I opened my mouth to shout.
“Quietly,” Grannine whispered. “She’s still asleep.”
I closed my mouth.
“Sister,” I said. “Mariead, it’s time.”
She made a little noise, soft, startled. Would have been endearing if I’d been in any mood to be endeared. She stirred, a bundle of rags animated by little more than a skeleton, taking pains to tuck her hair back under the hood. I tried to keep my voice softer, more like the voice of the demon in my head. “Thought of any objections to the plan?”
“None yet, sir.” Mariead’s voice was quiet, remarkably calm for all that it was nearly six in the fucking morning. Fuck knew how many hours had passed in a sleep that hadn’t refreshed me at all. “Though I wish we did not have to kill this man to escape.” She looked toward the door, where the lone guard sat, now paying some attention to us. I suppressed the urge to roll my eyes.
“We’ll try to be gentle.”
“Quiet, heretics.” The man at the end of the hall rose to his feet. He wore the Church’s scarlet and a leather cap that wouldn’t save him if I got my hands on his neck. A cudgel dangled from his waist. He took a step forward, peering our way. The light at his end of the hall illuminated him plainly, but at this end we’d be shadows, animals in a cage.
“What’s your plan, my Dermot?”
Can you still manage a spark?
“I can. Once or twice.”
Make it different?
“I’ll do my best, Sister,” I told her, ignoring the guard by the door. “But I’m not being paid to get him out of here alive.”
“Is that what you are, then, sir? A mercenary?”
“Could say.” I kept half an eye on the guard. The man adjusted his truncheon and headed our way at a fair clip. Grannine’s attention prickled at the corner of my eye. The guard came closer, boots on stone, and I kept my eyes fixed on Mariead, pretending not to see him.
“Oi,” he rapped on the bars of my cell, menacing. “Shut up.”
“See, why don’t you come in and make me, big man?” I turned to look at him. He wasn’t a big man, actually. Shorter than me, and smaller as well. But he had a club in one hand, and he looked like the kind of bastard who’d enjoy using it. “If they’re planning to pour hot lead up my ass, least they can do is let me have a nice chat beforehand.”
He spared a bit of time to check no one had come to the door.
A properly trained guard wouldn’t open the cell. He’d’ve stood at the door and ordered me to be quiet, but if I didn’t obey, he’d fuck off and get three of his lads to come in with him. The only advantage he had on me was two feet of cudgel, and if he’d been rightly taught to handle dangerous men, he’d have known that wasn’t enough.
If he hadn’t shouted at me from all the fucking way up there, I’d have done something else. Tried to grab him through the bars or, some other thing.
But I didn’t have to. Because he’d shouted at me from the end of the hall like a man who was violent if he wasn’t obeyed. He was looking at the door not to be doing his duty, but to see if someone would come to save me from him. Come on, you bastard. Come beat this poor helpless fuck. You’ve been itching to since I gave you an excuse.
My palms itched. I stood hunched in the cell like some great fucking ape, clinging to the bars with my left hand, and I lifted my right to scratch my face.
“See, you think they’d lend me a razor for a quick shave?” I asked him, with my worst smile. I turned my back half to him, very obviously looking at Mariead. Listen for me, lass. Be ready. I’ll want that spark soon after the lock goes. “I’d like to ask this lady here for a favor, but I think my odds would be a bit better if I was just a bit prettier.”
I closed my right eye.
The lock clicked.
There you are, you sadistic fuck.
It’s not easy to fight a man with a club.
A man hitting you with his hands is using something that’s just as tough as your arms are. That’s a man who has to care quite a bit about your teeth, your elbows, your jaw, because all these things are quite capable of hurting him more than you.
With a club, your man is as free as the breeze. He can pound you like a sack of malt, and there’s fuck all you can do about it, because that club in his hand is harder than anything you’ve got to match him, and by the time it gets up to speed, you want no part of you to be where it’s going.
I’d have given him fair odds if I were on my own. Wouldn’t have called him over, maybe, if I’d been on my own.
