Battle At The Septa's House
When all was set, Catriona stepped outside with Gwendla, cleaning the knife blade with the bloody rag as she did so. “Sorry, Steward,” she called. “We had a bit of trouble with the prisoner.”
As soon as the women appeared and spoke, Derron moved. A quick step to his left, bringing his left hand to the edge of Thelbane’s sadlle. At the same moment, his right hand with the knife sliced through the strap that held the saddle on the horse. Derron then heaved with his left arm, getting his shoulder into it. He wanted Thelbane on the ground, feet caught in his stirrups preferably. If his plan worked, he was going to dive under the horse and pin Thelbane to the ground…
Darcy Thelbane, seeing Catriona emerging from the cottage with the bloody knife, had leaned forward in his saddle - which aided his rapid descent. Even as he fell he pulled one leg free, and a dagger from his belt.
Seeing his master’s fall, the man driving the wagon leapt down on the side closest to Thelbane - which meant Thelbane’s horse was between him and the cottage. The other two Mummers spurred their horses forwards …
But Niko had already moved into action, his position allowing him to see the Steward’s blade before he acted. He had already started sprinting forward, cursing stewards that moved without warning in the same breath as apprentices who eschewed his commands. His shield, he had brought around, even as he unsheathed one of his blades from within it. Racing towards the Steward, he yelled out, “Guards! ‘Ware the doors!”
His intent was to keep the man off Derron so that he could bring Thelbane to heel. That was, if he could get there in time…
Derron was starting under the horse when the man jumped down, so he changed his plan. He grabbed the for the saddle or legs and pulled him under the horse, in the direction of the cottage. He was not the fastest man, but he knew how move heavy burdens well.
As the Steward moved and Thelbane toppled from his saddle, Catriona shoved her knife back into her belt with her right hand while her left reached over her shoulder for her bow. The bloody rag fell discarded to the ground, much like the colorful oath that erupted from her lips before she managed to utter, “Back inside, Gwendla.” The hunter fell back to the cottage doorway herself as she nocked an arrow to her bow, and drew back, taking aim at the closer of the two Mummer horsemen pounding forward. As she let the arrow fly, she calmly shouted out, “Keir Granoc!”
Inside the cottage …
Keary started up the stairs to the top floor, unlimbering his bow as he went…
A frightened voice called out, “Who’s there?”
“A friend,” Keary called out. “A friend of Mariam, and a friend of,” Damn it! Cat did say there was a problem with names… “the woman with the sword. And I have a bow. If you’re in the window, I need some room. I’m coming in, okay? Don’t shoot.”
Aerin stood between the Septas and the front door, her sword pointed down but still drawn. She looked to Ranulf. “Hide,” she said. “Don’t come out unless it’s me, Niko or Derron, understood?” she said quietly but firmly.
“Yes,” came Ranulf’s voice - a thin, scared thread.
“Come close,” Mariam said to Aerin. “Your Septa and I need you to protect us if the fight comes inside.”
“I will,” Aerin promised. “But I need room to swing my blade, and I’ll not risk either of you. I don’t have the full reach to stab a tall man,” she said matter of factly.
But she did take a step back closer to the Septas.
Mariam gave her a reassuring smile - and then her eyes widened as she heard Catriona shout.
“Can you stop your shadowcat?” she asked hurriedly.
For Shade was snarling, his back arching and his fur standing on end, while his tail seemed to puff out to three times its normal size.
Aerin glanced at Shade. He was obviously freaked out by what was happening outside. Probably something to do with the Dire Wolves that Keary had mentioned.
“Shade… be calm. Wait,” she said. “I’m here. We’ll wait here.” She stepped over, gentled Shade’s fur. “It’s ok. I’m here.”
