Bonds of Silver, Bonds of Gold 23: Consignment (Part 2)

The weatherworn shed still stood beside the slaves’ entrance, its front door slightly ajar. Weeds crawled through the furrows of peas and squash, and the kale was beginning to brown and wilt. The rainbarrel beside the door was half-full, and a few soggy leaves floated in the water inside. The door to the scullery itself was shut when we arrived, but it swung with only a slight creak when Mister Valentin pulled the handle. Still, it was enough to be heard, and the sergeant’s and my master’s ears both flattened at the sound.

“Inika, take the rear,” Mister Valentin said as he stepped across the threshold. “I’m on point. Erik, keep one paw on Taneh. Taneh, keep your chains off the ground. The larder will have a minimal guard, the kitchen a few more. Inika, you said Datsia’s forces hold the main hall, yes?”

The vole crisply nodded, stepping to the side to let Erik and I step past. “Mostly. Erik’s supporters have the run of the keep aside from those, and Datsia’d have to fight for every step past those two rooms, but she’s got enough to keep everyone else out.”

“Ram the barricades, perhaps?” My master fumbled with his mace as he guided me forward. “Can they force their way past the guards?”

Mister Valentin shook his head as he advanced. “They could, but Datsia controls the walls to the keep and half the town beyond. Without a supply line, every resource is precious; that includes paws as well as arms.”

Miss Inika chewed on her lip, her thin tail swirling nervously behind her. “We could play this like a siege; they’ll have to sleep in shifts, and that will weaken their defenses.”

“No good,” the lynx countered. “Datsia can play the same game writ large, and they’ve got access to all of Baris’ larders. And there’s Dion and Krolik at stake. They can wait; we can’t.”

The vole folded her arms, her spear pressed against her chest. “So, we’re just charging into Datsia’s den, then?”

The sergeant shrugged. “If you have a better plan, I haven’t heard it.”

“Dust,” Miss Inika spat. “She’s not going to just let you walk into the main hall, you know.”

My master chuckled quietly as he walked. “She hasn’t stopped us.”

Miss Inika was silent for a moment, then sighed. “That’s because I haven’t tried to stop you yet.”

Three pairs of ears fell flat at those words, and we all stopped in our tracks. Slowly, Mister Valentin turned, his eyes narrowed. His knuckles went white as he clenched his spear. “Say that again.”

The vole fell back a step and brought her spear down to a ready position. “My job was to find you, find out your plans, and stop you if you came in through the scullery.”

A low growl rumbled in Mister Valentin’s throat as he bore down on his student. “You’re the trap.”

Miss Inika retreated a step for each of the Deterikh sergeant’s. “I tried to tell you.”

My master followed a pace behind Mister Valentin, his mace held before him as he had at the end of the last fight. “What did she offer you? Was Chelin’s help a lie as well?”

“His job,” the vole said, bobbing her head towards the Deterikh sergeant. “And no, he refused to play her games. Datsia left him his title as a show of good faith, but he hasn’t been back inside the inner wall since.”

Mister Valentin stopped and lowered the point of his spear. “So, do you intend to sell us out to her?”

Miss Inika smiled faintly. “Would I have told you if I did?” She lowered her spear, putting her point to the ground. “You needed to hear it from me. My help wasn’t a lie.”

“So how can we trust you now?” My master’s voice rose in a whine. “You tell us you’re working for Datsia, and now you’re asking us to act like we don’t know that!”

The lynx put his paw on my master’s shoulder. “Listen, Erik. The point is that by telling us, she’s trying to prove she’s not.” He turned back to his student. “On your spear, Inika.”

The soldier lifted her weapon and balanced its shaft across her paws. “By the Great Family, I pledge fealty to Erik, son of Wilik, rightful baron of Deterikh.” She tilted her head the side, her own ears folding back. “Convinced yet?”

My master sighed and hung his mace back on his belt. His tail hung low and flat behind him. “You could’ve started with the oath and saved us all a lot of heartache.”

