The knife sliced down the side of her rib cage. Her scream, like shattered glass, blasted across the town’s roofs. What she was doing perched atop the peak of the priory knave, she would never tell. Her eyes rolled back in her head, she grabbed at the wrist that had struck the blade down her side. Her assailant jerked his arm from her grasp and she slipped. Her feet slid down the tiles, her body tipped and her weight pulled her down off the slope. The karump of her flesh striking the flagstone steps was the last that entered her ears. Her skull cracked like a nut as it struck.
“Good,” her companion spat. “If you’d kept your tongue, you might have seen the morrow.” Fip seated the knife he called Skur into its custom sheath, the sheen of the moonlight glancing off its copper hilt. The shrunken thief, no taller than a child, but wiry and yew bow strong, crept over the ridge of the knave and dropped and vanished into the night. He’d witnessed more than one partner’s death; many of which at his own hand.
But Sarresh did not die that night, nor the next.
A month later she woke groaning and croaking like a thrice widowed crone. She reached out in the early morning light, her vision foggy from the concussion, to grasp the mug of water she instinctively knew rested at the bedside table. She slurped down gulp after gulp in an attempt to slake the unquenchable dryness of her parched throat, only to puke the contents all over the rough wood floor near the bed on which she lay.
“Easy there, lass,” spoke a voice like a slow river. “Sip the drink, there be aspic in the mixture, to give you strength; too much will knot your belly.”
Her heaving done, she wiped the drool and slime from her mouth with the blanket that covered her. She opened her mouth to speak but naught came but a frog-like noise came out. The sensation backed her up and widened her eyes. She rubbed her knees together, naked. She lifted the fouled blanked to find herself bare below the shift that wadded itself up above her waist. She narrowed her eyes and peered around for a weapon.
The massive oafish man chuckled. “Think you’ve been violated by the likes of me? Bah! You ain’t fit to host my lusts. Settle back. The sewing I done has set, but you struggle now and the seam will tear.”
Sarresh pulled the reddish blanket up to her neck and lay back. She eyed the man who eyed her back. She bobbed her head once, ‘give me the story.’
“The Cromson brought you to me on a wagon full of Priory pillows. He said he’d deliver the load to the OneAndOnly but while unloading, you fell from the roof and missed him by a arm’s length. Said you made the wretched most sound when you hit the stones. He threw a blanket around you and wheeled you here.” The great man shifted on the stool, it creaked beneath his weight.
She raised her eyebrows, ‘and…’
“Oh, let’s see, that be,” Gor raised his eyes to stare at the rafters, “four, aye, four weeks now. I been caring for you since that night.”
The woman, her green eyes wide, her brows lifting in thankfulness, stared at the giant of a man, his simple goatskin jerkin, mottled and frayed, drew her eyes. She tilted her head and handed the mug to him, ‘thank you.’
“Oh, it be no trouble. What are you, the size of my old Ganny goat? Naw, you be no worries to me. But the wee fart of a fellow that come through town, oh, two weeks ago now, he and his mate, long, skeletal fellow, sallow skin, scars all over his face and forearms. The fart man be askin’ about you and where you be buried.”
Sarresh’s face flushed at this news. She looked to the open shutter-wide window and then back to the huge hunk of a man who now poured another mug of water for her to sip.
“Oh, we said, the Cromson and I, we said we rolled you in a ditch grave the night we found you. Said the mongrels prolly dug you up and chewed your bones to gruel. The wee man, a nasty pinch to his face, seemed satisfied.”
The woman’s face relaxed at this telling. Gor saw the change and determined that, yes, the tiny thief and this woman had been on business that night. Why, he wondered, had she been sliced and left for dead?
“You rest a day or three more. Your voice will return with a draught I’ll brew, special for the task.” The great hulk rose and set the mug on the table near the bed, smiling at the woman. “For now you be safe. But, once you’re well, there be some answers me and the Cromson be hoping you can tell us.”