Spell Caster Chapter 20
Jerryck strode down the street, glaring at Tajor. “Do you have to annoy everyone you meet?” “You didn’t find that amusing?” He pointed at his laughing friend. “You think he found it amusing?” “Irrelevant.” Jerryck dodged his way to the other side of the street where traffic was a bit lighter. “He laughs at everything.” Garret laughed some more. “Life can be rotten. Laugh or cry about it. I choose laugh. More fun that way.” He looked into the opening of an alley as they passed. “Stop here minute.” “Why?” Jerryck asked. Garret peered into the alley. A couple of shadows moved down at the end. “Thought so.” He maneuvered Jerryck into the opening. “Come this way.” Jerryck hesitated. “I don’t really like alleys. Bad things happen in alleys. And…” “And what?” Tajor came up behind, cutting him off from the street. “And—” Jerryck stepped in a pile of poop that was probably several days old— “and that.” Tajor laughed. “Is that all you’re worried about?” “Oh, this is disgusting.” Jerryck held back a gag reflex while using the wall to try and scrape stinky muck from his boot. “Why did you drag me in here?” “They didn’t drag you.” Cade emerged from the shadow that had moved. Another man stayed behind, where it was difficult to see him. Garret nodded toward the man in the shadow. “Have you been able to talk him out of this yet?” “No, he hasn’t,” the shadow man said. “Have you asked Jerryck yet?” “He’ll do it,” Tajor said. “Won’t you, Jerryck?” “Do what?” Jerryck asked. Cade waved the shadow man closer. “Come into the light so he can see.” “Who is this?” Jerryck didn’t recognize the man that now approached. “Does it matter?” Tajor replied. “Will you remember his name if we told you? Do you remember our names?” Jerryck turned to scowl at him. “You’re Tajor.” “And them?” Tajor pointed at the other two guards who had accompanied them. “How many times have you had to be reminded of their names? If I told you one of them was Deek, would you have even known the difference?” “Uh…” “You’re so bad with names.” Garret laughed. “I give you until sunset before you forget us again.” Cade reached for the shadow man, who had about the same skinny build as he did. “You can call him Cheber.” He lifted Cheber’s shirt and unwound some bandages to reveal a knife wound below his left ribs that looked a couple of days old. “We need you to heal that.” Jerryck bent close to examine the wound. “How did you move like you weren’t hurting at all?” “Practice,” Cheber said. “This looks only a day or two old.” Jerryck waved around at the alley. “You shouldn’t be in environments such as this. You could pick up an infection.” Cheber gave him a droll look. “Better than picking up another stabbing.” Jerryck straightened up. “I’m taking you to Kershet Fortress. I’ll treat you there.” “That wouldn’t be a good idea right now,” Cade said. “I’ll clear it,” Jerryck assured him. “It’s not a matter of gaining permission,” Cade said. “It’s a matter of proximity to the man who sent the knife.” “The palace then.” Jerryck changed destinations. “Same problem.” Cheber shook his head. “I’m not going to either of those places.” “I’d make sure the General puts guards on you,” Jerryck assured him. “Keep you protected.” “It’s the protection I’m worried about,” Cheber said. “Both those places are too difficult to get out of if I need to.” “You can’t stay here.” Movement drew Jerryck’s eyes. A couple of rats skittered across the alley from a pile of garbage several feet away from them. He added, “And I’m not working here like this.” “Garret,” Tajor said. “When was the last time you visited your family?” Garret grew a sly grin. “Jerryck wouldn’t like it there.” “Besides,” Cade said. “We have nothing to pay them.” Tajor waved that away with a smirk. “You don’t have to. They claim they still love me a favor.” “For what?” Jerryck asked. “Are you sure you want to know?” Tajor asked back. “No, he doesn’t.” Garret headed for the mouth of the alley. “We’ll go there. They’ll get mad at me if I don’t at least tell them about this anyway.” Cade kept up with him. He said to Tajor, “Give us a few minutes to clear the way of undesirables.” “Why do I have to stay behind?” Tajor asked. “Because you’re annoying,” Garret called over his shoulder, and left the alley with Cade. “I would have said because you don’t fight.” Cheber retied the bandage and lowered his shirt. “I can,” Tajor said. “Only if you want your opponent broken or dead.” Cheber leaned against the wall, one arm hugging his middle over the wound. Jerryck opened his mouth, nearly telling Cheber to sit down. He checked himself just in time. Sitting in this filthy place would be insane. Skittering