Book should be available now so this is the final snippet.
1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 63
Kristina managed to work the dead guard’s sword out of the scabbard. Shakily, she passed it on to Baldur.
“My profound thanks, Your Highness.” For once, there was not a trace of mockery in the Norwegian’s tone of voice.
One of the assailants came around the table, a knife in his hand. Baldur flung himself straight at him, not even trying to get to his feet. The sword point went into the meat of the attacker’s right thigh.
His aim had been off a little. He’d been trying for the femoral artery. Still, the wound was severe enough to stop the assailant. He howled and clutched his leg.
With his free hand, though. He didn’t let go of the knife. An experienced brawler, it seemed.
Not that it would do him the least bit of good. Now, Baldur did come to his feet.
It was no contest. Gui Ancelin was indeed considered a formidable man with a blade, in his own circles. But those were the circles of assassins and street fighters. Baldur Norddahl had learned his swordplay as an Algerine corsair and guarding caravans in the Sahara from Tuareg raiders.
Not to mention that Gui had a knife and Baldur had a sword. The knife was razor sharp and the sword blade wasn’t, but it hardly mattered since the first thing Baldur did was cut off his right arm just below the elbow. With the Norwegian’s strength and experience, the precise condition of the blade didn’t matter. Even a relatively dull sword is a sword, not a butter knife.
Ancelin stared down in shock. Not for long. Baldur’s next strike severed the right side of his neck down to the spinal column. Blood gushed everywhere and he collapsed to the cobblestones. Slottsbacken was not flat. The rain was coming down so heavily that the blood was carried away almost as fast as it came out.
Brillard fired. The queen was knocked flat on her back. The guards stared down at her, still not moving. Clearly the Swedes were not using elite troops to guard the palace.
They should have spotted the gunsmoke coming from the window where he was positioned. In good weather, even dullards like these couldn’t have missed the sound and sight of the shot. But the heavy rain distorted sound and obscured the smoke. He thought he was still undetected.
He began reloading the rifle. There was time for another shot. Perhaps he could still help Charles after all.
Mademann finally had his pistol. He started to get up again — and slipped again.
Down onto one knee, this time, not on his belly. But he’d fallen hard and the knee was badly bruised. If he survived the next few moments, he’d be walking with a limp for a while.
If he was lucky. The knee might also be broken. The pain was intense.
Damn this rain!
Robert Ouvrard fired when was ten feet from the prince. At this range, he could hardly miss.
But he did. Ouvrard was not experienced at this sort of gun fight. He did not understand how often people missed their shots even at what seemed point blank range. They got excited and agitated — as he was — and the surge of adrenaline swept away all fine motor control. Ancient fight-or-flight reflexes took over, designed for crude actions like running or striking with fists, not the comparatively delicate work of aiming a pistol and squeezing a trigger.
Instead, he jerked the trigger wildly — but he would have missed by a foot even if he hadn’t. The shot struck the wall of the royal palace, causing no damage at all beyond dimpling a brick.
Ulrik fired back. And also missed, at point blank range.
Both men cursed and both fired again — but Ulrik’s shot came just an instant sooner. That was the advantage of the revolver’s mechanism over that of the double-barreled flintlock pistol.
His shot struck Ouvrard in the stomach. The Huguenot clutched himself, his pistol swinging wide. The shot he fired by reflex hit the cobblestones and caromed off to strike the wall of the church, where it caromed off again.
With that sort of abdominal wound, Ouvrard was almost sure to die eventually. He was still alive but no longer part of the fight. He was disarmed and already falling to the street.
So, naturally, Ulrik shot him again. A good shot, right in the center mass, certain to cause the man’s death even if the first shot didn’t.
Also a completely stupid wasted shot, which left the prince with an empty gun.
He was not experienced at this sort of thing either.
But he didn’t have time to curse himself. Abraham Levasseur had been just behind Ouvrard and now he fired, also at point blank range.
Two shots in very quick succession. Levasseur was familiar with double-barreled pistols and their somewhat intricate trigger mechanism.
He’d also been in a gun fight before, unlike Ouvrard.
Both of his shots hit the prince. Ulrik slumped to the ground.
Locquifier started to clamber over the upended table, in order to stab the princess huddled behind it. He ignored Baldur altogether. His instruction from Michel had said nothing about irrelevant Norwegian adventurers.
