Ellison collapsed to the ground and his attacker flung himself down after him, probably to finish him up from close up. That was odd, Ellison thought as he struggled to get free. Normally people just kicked him when he was down. He could smell the sweet, metallic taste of blood in his mouth and felt it on his hands.
Clinio pulled the attacker off and rolled him over.
“Medium Dave?” Ellison heard Matilda’s voice as he felt around his body to see where the blood was coming from. There was a rip at his shoulder where the attacker’s sword had hit him, but he didn’t feel a thing. He was reaching under his jacket to see how bad the wound was when Matilda kicked him.
“Get up, you idiot,” she said. “You’re not wounded. He is.”
Ellison sat up.
“Sorry, thought you were one of them.” Medium Dave spit out blood and rolled over onto his back.
“Why aren’t you further up, blocking the way north?” asked Matilda.
“We were,” said Medium Dave. “Nobody got past us. Then we heard the gunfire and started heading south. We found them over there.” He lifted a shaky finger and pointed ahead.
Ellison stood up and walked where Medium Dave was pointing. “These trees here?” he called back. “I see a body.”
“Yes, among the roots,” said Dave. “They were untying the prisoners. We got all three of them, but turned out that there were more.”
Ellison walked around the trees and found more bodies as well as one man who was still alive, if only barely. Ellison could still see the faint glow around him, and memorized his identity. He’d look the man up when he back in the office.
“They got me and Barret,” said Dave. “Wanda and Mad Eyed went after them.”
“Which way?” Matilda asked.
“Back towards the path and to the north, I think. They were in a hurry to get out of here. I think the gunfire spooked them.”
“Thanks, we’ll come back for you,” said Matilda.
“Don’t bother,” said Dave. “I’ll see you back at the Armpit.”
Ellison turned away so he didn’t have to watch whatever Dave was going to do and looked around for the path. He oriented himself by the sound of fighting. That way was south, so the path should be somewhere up ahead. He found it just beyond the next stand of trees
Clinio and Matilda ran ahead of him. Despite carrying significantly more armor and weapons than he was, they were were fast.
The path curled through the woods and was easy to follow because of the heavy horse hoof prints in the dried mud. He hoped that they weren’t a sign that the kidnappers had escaped on horseback.
Then he heard clanging and swearing from up ahead. By the time he made it around the next turn, the fighting was over. The last two attackers were unconscious and on the ground, with Wanda the Weasel and Mad Eyed Brendon standing over them.
Raphe Faryndon was cowering off to the side.
“Please don’t kill me,” he whimpered, looking up at Matilda.
“We’re not here to kill you,” said Clinio. “I’m with the Royal Season. We’re here to rescue you.”
“Where’s Wynefrede?” asked Matilda.
“She got away,” said Raphe. “They told her not to run and she did, anyway.” He nodded off into the woods. “She’s out there, somewhere.”
“Wynefrede! Wynefrede Aumberden! It’s safe to come out!” Matilda walked into the woods in the direction Raphe pointed. “We’re with the Royal Season! We’ve got Clinio Lind here with us, he’s the head of security. You know him.”
Wynefrede poked her head out from behind a tree. Clinio waved his hand.
“I don’t recognize you,” she said. “How do I know you’re not with the kidnappers?”
“Because we just killed them,” said Wanda the Weasel. “You recognize me, right?”
Wynefrede shook her head. She had her hands clasped together in front of her, shackles around the wrists. A long chain hung down from them.
“Oh, come on,” said Wanda. “You don’t remember? It was after the tour of the Assassins’ Guild? They had the elephant?”
“Oh, right,” said Wynefrede. “I remember the elephant.”
“You remember the elephant but you don’t remember me?”
“What about me?” asked Mad Eye Brendon. “Do you remember asking me about my scar?” He pointed at his chin. “You said it looked like a question mark.”
“Sorry,” said Wynefrede.
“We hooked up on the way to the Chubb-Baggins Leper Sanatorium and Heritage Medicine Hospital,” said Mad Eye. “Was I really that forgettable?”
