The Prize

The man with braided hair had gained a fair lead by the time Frige got outside, but the gambling boss did not have her legs, nor her keen sense of the geography of Marudal’s streets. Spotting the trail of destruction the terrified man left in his wake, she was certain he was headed for the center of town, to the bridge and the canal, perhaps hoping the wide river would somehow shield him from pursuit.

Leaning into her stride, Frige bounded after the fugitive. Her ears burned with her sergeant’s final command. “Don’t let him get away.”

She would not.

It took all her finesse to maneuver at speed around the debris scattered across the narrow street—overturned carts, broken glass, panicked civilians—but Frige was a corvette, swift and agile, chasing down a clumsy galleon. Capture was inevitable.

From behind came a flurry of curses the likes of which she had never heard, all sorts of profane references to parentage. Wolf was nimbler than he appeared, but even so, a wide ship could only turn so tight. He followed the example of their quarry, carelessly shouldering people and objects aside.

Up ahead, the gambling boss cut a sharp corner, his braid suspended briefly in the air before being snapped in the new direction. Seconds later, Frige took the corner on the ball of her foot, losing little momentum in the turn. Her weapons and armor clanked as she ran. Her breathing grew heavy. But she could see her prey was worse off. He was starting to limp.

After another turn, the sunlight burst into her eyes, forcing the watchman to raise a hand up as she ran. The alley, which focused the light into a blinding beam, soon opened to a wide space of trees and cobblestones. She could see the large stone bridge not far off and the fugitive at half that distance.

As she closed with her quarry, the veteran watchman considering how best to get a hold of him. His running form was unpredictable, his arms flailing wildly, rather than tight at his sides. She could try for a tackle, but if she missed, the chase might end then and there.

Ultimately, she did not have to choose. The frantic man stumbled over the raised stones which marked the place where the bridge met land. He hit the ground, rolling further onto the wide bridge. The watchman was on him in an instant, turning him over, planting his face hard against the cobblestone street and wrenching the man’s arm behind his back. He cried out in pain.

Game over,” Frige said, collecting her breath.

What are you going to do with me?” the man asked.

I’m going to offer you a nice room with a bed and a warm meal, in a wonderful part of the city. And then we’re going to have a talk.”

I won’t tell you anything. Reaper’ll have my hide.”

Only if he takes it from me,” Frige said, pinching the man on the neck. “Get up. You’re going to jail.”

She lifted the man to his feet just as Wolf arrived at the bridge, panting. He had a wild expression on his face.

I’ll be taking this little worm with me, if you don’t mind,” Wolf said.

I do mind,” Frige replied.

The Baron will have some questions.”

The Baron can go sleep in a barn.”

I guess we both knew it would come to this.” Wolf drew his dagger.

Frige released the gambling boss and drew her sword. She stood higher than her opponent, on the raised arc of the stone bridge, holding her weapon out in one hand. Glancing around, she saw no other watchmen in the area; this fight was hers alone.

She felt Reaper’s man skulking away and reached an arm behind her, grabbing the man by his long braid. He wailed in protest.

It doesn’t have to be this way,” Wolf said, crouching with his weapon ready.

You know it does.”

The big man lunged forward, swiping upwards with his dagger. Frige released her captive and dodged to the left, raising her sword to her chest. She parried the next flurry of attacks, catching her opening on the nose with an elbow. Blood spurted from Wolf’s face, but that only seemed to focus his rage. He slashed low and, continuing the spin, kicked his leg to trip the watchman.

Air fled from Frige’s lungs as she hit the ground hard. The clang of crashing armor was debilitating. Wolf punched her in the face with his free hand, knocking a tooth loose. Her mind rang like a bell and she struggled to focus.

A glint of sliver. A blade coming for her throat. The watchman grabbed the arm holding the knife and dragged it to the right across her chest. The blade scratched along her armor, the loud screech sending shivers down her spine. Following up the move, she used her leg to trap her opponent’s, allowing her to twist his massive body around and to the ground. She mounted him, lashing out again with armored elbows as she struggled to control his weapon.

Trying to control the burly rogue was like trying to wrestle a bear, and soon she found herself in the air, lifted off by the man’s powerful legs. Frige guided her fall into a roll, recovering her longsword as she rose to her feet. She was glad to have some distance between her and this wild man. She needed maneuver space if she hoped to win this fight.

Wolf recovered his dagger and pushed himself up, slowly and deliberately. “You let the worm get away,” he growled. Frige glanced to the side to see the gambling boss fleeing across the bridge.

As I recall, I had him pinned, before you made trouble. But no matter. One way or another, somebody is going to jail today.” She turned to face the burly rogue, her sword gripped in both hands.

It seems we are at an impasse. The Baron will be livid if I don’t teach you some respect.”

He craned his neck to the side, as if looking for an opening, then leapt forward suddenly, his large, bear-like arms reaching out for her. Frige ducked under his grip and struck him with the pommel of her sword across the jaw. He responded with a backhand across hers. She retreated a step and spat blood. Taking another step back, the watchman could sense the bridge parapet behind her.

Wolf attacked again with his dagger. Frige dodged and slashed with her sword. The blow struck the rogue on his belly, causing him to grunt, but the blade only skirted off his leather armor. His counterattack was more successful, drawing blood along her neck. He punched her again, the blow pressing her back against the parapet.

This ends now,” Wolf yelled, throwing his weight into one last downward strike.

Frige could see the sharp point of the dagger plunging towards her open neck. At this angle, it would be fatal, digging down into her chest through her open collar. With all her effort, the watchman twisted into her opponent, letting go of her sword and wrapping her right arm under his, her left grabbing the hand that held her doom. She dug her hip into his abdomen and lifted him up, over her back, pulling with her arms, the dagger slamming into her breastplate and breaking as she tossed him over the side of the bridge.

Wolf howled, tumbling through the open air a hundred feet to the water below.

Frige did not wait to see the rogue surface. She was sure he’d survive; his kind always did. Instead, she leaned her back against the parapet and slid the ground. Her back hurt. Her face throbbed. Every part of her body shouted out in pain. The blood in her eyes painted her vision red, and in that crimson light she saw a figure approaching.

Frige,” a voice shouted. “Are you alright?” It was young Iric. He dropped to her side and put a hand on her shoulder. She groaned audibly. “Oh, sorry. You’re a mess.”

My, don’t you know how to make a girl feel special.”

No…I didn’t mean to…”

She forced a painful smile. “Vott’s going to be pissed. The boss got away.”

Iric’s blue eyes shined, and he smiled. “No, he didn’t. Jari caught him. Kicked him right in the junk.”

Frige tried not to laugh but failed. The tremors of pain were intense but worthwhile.

Are you good to walk?” Iric asked, helping her to stand. “We should get you back to Sarge.”

Give me a moment. I’m enjoying the view.”

She watched Wolf drag himself onto the riverbank like a wet dog, knowing they would cross paths again. Next time she’d introduce him to some friends.


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