Lute. Part Twenty Three

Out of time to make the right move, Lord-In-Waiting Truth is left only with wrong ones.

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The first sound of Truth's demise came from his own chambers behind them. There was a shout of warning, followed swiftly by an outcry of pain. Bell turned sharply to the sounds, while Truth almost immediately sent soldiers into the chambers.

The next few moments showed this as one of the single worst choices of his entire life.

Aware that Truth was planning to burn their ship to cinders, each and every deck hand there reacted quickly to the line of soldiers that had formed in defence of their lord. Diminished by the temporary departure of three of their number, the line still held under the finish attack that it suddenly came under. Furious, Truth shouted his commands down to them, desperate to show himself as a capable and powerful force through the actions of his soldiers. Trusting the personal guard behind him, he maintained focus on the battle in front of him.

This, once again, was a very bad move.

Proof of his stupidity came but a moment later, when the first of his reserve troops flew back out of the door with a dagger buried in his neck. He was dead before he hit the ground, but his eyes were open in the truly gruesome display of emptiness. Bell, her eyes caught between the horrors above and the horrors below, heard the curse words that Truth had chosen to shout at that moment.

Sadly, the turning tables had not stopped landing yet.

The hatchway that Lute and Sincerity had crawled out of came alive. First, the thunder of hands and feet climbing the ladder could be heard, and this was swiftly followed by the appearance of about thirty people that Bell had never seen in all of her work and travels around the vessel. These were dressed in all sorts of ensembles, and looked as though they hadn't seen real sunlight in years. More importantly, they were all armed, scarred and angry. They charged past Lute, Harp and Sincerity, calling out challenges, threats and obscenities as they rushed to join the disorganised assault on their benevolent dictator.

Beside Bell, Truth drew his own blade for the first time that Bell had ever seen. There was fear in his eyes, and panic in the speed of his motions. He had nowhere to turn now, with no idea of quite how many people were attacking behind him, and far too obviously outnumbered in front. This seemed to make the decision for him.

"You're coming with me," he spat at Bell as he took hold of her collar roughly and dragged her to him. Ornate sword held beside him, he first pushed Bell towards the open door to his chambers, then followed close behind, glancing over his shoulder as often as possible.

Neither of them managed to actually get through the door. As Bell reached the doorway, Dress, Sincerity's handmaiden, emerged. There was blood on her face; fresh, smeared and not hers. She bore a blade from one of Truth's guard in her right hand, and one of her own daggers in her left. As horrible as the last few hours had been, this was the moment that truly stayed with Bell. In front of her, Dress was armed and looked absolutely vicious. Behind her, a desperate Truth roared his fury and brought his sword high for a lunging attack.

Bell didn't see the blow land. Seeing him prepare, she missed the moment that Dress threw her aside and out of danger. She landed on the body of the fallen soldier, causing her to scream and scramble away. He was still warm.

"Bell!" came a call from Lute somewhere down on the main deck. Lost and hoping to just not be noticed, Bell remained as quiet as possible.

Truth had launched a brutal attack on Dress, with his opponent retreating quickly back into his chambers. Arrows had begun to fly overhead now, while shouts and screams of pains were starting to become more commonplace. There was no guard anymore. Truth had lost. Thus far, no members of the crew had managed to get past and on to the upper deck, but it was an inevitability that each and every soldier was likely feeling.

"Bell!" Lute shouted again. "Where are you? Are you alright? Bell!"

The sight and smell of the former man beside her was beginning to turn Bell's stomach. She wanted to get up and run as far away as possible, but another arrow reminded her that staying on the wooden floor was, in truth, the only safe option.

Truth emerged once again from his chambers, being chased quickly by Dress. Seeing him, and all of the consequences that were on show for all to see, Bell found her fingers wrapping around the dagger embedded in the dead man's throat. She saw the next few moments as if Bell was another person; miles away and living a life that was actually worthy of envy. She wasn't Bell anymore. Bell was a sweet girl, quiet, nurturing and innocent. That wasn't something that she wanted anymore. For just one moment, she needed to be somebody else.

As the Lord-In-Waiting fled closer to her, she pulled her weapon free of its confines and, aiming low, sank it deep into her owner's gut. Since he hadn't been expecting it, he missed the next step and fell backwards, breaking the barrier between the two deck levels and falling into the waiting arms of the clearly victorious crewmen. There was one last scream, and then quiet. Bell hit the ground herself a moment after her lunge - feeling aches, pains and a rush of guilt so strong that it would likely never pass her by.

There were tears in her eyes as Dress walked past, dropping her weapons as they were and jumping down to the main deck, where the lady Sincerity was waiting for her. Everything else proved difficult to see. It was too far away, but it was also hard to see through the blur of her tears. Today, Bell had killed a man. She had killed a lord. She had killed her owner. Tomorrow, Bell would probably hang for it.

Curiously, she found herself missing the quiet days when she had sat with Harp and Lute, making up stupid songs and childish tunes purely for their own entertainment. She missed cleaning up after feasts, and serving the household women as and when they needed it. She missed the threats of noble lechery, servant gluttony and owner wrath. She missed it all. Nothing would be the same now. Bell wouldn't be the same.

A moment later, she felt a fragile pair of arms wrapping around her, and then the voice of Lute began to whisper in her ear. "It's okay now," he said. "You're safe, and I'm going to look after you. We're going to fix Harp up; the surgeon is already on his way. You just have to keep your mind as far away from your body just now, until we get back to the manor. Just let go for now, honey. We'll go back soon, and then we'll be able to just make music again. We can stand up on that stage and be the party entertainment again, then clean up in the morning and get the place all ready for the next day. Not now though. You have to let go for me, okay? Don't think. Please, just don't think."

The tears broke through, and she cried into his arms. Everything that had happened since being bought by the Lord Avatar suddenly felt like it was choking her.

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