Miss Inika lowered her spear and stepped forward again. “If I’d started with the oath, the guards on the wall would’ve shot all of us.” She looked to her mentor and extended a paw. “I’m sorry if I made you doubt. Consider it repayment for trying to tell me Taneh was dead.”

That caught my master’s attention; his ears shot upright and his head snapped to Mister Valentin. “Dead?”

Mister Valentin clasped arms with his student. “Accepted and offered in return. We’re all going to have to trust each other from this point.” He turned to my master and waved away the concern with his free paw. “It’s a long story, best told after we’re—” His words trailed off into a sudden yawn. “Excuse me, the tension is getting to me. After we’re done with this.”

My master shrugged in return, and Mister Valentin turned back to lead us deeper into the kitchen, but he made only a dozen steps before he stopped and audibly yawned again, leaning against his spear with one paw on the wall to steady himself. “I don’t know what’s wrong, but I’m suddenly exhausted.”

Miss Inika stepped up behind me, putting a paw on my shoulder. “Valentin?”

The Deterikh sergeant shook his head, trying to wave away the concerns, but on his next step, he stumbled and staggered forward, thumping into a wooden washbasin with a deep echo that rumbled down the length of the scullery. He slumped to his knees, his spear clattering off the ground as he dropped. “Suddenly… sleepy,” he mumbled, before collapsing to the ground in a heap.

My master was on his knees beside Mister Valentin in an instant, Miss Inika next to him, as they tried to rouse the fallen sergeant. “Valentin!” The word was a hiss, as loud as he dared this close to the kitchen and Miss Datsia’s guard. “Get up!” He shook the sergeant’s shoulder, then lifted his head and slapped him a few times, but the lynx stayed stubbornly asleep, his muzzle hanging half-open, his snore a deafening rumble in the otherwise still air.

“He’s out cold,” Miss Inika griped. “What could’ve done that to him?”

My master groaned and thumped his head against the washbasin. “Oh, dust. The potion!” He turned to Miss Inika. “Aura gave us both a potion to help us fight; it’s how he smashed that spear with a single hit. She did say it would leave us weak when it wore off; I guess his just did.” He fumbled inside his jacket and extracted two vials. He stared at the silver one for some time, then cracked the seal on the pewter one and poured it into his muzzle.

Miss Inika wrinkled her nose at the scent. “Are you sure that’s safe?”

My master’s only response was to gag once as the potion hit his tongue, but to his credit, he swallowed every drop and licked the rim before setting down the vial. “No choice, it seems.” He turned to face the way we entered, lost in thought for several moments. “What happens to you if you leave here alone? Will you be safe?”

The vole considered, then shrugged. “Any of ours, they’ll be glad to see I’m alive. Any of Datsia’s, they’ll assume I finished the job. I’d say so.”

He rose and nudged the sleeping sergeant with his hind. “Will he be safe here?”

“He should be.” Miss Inika sounded less sure of herself on that one. “Someone who sees me leaving might send a patrol to collect the bodies, but watching the scullery was my job.”

“Good.” My master pointed out towards the back of Deterikh Keep. “We’ll leave him here, then. Take your leave, head back inside, and take up position outside the main hall. Send a small group to Iladin’s and have them standing ready to escort the sage and Aura back here. Pull every spare body you can to the great door and be ready.”

Miss Inika saluted, then took a step towards the door, then stopped and looked back. “For what?”

My master smiled wearily, but the look didn’t reach his eyes; they were cold and hard, just empty blue orbs. “You’ll know it when you hear it.”

The vole leaned forward, peering at my master intently, her eyes glinting. “Erik, what are you planning?”

Baron Deterikh retrieved his fallen sergeant’s spear and cracked the seal on the silver vial. Its contents oozed over the steel tip, leaving an unhealthy brownish-green residue that stank of mold and apples. When the metal had all but vanished under the glistening smturned to face the doorway to the kitchen. “I’m going to end this, the only way I can.”