1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 63:



Chapter 22



            Welch’s hand was already coming away from his neck with the dirk in it before Anthony even got to the “Paddy.” He’d been following the logic—and that wasn’t actually a dirk, it was a throwing knife. It struck one of the soldiers squarely in the throat, sinking almost to the hilt.


            Richard slammed into the legs of Doncaster, spilling him.


            Anthony seized Porter by the back of his head and drove the quill point into his left eye. Hard and deep enough to pierce the brain. Then—he was quite strong—lifted the small table and the corpse collapsing onto it and used them as a battering ram against the soldier who’d yet been untouched.


            A good man, that. He had the pistol out and even managed to get the doghead down before Leebrick could reach him. But between the shock and his haste, he had no time to aim. All he did when he pulled the trigger was shoot Porter in the back and kill him again.


            The impact slammed the soldier back against the side of the door. His helmet flew off, clattering into the corridor beyond. But it hadn’t protected him enough to keep from being momentarily stunned—and a moment was all it took Leebrick to get his dirk from his boot and stab him under the chin.


            He twisted the blade loose, letting the corpse fall into the corridor alongside the helmet. From the sounds behind him, there was still a struggle going on.


            He spun around. Not a struggle, as it turned out. The sounds he’d heard had been Doncaster’s boot heels drumming the floor. Richard was lying under him and had a garrote around his neck. Leebrick had forgotten that Towson carried the horrid thing, even though he and Patrick both made jokes about it.


            But even with a garrote, strangling was too slow. There’d be more guards coming any moment. Glancing over, Anthony saw that Patrick was still occupied trying to pry his knife from the other soldier’s throat. The throw must have gotten the blade jammed into the vertebrae.


            He strode over to the two men struggling on the floor and slammed the pommel of his dirk down on Doncaster’s head. Being an officer, Doncaster had been wearing a hat instead of a helmet and the hat had flown off, so there was no obstruction to the blow.


            Once, twice, on the forehead. Doncaster went limp. Leebrick seized his thick mane of hair and twisted his head sideways. Then, brought down a ferocious strike of the pommel on his temple. For good measure, did it again. That was enough. If he wasn’t dead already, he would be soon. Either way, he’d never regain consciousness.


            Anthony yanked Doncaster’s body off Richard, who’d already released one end of the garrote. “Let’s go! Quickly! For the love of God, Patrick, just leave the knife be!”


            Welch was still trying to pry the blade loose. But he quit the business, as soon as Anthony yelled.


            “That’s an expensive knife,” he hissed, leaning over and scooping the dead man’s unused wheel-lock from the floor.


            “Who cares?” said Towson. On his way off the floor, he’d scooped up the bag of silver that had wound up lying close to him. “We’ll buy you another. A hundred, if you want, with what’s in here.”


            Leebrick looked around for the document, but couldn’t see it anywhere. God only knew where it had flown to, in the fracas.


            There was no time to hunt for the thing, and it had no signatures on it, anyway. That wouldn’t help Wentworth, of course. But so it went. The Earl of Strafford was on his own.


            “Now, out!” Anthony just took enough time to extract Doncaster’s sword from its scabbard. He ignored the second wheel-lock. It had already been fired, and he doubted very much if they’d have time to reload it.


            Once in the corridor, Leebrick raced toward the main staircase with Patrick and Richard close behind. He’d have preferred to find a more obscure servant’s stairwell, but he didn’t dare risk the time it would take to find one. The only route he knew out of the mansion was the same one they’d taken when they were brought in.


            As it turned out, he was in luck. Hearing a martial clatter from the far end of the corridor, he realized that the mansion’s guards must have been stationed in the servant’s area themselves. So they were charging up that stairwell—while he and his two fellows would take the main stairs.


            Two guards did emerge from the main staircase, just as Anthony arrived, matchlocks in hand with the fuses lit. He cut one of them down. Richard booted the other back down the staircase, head over heels. The man’s musket went off, the bullet smashing into the ceiling above.