Thelbane fought dirty, and was prepared to do so at a moment’s notice. The suddenness of Derron’s attack might have taken him by surprise - but this was hardly the first time the Bloody Mummers had been attacked without warning - and Thelbane was more than ready to defend himself with a wicked curved dagger he’d pulled out, even on the ground and in danger of the hooves of the panicked horse. A lunge …. and Derron felt a searing pain on the side of his left arm.
But he could hear shouts in response to Niko’s call - the guards as well as Niko were running to his aid.
Keir came bounding into view, Mist at her shoulder. Seeing the men struggling on the ground they raced forward - but had no means of distinguishing friends from foe. Seeing Niko with drawn sword, Keir swerved towards him while Mist headed for the Mummer who had fallen from his horse in response to Catriona’s shot.
Gwendla dived back inside, and towards Hex.
“Stay inside!” she urged.
But Shade was going increasingly agitated as he heard the direwolves outside …
Suddenly he sprang up to the window and thudded his not inconsiderable bulk against the shutters that Mariam hhad pulled closed.
The wood creaked ominously …
Aerin thought about it. For three seconds.
Either Shade would attack the Dire Wolves, and learn better or get killed. Run away and come back when it was safe. Or help Niko and Derron.
But if Shade stayed in here Someone was going to get hurt. And his claw marks from yesterday were painful enough.
And the Septas really didn’t need the problem of a crazy shadowcat in the house.
She moved to the door, opened it a crack. “Shade! Here!” she called to her shadowcat. Hoped his sense of self perservation was good. And prepared to follow him out.
Sprinting faster than the guard had any right to expect, Niko was upon him before he had the time to aid his master. He cut high with the boss of the shield, intending to hide the wicked slash he made with his blade- not necesarily to kill, but to cripple, and leave him bleeding for the wolf he saw approaching. He did not know where Gabriel was, so didn’t know how much control he had over the beast. But a bleeding, wounded target was always a preferable target for a wild beast.
If he was successful, he had no plans to stop within the man’s range, but to keep going, and let the wolf finish him off…
Derron knew he had help coming, but he wasn’t sure how quickly it would reach him. He decided on a desperate move. He grabbed Thelbane’s ankle with both hands and proceeded to swing the man off the ground, as if he were competing in the hammer toss at Spring Festival. He would toss the man into the area between the wagon and the cottage. He’d have no immediate support, and the huntress’s bow would make him think twice about any sudden moves.
Thelbane retaliated by grabbing one of the horse’s legs as an anchor. The beast plunged and screamed in pain (a sound that attracted the attention of a furious shadowcat, incidentally).
Shade burst from the house, spitting with fury, and hurled himself into the fray - streaking for the horse that seemed to be at the centre of the struggle - for Derron and Thelbane were fighting almost beneath its hooves.
It could be argued that the last thing the horse needed was a furious shadowcat determined to attach itself to its jugular.
“I don’t have a bow,” said the other. “But I have a knife - and I know how to use it, too!”
But the young voice quavered too much to sound entirely confident.
As Keary came through the hatch and into the room, he saw the figure of a boy, perhaps fourteen or so, crouched near the window and watching him warily - then shooting nervous glances out of the window. Then suddenly his attention was riveted.
“Wolves! They’ve got wolves!”
“No,” Keary said, keeping his bow pointed towards the window as he moved to it and looked out. “We’ve got wolves. And a shadowcat, too, as I understand it.”
“Oh,” said Callon. “That one that’s just burst out of the door and is going for the horse they’re fighting under?”
Keary made his way to the window, began cursing fluently, and drew his bow. After a long moment, where missiles were useless from their vantage point and the battle unfolded, he let the arrow relax. “Yeah, that one,” he said. He turned to the boy, not saying anything about the arrow he had been aiming at the unprotected back of the last Mummer. “I’m going back downstairs.”
Hearing the boy cry out, Hex called up with a laugh in his voice. “I don’t suppose the Lady Hunter has a pet wolf?”
Had the battle been less engrossing, he might have been aware of how suddenly Mariam stilled.
