The Fall of the Citadel (Part 2)

‘We have to go.’

‘You’re hurt,’ said the queen, all wide-eyes and trembling-lips.

‘That doesn’t matter.’

‘Why are they doing this?’ whimpered the child. ‘I thought we were friends, why—’

Charlotte growled; with her blood-covered hand she grabbed the girl’s hair and pulled it tight.

‘That doesn’t matter. You have to be strong. We have to go.’

‘You’re bleeding…’

The girl was shivering. Charlotte grunted and half-turned, scanning the room for any more soldiers.

‘Do you want to live?’

The young queen whimpered; Charlotte looked at her, and the girl nodded once.

‘Then you have to be strong, and you have to be quiet, and you have to do what I say. Now. Follow me.’

Charlotte retrieved a knife from the belt of one of the corpses, took the sword from where she’d left it and went through one of the side-corridors. The queen hesitated, just for a second, before crossing the threshold into the narrow servant’s passageway. Charlotte let her right arm dangle, the point of the sword occasionally scraping along the floor, and kept the knife ready in her left hand.

She stepped over a boy, his throat slit. She recognised his face, but didn’t know his name – some servant or other. The girl behind her breathed in sharply; there was a splash as a tiny foot stepped in blood.

‘Why is this happening,’ whispered the girl. The building shook, as if in response, and then there was laughter from down the hallway.

Charlotte hissed out a low curse and slowed. Those were men’s laughs – soldiers’ laughs. She uncurled her middle finger from the sword’s hilt and traced a line along the wall until she reached a crossways. She peered around the corner and found herself looking right into a store room.

Three blue-clad soldiers were there, happily avoiding any actual fighting. One of them was drinking wine from a bottle – just cooking wine, but even the cooking wine at the Citadel was very fine stuff; one of them was leaning against the door frame, red-faced; the third was standing over a woman. Charlotte didn’t recognise her, but by her dress she was clearly a servant. Her left eye was swelled shut; her right was looking down the corridor. Charlotte went to continue, but then the queen saw the scene and gasped and the soldier leaning on the door frame turned.

Charlotte fell forwards into a run and swung her sword up: the first soldier went down screaming, missing half his face. The next soldier dropped the bottle and fumbled with his sword; Charlotte barged against him, pushing him back against the wall, and then slid the blade of her sword across his neck, leaving a deep gash across his carotid artery.

The third soldier at least managed to get his weapon drawn. Charlotte stepped away from her previous victim.

‘Come on, then,’ she said and, stupidly, he did as he was told. With a flick of her blade she deflected his blow, and stabbed her knife into the shoulder of his sword-arm. His arm went limp, just for a moment – and that moment was all she needed. She let go of the knife and shoved her sword up under his ribcage.

‘Look out!’ cried the young queen.

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