I awoke in the middle of the night with my senses on edge. My head was pounding, and I was bathed in sweat. So much for the bath I'd taken two days hence. Obviously, I'd been having that strange dream again, since I always awoke confused and upset afterwards.
I barely heard a stealthy footfall, in my confused state, but my reflexes served me well when my dream addled mind did not. I rolled to the side just in time to avoid a swiftly plunging blade that penetrated deeply into the cheap straw mattress, where scant seconds ago, I'd been.
Drawing my rapier was not necessary, because from force of habit, I always left the weapon out of its scabbard and close to me, even when in bed. This, or similar scenarios, had played out several times during my life, and necessity had carved the habit into me. I thrust the weapon just above and to the right of the dagger that impaled my mattress, into what looked like a head. My good English steel was barely slowed as it penetrated something soft and mushy. It did slow a bit as it met stiff resistance about six inches later.
I yanked my rapier free and moved to the door of my room. It was still locked from the inside, which meant that the intruder had either come in through my open window, or he had locked it back upon entry. I favored the former, since my visitor would probably want to make as quick a getaway as possible, after murdering me. And also because, if he wasn't able to do the job, he definitely wouldn't want to be trapped in a locked room with me; my reputation as a swordsman did give me a certain respect.
I stepped out into the hallway, blade in hand and saw no one. I stealthily crept back into my own room re-locked the door and looked out of the window.
There below, barely visible in the pre-dawn light I saw two dark horses, with a rider on one of them. He didn't see me looking down at him from the darkness of my room. I reached outside the window and tapped on the ledge three times, then threw a leg over the ledge and began the climb down. The fool moved the horse over closer to the wall so I could mount it and shorten the length of my descent. I dropped onto the horse and turned to see my attempted murderer's accomplice.
She was nearly as surprised as I was. Her face was angelic, framed by inky black curls that shone in the moonlight. A Cupid's bow mouth opened in surprise for only a moment before she dug her heels into her horse's sides and took off riding quickly into the night. I hesitated for only a second before flinging my dagger after her. I missed on purpose, and watched as the knife stuck point first, in a doorway just inches away from her pretty head.
I'd always had a weakness for women, especially beautiful ones. There was also the fact that this one, though she had been with my attacker, she had done me no harm herself, so I did not give chase. But I would remember that face and if we ever crossed paths again, I would have my answers.
I went back to my room by the inside stairway, and found my door still locked.
I had to wake the Inn's sleeping proprietor to let me back inside it. "How did ya come to lock yourself out," he asked me through sleepy eyes.
"Come inside and see for your-self," I replied.
He took a candle from one of the wall sconces in the hallway and followed me in. As the light from his candle shone on the body laid out across my bed, he gasped in surprise.
"Who is he sir?" he asked now wide awake. Judging from his reaction, I gathered two important pieces of information. One was that he had nothing to do with my attackers; and second that he had never before been this close to a corpse.
"I don't know who he was," I replied, "But he tried to kill me while I slept."
I pulled his dagger out of my mattress, and looked it over. It was beautiful though unornamented. It was a relatively long, though very thin blade, with a triangular cross section; I'd heard of these, but never before actually seen one.
The fact that the blade had no decoration or jewels, told me that it was owned by a professional. Being very plain in workmanship, made the blade's origins harder to track, and also said that it was created for one purpose, killing and nothing more.
"I've never seen a knife like that before," said the Inn keeper, "It has no cutting edges; it's more like a pointed steel rod than anything else."
"It's Italian," I spat. "They call it a stiletto. They use them for stealthily killing, those whom they can't honorably defeat with the sword. This is probably also why they decided to try and do it in the middle of the night; while I slept."
"If not for a troublesome dream I've had of late," I began. "It could just as easily be my corpse you found here in the morning."
"Luckily you paid in advance," smiled the Innkeeper.
