It was a Coup de Foudre, the viewing of the ring. The sumptuous coil of gold, melded with subtle hints of silver. This was no mere souvenir of the journey to Venice, but a true Renaissance masterpiece of a long-dead master.
Hillary could just imagine him in his leggings and pantaloons, proudly holding his creation between thumb and forefinger to accentuate its lustre to his patron.
How the craftsman would have smiled as patted the coins tucked into his no longer empty pouch. The smile clearly mirrored by Hillary as she slid the crisp Euros across the counter to make the magnificent ring her own.
It came as no surprise to anyone when she entered the church and found it inhabited by winged predators. They knew she was coming, and had prepared carefully. Minions had arrived in advance of the fiends, and removed everything that might serve her. Crosses and relics had been disposed of and holy water flushed away. Even the wooden slats of the altar rail had been burned. Sister Sally, vampire slayer, was entering an ambush on her own turf.
But as I have said, it was a surprise to no one, not even Sally. The nun had seen Boris Wyldmane, a known consort of the dark powers entering into the sacred space hours before. This uncharacteristic departure from his usual habit of only entering black doors had alerted Sally to the danger.
As she began down the aisle, several blood sucking menaces stepped from the cabinet before her. Then bearing true malice and exuding evil, their leader, Domcumula stepped front and centre, followed by his sycophant Wyldmane.
“Prepare to die, slayer,” Domcumula spat.
“Not today,” Sally retorted, “I have come equipped with a mask, and the daylight of ‘real’ scientific advice.”
This isn’t right, the black-clad ninja thought as he opened his eyes.
He vaguely remembered mounting the battlements, and then being pushed backwards off of the wall. In desperation he had grabbed hold of the warrior that had shoved him, and the two fell together to the ground below. Somehow, he had managed to land on top of the soldier, who was definitely dead, his head turned at a grotesque angle.
As the ninja came to his senses, he could tell that the defenders were combing through the bodies at the base of the wall, retrieving their fallen and mercilessly dispatching their foes.
The assassin quickly began to undress and to strip the armour and equipment from the man who had accompanied him on his fall. As he removed his own britches, agonising pain shot through his entire body, and he could see the jagged bone of his left leg protruding through the skin. He nevertheless completed the task at hand, and donned the garb of the other man. His ribs also gave him pain, as he pulled on the jerkin. He pulled his own clothes onto the corpse, and then feigned unconsciousness on top of the body.
A few moments later, he let out an uncontrolled scream, when he was nudged in the leg by the boot of one of the burial party.
“Call the medic,” the man shouted. “We have a live one.”
The man then stooped down over the ninja.
“Who are you?” the man asked in Ralulee, gazing uncertainly at the ninja’s features.
“I Sealandian Mercenary,” he replied, doing his best to remember the Ralulee phrase for ‘soldier of fortune.’
“You took a hell of a fall,” the man said, lightening up a little.
“He grab me – take down me,” he replied, trying to stress a Sea-Land’s accent.”
“Well help is coming,” the man said. “We will get you to the infirmary in no time.”
The ‘mercenary’ only really understood the word ‘help’, and ‘infirmary,’ but under the circumstances it sounded perfect to him.
Soon, he was being carried on a stretcher through the gates, into the fortress that he had attempted to storm the night before. What are the chances, he thought to himself. Why didn’t I think of something like this in the first place?
“And that’s final,” Edgar shouted as he closed the front door in his neighbour’s face.
“What was all that about?” his wife, Martha asked.
“That numbskull next door expects me to move the car. He says that I am taking ‘his’ space in front of ‘his’ house. Well, I told him there are no assigned parking spots on this street, and it’s finders keepers.”
About an hour later, Martha came into the TV room and said, “Honey, that space you so vehemently argued over; I think you should move our car.”
“Why should I?” Edgar challenged in a cross tone.
“Well I think you should go have a look. John seems to have come up with a better argument than finders keepers.”
The plan couldn’t have been simpler. The monarch’s secretary would contact the guards and say that water was dripping through the ceiling of the apartment where the deposed ruler was being confined.
Loyalists would then forcefully occupy all of the appropriate tradesmen’s establishments in the surrounding area. Then when the guards sent for a repair team to investigate the complaint, and tradesman of known loyalty would be sent to the royal apartment, and a switch would take place, with the apprentice and the monarch trading garments and identities. A fake beard on the chin of both would complete the ruse.
All went to plan in phase one. Four teams of loyalists entered the workshops of the known anti-Royalist tradesmen. The assumption was that these would be the ones sent for by the coup’s leaders.