But even more to the point - outside the cottage not one but two direwolves had thrown themselves into the fray.
“No doubt,” Hex answered quietly as he took a quick step to the side and back. His bow was up and level, the string pulled back to brush against his ear. As Thelbane’s two outriders came charging in, Hex released and drew a second arrow.
The dornishman had immediately discarded any thought of loosing into the melee around the wagon, an ally could too easily step into the path of an arrow. Instead he had targeted the outriders’ mounts, the killing force of the arrows at short range would be multiplied as the weight of the horse charged into the oncoming arrow. An injury to the shoulder, or the meat between the shoulder and chest could cause even a trained horse to rear or panic, if it wasn’t killed outright.
The horse of the uninjured Mummer went down - the Mummer leaping off and sparing himself injury. He looked around, calculating the odds … and then turned and fled back towards the stream they had so recently forded.
As soon as the first arrow left her bow, Catriona was already reaching to pluck another from her quiver. She saw Mist go for the fallen Mummer, but noticed Keir’s swiveling towards the wrong target. “Keir, gran Mist!” As she shouted, her second arrow targeted the Mummer who remained atop his horse.
Just as Catriona let her arrow fly, Hex’s thudded into the chest of the rider’s horse. As his horse fell, the Mummer leapt from his injured horse, avoiding the trajectory of her arrow in the process as he took to his heels to flee.
The only Mummer who was still standing had encountered Niko.
And then there was a hideous scream for the horse - a death scream –and Derron and Thelbane were bathed in a sudden spurting fountain of bright red blood …
Aerin grimaced. But there was combat. IT was a distraction. He wasn’t attacking Clearwater. And at least Shade might come when she called.
“Block the door behind me!” she called to Hex.
Stepped out and pulled the door shut behind her. Stood in front of it with sword drawn.
“SHADE!!!!” She yelled, trying to get his attention.
The shadow cat turned and looked at her, muzzle red with blood. He considered her thoughtfully for a moment. Then he returned to the thrashing, dying horse.
At his advanced age, it took quite a bit to arouse his attention. He had been lounging in the grass by the wagons. He had caught the faint scent of two large animals in the area. He would be more than willing to greet them if they showed themselves, but had no inclination to look for them. Then he heard the sound of fighting. That always made him curious, because fighting, especially near dinner time, frequently meant food was dropped to the ground. So he looked up. What he saw easily got him to his feet. Lancer was old, and didn’t have too many sprints left in him, but seeing Derron get cut made him go as fast as possible.
As Derron and Thelbane were drenched, Lancer’s huge jaws clamped around the forearm that was attached to Thelbane’s knife hand. Lancer not only tried crushing with his jaws, he began tugging and shaking his head from side to side, so his long teeth did more damage. Derron, for his part, was more than willing to play tug with his dog.
Thelbane fought viciously, but it was clear that circumstances were conspiring against him - and suddenly he went limp. Lancer maintained a grip, watching Derron for instructions.
Niko still didn’t stop, but instead neatly swung again with his shield, crosswise, to break through any defense the man might muster before stepping in with the other blade to slash him across the neck.
The man went down as if pole-axed. Niko had the choice of killing him from above, or physically stooping himself to take the man prisoner.
Catriona let out a curse at her wasted shot as the man started to flee. She glanced to see if Keir had followed her redirected command to go with Mist. She sighted the two direwolves ripping and shredding the remains of the man she had knocked from his horse. After an internal sigh of relief that Keir had avoided tangling with Niko, she gauged the distance from the wolves to the fleeing man, as well as from her vantage point. She might have a chance at one shot before he got out of range, but the wolves, well…they ran much faster than a man on foot.
She hollered, “Keir!” then whistled sharply twice as she pointed in the direction of the escaping man.
Keir looked up reluctantly, but then bounded after the target …
As for the last Mummer running away, he had to pass by the Clearwater wagon. He was so focused on running he didn’t see Binnder step from around the rear of the wagon, swinging his mace for the Mummer’s breadbasket.