"I'll be gone in a few moments after examining the body for clues as to who would like to see me breathe my last," I said. "But feel free to take his belongings and the horse outside, for any trouble or expense you've incurred."
The Innkeeper smiled and bowed as he left me to my inspection of the corpse.
I didn't learn very much by looking it over. My rapier thrust had caught him in his right eye and penetrated into his brain and through the back of his skull.
There was almost no blood, so very little mess for the Innkeeper to clean up, except for the body itself. The clothing told me very little, and his face, even less. I had never before laid eyes on this bastard. He'd obviously been hired by someone else with a grudge against me. So I let the matter rest for now and began making my preparations to depart.
I had always traveled light, with only my Rapier, musket, a couple of daggers and a cloak, I was relatively unencumbered. I stopped at the Inn's kitchen and got a satchel of dried and salted foods, and a cask of wine and one of water, and I was off.
I got my steed from the stable, after rousing the stable hand. The silver coin I gave him for taking care of my animal made up for his distress at being awakened so early.
My horse was a rare animal, so I had to make sure that he was well cared for. He was of a smaller though far hardier breed that the Spanish had brought back from their voyages. He was supposedly, the only survivor of several animals brought back from the new world, wherever that was.
I started down the long road going in the same general direction that the woman who had helped my attacker took.
Two days of hard riding and sleeping under the stars brought me to the domain of the Duke of Albany. It was just after mid afternoon when I rode up to the Castle's gates and was stopped by guards.
"Alexander Lake, to see the elder Duchess of Albany," I said to the guard. He took one look at my road dusty clothes, and "humphed." As if I was beneath his notice.
"Alexander Lake, is older and far bigger than you, pup," he said.
"He as fast as... ," he began, but never had a chance to finish his sentence before I leaped down from my horse, drew my rapier and had its point at his throat.
"Shall we escort you in sir?" he choked out, being very careful of my blade's point.
"Perhaps you'd better," I said. "So I won't have to explain myself, or my presence here to the rest of your guards."
I was escorted across the yard and into the castle to a lavishly appointed room on the lower level. As we'd crossed the grounds I'd heard the sounds of baying hounds in the forests outside the castle gates and I heard them again now, though slightly closer. Who would be hunting, I wondered when the entire country teetered on the brink of war with the French, yet again?
As I looked around the large room I was fascinated by the displays of armor, and weapons from bygone eras. I was pulled from my revelry by a slight giggle behind me. I turned and saw a small form just behind me. She curtsied politely and looked at me appraisingly, "The duchess will see you now sir, If you'll follow me," she said, in a pleasant voice. I'd follow you anywhere, I thought after seeing her face. Her dress served more to accentuate her femininity than to obscure it. She smiled at me again and pointed the way.
We ascended a stairway and went down several hallways going ever deeper into the bowels of the castle. Finally we reached a large door at which two men at arms wielding battle halberds, and wearing ceremonial half armor, stood guard.
My escort nodded at them and we entered the room, my escort remained on the outside.
There was a large expensive appearing desk at the back of the room with a figure behind it. The drapes were drawn and the rear part of the room was dim, which made it hard to see the figure in any kind of detail. With a soft rustle of silk the figure rose and approached me. As she stepped out of the shadows I could see that she had a stout figure, but that it also had its own allure. The dress was beautiful and cut to mold her every curve. It would probably be considered scandalous to wear in public, although she was covered from head to toe. The neckline did after the fashion of the day scoop daringly to showcase the tops of her large breasts which jiggled at every step. She stepped towards me, obviously pleased at my reaction, by the look on her face.
She paused before me as if expecting me to do something. I quickly dropped to one knee bowing deeply. I had almost forgotten that even in these days, the most minor of nobility expected to be bowed to and scraped for. By summoning me the woman obviously knew that I had no interest in serving anyone, I only sought the money to restore my own estate, not out of any loyalty or obligation to anyone else's but I played the game never the less.
.... There is more of this story ...