Previously on Seven Stones: Kobb and Haelen convince the nobleman in charge of the palisade that they have useful insights. Hoping to give Anessa leeway to sneak around, Anserth pretends Anessa is just a camp follower. The guards open the gate, but make everyone surrender their weapons. The noble demands Anserth lend Anessa to him as a gesture of friendship. Anserth drags Anessa toward him. However, instead of handing her over, Anserth shoves the noble from the parapet.
As the pikeman glanced toward his master’s scream, Kobb pivoted and raised his arms. From the corners of his eyes, he saw Anserth shove Anessa behind a table while her companions dived for the nearest guards. A judder ran through Kobb’s left wrist as it caught the second guard’s pikestaff, deflecting the lunge over his head.
For a breath, Anserth’s men held the advantage. Then the enemy shook off their surprise. Thrusting through gaps in the fight, the unengaged pikemen pushed Anserth’s men back.
Unarmed and with an enemy on both sides, Kobb resigned himself to the least worst option. Stepping hard left before either opponent could bring their weapon in line, he slid his arm down the pikestaff. Shoulder and elbow rolling as his weight moved, Kobb drove his fist into his enemy’s crotch.
The guard’s jerkin stopped the force, but not the threat. Acting on instinct, the man dodged, focus no longer on his weapon.
Kobb pivoted on his left foot, right arm driving up. Still partly folded forward to shield his crotch, the blow caught the guard on the chin and snapped his head back. Stunned, his enemy lost his grip on the pike.
Kobb threw his weight sideways, hoping to avoid his second opponent’s thrust. But the falling staff slammed into his shoulder, pushing him off balance. Pain spiking through his hip, he sprawled across the floor as the pikeman lunged.
And overshot. Chest overtaking his legs, the guard stumbled then fell forward.
Anserth saluted Kobb with the poniard she’d acquired from somewhere and leapt over the guard’s body.
Kobb rose to his feet as the squetch of blade meeting throat sounded behind him. Tugging a knife from a fallen opponent, he glanced around.
Those guards who’d been on the parapet lay unconscious or dead. Several pikemen ranked up the stairs, held at bay by the stolen pikes of Anserth’s companions, but holding them at bay in turn. Anessa stood to one side, knife clutched in her fist and face pale beneath the dirt. Of Haelen, there was no sign.
Kobb grimaced. His heart wanted him to search for his friend, make sure he wasn’t bleeding out under a pile of bodies. However, without help, the remnants of Anserth’s unit would tire soon. Tucking the knife into his belt, Kobb lifted the nearest pike.
Dull throbs ran through his shoulders and down his spine as the point dragged at the shaft. No wonder pikemen always looked so grumpy. Pikestaff swaying more with each step, he staggered for the stairs.
“I’ve a plan, Reverend.” Anserth grasped on of the fallen by the heels. “Help me move this criminal.”
Pike remaining just under control, Kobb lowered it to the floor and joined the Inductor. “Where are we moving him to?”
Anserth tipped her head toward the stairs. “Rules of chivalry require the dead be returned to their own side.”
Kobb flicked his gaze across the parapet. The idea was disturbing; he couldn’t think of a better one, though. After heaving his end up, he matched Anserth’s swing.
Unable to do anything other than stand or retreat, the unengaged ranks of pikemen stared in shock or shouted curses as the body built up speed, then arced toward them, limbs flailing. Torn between defence and respect for the dead, some attempted to swing their weapons away while some tried to fend it away. Wood and metal clattered as pikes crossed.
Disorder spreading from behind, the front rank lost ground.
After the third time, the guards broke. Taking what consolation there was in the dead feeling no pain, Kobb turned back.
Anessa knelt near one of the tables, Haelen’s head resting on her leg and a hand pressed to his side. A crimson stain showed between her fingers.
“Haelen?” Kobb crouched.
“Don’t worry, Reverend. Point glanced off a rib.” Haelen gulped a jagged breath. “My tunic needs stitching though.”
Kobb chuckled, then stopped again when Anessa glared at him. “Best get you bandaged. You don’t want blood on everything.”
The wound, once Anessa had been convinced to let go, was only slightly worse than Haelen pretended. Requisitioning an singlet from a fallen foe, Kobb set to work.
As he eased Haelen’s clothes back into place, Anserth returned with sacks of weapons in each hand.
“You shoved him off the edge!” Anessa stared at the Inductor, eyes damp.
Anserth dropped her burden. “He deserved to—”
Anessa lunged forward and wrapped her arms around Anserth. “He wanted to hurt me but you pushed him off the edge for me, and I should have trusted you. I thought you were going to let him, but it was all a trick wasn’t it.”
“I saw an opportunity.” Anserth broke free of the embrace and turned to the stairs. “I’d best finish securing the area. Don’t want any surprises.”
Anessa struggled to tug her sword out of the sack without taking her eyes of Anserth. “Wait. I can—”
“Let her go,” said Haelen. “They’ll be time for talking after we’ve searched that noble’s papers.”
“I can’t read.” Anessa fumbled with her belt. “I’d be no use here.”
“Kobb and I can do the searching.” Haelen patted his side. “Best I don’t strain this, though. Reckon you can hold me up?”
For a moment, Anessa’s shoulders sagged. Then she nodded.
Leaving the nearest tables for Haelen, Kobb strode to the far side of the parapet. After dismissing the decanter of wine, he studied the papers next to it.
The top sheet was covered in columns of numbers, each headed with a set of three letters. The sheets below proved to contain the same. Given their placement close to the pen, they were probably a list of observations on the horses rather than sorcery. He tucked them in a pouch anyway.
Several pieces of altar plate lay on the next table, mud and less pleasant substances smeared across them. Despite the seriousness of the situation, Kobb snorted. For some reason, nearly every noble who took up unnatural arts felt the need to defile the trappings of religion; as if damaging something crafted by human hand would cause the Maker to turn away leaving them to act unopposed.
“Killing him might have been premature.” Haelen staggered closer, holding a bundle of papers in his free arm. “These sketches are twisted horses. The writing’s not a language I recognise though.”
Kobb considered the top sheet. The groups of letters didn’t even seem like words.