Deadly Enterprise

This is an excerpt from Chapter Ten. Gisel Matah, disguised as the burly soldier Galen Brough is escorting Yohan Felger on a dangerous journey to the city of Lubitz. They have just arrived at the port of Brehafen and disembarked from the “Maid of Wallicher” . . .

Gisel stood with Guildmarshal Possen and his family half way between the Maid and the warehouse buildings lining the city side of the dockyard concourse. “I’d advise you to travel to Makberg in daylight, Guildmarshal, not now.”

“Indeed. Why so?’

“I have it on good authority that the Duke of Makberg is assembling an army. A night journey could place your party at the mercy of any freebooters or wastrels attracted to the disorder of war.”

“By the Holy Flame! I thank you for the advice. I’ll take rooms in the town and ride the morning stage. If you’d care, perhaps you’ll stay with the ladies while I go to the port watch office to locate satisfactory lodging.”

Gisel needed freedom of action, she hesitated a moment before answering. “Certainly, Sir. It’ll be a pleasure.” She watched Yohan and the porter loading their packs onto his handcart. Zagdorf had gained an alarming amount of information about their journey to be able to catch up to them. She’d advised their splitting up so she could cover Yohan from a distance. Her replacement of Brough had better be a surprise – she could see no Empire troopers, but Yohan was bound to be followed as soon as he set out.

Gisel smiled at the Guildmarshal’s niece. “I hear you go to the city to be married, Mistress. I wish you the best with your marital venture.  Remember that a wife who bewitches her husband with greater delight than he expects enjoys favor beyond her expectations.”

She blushed. “Tush, Sir. I’m just a simple girl . . .”

“Slight not such simple girls, Mistress.” Gisel stared across the concourse at Yohan as she spoke, his man had taken up the shafts of his cart in preparation to move off. “A woman need not rely upon weakness to gain sympathy. You doubtless heard stories in Lingdon about Iskander’s women soldiers.”

“That Wildcat, Sir. She is said to be worth ten men.”

Gisel smothered her impulse to laugh. “Surely that proves women need be neither weak nor helpless.”

“Enough, Sir,” Madam Possen protested. “Do not fill the child’s head with foolishness.”

Yohan and the handcart man turned into a street off the concourse. Gisel noticed two men striding through the crowd behind them. Two men, not in uniform, but with the step of soldiers. She’d better get after them – quickly. Where was the Guildmarshal?

Yohan vanished into the town, the two men close behind him. Gisel was relieved to see Possen coming toward her in the company of a peg-legged man. She scanned the fronts of the row of warehouses for some sign of Zagdorf. He had to be in one of them, observing from cover.

Guildmarshal Possen spoke breezily as he rejoined them. “Well, young Sir, I must repay the kindness of your information. Will you come with us for a bumper before we part?”

“Regretfully, I cannot. I must hurry after Meister Yohan.” Gisel offered her right hand quickly, and shook the old gentleman’s.

“Then you and your friend should look me up in Lingdon – ”

“Indeed, Sir, we shall – ”

With the slightest bow to the ladies, she moved away. Almost at once, she saw two men descending the wooden staircase in front of one of the warehouses. One was hatchet faced, scarred and with no left eye, the other had his cloak drawn tight and hat pulled down. Gisel recognized his build and thick neck – Zagdorf.

She pushed her way through the crowded dock concourse, stopping twice in cover to see where Zagdorf went. They were making for the ‘Maid’. As soon as Zagdorf gained a description of Yohan’s companion, her trick would be discovered. She had no time to lose.

A narrow alley cut across the back of the Guildhall in the direction of Yohan’s destination. She set out quickly to gain ground on his pursuers. What would Zagdorf be planning? He had two men following the quarry. Did he mean to attack them in the town or follow them to a quiet part of the road? Bet he wants to keep his actions secret.

As she came out from behind the Guildhall the two men crossed the wide thoroughfare toward the entrance of a tall building. ‘Yerley Livery Stable’ a sign above the double doors read — ‘Carriages Supplied to Gentry’. She sprinted into the street between a heavy dray and two passing horsemen. As she reached the double gateway, she met the porter coming out with his empty cart. He stared back over his shoulder – had Zagdorf’s men frightened him?