He set foot in the cell, door open. He’d beat prisoners before—his club was already in one hand, cocked back, flying at my face, with his other arm out in front of him. Had a tough leather gauntlet on; he’d hold me down and beat me half to death without so much as a scratch on him. I’d taken the right measure of him.
I turned on him, and opened my left palm.
Her spark. Light, from the black patch that hadn’t come out of my palm. More light than heat, as I’d asked, between talking to the nun. With my open right eye, it was fucking blinding; the cell turned red and black, and then blue and green, afterimages hanging in the dark.
My left eye opened. I went forward and to the right, pushing off the back of the cell. His club clanged wide of my head against the bars.
I hit him in the ribs. Swept his outstretched gauntlet to one side, both his arms crushed to the right. Put my forehead onto his nose once, and when he grunted, I hit him with my free hand, hard enough that his head hit the side of the cage.
His club clattered on the floor. He slumped. I caught the front of his armor with one hand, drew my fist back.
“Sir,” Mariead said, imploring. It didn’t suit her.
“Sister,” I looked back. “If you c–”
I flinched at the snap in Her voice, recoiling from the man I was holding. A cold point touched my side, and my arm struck him blind, rattling the guard’s teeth in his head, knocking him away. His head struck the bars again, bouncing off the wall between my cell and Mariead’s. He hit the wall to the corridor on his way to the ground.
A bodkin rang off the iron bands on the floor. I felt a hot, stiff pain in my side, reached down and brought my hand back…clean. I hissed, looked down, peeling layers away.
He’d managed to slip the blade into me, a narrow wound that was welling up slowly with blood. I grimaced.
“Fuck me.” I kicked him again, for good measure. Pressed a hand to the wound until it burned, and pulled it away bloody. I sniffed. It smelled like blood. “I’ve had worse.”
The bodkin was a nice little thing, balanced steel with a dark wooden handle over the tang. I weighed it, took it by the blade, and passed it to Mariead in the other cell. “Here. Better than a piece of bone.”
Our guard was still breathing. Didn’t know how long that would last. I robbed him where he lay, keys, cudgel, and that stupid leather hat. It was too small, but I put it on anyway. Under his scarlets he wore a fresh shirt of chainmail.
The man was almost a full head shorter than me, and a fair bit wider. If I tried to put his clothes on, they’d be bursting off me like a sausage skin. At least his gloves fit; great bear hands, he had, and I felt a bit better with leather gauntlets between me and the world.
I stepped over the man on the floor, chainmail hanging from my fist. How much time, lass?
“If they don’t come to retrieve her ahead of schedule, we have time yet.” Grannine stood in the hall as I left the cell, casting a baleful eye at the door of Mariead’s cage. “I wish we could ruin this hall.”
“Next time I’m here, I swear, I’ll ruin this place.” Key in the lock. Hinges shrieked. I began to step in–
I paused. My eyes landed in the nun. Her hands were clutching tight to the bodkin like they’d been welded there, eyes closed, muttering under her breath. I held my step in the doorway.
She was praying.
I don’t have time to wait, lass.
“You will.” Grannine unfolded Herself from behind Sister Mariead, standing over her, shooting an intent look in my direction. “Let her stoke her own fire.”
I glanced at the door again.
“Sister,” I said, with more patience than I felt I should have been able to muster. “We’ve got to go.”
“Time to rise, little one,” Grannine whispered, kneeling to put phantom hands on Mariead’s shoulders. “Kindle your soul.” She pressed her lips to the woman’s head.
A knock echoed down from the door at the end of the hall.
Three times fucked.
I tossed the chain shirt onto the floor of Mariead’s cell. She started at the sound, a dull thud of iron on iron. I threw my new leather cap on top of it. “Put that on.”
I let out a breath. My side was stiff like a stitch, and it burned when my shirt pulled free from the blood. The fear and the rush of my wee fight was still in my veins, jumping down my arms, rushing in my ears. It would have to do. I swung the cudgel in my hand once, testing it. It was all one piece of wood, elm maybe, worn from use. My palms itched in stolen gloves, but it would do.
It would have to do. I’d have to do.
I hoped it was enough. That I was enough. We’d see, anyway, wouldn’t we?