Such is the folly of paying too much instruction to orders.
By now, Kristina had taken one of her jeweled hairpins out of her hair. The thing was only three inches long and not particularly sharp, but it was all she had. As soon as she saw Locquifier coming over the table, with an upraised knife in his hand, she shrieked and lunged upward, jagging at his face.
The hairpin did no damage, because Locquifier flinched away from it. But his attack was delayed for two seconds or so.
That was all the time Baldur needed, now that he’d finished with Ancelin.
Again, the flashing sword sent a hand flying, cut off this time just above the wrist. And again, an instant later, a neck was cut open to the bone. This time, since Baldur hadn’t been quite as rushed, the windpipe was severed along with the carotid and jugular.
For all practical purposes, Guillaume Locquifier was dead before his body met the cobblestones.
Mademann shrieked with fury at the sight. He’d never liked Guillaume, but he was still a comrade. In his rage, he fired a shot at the prince’s companion who’d killed him.
The shot missed. He fired again — and that put the Norwegian down. At least, Charles thought it had. The man was behind the table again, no longer visible.
Reloading a Cardinal could be done very quickly, but the fight in the street below was moving more quickly still. By the time Mathurin had the rifle reloaded, he had no targets left. Prince Ulrik was down already. Brillard could see his body in the street. And whatever might have happened to the princess, she was hidden somewhere behind that cursed table. It would be foolish to shoot at it blindly.
Besides, he had another target, and the one to which he’d been assigned.
He was almost sure his first shot had killed the queen. But there was no reason not to make sure.
The six guards were no longer standing around her. Three of them had moved into Slottsbacken with their halberds ready, headed toward the table. One of them had vanished altogether. Mathurin assumed he’d gone to get help.
The remaining two were still guarding the queen. Clearly, though, their concept of “guarding” was not that of trained bodyguards. Instead of shielding Maria Eleonora, they were standing at least two feet from her.
Their halberds were posed in most formidably martial fashion, to be sure. But the bullet Mathurin fired cared not in the least. He’d had time to take careful aim, since the queen was now unmoving, flat on her back in the entrance. The bullet passed between the guards and struck her under the chin. When it exited from the top of her head, brains and blood and bits of bone flew out in a horrid gush.
The guards stared at the sight, their halberds still held at the ready.
The sound of the rifle shot drew Mademann’s attention. That was the second shot Brillard had fired. Given the man’s marksmanship, that meant the queen was certainly dead.
So was the prince. Of their three targets, only the princess was left.
Charles was tempted. But . . .
Mathurin would now be making his own escape. Of the others, only Charles himself and Levasseur remained alive. And they’d used all their shots. In this rain, they’d need to find shelter in which to reload, by which time the princess would certainly have fled back into the palace.
They could go after her with their knives, but his knee was uncertain — and the three guards with halberds were fast approaching. Could Levasseur alone kill the princess while fending them off?
No chance. It was time to make their own escape, if possible.
“Abraham!” he shouted. “Help me!”
On his way out of the bedroom, Brillard paused at the door to consider the tailor. He’d intended to let the old man live, assuming he survived the injuries he already had. But now that the mission was over and the possibility of escape was at hand — which Mathurin had never seriously expected — it might not be wise to leave a witness who could identify him.
Mathurin Brillard was not a man to agonize over decisions. He raised the rifle and brought the butt down on the tailor’s head. Again, and again, and again. It took only as many seconds as it did blows. Not too long, and there would surely be no witness now.
When Ulrik opened his eyes, he immediately had to close them again because of the rain. It was not quite like being under a waterfall, but close enough.
He could feel a small body clutching him where he lay on the street. A trembling child’s body. It was making snuffling noises, too.
Kristina, he thought. She was still alive, then.
He turned his head to get his eyes out of the direct path of the rain and opened the left one, which was now sheltered.
Yes, it was Kristina. The only other things he could see were the upended table and, coming toward him, more halberds than Ulrik had ever seen in one place.
Swedish palace guards were attached to the weapons. Looking very stalwart and none too bright.
He made a mental note to make sure he had guards armed with something more useful, in any palace he had any control over. Smarter ones, too.
“What’s happening?” he croaked.