CHAPTER 8: THE BATTLE OF THE STONE BRIDGE
There was a great yellow moon sewn into the black and grey fabric of the night sky and the path ahead of the two men was a golden thread, leading them home.
“I hear there was a murder.”
“Yes.” Luke replied “Our magistrate.”
“I’m sure you’re all distraught.” said the youth tonelessly.
Luke did not reply, not wishing to lie, but not wishing to show disrespect for the dead.
“Did they catch the murderer?” and again the words were passionless.
“Do you think they will?”
“I don’t know.”
The youth snorted at this, as if it amused him.
They walked on in silence until they reached the bridge. Thomas put his hands on the stone barrier, and leaned over to see the stream trickling in the moonlight. The two waited for a few seconds. Luke was in no real hurry.
“Tell me.” said Thomas “What would make a man do that, do you think?”
“I don’t know.” said Luke wearily “There are evil people in the world.”
Thomas actually laughed at this, and it was a sick and scratching laugh.
“Oh yes. Oh yes, there are. There are that. A great many. Evil men aplenty. Do want to know what I think happened? To your magistrate? Would you like to hear my humble analysis?”
“I think your magistrate was a cruel and murderous wretch. Now that is not something that I object to. I myself, you see…” and his head turned, his grey eyes caught the moonlight, the effect quite horrible “I am myself a cruel and murderous wretch but you see I tend to take it as a personal insult when someone close to me is killed. I consider it to be a personal sleight you understand.”
“I don’t believe we have been properly introduced. My name is Thomas Hieronimo.”
His lips parted. There was the snarl.
“And you.” he said slowly “Are not a farmer.”
The knife, still flecked with spots of Nogaret’s blood which were one of the few bodily remains of his still above ground, flew out and Luke felt a line in the centre of his face catch fire. He roared in pain and slapped his hands to his face, red blood seeping through the fingers.
“How dare you…” Luke heard the dark youth’s voice only distantly through the buzzing of the pain “…did you honestly think you could kill my father and not have to deal with me? I take my revenge very seriously, Monsieur Dashonde. Which is why after I have taken you apart and distributed you over this bridge I will do the same to your little daughter I’ll…”
And then he choked. The reason being that at the mention of Marie, Luke’s massive right hand had shot out and was now clamped around Thomas’ throat, and not a dram of air was passing through.
Thomas was feeling light headed already, he tried to clumsily stab at Luke, but his right hand was held fast by Luke’s left. Desperately he punched at the hangman with his left fist, but the blows had no effect. Luke’s face was a mass of wild brown hair, red blood and flesh that looked as pale as bone in the moonlight. His eyes were blazing furious blue in the midst of all the gore.
“I didn’t want to kill your father…” Luke hissed to the youth “You? You I want to kill very badly.”
Most men in that kind of situation, that is where an enraged man twice your size and build is crushing the air out of your windpipe, would be tempted to, shall we say, despair a trifle.
Thomas was not one of those men. He was the man who had killed a great many of those men and rifled their pockets.
In an incredible feat of agility, he actually lifted his entire lean body into the air and slammed both his feet into Luke’s bloodied face. Luke staggered back, releasing the youth and Thomas dropped to the ground in a crouch. His neck was on fire, a great purple bruise already forming a brutal scarf around his throat, and every breath felt like a cloud of acid. He looked up just in time to see the Hangman, eyes quite mad, barrelling towards him, screaming his lungs raw, arms outstretched to throttle the life out of him, spit flecking from his mouth. He was not a happy man.
Thomas raised his hands and caught the Hangman’s arms, holding them away from his neck, but he only had two hands and Luke’s body hit him like a battering ram, sending the two of them over the barrier of the bridge and together they toppled into the shallow water beneath.
Both men cracked their heads a blow off the rocky riverbed. Thomas, lighter and quicker, was the first to his feet and landed two quick punches to Luke’s face, but the Hangman didn’t even seem to feel it.
Thomas was a killer, born and raised. He was fast, he was brutal, and he was extremely skilled.
But had he been trained by the greatest combat masters in the world, there was no discipline that would make Luke weaker than he was, no blow that could shatter the terrible rage the Thief’s son had awakened in him, and Thomas suddenly realised that he might have picked a fight that he could not win. Luke was on his feet now, had shrugged off Thomas’ blows and now punched the youth so hard in the chest that he actually flew five feet in the air, landing heavily on his face in the shadows under the stone bridge. Thomas spat out a tooth, and raised his head out of the slimy water, to see the silhouette of the Hangman, great and hulking, splashing through the wet shadows towards him. If only he had his knife…
The knife! He could see it in the moonlight, it had fallen out of his grip when he had been knocked off the bridge, and it now stood to attention, the blade wedged between two stones, the handle winking at him invitingly. But to get to it, he had to get past Luke.
Springing like a lizard in the sun, the youth was on his feet, had run to the stone wall of the arch, had actually run partly up its surface, launched himself into the air and landed a mule’s kick to the Hangman’s head.
One blow to the head too many. Luke dropped to his knees. His lips moved in the shadows.
Stop the spinning, stop the ringing.
Landing roughly, Thomas tumbled through the shallow water, hand open and grasping, until his heart sang with joy as he felt the wooden handle of the blade between his fingers.
Luke was on his feet again, his eyes seemed to glow blue in the dark , he was getting ready for another charge. For once, the Thief’s son was ready.
Luke stormed, hands reaching for soft skin, brittle bone, ready to tear this little devil like rags and paper. Instead, he found cold, sharp steel.
It felt like hard fire, and it went in once, twice, three times.
Luke felt something warm, trickling over his front. He felt quite ill.
Thomas withdrew the now glistening blade, and watched with some satisfaction as the strength seemed to drain out of Luke’s body, and he fell back into the shadows beneath the arch, his arms flailed weakly, casting ripples that grew out and faded into the black of the rivers surface. Occasionally there was a gasp, but whether of pain or surprise it was difficult to say.
Thomas realised that he could hear voices. His head shot up and he found himself looking into the eyes of Doctor Toureil, Monsieur Provais, Monsieur D’Arbe, and several others from the inn, apparently on their way home.
To Thomas of course, the bloody fight with Luke had been soundless, he had been too busy staying alive to hear anything, but the grunts, curses and screams of pain had been enough to attract the attention of these night travellers. To Thomas’ amazement, Luke was struggling to his feet once more, his hand gripping the wall, struggling to stay upright.
“You…you…God rot you…I’ll…Oh God…kill you…I’ll…Oh God…”
Thomas’ mind ticked over mercilessly. Those gentlemen on the bridge, if they did not yet realise what had transpired here, they would soon. One of the few useful lessons his father had imparted to him was that once you were discovered, that was the time to run, not a second later. But…
The Hangman was still alive. Just one more cut to make sure?
No. He’s dead. Look at him. More blood outside than in. Not a clean kill. But a kill, a definite kill.
With one last audacious gesture, he picked his sodden hat up from where it lay in the river, made an extravagant bow to the men looking down on him from the bridge, and then he was gone, the darkness embracing him like a long lost brother, and swallowing all trace of him.
Luke looked after him, and then he fell, landing heavily in the water with a sharp bark of pain. Before he lost consciousness he could hear the voice of his dear friend overhead shouting.
“What are you waiting for you clumsy asses? Luke Dashonde is down there! Help him for the love of God!”