, the whole troop of them rode back toward the palace.

What had I done? I may have been a coward, but I couldn't let that define my entire existence. I had to go after her. For the moment, she was still alive, so maybe there was still a chance to save her. However, what could a lowly stable hand possibly do?

Frantically, I dismounted and rummaged through my saddle bags. The supplies which I'd carefully packed the night before were all thrown aside without heed until I finally located the transformation wand at the very bottom.

No, a stable hand wouldn't be able to do anything to save Nikelle. Baroness Stephanie on the other hand might have enough clout, either with Lord Ruvano or perhaps the king himself, to convince them to spare her life. I'd never asked either of them for anything before this. They owed me a boon. Even if they decided to execute me as being in league with the assassin, at least I would be facing a fate of my own making instead of simply running blindly into the machinations of others.

To Be Continued...

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