The Mummer went down, poleaxed. Keir came to a halt at his body and then lifted his head and drew his lips back from his impressive fangs as he growled at Binder who hastily retired a few steps.
Derron glared down at Thelbane and spoke forcefully. “Drop the knife before the lass cuts your arm off to give me dog a new toy.”
Thelbane snarled at him, but dropped the knife.
Derron’s face betrayed no emotion, nor the pain in his arm. The blood was running down it, but not too freely. He’d suffered worse in the past. “Lancer, good boy. With me.” He backed up several paces so Thelbane was now too far from the knife to grab for it. Then Derron dropped the man’s leg and said, “Stay.” It wasn’t clear if he was speaking to the dog or Thelbane. Derron straightened, but kept his gaze fixed on the Mummer. He called out, “Hex! Gwendla! Keep lookouts in place! There might be more nearby! But it’s over for the moment. Come out and speak with Thelbane.”
He glanced towards Binnder and got his first really good look at Keir. The sight made his eyes go wide, and he swallowed once. He had been about to tell Binnder to secure the man, but changed his mind. “Binnder, just keep an eye on him. If the beast wishes to finish him, don’t get in the way.” Still mostly focused on Thelbane, Derron shook his head slightly and muttered, “So she’s real.” He then spoke aloud once more. “Aerin, if you can’t control that cat, it’s future might be uncertain. Maybe the lass can show you how to train him.”
Aerin didn’t bother to answer Derron. Partially because Shade hadn’t gone after anyone on their side. Shade was very, very smart.
And Partially because… well… Shade WAS a Shadowcat. She’d never met anyone who could train a cat, except to not do their business indoors or not scratch things to pieces. Which she HAD done. Lancer’s continued existence was proof of that.
But mostly because it wouldn’t matter. She and Shade would be on their own soon.
She turned and opened the door, looked in to check on people. “I think it’s over, and we won,” she called into the Septas.
“Good!” Mariam called back. “Perhaps … perhaps you could come and help me now.”
Hex had shifted his bow to track the last of Thelbane’s thugs but stopped in mid-draw as one of the Steward’s men dropped the man to the ground. After the hunter whistled to direct the wolf, “her wolf” as it now seemed clear, Hex smiled and said to Gwendal. “I’ll be b uggered. There is a wolf woman after all.”
The dornish kept his eyes forward and an arrow half drawn as he answered Aerin. “It’s not over until Gwendla’s father is free, and I’d not call a winner until Thelbane is securely bound or …” The dornishman’s eyes slipped over to the girl, and he quickly revised. “Securely bound. We should clear the field in case he has more men coming, drag the horse into the barn once your friend is finished with it, and throw dirt over the blood.”
Aerin looked over at Shade. She still didn’t know what she could have done different, except tackle Shade and risk herself and the Septas.
“As soon as he’s done I’ll see it taken care of,” Aerin told him with a grimace.
Hex returned the arrow to his quiver and secured the whip to his waist. He picked up his shield and shifted his grip until it felt natural. Slipping the bow over his shoulder, Hex looked again to Gwendla and called up to Keary. “Two friendlies leaving the cottage.”
Nodding his head in a perfunctory bow, Hex gestured with his shield and said to the crannog. “After you, mi’lady.”
Gwendla turned to look at him as they walked out together. “My father,” she said softly. “We must get back to him … before the others realise … “
Keary appeared at the door, whistling; he watched his direwolf bound over to him, gave Mist’s head a pat and a shake, then grimaced as she grabbed his entire forearm in a playful bite.
“We don’t have much time,” he said with a raised voice, mostly meant for Catriona, until he noticed where she was and what she was doing. He glanced at the others. “I’m thinking if we want to save the house, and the Septas, we need to leave a trail away from here.”
Gwendla looked at Hex.