Guard one was down, unconscious. The second one was not around. Either he had ratted us out, or he had been attacked downstairs. What the bully boys didn’t count on, though, was that Liz was a killing machine.
I yanked the door open and she threw the bowl of poison into the face of the first man who screamed, clawing at his eyes. It looked painful. At least he dropped his club. The second man had been kneeling over the downed guard, checking his pockets. Guys three and four were standing a bit down the hall, clubs held loosely in their hands, and their attention diverted to the screaming man.
Then Liz was in the hall, both swords drawn, and the fight was over before I could step out of the room. Well, mostly. The three that she could reach were out of commission before I could join the fray, but the fourth man, the one who was looting the guard, shrieked something about demons and jumped out the window. Now we were on the second story, and there was no eve, awning or other protrusion below the window in the hall, so he hit the ground hard. Liz followed him to the window, looking out and reported he’d broken both his legs. Then she said there was a crowd with torches outside the inn.
Another scream rattled its way up the stair and I ran that way at a sprint. I bounced off the landing wall, diverting my direction and took the last six steps in a single leap, bowling into three men with cudgels. The scullery maids were being held against the bar, the younger by one of the bully boys who had his hands in inappropriate places.
But these two women were not wilting flowers. When I scattered the three by the stairs, the ones holding the women became somewhat distracted. The fellow holding the toothless woman stumbled back holding his abdomen as his intestines spooled out at his feet. The woman slid back behind the bar, her bloody knife in front of her, and hunkered down with a wink to me.
The younger girl used the diversion to punch her attacker in the throat. I have to tell you, I’d learned as a young lad that a kick in the groin can usually take down even the toughest warrior, but that sometimes, and especially if they are expecting it, it just doesn’t have the stopping power you would imagine. On the other hand, everyone needs to breathe. The lad, a year or two younger than me, with a smarmy mustachio and greased back hair, stumbled away from her, both hands on his throat, gasping and wheezing. It didn’t take him long to turn purple and fall over. By that time I’d brained the three from the center of the room and things went very quiet.
“Where’s the inn keeper?” I asked, scanning the room.
The young lass walked over, rubbing her knuckles and threw a bolt over the front door. “Idiot Ben Leary let these fools in.” She turned to look at me with a smile. “My mother left with Sebastian. They headed up to the keep with Captain Kershaw. Likely got waylaid by the bucket brigade. Not our first fire, won’t be our last.”
She sat down at the bar. “You can come out now, Millie.”
Millie came out from behind the bar and cleaned her dagger on the cloak of the man she’d gutted. “Shame we have to clean up all this,” Millie said, glancing around at the overturned chairs, broken crockery and pooling blood.
“Millie,” the younger girl said. “None of that, now.”
Millie looked at the younger girl, then over at me. “You ain’t opposed to magic, are you mystery man?”
I glanced over as Liz came down the stairs, ready for a fight.
The two women shared a look and the younger sighed dramatically.
“My name is Analise,” the younger lass said, striding toward me and holding out her hand. “I can do a bit of magic” —
I took her hand, giving it a firm shake.
— “as long as no one is the wiser, we’ll all be better off.”
I watched her face, looking for mania, sarcasm, psychosis. She had the cutest little dimple in her chin when she smiled, and other than that, there was nothing unusual about her shoulder length curly black locks, her deep brown eyes, or her soft rounded curves.
Millie turned to Liz and nodded. “Thought you must be one of the true people.”
Analise shot Millie a look. “Hush, woman. No wild tales tonight.”
Millie winked at me. “My old gran had a special brew she used to make. I wish I still had some of that left.”
Millie grinned and sidled up to Liz, admiring her the way the frills ran across her head and down her neck.
“When I was a young girl, no more than sixteen summers,” she went on, ignoring Analise completely. “We had this tribe of your people who visited our farm. I fell head over heels for one of the young warriors.”
At this Liz glanced at me, then turned back to Millie.
“Gran had this potion that for one night would turn me into one of the true people,” she said, wistfully. “That young buck and I copulated in every manner of brook, field and farm. It wasn’t until the sun came up the next day that I turned back and my handsome warrior returned to his people, a little sore and a bit wiser.”
She cackled at the look of astonishment on Liz’s face. “But Gran died with that recipe, and I ain’t never found its like sense.”
Analise coughed loudly, but I was positive it was a not so subtle covering for her opinion on Millie’s story.
“Thanks for that,” I said, sort of meaning it. “But there’s a crowd outside with torches and I’m sure these bully boys have friends out there, waiting for this lot to drag us out.”
“For a hanging,” Millie said, shaking her head.
“It will take them a while to figure out what’s going on inside here,” Analise said, waving her hands around as if she were shooing flies. The dead thug with the cut belly crumbled to dust as she waved her hand over him.
“What in the name of the nine and sixty,” I said, stepping back from her.
Analise straightened and shot Millie a look of surprise. “You know about the nine and sixty?” she asked.
“I told you,” Millie said, slapping Analise on the shoulder. “Didn’t I tell you that’s who they was?”
Analise turned to face me and eyed me up and down. “Tell me you’ve got a fancy set of white armor,” she demanded, taking a good, long gander at my mace. “Tell me you know about the Bountiful One.” She looked shocked when I nodded, hurrying on. “Yolanda the Pure? ” —
I nodded at each, and her eyes kept getting bigger
— ” Old One Eye? The Green Lady? Thunder Jack? The Basket Twins? Mother Crone? Devil Pete?”
I shook my head at that list, but the names felt familiar.
“Semaunzilla?” Millie asked, the grin falling from her face.
“May she protect her scaly and unscaly children,” I added.
Millie fell back against the bar, clutching her chest.
Analise paused, lowering her voice to a whisper. “The man in white?”
I didn’t have to answer that one, she blanched and Millie fainted dead away, her body hitting the floor with a thud.