Ellison Davo made one last circle of the ballroom before heading out. He bumped into Wynefrede Aumberden near the over-sized doors that opened out onto the garden balcony. She was now wearing a pair of glasses.
Bridge Over the River Krim
They walked in a diamond formation with the two Singletons in the center. Mad Eyed Brendon was at the front, still carrying their prisoner, Wanda and Clinio to the right and left, and Matilda and Ellison brought up the rear. A couple of other mercenaries were walking through the woods, ahead and to the sides.
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.
Wynefrede Aumberden didn’t even look at Raphe Faryndon when she lay down on her cot. The day after her thwarted escape attempt had been miserable. Rambo and his squad kept a close eye on her and she wasn’t allowed near the bridge construction. Instead, she was forced to watch from a distance as Raphe and the Armstrong Guild made design mistake after design mistake. She’d tried to offer advice, but nobody trusted her anymore. Even Raphe refused to consider her suggestions, which stung a bit.
“Weren’t you guys hired to protect us?” asked Raphe. “Why are you letting these guys just take us?” He looked around at the sentry and the other men in the camp. “I recognize your colors. And your tattoos.” Now that he mentioned it, Wynefrede could see a tattoo of a red fist smashing an anvil on Sewell’s bared upper arm. He also had a red patch in the shape of a fist was sewn onto the chest of his padded jacket, as did the other fighters in the camp. They looked warmer and more comfortable than Rambo and his men, who all wore metal breastplates and other, pieces of armor on their shoulders, knees and hands.
“This is unconscionable,” said Raphe Faryndon. “I’m a captain of industry. I don’t hike through the wilderness.” “Plenty of captains of industry are hikers,” said their new guard, who had introduced himself as Rambo but who reminded Wynefrede more of a low-rent Napoleon, with his bicorne hat, tight white pants and navy jacket.
By the time Shanwei helped Ellison stagger the rest of the way down the corridor, crawl up the staircase, and get to the docks, most of the battle was over. Two men with their hands up in the air were sitting on a wagon holding six wooden crates and a couple of other fighters were bleeding out slowly on the dock leading to a half-loaded cargo ship. Ellison didn’t recognize the dying fighters. They weren’t part of Matilda’s crew, so maybe they were with the kidnappers. Or innocent bystanders.
“You really want to send these two little guys in first?” asked Medium Dave. “I’ve seen them both run, they’re fast.” Matilda stuck her head down after Ellison. “Both of you, head straight to the far exit. One of you stay there and close it off if you can. The other one can come back and tell us where it comes out so we can have a team search the area.” She leaned her head down further. “How tight it is down there?”
The transition back to real life was always jarring. One second, he was falling down a bottomless tunnel, the next, standing upright in Krim’s welcome area. He staggered, then caught his balance. He was back in his real body and all the aches and pains and mysterious itches he’d accumulated since the last time he’d died were all gone.
Ellison glanced at the wall clock on his way out of the depot. It was getting close to dinner time, so instead of trying to hunt Matilda around the city he decided to go to the Barley Bow for his usual meal. There was a good chance she’d show up on her own, anyway, to steal his food. The Barley Mow got a new cook recently, and the menu had actually gotten pretty good.
Krim’s central square had the main teleportation gate into the world at the north end, and was surrounded by Banking Street on the east side, Upping Street on the south, and Knots Hollow Way to the west. City Hall — which also housed the grid administration in-world offices — was across Upping to the south. The King’s Arms was on the corner of Upping and Banking streets. Both were good places to find new newcomers, but if he was looking for long-time Krim residents pretending to be noobs, they’d probably stop by one other place first.
McGuire’s Big Top Triumph was neither big nor a triumph. The one-ring circus had spent the past few months traveling Krim’s hinterlands, fighting off bandits, and risking life and limb on poorly-maintained equipment. Not just the lives and limbs of its performers, but the that of the audience members as well.
Over the next couple of hours, there were minor clashes but for the most part the cult seemed reluctant to put their cannons at risk by letting them get too close to the Armforge Guild’s soldiers. Meanwhile, if the guild’s fighters tried to make it back out over the bridge, they could be easily picked off by the defenders.
Sitting there on the hill looking out over the site of an imminent slaughter, Wynefrede realized that she was enjoying herself. The air was fresh and a pleasant breeze carried the smells of fresh grass and wildflowers. She sniffed. And meat pies. There were vendors making their way up and down the hillside hawking pies, commemorative shirts, whistles, and ridiculously overpriced water skins emblazoned with the Armforge Guild logo.
“My lady, the coach is here.” Princess Wynefrede Aumberden of the kingdom of Choochovia glanced up from her mail and nodded at her servant in acknowledgement. She was at her breakfast table in the conservatory where she could look out over her mansion’s small rose garden while having her tea and crumpets. Herbal tea. Real tea hadn’t made it to England until the mid-1600s, and Krim was ostensibly based on the year 1500.
“Raphe Faryndon, at your pleasure.” Raphe straightened up from his bow and stretched out his hand. Wynefrede looked up at him, at the way his hair flopped down over his eyes, his slightly crooked smile, and his warm eyes. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Margarett and Benedicta being pulled out onto the dance floor by two other gentlemen.
“I like the idea of starting fake rumors,” said Margarett. “It sounds like something a counter intelligence agency will do. I’ll take notes, so we don’t lose track of which rumor we spread where.” She looked around. Nobody was eavesdropping. The guards were standing by the coaches, waiting to take the two women home. Close enough to keep an eye on them, but not so close that they could hear what they were saying. The maid was gone, back inside Benedicta’s house.
“Ride back with me,” Benedicta told Wynefrede and Margarett once they were back outside the hospital. “We can gossip about the boys.” She angled her chin slightly in the direction of a couple of other Royal Season participants, dressed in the best Elizabethan finery. “And you can help me pick out a dress for tonight. As a famous actress, I’ve got an image to maintain.”