Part 3 - Knife In The Dark

Part 3 - Knife In The Dark

Continued from Part 2: The Ruins.

As if in answer to Cuthred's question, Emeric and Cuthred could hear a commotion from the other side of the opened door. At first the sound was faint, drowned out by the incessant thrum of rain and the booming of thunder. But as it grew nearer, the two sentinels were aware of voices. They were harsh and loud enough to compete with the din of the weather, but the heavy oaken doors made them all but indistinguishable.

Boom! Boom! Boom! Came the knock on the door. The sound resonated through the tower, and wafted to the ears of the explorers on the ancient stair.

Emeric's hair stood on end when the voices became more distinct and, possibly worst of all, came closer and closer. The warrior strode towards his long axe's resting place and hefted it up, even as Cuthred followed him. The Velian wasn't too sure what to do. If he closed the door, would they simply ram it down? Would it be better to talk this through? How many of them were there? As the questions came, the answers did not and he gritted his teeth together in frustration.

Glancing at Cuthred, he chuckled nervously as he steeled himself. "You want to go back on your word and wish this was a horde of women?" he said in a hushed voice.

When the knock came, Emeric stepped closer to the door and his voice boomed, no doubt reaching the ears of their comrades upstairs: "Who goes there!"

Cuthred grabbed his pilfered axe, twirled it with a turn of his wrist as he moved to Emeric's left. "Not on your life. Give me more bandits any day."

He scarcely dared to breathe, vainly straining to hear something distinct over the tumult outside. He imagined Toli on the other side of the door. A wet rat seeking shelter. Well, if the gods had seen fit to deliver him, Toli would find no shelter here. He clamped his grip down on the axe's haft.

Rikard frowned as the sounds of knocking and conversation carried up the empty tower. "No time for curiosity now--our allies may need assistance," the sword master growled curtly as he turned and began bounding down the steps two at a time. Cuthred and Emeric were solid men who could handle themselves in battle, but there was no need to test the odds.

The pounding on the door that reached their ears drew a faint scowl on the woodsman's lips, but he didn't make any comment. Instead he followed Rickard down the stairs with haste, as much haste as possible given the other man in front of him. He'd left his bow on the ground level, but it made no matter. The close confines of the tower were no place for archery and instead his hand gripped lightly around the hilt of his sword as he moved.

As the explorers began their descent down the stair, the defenders back at camp awaited a reply. A pregnant pause declared some deliberation was occurring on the other side of the door, but finally a voice hailed back. It was a commanding voice, coarse and loud. Both the Velian and Lindener could hear the Lindish accent thick on every word.

"We're travelers, bound for the coast! We need shelter from the storm! Please, we'll die out here!"

Emeric froze in place as the voice rose above the din of the weather outside. Travelers, just like they were. Caught out in a storm. The Velian's suspicions softened, but the obvious Lindish accent did leave him slightly uneasy. More Lindeners in Stromland, and going by their previous encounter with the raiders, A Lindish accent was not necessarily a good sign.

"Hesitation kills." said Olaf, swinging his sword as a young Emeric parried with the shaft of his axe. "You have to kill uncertainty before it kills you!" he continued saying as the youth swung his axe at him, hitting the shield hard and sending the instructor back a few paces. The Velian's trainer, recovering quickly, suddenly lunged in from the right with shield and sword and the boy wondered briefly which he should be more worried about.

Just that was enough, the sound of oaken wood crashing against him was all he remembered from that little duel as it sent him down face first into the sand. He hadn't even had the time to recover that he suddenly felt cold steel press against his neck. "Quick wits aren't your strength, Emeric, so stick to that gut feeling of yours. I'd say it is better council." he concluded with a chuckle.

Back in the tower, Emeric suddenly made his decision. "Well you'll have to wait until our leader decides what to do with you!" he shouted, then with his shoulder, rammed the door shut, signalling Cuthred to help him brace it. He wondered if going upstairs would afford them a view of the group outside. For now, he felt it was safer to wait for Rikard.

Cuthred slammed into the door beside Emeric. He turned, pressing his back against the wood and digging his heels into the stone floor.

Lindish:Forgive our rudeness, countrymen. We've had some ill dealings with other Lindeners recently.
He shouted at the men outside, bellowing to be heard through the thick door and the weather outside. He glanced at Emeric, then shouted again, this time in the common tongue. "What lord do you serve?"

There was some commotion raised when the door was slammed shut, but the act was not hindered. It seemed like several moments passed before a response came. Though it was not the masculine voice from before. The voice that spoke was bright and keen, yet full of sorrow. The words were a desperate plea.

"Please," the feminine voice began in a thick Lindish accent, "we have had no respite from this weather. We are chilled to the marrow and cannot stand much longer."

The words were like water as they seeped into the cracks of his resolve, widening his uncertainties and even Emeric's guilt. He closed his eyes and suddenly he could smell the sea they had traveled on, remembering their ship as it capsized. Memories flooded him, reminding him how it had felt to nearly drown as he struggled against dark whirlpools. How it had felt waking on dreadful shores to the sounds of torn flesh, bones being picked clean. Then, a cursed forest and sleepless nights with no moon or respite. Had this door closed on him, would his spirit have been crushed as well?

And there was a woman out there. They hadn't tried to force their way in either. His mind scrambled to find meaning, reasons for what he was about to do. He felt compelled to open the door. His eyes met Cuthred's as he slowly relented from bracing the door and the Lindener knew what his Velian companion was about to do.

"Indecision in battle kills, but this is not yet a battle, Olaf." he whispered to himself as he motioned to his friend that he was opening the door.


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