Inside, she took the first staircase to the hay loft. Stopping briefly at the head of the worn stairs she drew her pistol and cocked it. A few yards further on was an opening for a bale hoist, she glanced into the lower level as she passed – into a well-stocked carriage house. Two lads hurled water at a muddy barouche, the suds splashing on one another. Their laughter almost drowned out the sound of voices from the far end of the building. Zagdorf’s men were that way.

The next section smelled of horses, lined with horse stalls – some empty and some holding well-groomed animals. Horses snorted, stamped a hoof, or shook their heads – a stable lad walked slowly between the stalls. Gisel noticed his attention was drawn to something behind him, beyond her sight.

“Up here,” she called softly.

His head jerked up, his mouth dropping open.

“The young gentleman who hired the two riding mounts — where is he?”

“At the stable yard, your honor. . . What be doin’ up there . . .? Be not allowed . . .”

Gisel turned away quickly. Two wings of the building stretched away from her. Both echoed with the sounds of running feet. Which way? One stretched away into darkness, the other had an open loft door at the far end. The daylight meant outside – maybe the stable yard. A shout of alarm rang out — from the lighted wing. She launched herself forward.

Then a pistol shot, the woof of a black-powder weapon. Gisel sprinted the whole length between fresh stacked bales of hay. More shots — Yohan’s revolver this time. She dove for the edge of the hay loft, and peered over the wooden sill. A groom in the stable yard struggled to hold two frightened horses as he backed them into an alcove. Across the far side, Yohan stood beside an open door. His back was to the wall – his pistol in his hand. He twisted his body to peer inside. From a window behind him the head and shoulders of a man appeared. Six feet away from Yohan. He raised a flintlock pistol, tilting the firing pan uppermost like a good cavalryman.

Gisel raised her automatic and fired in one motion. She swung out of the opening. The man cried out and clutched his shoulder. His pistol hit the ground.

Yohan whirled as Gisel landed on her feet in the stable yard.

“Where’s the other one?” she shouted.

“In there!” Yohan pointed back to the lower level of the building she’d left.

“You take the window. I’ll take the door.”

He leaped to the window and fired two shots inside. Gisel dove through the doorway, hit the floor, rolled and sprang to her feet. The second assailant ducked back into an empty stall, dropping the pistol he’d been trying to reload. “I surrender! Don’t shoot me!”

“Toss your saber out!” Gisel ordered.

The weapon landed near her feet. Yohan came running in through the doorway.

“Come out slowly,” Gisel said. “Keep your hands in sight.”

Yohan rushed up to him, brandishing the pistol.

“Don’t shoot, lord. Please don’t shoot me!”

“What happened?” Gisel asked Yohan, putting a steadying hand on his arm.

Yohan’s face worked — he waved the pistol back and forth. “These two were just behind me – ”

“This crazy fool came at us with a drawn pistol!” the man said. “Wot was we to do?”

“Holster the pistol, Meister! There’s one shot still in it and you’re likely to do some damage. I told you to keep calm and wait for me to –”

“Right behind that wall!” Yohan jabbed the revolver toward his holster. “I couldn’t – ”

“No time to discuss it now. The shots will have roused the whole neighborhood — we’ll have the militia here in a moment.”

She reversed the pistol in her hand.  With a roundhouse swing, she hit the man behind the ear. He crumpled to the ground.

“The horses ready?”

“Yes. I was just waiting for you.”

They darted into the stable yard and took the bridles from the groom’s shaking hands. Yohan leaped into the saddle. Gisel stood a moment at her horse’s head, handing the groom a silver Ducat as he backed away. “Here fellow. That’s to make yourself scarce and not answer any questions.”

The wounded man lay on the ground under the window. He clutched his upper arm, his eyes cast downwards as blood pulsed out between his fingers. Gisel put a foot into the stirrup and mounted. “Call someone to tend him,” she shouted to the groom, now running from the stable yard. “Else he bleeds to death.”

She urged her horse forward and dug heels to its flanks. “Let’s get out of here before Zagdorf’s men can get horses.”

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