The Last Lantern

Chapter 17 - Blooded

@copyright Jean G Hontz 2009

 Phillip jerked awake and tried to reach for a weapon, but someone was holding him down and also had a hand across his mouth. Whoever it was he was too strong, the attack too unexpected.

It took Phillip precious seconds to realize it was Vaal. It was clear the priest had been awakened from sleep too, as he only wore his underthings - as black as the rest of his clothing. Vaal put a finger to his lips and met Phillip's eyes in the dim light cast through the window by a sinking sliver of moon. The blizzard had ended then, Phillip thought, amazed at how he noted it when other things were so pressing.

Vaal waited until Phillip nodded to take his hand from the boy's mouth.

Vaal backed away and pointed toward the hallway door. "Find your knife, and crouch on the far side of the bed," Vaal said in Phillip's head.

Phillip nodded his understanding and moved to do just that. As he got out of bed as silently as he could Phillip heard a board creak in the passageway. Then his heart was pounding so loudly in his ears he wasn't likely to hear much of anything else.

Vaal had already positioned himself to stand off to the side of the door, with a knife in one hand, a sword in his other.

"Be ready," Vaal told Phillip, just as someone's boot hit the door kicking it in and off its hinges to land with a loud thud on the floor. The attacker leaped into the room his sword already in motion.

Vaal moved so fast Phillip could barely see him. The assailant's sword clattered to the floor along with the man's severed hand.

Phillip fought for calm and was amazed to see himself reach down calmly and take the sword as it skittered toward him, sliding across the wooden floor. He did his best to ignore the sticky blood on its hilt, took a tight grip and crouched into fighting position ready as additional men tried to rush through the doorway into their bedroom. Vaal held off all but one who got past him when he was engaged with another in the doorway itself.

The one on the floor who'd lost the hand was screaming but whether it was in pain or in fury Phillip couldn't tell.

The room was too small for actual swordplay. It would be stab and protect as best one could.

Vaal was grappling with one man, others waited at the doorway, unable to actually enter yet but still hoping for a chance to thrust their swords into the priest. The other man in the room, stepped over his fallen comrade and came at Phillip.

He was not much taller than Phillip but a good deal more solid and muscular. His eyes looked feverish, Phillip thought, and his movements were a bit jerky rather than smooth and sure. Phillip was so distracted by this that the man's dagger slashed his arm before he got his attention back on the weapons only and set aside his confusion.

Phillip knew he wouldn't win any contest involving sheer strength but he thought he might have an edge in speed and agility over his attacker. Of course close quarters limited his options but even so, he found that he could dodge and even anticipate the man's slashes at him.

The man who'd lost a hand had fallen silent finally, and now the fight was eerily silent. A few grunts, the sound of metal against metal periodically.

Then there were loud noises in the hallway and the other attackers who'd not been able to enter the room melted away. The priest managed to free his sword arm and found enough room for one solid downward stroke. That attacker's head fell off his body and blood and gore erupted as the body collapsed to the floor, causing the man already down who had been holding his stump to scream again.

The man fighting Phillip saw this and as his attention wandered Phillip found his opening. He shoved his dagger into the man's stomach all the way up to its hilt. The man's eyes met Phillip's and Phillip watched in horror as the light went out of them. The body sank, taking Phillip's dagger with it. Phillip, feeling numb and sick to his stomach found himself staring into the Priest's eyes.

Then suddenly the publican and others were rushing into the room and shouting. It had seemed to last forever, that battle. But it must have only been minutes.

Phillip's knees gave way and he sank onto the edge of his bed, his breath raspy. The next thing he knew Vaal was bending over him. It was only then Phillip realized his arm was bleeding quite badly. Vaal was wrapping it with some bit of cloth quite tightly to staunch the flow.

"You did well, Sir Phillip," Vaal said.

Phillip, caught up in reliving the final moments of the man he'd killed, seeing the agony and something else in his eyes, didn't answer.

He had no idea how long he'd sat there. The publican and others had whisked away the dead men and were bundling off the man with the stump when he thought to look around.

"We'll have to send for a sage for the boy's wound," Master Emmons commented to Vaal, "and to do something with that one's stump," he added grimly, nodding toward the hallway through which they'd taken the prisoner. "I only hope the Bastard won't blame us for this attack upon you," he added, eyeing Vaal with considerable worry on his easily-read face.

"I'll tend the boy. Afterwards I can cauterize the man's stump. Then I need to question him." Vaal's voice was soft, quiet. Calm. Was he unaffected by what had happened, Phillip wondered, or was it something he'd just grown used to.

"Aye. I'll send my goodwife up to help you with Master Phillip. She has some supplies."

"We'll come down," the priest decided. And before Phillip could protest that he could walk, the priest had scooped him up into his arms and was carrying him down the staircase. That was all he remembered for some time.


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