Dispatching another attacker as he dropped through the skylight, Roldan Stryke clambered up onto the table that ran down the length of the room, hopping over swinging weapons before leaping down the other side and dispatching the mace-wielder. Roldan focused on getting closer to the boy, rather than engaging unnecessarily with the invading force. He would leave Stamper's gang to handle them.
The boy was kneeling over the fallen man, seemingly trying to shield him from the surrounding chaos in the room using only his body. All the boy's attention was on the injured man, to the point that he was oblivious to fighting taking place just behind where he crouched. Roldan stood nearby, one eye on the boy and one on the ruckus, listening out for incoming trouble. He sidestepped a falling body, then pivoted to impale another.
The Stagehands were regaining control of the room, having killed most of the attackers, and were now venturing up a ladder and out of the skylight themselves, equipped with crossbows. Roldan kept his sword at the ready and observed, wondering at his best course of action.
"Wide Riley!" the boy was saying, distraught, as he tugged at the man's shoulders. The man, Riley, wasn't going to be getting up again, his chest being an odd, concave shape and his breath ragged as blood coughed out of his mouth. "You're squashed," the boy said. The simplicity of the statement somehow made the man's predicament seem all the worse.
"This wasn't you, was it, Tarn?" Riley hacked through bubbles of blood and phlegm.
"It's not me, Wide Riley," Tarn said insistently.
Riley smiled. "Course not," he gurgled, and then he died, his body seeming to collapse in on itself like a stack of cards.
The boy remained on the floor, next to the inert body. Roldan flexed his sword in his hand, aware that he could end the king's awkward problem with a single gesture. He could probably even manage it without the Stagehands noticing, given that their attention was still on the roof above. It wouldn't be difficult to blame the boy's death on the attacking gang.
Something about the boy's posture, and his reaction to Riley's demise, caught at the back of Roldan's mind. He'd had so little time between delivering Tranton and being reassigned to Pienya's city-wide manhunt that he'd not had sufficient time to consider his target. Whatever and whomever he might have imagined, though, wasn't this slightly pathetic creature.
"Keep firing bolts into those bastards, Amber," came the booming voice of Stamper as he dropped back into the room through the skylight. "Got them on the run now," he announced, before seeing Riley's body. His face turned ashen and he paused for a few seconds before rushing over, sending Tarn sprawling onto the floor. "Oh, you bloody fool, Wide Riley," the bearded giant said quietly, running his fingers over the man's eyes, closing the lids one last time.
Stamper was about to get to his feet when the boy, Tarn, jumped up from where he lay and piled into the considerably larger and denser man. Despite their relative sizes, the impact knocked Stamper sideways and he almost lost his footing, instead grabbing hold of Tarn and using his momentum to fling him across the room. "What are you playing at, boy?" growled Stamper, standing defensively.
Tarn had landed on his hands and feet and was poised like a cat. "Wide Riley wasn't a fool," he said.
"No, he wasn't," Stamper conceded, "but you are, jumping me like that. I could have killed you. So what happened?"
"This fellow and his mace," Roldan said, poking at the felled attacker with the end of his boot. "I couldn't get to them in time."
"Well," Stamper said, "that wasn't your responsibility, was it? But we all appreciate the gesture." He looked to the others in the room. "Anybody else?"
YOU ARE READING
The Mechanical Crown (complete novel!)Fantasy
An explorer, a princess, a secret and a sword. A belief that the world can be better. The Mechanical Crown is an epic adventure full of intrigue, mystery and adventure. Plus a bit of romance. **Selected for the Wattpad Picks FEATURED LIST March 20...