sounds over where he’d seen the rats set him to crinkling his nose. Definitely not the place for someone with an injury to sit down, or anyone healthy to sit down for that matter. “You want me to ease the pain some?” Jerryck could do that much at least. “I won’t turn that down,” Cheber said. He and Tajor were both eyeing the spot where the noise had come from. “It’s just rats,” Jerryck told him. He gathered a bit of energy around the fingertips of his right hand, shaping it to numb flesh. Movement flashed out of the edge of his vision. Cheber gasped, and lurched to the side. At the same time, Tajor shot out an arm so fast, it was a blur. Then a knife struck the wall just passed Tajor’s fingertips, and clattered to the ground. With a flinch and a startled shout, Jerryck flung the magic away from him toward the direction the knife came from, with a lot more power than he intended for it to take. Something heavy crashed to the ground with a thud behind the garbage pile. Tajor cautiously sidled over. Then he straightened up, looking down at the ground. “Well, I doubt he’s going to be throwing any more knives soon.” Cheber straightened up, and walked slowly away. “I have to move.” Tajor bent down. “Can you feel anything? Or is everything too numb?” There was some indistinguishable moaning from whoever was lying behind the trash pile. Tajor laughed. “I guess not.” “What did I do?” Jerryck gasped. He strode over to the trash. Tajor stood straight and blocked them with both hands up. “Don’t worry about it.” “There was a man there?” Jerryck pointed. His finger shook. “Is he hurt now? What did I do?” “He’s not hurt.” Tajor glanced behind him. “In fact, I don’t think anything will hurt him until your magic wears off. You sure stunned him pretty good. I doubt he’ll be walking or talking for a while, either.” Cheber left the alley. Tajor hurried after him. Jerryck stepped out of the stink of the alley into the relatively fresher air of the crowded street. Cheber hadn’t stopped. With a slow, smooth gait, he steadily made his way up the street in the direction of the fortress. Someone bumped them as they passed by. He flinched, using a free hand to cover his wounded side again. That lurch he’d made in the alley couldn’t have helped at all. Jerryck reached for Cheber’s shirt, intending to lift it to examine and make sure the injury hadn’t been exacerbated. Tajor brushed a hand in the way, nearly touching his arm, stopping him. Garret dashed to him from the other side of the street. “What are you doing? You’re exposed out here.” “I was exposed in there.” Cheber pointed back to the alley with a thumb over his shoulder. “Where’s Cade?” “Working,” Garret said. He hovered close to Cheber’s left side, nearly hiding from public view that the man was holding his ribs. “For once, I think he’s more worried about you than you are about him.” They wound their way up the street through the busy traffic. Cade emerged from one of the shops and joined them. “Two out of three tails are out of the way now, if you include the one lying in the alley.” “Did you pick up his dagger?” Tajor asked. “Of course I did,” Cade said. “I used it to finish your job. Why don’t you ever finish them off?” Tajor smirked. “Is that what I’m supposed to do?” “What do you mean finish them off?” Jerryck asked. Cade didn’t answer. Jerryck grabbed his shirt. “You didn’t kill him, did you?” “Please lower your voice,” Cade said, looking around of the few heads that had turned in their direction. Most of them turned and quickly went on their way rather than keep eye contact with him. “Don’t worry,” Tajor whispered at Jerryck. “With your magic, the man probably didn’t feel a thing.” Jerryck pulled away from him. “That’s not the point!” “Keeping Cheber alive is the point,” Garret said. “You might want to focus on that more than the welfare of the men trying to kill him.” The traffic tapered to a long line of people waiting to go through the process of passing through a barricaded intersection. Cheber turned to the mouth of another alley. Garret and Cade pressed against his sides, redirecting him to the barricade. “You’re not going around through the back way,” Cade said. “They’ll have a sketch of my face.” Cheber’s feet fumbled a couple of steps before evening out again. “The mayor spread one around.” “Then I guess it’s a good thing we’re escorting you quickly to the front of this long line of people,” Tajor said. “It makes us look like we’re just escorting you up to the fortress.” “Besides,” Garret said. “Not all face sketches are well done. Maybe we’ll get lucky and they won’t think it’s you.” The soldiers wearing the muted red and yellow uniforms of the