Dark Hunger


Page 19



They followed Will to the largest tent in the center of camp, which he had set up to serve as a command post. Maps and building plans lay spread out atop crates filled with stores and weapons.


“The Italians were sent here to infiltrate the household,” Will said. “Their mistress, Contessa Salvatora Borgiana, played the refugee and begged sanctuary for herself and them from Lord Locksley.”


“An inventive ruse,” Aedan murmured. “How many?”


“Over seventy cavalieri, led by a maréchal who calls himself Saetta.”


“A stablemaster?” Jayr’s brows rose. “I think not.”


Aedan uttered a grim laugh. “’Twas common once to bring in an experienced war master but call him cook or armorer or even groom. Whoever this Saetta is, I’ll wager that he knows siegecraft better than horses.”


“The last thing a siege lord does is announce himself on the field of battle,” an insolent voice said from the opening of the tent. The big, blond man who stepped inside wore a heavy black cloak over modified battle armor. “It spoils the surprise.”


“Suzerain Lucan.” Will quickly performed a respectful bow. “Thank for you coming so quickly. You know Suzeraina Jayr, and her seneschal, Aedan mac Byrne.”


“I do.” Lucan’s silver eyes shifted to Byrne’s tattooed visage. “Hello, Highlander. When last we met, you were planning to siege my stronghold.”


“No, lad.” The Scotsman offered him a narrow smile. “I but came to watch Cyprien take your head.”


“And now I serve him. Perhaps decapitation would have been kinder.” Lucan turned to Jayr. “Suzeraina.” He inspected her from head to toe. “My. You’ve changed.”


“Alexandra Keller,” she said, as if that explained it all.


“Indeed.” Lucan grinned. “I adore that woman.”


Will gestured to the table. “We are just assessing the situation, my lord. Will you join us?”


“By all means.” He made a languid gesture. “Assess.”


Jayr paid close attention as Will Scarlet detailed Rosethorn’s fortifications and the layout of the interior areas of the stronghold. She had visited Robin of Locksley’s country home many times, and had a general working knowledge of the property, but the additional, hidden defenses she had not been aware of proved worrisome and rather mystifying.


“Why did Locksley need to make this place into such a fortress?” Byrne said, giving voice to her own thoughts.


“When we dwelled in Sherwood, we had the entire forest at our disposal,” Will said. “Our enemies were never able to find us. Here, sitting out in the open, I think my lord felt exposed. He wanted to ensure that if we were attacked, the jardin would have every measure of defense possible.”


“Which now the Italians will use against us,” Lucan said. “In the midst of his paranoia, did Rob ever install more modern security devices? Sensors, cameras?”


“No, my lord.”


“If we survive this, I shall have to send my gadgetry people to advise him.” The suzerain helped himself to a glass of blood wine. “They have wired every inch of my club. A mortal cannot sneeze within fifty yards of the place that I do not know about it.” He glanced at Jayr. “You have said very little, my lady. What are your thoughts?”


“I am thinking that we have two hundred men between us,” Jayr said. “When our stores are exhausted, we will have to begin sending off groups to hunt. With no mortals within thirty miles, and only small populations within a hundred, they will have to be gone at least eight hours. If we hold them here too long, some of them will not wait for leave to go.”


“Starvation and desertion, the two plagues of the besieger.” Lucan studied the wine in his glass. “Locksley should have built his castle somewhere more convenient. I daresay you shall never face these problems in Orlando, suzeraina.”


“But we face them now.” Jayr thought for a moment. “Perhaps we could parley with this Italian. Offer him blood stores for him and his men in exchange for the hostages. At the very least he should agree to release the mortals he holds. In the old days they would often send out children, the sick, and the elderly to cross the lines.”


“The mortals are his stores, my lady,” Will said bitterly. “He will keep them alive as long as he can.”


“We have a two-to-one advantage,” Byrne said. “All we need is a way in unseen.”


“If they follow the old ways, which I am quite certain they do, they will patrol the battlements and keep snipers at the windows from dusk till dawn,” Lucan reminded him. “Once we reveal our presence they will be expecting us.”


“We could tunnel in under the curtain wall here,” Will said, pointing to the blueprints. “Come up under the middle ward and split the shaft east and west. Our men to the west emerge behind the tower and block the postern there. To the east, they come up in the chapel and enter the tower through the processional passage.”