Sure enough, Ranski and Son were sent for, and the plan was set into motion. Loyal Karl Darnit and his apprentice Jan made their way to the palace, in the Ranski work wagon. They were ushered into the royal chamber, and proceeded to make such a noise and dust cloud that the guard accompanying them decided to wait outside the apartment for them to finish. Meanwhile, the monarch sat on a window seat and waited for the next phase.
With the guard driven from the room, Jan removed his overalls and fake beard, and they were quickly donned by the former ruler. A suitable amount of dust was then thrown over the deposed leader, and Jan now with a silk robe across his shoulders assumed the window seat position with his back to the door.
Darnit then went and banged on the door and announced that he was finished. The monarch, now bearing a ladder over the left shoulder began to follow the master craftsman out, only to be cut off by the guard. Yes, it proved to be an epic fail when the ample busted, and five-foot tall, Queen Hilda, replete with beard on chin, proceeded to trip over the extra fabric of the skinny, six-foot-three-inch tall, Jan Yanski’s overalls.
The remnant of the assault team made their way across the battlement. The feint and its discovery had bought them time, but they needed to be quick. Senior Trooper Hij took command being the senior surviving warrior following the ascent and initial encounters, but he quickly asserted authority over his nine remaining comrades.
“This is the tower,” he said in a whisper. He and Trooper Ama were just try the entry door when it suddenly opened.
There was a prolonged moment in which the young guard from within, carrying a pot of hot tea to the defenders on the battlements, stared in shock at the assault team. The just has he began to call out, Ama severed his throat with a single stroke of his dagger.
“We’re in then,” Hij said in a low voice, and he and his men entered the dimly lit passageway. The passed two closed doors and then stood at a stairwell.
“If this map is right, we need to go down two flights and then we will be next to the Royal Chamber,” Hij said, and weapons in hand they made their way downwards, leaving Ama to watch their escape route.
Hij and the others passed the next landing and a sailor named Ali was left to watch for any unwanted interruption from that level.
Hij’s team then came to the floor where the Royal Chamber was. Hij used a small hand mirror to peer around the corner. There, outside an intricately carved doorway, were two sentries in the livery of the Sultan’s Guard.
Hij turned to his remaining squad and held up two fingers. Three members of the assault team returned their blades to their sheaths and took small crossbows from their backs. His then pointed to one of the men and mouthed the word “right,” and then to another, mouthing “left.” He then mouthed “misses,” indicating that the third man should reserve his shaft to complete the task.
“On three,” Hij mouthed and began a countdown on his fingers.
At the indicated moment the three crossbowmen rounded the corner and first two loosed their shafts. Both struck home expertly. But just as access to the chamber seemed assured, the sound of several sets of feet could be heard coming up the stairs from below.
Hij and the five men with him on the stairway turned to meet the threat, and the crossbowman who had yet to loose stepped back into the landing in time to shoot the lead newcomer in the forehead as he mounted the stairs. Six other men in the uniform of the Sultan’s Guard immediately rushed forward, while a seventh scurried downwards to sound the alarm.
A melee soon ensued on the stairs, and as the original two crossbowmen struggled to reload, the door to the Royal Chamber opened and three additional Guardsmen emerged scimitars in hand. The first bowman loosed a partially cranked charge into the first of these, and then swung at another with the weapon. This was easily knocked aside, and the Guard cleft into the archer with an overhand cut.
The second crossbowman dropped his weapon, and drew a dagger which he managed to drive into the belly of the Guard who had dispatched his comrade. He then rolled and snatched the scimitar of the Guard he had just gutted. In a brief encounter, both the remaining Guard and the crossbowman collapsed with mortal wounds which they had inflicted on each other.
On the stairway, Hij noted the outcome of the engagement outside the Royal Chamber and then ordered his men to make a fighting retreat up the stairs in the direction they had come. On reaching the next floor they found that Seaman Ali had managed to close the door to that level and then use some pitons from his pouch to hold the door shut. He joined them in the retreat as they passed, dropping one of the pursuing Guards himself with a thrown knife.
By the time Hij reached Ama’s position only three of his other men remained.
“Run to the ropes,” Hij shouted.
Only he, Ali, and Ama managed to repel to the ground. The others being either killed, or captured and later executed.
Dave loved his annual fishing trip with the cousins. It was a great time of family reunion, and a chance to catch up and to bond. Last year’s trip to the Gulf of Mexico had been amazing. Cousin Doug had struck a winner with Galveston as the “fish’n hole.”
This year, his cousin, Alfie picked the location. It was different to be sure.
Dave cast his line into the thick vapour.
“Alf, Buddy, we ain’t catching anything here on these hot springs. Are you sure this is how you get poached salmon?”