Had Raulin spent the time necessary to clear his mind, shake his issues and problems, and had he taken the time to prepare for this job as he had been trained to, this situation could have been avoided. He had been so distracted by petty thoughts that he had let three people sneak up on him and block him in.
The dream had been a curse, a poison set out to destroy his career. Never again. He would proceed with all contracts in the future as he had been taught. But first, he needed to secure his escape.
Raulin removed the bottom part of his mask, so that his voice wouldn’t muffle when he spoke, and turned his back to the person who had addressed him. His voice took on a tone of supplication and he began pacing and wringing his hands dramatically. “No, sir! I didn’t kill him, sir! You have to believe me. I was out in the hallway when I thought I heard a loud noise and moaning sounds. I knew that my count was retired and alone, so I came in to check on his well being. I saw a man run away from the bed, like a terrible night phantom. I’ve only just checked on my count to find…,” he moaned and buried his face in his hands. “Oh, it’s too ghastly to say. I believe he’s dead, sir!”
“Where did the man flee?”
Raulin thought quickly, dismissing the two doors as having been occupied by either the guard outside or the trio that now stood blocking the entrance he had used. “The window, sir. He had a rope with some sort of a metal claw at the end. He threw himself out the window, like some night terror demon. Oh, sir, may I please go check on m’lady? I fear she may have suffered the same fate! I don’t think I could find the strength to go on if I lost both my count and my countess in the same evening.”
He heard one of the figures, a female from the timbre of the voice, speak lowly to the man who had asked the question. Some suggestion was given and the tallest of them, a man who was possibly a giant, walked to the door to the hallway. Raulin tensed, but the tall man only stood to block the exit, not call the guard in. Yet.
The first man spoke. “He used the window as an egress, escaping to the courtyard below, but somehow managed to shut the window casements behind him?”
Damn. Cleverness was afoot. He hated having to deal with clever people. He turned to face the man and woman, who still stood in the doorway. “Please, sir. I’m sorry. I…I only had to secure the man’s escape. I had nothing to do with the count’s death, I swear! The assassin said…they said they were going to rob the count, steal some of his wife’s jewelry and some of his possessions. I didn’t know they were going to kill him!” He gave a dramatic pause and lowered his volume so that it was almost a whisper. “Please. The assassin’s partners have my wife and children. I receive nothing for this, other than their safety and the love I’ll receive from them when I get home. They need their father. Let me check on the countess and maybe we can pretend I didn’t let the man in and close the window behind him?”
Raulin watched the trio. One of the abilities of his mask meant he could see in the dark better then an average man. He had the advantage of sight, using it to hide his identity. The man and woman near the door stood close together. The seemed to know each other; the man, though slight and barely larger than her, stood to shield her. She pulled his sleeve down to speak into his ear.
A similar sob story had worked once before, back in Tarbotha where he’d first met Isken. If this succeeded, Raulin would go back to Hanala and share a bottle of Hiben brandy with him on the sly in thanks for teaching him a fundamental truth: women were more taken in by sympathy than a man, but often wielded a considerable amount of influence. The woman would play the role of the emotional and tender advocate, begging her indifferent husband to have a heart for once. He’d pretend to break down, thanking them profusely, and slip out quickly before the guards were any wiser.
This gave Raulin some pause. She didn’t even sound like she was guessing; she was confident. How could she possible know that he was being untrue? No matter. He’d have to be careful and change tack, then, if compassion wasn’t working. “I had to do what I had to do,” he began, dropping the subservient act and intensifying his speech. “Do you know what that man has done? My sister, my lovely, darling, innocent sister! She was such a sweet girl, my Asala. She met the count at our shop. We sell accessories, like hats and gloves, pocket kerchiefs, socks. Things like that. Maybe you know it? Biontin’s over in the Dien Court?”
“We’re not from here,” the man responded.
“You have my word, sir, that if you let me go you can have whatever your heart desires at my family’s shop, though speak with me, not my parents. I don’t think they’d be too pleased at what I’ve done.”
“You mean, kill the count?”