Wynefrede stepped out from behind the tree. “Can you come closer? I can’t see anything.”
“Maybe you need glasses,” said Mad Dog.
Wynefrede took a step closer and Matilda came up from behind her and grabbed her around the waist. Wynefrede struggled to get free, but Matilda just threw her over her shoulder and marched back to the path.
“Check their pockets for keys,” said Matilda. Ellison searched one of the attackers while Clinio took the others. Clinio found the keys and freed Raphe.
Matilda dumped Wynefrede down in front of Clinio.
“See?” Clinio held up the keys. “We’re here to free you.”
Wynefrede reluctantly stretched out her hands and Clinio unlocked the shackles. Matilda picked up both sets. “These could be useful later,” she told Ellison, and poked both of the attackers. Ellison could see that one had just died, but the other was still hanging on.
“Or I can use them now,” said Matilda. She used the shackles to lock up the kidnapper’s hands.
“That’s Rambo,” Raphe said. “He was the chief guy holding us. These last few days, at least. He wasn’t too bad.”
Wynefrede rubbed her wrists. “He was a monster,” she said.
“You didn’t even give him a chance,” said Raphe. “He watched out for us. He didn’t let anyone interfere with us.” He looked up at Matilda. “They weren’t all that bad. They fed us, got us clothes. I think they were really about to let us go.” He glanced at Wynefrede. “You shouldn’t have run.”
“I’m glad you did,” said Wanda. “It gave us a chance to catch up to you. Don’t listen to that jerk.”
“I think he’s got Stockholm Syndrome,” said Wynefrede.
“I do not,” said Raphe. “I’m just being rational.”
“What now?” asked Clinio.
“We head back to the city,” said Matilda. She started walking south down the path, back towards the sound of fighting. She glanced back at Mad Eyed Brendon and pointed at Rambo. “Can you bring him with you?”
Mad Eyed dragged Rambo to his feet, but the man collapsed again. He had a heavy gash on his head and a knife sticking out of his side.
“That’s where my knife went,” said Wanda, and pulled it out.
“Careful, he might bleed out,” said Clinio. He looked around then took the belt off the other body and fastened it around Rambo’s body, tight enough to slow the flow of blood. Mad Eyed picked up him and, following Matilda’s earlier example, put his body over his shoulder. Rambo was quite a bit heavier than Wynefrede, but then again, Mad Eyed was quite a bit bigger than Matilda.
They started walking.
“If the fighting’s too heavy, we might have to circle around again,” said Matilda.
“No, I want to see the bridge,” said Raphe. “I helped build it, you know.”
“Why were they keeping you here?” asked Matilda.
“At first, I think they though that the guild had taken the castle back,” said Matilda. “I think they were planning to keep us locked up there.”
“Only until the ramsom was paid,” said Raphe.
“We never got a ransom note,” said Clinio.
“See?” said Wynefrede. “I knew they were lying to us.”
“Why else would they take us?” asked Raphe.
“I was hoping you’d know,” said Clinio. “Did they say anything?”
“They knew what companies we worked for,” said Wynefrede. “They knew we were both engineers.” She paused. “And we weren’t the only captives,” she added. “There was a man named Pompas there.”
Matilda stopped and turned around. “Anyone else?” she asked Wynefrede.
“Yes, there was a man named Barnaby,” said Wynefrede. “But there was something wrong with him. I think he might have had brain damage, or had been drugged or something.”
“Barnaby?” asked Matilda.
“Barnaby Faremanne was the name of the Singleton who vanished here three years ago,” said Clinio.
“I know,” said Matilda. “Do you know where he is now?”
“No, they took him away first,” said Wynefrede.
“Did they say where?”
“No,” said Wynefrede. “But Rambo said something. He said that we should be grateful that we’re not on a ship to Lamacoln. Is that a saying on Krim? Like a ship to nowhere?”
“No, that’s not a saying,” said Matilda.