We continue our story from “The Prisoner of Three Armies, Part 1“
“Still angry, peasants?”
The pirate Rendl’s head swiveled sharply at that, his eyes passing over each of the assembled prisoners on the ship’s deck. The voice had sounded deep, which in his mind ruled out the women entirely. His wife was a Berserker, and she could sound gnarlier than him if she wanted, but this particular pirate wasn’t about to chalk that voice up to any of the slim Ashfeld women in the lineup.
“Who said that?” Rendl barked, passing a hard, threatening gaze over them. The snow blowing through the air on the icy sea was louder than their shivering.
Receiving no response, Rendl growled slightly at the thin man closest to him.
“Someone stabbed Dorlok with his own knife last night and threw him overboard, then went quietly back to bed like a good little slave. Who was it? If you don’t tell me, Elpa will.”
Rendl gestured at the short little Viking woman sniffing the deck like a dog, her unkempt hair matching perfectly with the dirty machete and hatchet at her sides. She looked up at her name and grinned hungrily at each of the slaves, particularly Vinessa, whose eyes widened with terror. The little tracker could tell Vinessa wasn’t just shaking because of the cold.
Rendl noticed the young woman Elpa was grinning at’s fear, and he slowly approached her, walking up the line towards her with heavy, crushing power. Everyone’s head looked down at the snowy deck as he passed, and Vinessa was no exception.
“Got something you wanna tell me?” Rendl growled, grabbing her chin and lifting her eyes to meet his. “Or would you like to take it up with Elpa instead?”
Vinessa shook her head desperately, tears in her eyes.
“It was him!” she cried, trying to tilt her head to her left. “He told me he’d kill me next if I said anything! I’m so sorry!”
Rendl pulled Vinessa by the chin out of the lineup, then released her.
“Who do you mean?” he demanded, pointing at the men making up the right end of the line. All of them shook with dread, afraid of being wrongfully accused. They were right to be, especially the scrawny one at the end.
“That one!” Vinessa declared, again nodding in his direction. “The one furthest on the right! I saw him sneak out of the hold last night after untying himself with a nail in the wood, and then he came back an hour later and bound himself again!”
Rendl snarled and pushed Vinessa aside to storm up to the poor man she’d just indicted. The slave’s eyes were full of confusion and terror, darting between the eyes of a hungry predator, a furious pirate, and a young woman pleading for her life with his.
“It’s- it’s not true! She’s lying!” he stammered as the large Viking grabbed him roughly by the collar and dragged him away, towards the opposite gunwhale of the ship. The boat rocked slightly from the frigid waves as the man screamed for his life, begging innocence.
But Rendl was not a detective, he was a slaver, and now that one of his more disposable, physically weak slaves that Dorlok had owned originally was an easy scapegoat, he was all for setting the example. Besides, he wasn’t too concerned about catching the real killer when he knew he had Elpa sleeping in the same cabin as him, and he didn’t spend his nights alone on the deck, drinking and watching the waves like that fool Dorlok.
Vinessa, with her years of practice, easily hid the smugness she felt as Rendl threw the bony man overboard to his death.
Damn right I’m still angry. First I get smacked in the back of the head with an axe, then that skinny cretin tries to fondle me in my sleep. You’ll be next if you grab my chin like that again, and your pet blood-sniffer who can’t even tell it’s me. Idiots.
Most people probably would have found it hard to sleep, knowing, or even suspecting, that a Peacekeeper was alive and angry at them. Angry in a way that had distinguished that Peacekeeper from her peers. Angry in a way that made anyone who knew about her question every prisoner they had, making sure that none of them were her.
Not Vinessa. Vinessa couldn’t care less who was mad at her and who wasn’t; most of the people who hated her didn’t even know who she really was, least of all this pathetic warlord kneeling before her. Vinessa was a firm believer that you could judge a warlord by the quality of his troops, and this man, Lord Arrintoss, had led a group of thugs a step above banditry.
No, Vinessa corrected herself as she pressed the tip of her sword blade against his throat, a step below.
What remained of his pathetic garrison stood in chains and cuffs around the young woman and her captor, held tightly by her own entourage of soldiers in her courtyard, a hard march east of the fortress he’d lost to a group of vikings before being purchased with blood by her. The weakling Arrintoss trembled at the touch of her blade, the cold look of death in her eyes. Making him march that far before interrogating him had not been an accident; now, he was tired, broken down, and properly humbled.
“I’m going to ask you one last question: what did you do with your prisoners?” she said, “last” evidenced by the cuts on his scruffy face.
Arrintos nodded his head quickly. “I killed them! I sent a man down there, and-”
“Why did you do that?”
“Because I was losing, the Vikings were attacking me.”
“What about our agreement? What about the prisoner I brought you?”
Vinessa’s gaze was hard, and Arrintos had to choose between two bad answers, neither of which he knew for a fact was true.
“She’s… dead.” he decided, fatally.
When Vinessa slid her blade back out of his neck, and he fell to the dirt ground of the courtyard, she snapped her fingers once or twice. This wasn’t a story about heroes or villains; it was a story of survival, and that snap of her fingers told her soldiers that all of Arrintoss’s men had failed with him. Why had the Vikings even bothered attacking that worthless lot? Their incompetence and poverty had been why Vinessa chose them for such an important task. Who would bother conquering such a waste? Vikings must have been desperate.
As Vinessa eliminated every possible outcome except for three, that Arrintos’s prisoner had been taken captive by the vikings, escaped, or actually been killed, she strode out of the killing field of a courtyard and into the castle. Now, it was time for her to come up with an answer for every question anyone who may or may not still be in the equation might ask. It was time to sharpen every blade once more, load every crossbow, and man every turret. The Prisoner of Three Armies could be afoot.
The story continues here