“I had to! He promised my sister he was going to divorce his wife and take care of her and the baby! She was so happy when she came back from that rendezvous with him. Then, he was held up from seeing her the next time. Then after that, he promised to see her, but had forgotten about some banquet he was obligated to attend. Then, he stopped accepting her correspondences. When she tried to come here, the guards sent her away, calling her a whore. My sister,” he said, clenching his teeth, “ was not a whore! She made the mistake of falling in love with a cruel man. Doe-eyed, perhaps, but full of laughter and love. She couldn’t take it, not seeing him. She drowned herself in the river nearby, taking her life and the life of her unborn child.”
“That’s awful,” the man said.
“You see why I had to avenge her. Please. Let me escape. I had to make things balanced.”
The man turned to his wife. “What do you think?”
“I think he’s very good,” she said. “But the only truth there was the part about his sister not being a whore. So, I take it he had one at some point, but no longer does.”
“How dare you!” Raulin said even though he knew the time for charades was over. And he had wanted to do this the easy way. He fingered the two knives at his hip, the longer ones he used for fighting, and waited for them to make their move.
“Which begs the question as to why he’s making up tales instead of attacking us,” the man said. “Too bad he dawdled. Telbarisk, get the guard.”
Raulin laughed lightly as he clicked the bottom part of his mask back into place. There might still be a chance to do things without a ruckus. The grivven opened the door and was leaning around the opening when Raulin said, “Risk ayanf, a lehink bradventur e sesk mayarals.”
Telbarisk stopped cold and turned back. “Raulin?”
“Raulin? Who’s Raulin, Tel?” the man asked.
“Is it really you?” he asked in a soft whisper.
“It’s me, my friend. I’m so glad to see you again. I’d love to catch up, ask you why you’re here of all places, but I think you know what I need to do next.”
“Telbarisk?” the man asked again.
The grivven shook himself and turned to face the man. “I know him from home. He and his fellow trirecs were on a diplomatic…”
“Trirec?” the man said, backing up fully to the door. “He’s a trirec? Anla, we need to get out of here. Tel, come on. Back out this way.”
“All I had to do was tell you the truth?” Raulin asked. “How novel.”
“Look, we don’t want any trouble,” he said, grabbing his wife’s arm and tugging her back to the door. “We’ll leave…”
He drew out his knives as a subtle threat. “Quickly. I need to leave before…”
At that moment the countess stumbled into the room, upset about the noise. She carried with her a candle that lit a good portion of the room, including Raulin. He saw her blink at him, confused, then at his knives, then at her husband. She keened, running to the side of the bed, checking Raulin’s shoulder as she ran by.
The guard entered the room next, shoving through the door Telbarisk had left ajar. When he saw the countess crying over the count, he immediately sounded the alarm.
“…before that,” Raulin said with a growling sigh.
Before the guard could draw his saber, Tel took a heavy metal pot from a corner pedestal and thumped the guard over the head.
The room was in stunned silence for a moment. “Tel! Why did you do that?” the man asked.
The man and the woman still blocked the side door and any household guard was soon to block all exits inside the chateau. It only left one option.
He pulled the casements open and looked down. It was a story drop and a lucky jump to the top of an ornamental maple tree in the garden. Raulin had never been quite as acrobatic as his brothers, but felt fairly confident he could make it. He placed his foot on the sill and was about to pull himself up when he heard, “Ttrirecc, do not move from that sspott.”
He froze with his toes barely touching the floor. At first he thought he was terrified of the height and risk, like he had been when he was fifteen and doing this for the first time. But that wasn’t the reason why he paused. He could move his hands and he wanted to move his feet, but it was as if his legs were cement.
“What sorcery is this?” he asked, still trying to move his foot from the sill.
“You are not going to leave us to take the blame of your crime,” the woman said in between the wails of the countess.
“You won’t! She’ll act as your witness,” he said, gesturing as best he could to the countess. “She saw me here and so did the guard. They’ll…”
At that moment the remaining household guards burst through the door and stepped over their unconscious comrade. The first man, moving quickly out of the way, looked around the room at the five figures and said, “What happened here?”
“He killed the count!” the man said, pointing at Raulin.
“Arrest them!” the countess said, almost in the same moment.
“All of them.”