CHAPTER 16- THE DEATH OF THE THIEF’S SON
The old woman did not arrive. She appeared.
One minute Thomas had the knife raised, ready to strike, the next the she was at his side, and had blocked the blow with a stout walking stick. She was dressed in a crimson cloak, with a hood over her head against the rain.
Thomas regarded this apparition with shock, but also perhaps a touch of resignation.
“Hello Thomas. How much you’ve grown.” said Mariana de Babilu, and her voice was as Isabella had described it. Low as a man’s, soft as a child’s, and filled with deep, shivering potency.
They stood there like that for perhaps a second, the two girls still cowering in the shadows, Thomas’s knife parried by the old woman’s stick.
A flash of lightning.
The dark recesses of the hood were laid bare, and in the harsh white light Thomas saw…what? An old face? The skin was as smooth and unwrinkled as his own. But the hair was grey as stone cliffs, and the eyes seemed just as ancient.
“Are you going to behave now, boy?” she asked with great weariness “Are you going to behave, or do I have to knock some sense into you?”
Thomas drew back the blade, made to strike the gut…
He never saw the blow, the old woman moved so fast. It felt like a sledgehammer slamming into his ribs and the Thief’s son was flung bodily out the window with a scream, and he landed in the mud outside, coughing and hacking.
She turned to face Isabella and Marie.
“Wait here, my dears.” she said “Shan’t be long.”
Thomas wiped the rain and mud from his eyes and looked up to see the old woman looming over him.
“It’s a terrible evening for it, you know.” she said, shouting to be heard over the downpour.
“Why don’t you head off home and we’ll call it a night, yes?”
“Always giving advice.” Thomas growled “Always trying to help.”
“Did your father tell you nothing about me?” she asked sadly.
“He said you were an interfering, meddlesome old vixen. I am inclined to agree with him.”
“He said never to get into a fight with you. That you couldn’t be killed.”
“And are you inclined to agree with him on that, also?” Mariana asked with a small smile.
Thomas returned the smile. It was gallows humour, and they both knew it.
“Well then.” she said “In your own time, young sir.”
“Merci” Said Thomas politely, and struck to kill.
Nothing human could have dodged that attack. Nonetheless, the old woman was gone before he’d taken a second step in her direction, and he felt two strong arms grab him by the scruff of the neck, swing him faster than should have been possible and send him sprawling into a mud puddle. Thomas spat out a frog and snarled. The old woman would die a horrible, horrible death…
“Who is that?” Marie shrieked over the sound of the storm.
The two were staring out of the window at the brawl. Thomas was a quick learner, and had given up the lunges. He was now circling the old woman, waiting for her to make the first move.
“That’s Mariana.” Said Isabella.
Then she yelped as Thomas feinted and almost succeeded in slitting the Mariana’s throat. For his trouble, he was given a vicious blow to the head from her cane, and sent flying by a kick so fast it blurred.
“Enough!” the old woman shouted.
Thomas slowly got to his feet. Every bone in his body was screaming. Every muscle burned like a grease fire. He could taste iron in his mouth. For a second, for one tiny second, he considered dropping the knife. The moment passed, and one again he flung himself towards her, knife slashing wildly.
The next thing he knew her foot had collided with his chest and he was on his knees on the mud, breathing draughts of white hot flame.
“Thomas, please stop this.” she said “If we keep this up you’re going to die.”
“Will you…will you let me kill her?” Thomas asked.
She shook her head. “I won’t.”
“Then I don’t stop.” Said Thomas simply.
“No other way?” Mariana asked.
Thomas shrugged. “No other way.”
Mariana stared at him through the rain, and realised that he was now too far gone. The sickness in his mind had rot him through to the core. She closed her eyes and shut off all pity. She opened her eyes again and prepared to kill him quickly and cleanly.
Then she charged towards the Thief’s son, the rainwater on the ground parting like the dead sea, the stick raised, her teeth clenched, but even so Thomas was already gone and had spun around; bringing the knife arching towards her unprotected back. Only at the last second was she able to spin around and parry the blow, and the look of shock on Mariana’s face was clear. No matter what power you had, you underestimated Thomas Hieronimo at your own peril.
And now the battle reached its last, lethal round.
“What is it?” Isabella asked, tearing her eyes away from the dual to look at Marie, who was staring numbly into the distance.
“One of them’s going to die.” She whispered, as she gazed at the two figures who stood silhouetted in the rain a few feet away from the brawl. The angel standing quietly to attention, the black shade hovering like smoke in the air.
Isabella no longer had any doubts, if Marie said it was so, then it was. But which one? A few seconds ago, she would have said Thomas didn’t have a chance, but the more she watched the more it looked like Mariana was slowing down.
Thomas had never felt so alive, he was in his element. He had never fought a foe this fast, this powerful. He was starting to anticipate his opponent’s moves, and he could tell that Mariana was tiring. He braced himself as Mariana raised her stick, and gave three scything blows, to the left, to the right, to the left, Thomas dodging each one with the speed of a cat. And then, suddenly, it seemed that whatever magic Mariana was wielding had run dry, and she was just a tired old woman, slowly raising her staff for one more strike. With a savage kick Thomas knocked it out of her hand, slammed his left fist into her face. Another kick to her left leg and Mariana was on her knees in the mud, gasping for breath. With his left hand, Thomas got a grip on the old woman’s throat, with his right he raised the blade.
Hell, the old sow had put up a fantastic fight. He’d make it quick.
Mariana had closed her eyes, recovering her breath. She opened them.
Thomas felt something colliding with his rib-cage with all the force of a comet. The world seemed to go silent as he tumbled through the air, blasted up and out by the force of Mariana’s blow.
Out of the corner of her eye, Marie saw the angel and the shade tense at exactly the same moment.
Any second now.
For the last time, Thomas rose to his feet from where he lay and almost immediately lost his balance. The ground was slanted…and thatched? He blearily gaped around him. He was on the roof of the cottage. She had actually knocked him up onto the roof of the cottage.
Who was this woman? He stumbled and fell.
From the terrible, raggedy whistling of his breath he knew that one of his lungs was punctured. He couldn’t clench his left fist. His right fist, which still miraculously held the knife, didn’t seem to be able to open. He could not fight. Ah well. Time to die then. He reached out and grabbed at a broken, rusted weather vane that grew lopsidedly out of the roof of the house. He turned and say Mariana standing in front of him, apparently as if by magic.
He faced Mariana and looked her square in the eye.
“Come to offer me…come to offer me one last chance?” he wheezed.
“No.” she said. It’s too late now.”
With great ceremony, he raised the blade straight over his head, the tip stabbing at heaven.
“Do it now!” he shouted.
“Do it now!” he roared again.
Mariana said nothing. And then suddenly, a look of horror spread over her face. She stretched her arm out imploringly to Thomas.
“No!” she screamed.
The lightning bolt struck the knife, a great pillar of white fire erupted through the Thief’s son. Thomas screamed and his voice was the roar of the thunder.
And there was silence.