city guard manned the narrow opening through the barricade. They snapped to attention at the crimson and gold uniforms of the three palace elite guards and gave them a salute. One of them with a rank on his sleeve said the same thing they’d heard at every barricade so far. “Sirs, I’m under orders to ask the business of everyone passing through.” Tajor waved at Jerryck. “We’re escorting the king’s court magician.” The soldier blinked stupidly. He looked back and forth between Jerryck and the three palace elite with an expression of utter confusion. Then he finally got out a question, “He’s not riding? Someone as important as him?” “Have you ever tried to shop on horseback?” Jerryck frowned. “It’s far too bothersome. You have to find someone to hold the animal every time you go inside the shop. And the merchants in the open air stalls don’t like it if your horse poops too close to them while you’re trying to browse their wares.” “You’re returning from shopping without any parcels?” the soldier asked. “They’re being delivered to a shipping service for transport up to the palace,” Jerryck said. “I’m not carrying all of them that far.” The soldier’s face relaxed. He stepped aside. “You may all pass.” Another soldier whispered in his ear as they went by. He called out for them to wait. He looked at a cheap parchment, studying it. Then he looked at Cheber. He said, “You’re the man the mayor wants escorted to Bershent Fortress.” “We found him,” Cade said. “We’re escorting him too.” “You didn’t say anything.” “Why would we say anything?” Tajor asked with a shrug. “Who’s more important? Some random person the mayor wants? Or a minor noble in the personal service of the king?” “Right. Of course. Absolutely.” The man nodded with every word. They went on their way up the street past the barricade. Cheber stumbled again. A dark, wet stain leaked out from under his hand where he clutched his side. His other hand shook, and all the color had leeched from his face. “Stop,” Jerryck said. “Can’t,” Garret said. They kept moving, sweeping Cheber along up the street, turning down another that ran parallel to the fortress along some of the lower cost, middle class residences. “Stop!” Jerryck repeated. This time, he hurried out in front of them to try and block the way. Tajor cuaght him up and swept him along too. Jerryck said, “He’s going to bleed to death if he keep us this kind of rapid movement.” “We’ll carry him if we have to,” Cade said. “Where we’re going is close to one of the places the pursuit can easily get through.” “I thought you killed his pursuers,” Jerryck said. “Only two of them.” Cade held up two fingers. They skipped through a narrow spot between two of the houses, crossed an alley, between the next two houses, and came out on a street after another barricaded intersection. “I spotted at least one more, and only because he was out in the open, hiding in plain sight among the crowd.” “Probably a spotter posted to report sightings of their target,” Garret said. “So there’s bound to be more of them.” Cheber tripped over nothing. Garret and Cade kept him upright, kept him going. They turned up another street, into more expensive, middle class houses, ones with a bit of yard and decorative fences around them. Cade grumbled at Jerryck, “Of all the times for you to act abnormal, this has got to be the most inconvenient.” “What are you talking about?” Jerryck asked. “Most minor nobles ride in carriages.” Cade tilted his head to get a look at the occupants of one as it wheeled by. “That’s what that soldier at the barricade was asking about. Not horses.” “I don’t need a carriage,” Jerryck said. Garret was constantly glancing behind them, and down every alley they passed. “It sure would have made this little jaunt a lot easier.” “Or more difficult,” Tajor said. “Considering the shortcuts you’re taking.” They turned into a high-end tailor’s shop on a corner, nestled in among the houses. When they passed all the racks of expensive fabrics and headed straight for the back, the shopkeeper protested. Cade plucked a gold coin from his pocket and flipped it at the man as they went by. The protests stopped. They went out through the back door into another alley, this one cleaner than most. The wide avenue it opened onto ran along some of the walled off, expensive properties. They entered the gate of the first one. Instead of leading directly into the yard, it took them into a cramped room where the residents could decide whether to admit them, or do them harm. Tajor pulled on the bell rope. A square window peep opened up. Jerryck saw no more than an eye peering out at them. “We’re being pursued,” Garret said to the eye.