The Iron Wolves(6)

By: Andy Remic


“You know my name,” she said, and her voice was very low, a dangerous growl, and even though the words were not threatening, not threatening in the slightest, Lars felt a sudden and very great presence of danger. Not some tavern brawl. This was life and death. Instant. Sudden. Predator taking victim.

“You spoke it. In your sleep. You said you were Kiki. And that means you are…” He paused, and looked at her. He swallowed, his throat bobbing. “Er.”

“Go on,” she said. Still, she had not moved.

“You are one of the Iron Wolves,” he whispered, throat husky.

“Which one?”

“The leader,” he said. He swallowed again. His eyes shone. “Look. Kiki. Honestly. This is not a problem for me. I know you’re a wanted woman, but…”

“Go on.”

“Stop! Stop being like this. You can trust me. Just because I’m some rich dandy who enjoys wine, perfumery and lustful couplings with beautiful women, doesn’t mean I’m in the King’s pocket!”

“But you said so yourself. King Yoon may be attending the ball thrown by your father at Rokroth Hall. Why would you invite me? You knew my name before you made the offer. And you’re not moving, which can only mean one thing. You have a blade beneath the sheets.”

She felt the cold press of steel against her ribs. Gentle, but nicking slightly. A droplet of blood rolled down her flank.

She smiled.

“IN HERE!” Lars bellowed, and she heard the clank of armoured men outside the bedroom, armoured boots muffled by thick expensive carpets. They were King’s Men. King’s Guards. Here to arrest her. Here to… kill her? Possibly. The problem lay with King Yoon, Tarek’s direct descendant; his blood heir. Yoon wouldn’t want an ex-hero of the Pass of Splintered Bones dragged through the dirt in extended shame and anti-royal publicity. One of the legendary Iron Wolves! That would be… complicated.

Twenty-five years ago, the Iron Wolves, King Tarek’s elite force, held back tens of thousands of mud-orcs at the Pass of Splintered Bones; the mighty Desekra Fortress was almost overrun, thousands of Vagandrak’s finest soldiers slain, and Morkagoth, an evil sorcerer with the power to shapeshift, set to wrest the throne from King Tarek. Without the Iron Wolves, the whole of Vagandrak would have been overrun, the king murdered, the people sold into slavery; or worse, slaughtered in their beds. Men, women, children. Throats cut. Hung from trees. Genocide. Now, there were no greater heroes to inspire children and adults alike than the Iron Wolves. Epic sagas had been penned by the country’s finest scribes. Poems and songs were sung around tavern fires by minstrels earning their dinner. Children re-enacted the battle in endless amateur school plays. Scholars studied tactics from The Mud-orc Siege and The Charge of Splintered Bones.

When the Iron Wolves, in an epic, desperate, final battle, finally reached and killed Morkagoth, the remaining mud-orcs retreated to their pits and slime in the south; thus ended the War of Zakora, and the elevation of the Iron Wolves to heroes. King Tarek showered them with gold, jewels, land and palaces. And they had gone their separate ways…

Now, Lars, heir to the stinking backwater Lordship of Rokroth, had one of them in his bed. And she was wanted. Wanted. Not just for murder and smuggling, of which she was no doubt guilty; but also on suspicion of witchcraft, heresy and peddling the honey-leaf which was said to bring a man closer to the Three Gods and the Seven Sisters. Probably in the same kingsize bed.

“IN HERE!”

Kiki gave a short laugh. “You bastard. After all we’ve been through?” she muttered, without apparent irony.

“I’m sorry, Kiki. Truly. It was fun. All of it was fun… while it lasted.”

The door rattled.

“Lord Lars,” came a muffled voice. “The door! It is locked!”

“Idiots! BREAK IT DOWN!”

She moved fast, head-butting him and making him howl from a scrunched up face with broken nose. Taking the long dagger, she rammed it hard into his shoulder, through flesh and bone, pinning him to the bed. A butterfly to a board. He thrashed suddenly, screaming, legs kicking, blood frothing around the wound and the nasty black triangular steel. Kiki leapt from the tangled silk sheets and dragged on leggings and a tight black shirt as sounds of crunching wood echoed through the room. She grabbed her weapon baldric, settling it over her head from right shoulder to left hip as the door burst in and five of the King’s Guard moved forward with drawn short swords.

They glanced at Lars, thrashing on the bed, moaning, and touching the handle of the long dagger with little puppy yelps. Then heads came up as they focused on Kiki, who was standing with arms by sides, completely relaxed, iron grey eyes fixed on the five men. They wore King Yoon’s livery, mainly chainmail armour but with plate protecting chests, forearms and thighs. They wore tight helmets stamped with the Royal Coat of Arms. It was a good mixture, for it provided protection yet with increased mobility over full plate; Kiki gave a tight grimace showing her teeth.

“You are under arrest, madam,” said the leader, who wore his black beard neatly trimmed and had dark eyes under shaggy brows. “In the name of the King.”

“Do you know who I am?” Kiki said, voice soft.

“Yes, madam. No sudden moves. We’ve been instructed to bring you in alive, but if you force us into action we have authority to use maximum force. We are men of honour. None of us here likes to hurt a lady.”

“That’s good, then, captain,” smiled Kiki, moving towards them, arms outstretched, hands crossed in a sign of surrender. She saw the guards’ shoulders relax, just that little bit. Behind her, Lars was making gurgling noises. “Because I’m no lady.”

The throwing knife went from baldric to the captain’s eye socket in one swift, single slash. He staggered back as Kiki accelerated, another knife in her fist as she leapt, feinting left past a blade, kicking from the wall and punching her blade into the second guard’s throat. He gurgled, ejecting blood, and she rode him to the ground as another blade whistled horizontally over her head, crashing into the shoulder of a fellow guard. He cried out as steel struck chainmail, taking a step back. Kiki hit the ground, shifting into a forward roll and leaping again with the balance of an acrobat. All was chaos. In the confines of the room the guards were crammed in too tight to use their swords effectively. One pulled his own dagger, but Kiki was too close – close enough to kiss and she rammed her blade low, into his groin between the panels of chainmail and plate. She jerked it up. It bit him like acid and he groaned, staggering forward onto her as his femoral artery was snicked open and his lifeblood pumped out to rich thick carpets. She let him fall, taking his dagger so that now she held two, and twisted away, dropping to a crouch, pausing. Her face was speckled with blood, both fists glistening crimson. Three dead. Two left. They backed away, staring at her in horror.

“Run to your mothers,” she growled, rising from her crouch and stretching her back. “Before I gut you like sour fucking fish.” But they could not, and she understood their hesitancy. These were King’s Guards. She was one little lady, without a sword. To retreat? The King would not look favourably on such an action. In her mind’s eye, Kiki pictured a large oak tree and a strong thick noose.

“Get the others,” growled one guard, the senior by the grey in his beard. The younger of the two slipped through the broken door, thankfully.