Something was wrong: he could feel it.
She sensed it too. At the last second she stopped, turned her head. He turned with her, caught sight of Thaylan an instant before he gave the signal.
Then they were surrounded.
Archers appeared in the high places – rooftops mostly, with arrows notched and ready to draw. And the way – every way – was blocked by men who slipped out of the shadows or came running, bits and pieces of mismatched armour clanging together, with savage-looking weapons in hand to match their faces. He recognised gladiators when he saw them, slaves and freedmen from the fighting pits. Some of them laughed at the sight of him.
“It’s over, Sternsword.” Thaylan sounded almost disappointed.
He smiled in triumph and Merrick felt his heart sink: his strength had fled and he wanted to sit down, rest, die. He thought about it, thought very hard as the gladiators surrounding them tightened into a circle and the rain fell softly, washing away all his hope and doubt and fear, leaving nothing.
Nothing but an empty shell, man-shaped and hollow. For a long time, hollow.
“No,” she said, and touched his neck with one smooth, cool hand. No, the only word of his tongue she seemed to know, or care about.
“Yes,” said Thaylan, grinning in earnest now: a slippery, slimy grin. “You see this, here – Seagrave –” And he threw his arms wide as if to encompass the entire city. “– is a killing place. You come here to die, men like you. Men who can’t stomach the truth, that all is lost.”
“No,” she said again, not imploring but demanding, knowing.
Merrick looked at her: his last hope, for what? Redemption? Forgiveness? Glory?
It was the look in her eyes – her inhuman eyes – that convinced him; for the first time, he saw the defiance there.
“No,” he said, and let the crossbow fall from his crippled hand. It clattered onto the wooden pier.
“No?” Thaylan’s smile began to slip.
“No,” said Merrick, and looked up. His hand went to his sword. “Things aren’t lost – they’re just broken. And broken things can be fixed.”
He didn’t know what happened first, the drawing of the sword or the loosing of the arrow. He knew that he had the blade clear of the scabbard when the arrow struck, piercing the armour at his shoulder and driving into the muscle. The sword fell from his grasp as he clenched his teeth against the pain, determined not to cry out.
Thaylan favoured him with a disapproving stare. “Too slow,” he said.
Merrick smiled then, through the pain and the hurt and the despair, and very slowly, very deliberately, reached down for the hilt of his sword.
The second arrow took him in the thigh. It went deep – he could feel the bodkin pressing at the skin on the back of his leg, and the blood that came forth was dark as the night around them. Despite himself he gave a yell, spewed a litany of curses.
The evling girl had backed away – he hadn’t noticed her doing it, but now he saw her step into the water where it lapped over a sunken section of the dock. All eyes were on him, including hers – and they blazed with ethereal light.
He knew what he had to do.
“You want to die?” asked Thaylan, genuinely curious. “Because I can do that for you, if you wish.”
The water was drawing away from them: he could see it through the cracks in the wood beneath his feet, receding. “You’re going to have to,” he replied. The pain made him want to bend over double but he stood as tall as he could, and dared them to strike him down. “You’d better kill me, or I’ll kill you – as sure as the day follows the night, I swear it on the First Lords.”
Thaylan had no answer for that. He just watched – watched as Merrick reached down once more, his hand moving slowly and steadily toward the sword at his feet. He, and the archers, and the gladiators – they were all watching so intently, waiting for the moment, that they didn’t even notice the roar that was building in the background, or the way the clouds above their head suddenly swirled angrily downwards, or the rain that intensified until it threatened to drive them all to their knees; then it was upon them:
His fingers closed around the sword hilt, the arrow flew, and the wave crashed into Seagrave; it crashed all along the harbour, splintering wood, shattering pylons, destroying moored boats and throwing others into the air; it crashed into them, the gladiators standing all around, and the archers on their perches; and it crashed into the building where Thaylan stood, and destroyed it.
But it did not crash into him: the water parted and he felt the cold spray on his back, the cool rush of its passage; he saw what little light there was dim as the crest passed over his head, the savage white lip crashing down hard; and he heard the screams of others as they were crushed by the titanic wall of water.
But he was untouched. He almost laughed but for the arrow that had embedded itself in his chest. Instead, he breathed fire and coughed blood.
The wave had done its work – of most there was no sign, some were corpses, some were close to it. One man wailed, another spluttered. One of the archers had been impaled on a broken board – Merrick watched him struggle as the water receded again, drawn once more into the depths.
It was her doing, her power, her elementus. She appeared suddenly to catch him, carry him. Her clothes weren’t even wet.
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