            Patrick picked up the gun that had been held by the soldier he’d sabered. Fortunately, while the blood gushing from a neck hacked halfway through had soaked the barrel—and was still soaking the carpet, as the body slid down the staircase—the grip was clean. He handed it to Welch, who checked to make sure the match was still smoldering.


            Edging to the side to keep from slipping on the blood, they scurried down the stairs and into the mansion’s great entrance hall. Once they reached the bottom of the stairs, Anthony pressed the tip of his sword against the throat of the man who’d been sent flying by Richard’s kick. But there was no need to kill him, since he was clearly unconscious. Leebrick had made it a point to kill Doncaster because of the officer’s treachery, but this was just a common soldier.


            Just as he straightened up, two more guards emerged, bursting into the room from a side door. Richard shot one with the wheel-lock; Patrick shot the other with the match-lock. The Irishman’s shot was dead on into the chest, punching right through the breastplate. Patrick’s only struck his man’s arm.


            It didn’t matter. The guard was down and would stay down. A three-quarter-inch musket ball did terrible damage when it struck any solid part of a human body. If the man didn’t bleed to death, he’d probably lose the arm. If he survived the surgeon, which he probably wouldn’t. Either way or any, Leebrick didn’t care at all.


            There was a doorman standing at the front entrance. Standing quite still, paralyzed with shock and terror, just staring at them.


            That was good enough, too.


            “Open the fucking door or I’ll kill you,” Anthony said, speaking almost conversationally. The man was so frightened that a shout would probably just keep him paralyzed. “Now, damn you.”


            The man did as he was told. “Leave him be,” Leebrick ordered, on his way through the door. There was no point in killing the doorman. It wasn’t as if there was any chance of hiding their identities, after all.


            In the event, the mercy was pointless. Before Leebrick and his two companions made it down the outer stairs to the street, soldiers from within the mansion started firing at them. They missed, mostly because the doorman was still standing in the doorway, gaping down at the three fleeing men. Four bullets struck him and sent him flying. His body hit the street just a split-second after Leebrick and his fellows started racing off.


            “Racing,” at least, insofar as the term could be applied to men who were skating as much as they were running. The footing wasn’t quite as bad as it had been on Tyburn Hill Road, but it was still terrible.


            Anthony was glad of it, however. The same footing would slow the pursuing guards just as much. Probably more, in fact, since they were the pursuers and not the prey. The hound runs for his meal; the hare runs for his life.


            Best of all, it had started snowing again and it was now late in the afternoon. The sun set very early in London, in mid-winter, even on a clear day. The visibility was bad and it would soon get worse. Within an hour, they would have the further shelter of nightfall.


            One more shot was fired, just as they went around the first corner. At them, presumably, but Leebrick couldn’t see where the bullet had gone. As confused and anxious as the mansion’s guard force had to be, after the carnage, whoever had fired that shot might well have just hit a building across the street. Or simply fired into the air at nothing at all.


            Glancing back as they went around the next corner, Leebrick saw that they’d outraced the guards completely and were now finally out of sight. He turned the next corner the other way and then came to an abrupt halt. He needed to catch his breath, before they did anything further. From the way their chests were heaving, so did Patrick and Richard.


            He leaned over and planted his hands on his knees. Started to, rather, until he realized he still had the sword in his hand.


            Fortunately, while Cork had taken their swords, he hadn’t taken the scabbards. Fortunately also, Doncaster had favored a blade not too dissimilar from Anthony’s own. It didn’t fit the scabbard perfectly, and it would have to be yanked out with some effort in the event of another fight, but it would do. An officer making his way through London with a sword in a scabbard was a common sight. If he kept it in his hand, people would notice.


            He saw that Patrick and Richard had already disposed of their guns somewhere along the way. “Better throw away your scabbards too,” he said, still gasping a little. “Empty, they’ll be noticed.”


            Richard complied instantly, tossing the thing into some bushes. Welch followed, after a moment’s hesitation. Good scabbards were as expensive as good knives, and the Irishman was something of a miser. On the other hand, he wasn’t stupid.