Jayr studied the prints. “You mean to drive them from the tower into the gallery toward the postern.”


Will nodded. “There the men sent to the west will be waiting for them.”


“The fighting space will be too damned confined,” Lucan argued.


“Not for single combat,” Will said. “Once we trap them inside, I will challenge Saetta in front of all his men to a duel of three.”


Byrne scowled. “What the devil is that?”


“’Tis an English tradition, you tattooed heathen. The combatants are permitted to use against each other but three jabs of the lance, three thrusts of the dagger, and three strokes of the battle-ax. Whoever has a limb left to stand on, wins.” Lucan smiled a little. “I do miss the old days. Terribly. So how long do we have to dig this tunnel?”


Will hadn’t considered the time involved. “We have to be in position by tomorrow night. If I have not received word from Rob by then, we are to attack.”


Byrne studied the map. “Even if we had the equipment, and sent in the miners to work night and day, we’d need at least four days to tunnel through. We need another way in.”


“Or someone on the inside.” Lucan lifted his glass to stare at its contents. “I have an idea.”


In the place between flesh and spirit, Sylas of Daven walked, aware but not aware, himself and not himself. He had often retreated into the shadows, leaving behind his body as he became one with the darkness. Never had he stayed so long, and as he felt more of himself becoming part of the nothingness, he knew he had to return, at least briefly, to regain his strength and reclaim his soul.


The pain of parting was nothing to that of reunion, and as he sank over his body he felt the cold bite and burn into him like countless needles of copper. His first breath was agony, and he sank his fangs into his lip to keep himself silent.


The warm scent of mortal blood beckoned to him, promising relief, and he opened his eyes to find himself on the floor of a holding cell. He turned over and saw the battered face of a dark mortal over him.


“I thought I heard you move.” Strong hands helped him up into a sitting position, and a red-rimmed eye peered at him, the other swollen shut. “Now, would you mind telling me where the hell I am and why I’m here?”


Sylas didn’t recognize the man, but he smelled of the city. “We are being held prisoner.”


“That much I figured out on my own.”


With a grunt Sylas rose, accepting the man’s support as he found his footing. “What is your name?”


“Special Agent Raymond Hutchins, Federal Bureau of Investigation.” He surveyed Sylas. “You escape from a costume party, Romeo?”


Sylas glanced down at his garments. “Of sorts. I am Sylas. How long have I been unconscious?”


“Couple of hours at least.” Hutchins paced around the cell, pausing here and there to test one of the copper bars. “There aren’t any cops around, and this isn’t like any holding cell I’ve ever seen. It looks like a damn dungeon.”


“It is.” Sylas looked up at the light fixture, which barely illuminated the shadows. “Agent Hutchins—”


“It’s Hutch.”


“Hutch.” He pointed to the floor. “I need you to stand here, in the light, and close your eyes.”


The mortal scowled. “Why?”


“If you do what I say, I can free both of us.” He saw the skepticism in the other man’s black eyes. “Or we can wait for our captors to come and do as they like with us.”


Muttering under his breath, Hutch came and stood beneath the light.


“Keep your eyes closed.”


“You got a welding torch in here I don’t know about?” he asked.


“Please.”


The mortal closed his eyes. As soon as he did, Sylas went to the bars and reached out to the shadows beyond them. As soon as the darkness covered his hand, he used his talent, shifting from one shadow to the other, until he stood on the other side of the bars.


He found that the wall cabinet where the keys were kept had been emptied, but no one had discovered the copies he had hidden beneath one of the floor stones. He used them to unlock the door to the cell.


“You can open your eyes,” he said as the door creaked open.


Hutchins didn’t move. “Nice trick, Houdini. How did you squeeze the bars like that?”


“I am quite flexible.” Sylas saw that the mortal wasn’t going to cooperate. “I am also leaving, Hutch. Come with me or stay here.”


Hutchins came out of the cell, checking the area around them before nodding toward the left. “I heard some voices back there. They came and brought out a man in chains.”


Sylas breathed in but didn’t detect any strange scents. “Stay behind me.”


The largest of the detention cells beneath Rosethorn had been designed to hold a small army. Most of the garrison occupied it, all standing in circles within circles to afford the best opportunity of protection. As soon as the men saw Sylas and the mortal, they broke formation.



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