She saw the huge man and his companion standing near a stall selling freshly roasted nuts. In the back of her mind she took note of him blowing on his burnt fingers as he ate the hot nuts, but she paid no more attention to him than she did all the other strangers taking advantage of the Saturday to do their shopping. There were so many new people moving in or stopping at the compound for a few days, she could no longer keep track.
Slipping past two women carrying baskets of eggs, Atty caught sight of Cavender standing outside his little lodge where he displayed the knives and daggers he made. She graced him with a big smile when a fur-covered arm and shoulder came from out of nowhere and sideswiped her, knocking her heavily into the stall on the other side of the roadway. Atty twisted her body, trying to break her fall with her hands and arms, instinctively protecting her stomach. She landed amid the barrels of drink, scattering mugs, as several people shouted out a warning. A stab of pain went up one leg, but fortunately that appeared to be the worst of her injuries, other than a few bruises. Her jacket had protected her from anything more serious.
Heat infused her as her anger flamed. From where she lay sprawled on the ground, she looked up at the big burly man she’d seen at the nut stall standing a few feet away, calmly munching on his purchase as he gave her an amused grin. Turning to his companion, he said, “Hey, look at the Mutah bitch” and chuckled. “You never know what they let in here, do you?”
“Excuse me,” Atty said tersely as the people around them grew quiet, “but I think you did that on purpose. Therefore, you owe me an apology.”
The burly man gave her a surprised look. Leaning over, he exaggerated holding a hand to his ear in her direction. “Huh? What was that? Anders, did the little bitch try to say something?” His expression suddenly went dark. “Come on. Let’s go see what else this burg has to offer. I’m beginning to feel sick to my stomach, having to smell this Mutah at this close range.”
A sword suddenly descended between the two men from behind them, its point pressed to the burly man’s shoulder. Both men halted in surprise as a calm voice said, “The Lady asked for an apology. I strongly suggest you give it.”
The men stepped aside to where Atty could see the person at the other end of the sword. “Who the fuck are you?” Burly Man demanded irritably.
Mastin gave a semi-dramatic half-bow. “Second-in-command Cole Mastin. Now, about that apology.” He turned to Atty with troubled eyes. “Are you all right?”
Atty opened her mouth to reply when the burly man suddenly knocked the sword upward, throwing Mastin off-guard. Unprepared for a retaliatory attack from the man’s companion standing behind him, the Second never anticipated the roundhouse blow to the back of the head that dropped him to the dirt.
Several women screamed as the Burly Man reached down and grabbed Mastin’s sword from the man’s nerveless hand. Somehow, Atty managed to find her footing as the men were dealing with the soldier. She cursed herself for not bringing her quiver of arrows with her, but the Ballock slid into her palm, warm and ready to do her bidding.
Before the Burly Man could lift the sword for whatever purpose he had planned, the dagger was digging its point into the thick part of his Adam’s apple. Atty stood at arm’s length, her eyes darting between the bent-over man and his partner. She had no idea what to do next, or even how to protect herself. But she knew that at some point one of them would have to end the stand-off.
“Leave this compound. Now,” she ordered, panting slightly.
Burly Man growled as his eyes raked over her face and figure. “Anders, get this bitch’s pig sticker outta my throat before I ram this sword up her pretty ass.”
“Touch her and I’ll kill you,” another voice menaced darkly.
Before anyone could comprehend the swiftness, the companion melted to the ground in an unconscious heap. Yulen stood behind him, the pommel of his sword held high from where he’d bludgeoned the back of the man’s head. Casually, the Battle Lord advanced toward the burly man, twirling his sword expertly before stopping its point inches away from where Atty held the man at bay. “You were ordered to leave this compound. I expect you to obey,” Yulen told him, his face as flushed with anger as were his words. He made no attempt to disguise his temper or disgust.
Burly Man gave him an astonished, disbelieving look. “Who the fuck are you?”
Rather than answer the man, Yulen glanced over the hunched back at his wife. “Are you all right?” She gave him a quick nod. “What happened?”
“He knocked me into the beer stand,” she indicated with a nod of her head. Yulen’s eyes swept over the mess.
“Did he hurt you?”
“A few bruises, but I’ll be okay,” she assured him.
Burly Man gave a loud snort and a groan. “Oh, fuck, I don’t believe this! Who the hell cares whether this Mutah bitch is hurt or not?”
For his remark, Yulen smiled cruelly and jammed his sword a quarter-inch into the man’s neck. Burly Man gasped with pain as a thin line of blood began to drip onto the ground.
“What is your name?”
“Herridge. Tall Herridge.”
“What is your business in Alta Novis?”
“N-no business. My partner and I are on our way to Port Destiny.”
“Then I suggest you take your partner and leave immediately,” Yulen ordered, still in that soft voice filled with darkness. “You are no longer welcome here. By the way, my name is Yulen D’Jacques. I’m the Battle Lord of this compound. And the Mutah ‘bitch’ you so forcefully denounced is Atty, my wife and the Battle Lady of Alta Novis.”
Releasing him, Yulen stepped back and raised his sword to his shoulder. “Guards!” Appearing like spirits drawn from the air, two soldiers came to attention at Yulen’s side. “Escort Mr. Herridge and his partner to the main gate and have them evicted.”
Without a sound the two armed soldiers grabbed both men and dragged them down the walkway, out of the market area. The moment they were seized and pulled away, Atty dropped to her knees beside the soldier still lying comatose on the ground. An egg-size swelling radiated heat from the back of Mastin’s head. Yulen knelt down beside her.
“I’ve sent for Liam. How is he?”
“I don’t know. He tried to come to my aide, but that guy’s friend pulled an unexpected.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah.” She gave him a sincere smile. “At least it wasn’t a bucket this time.”
The remark brought a smile to his eyes that vanished as quickly as it had appeared. In the sunny, cold morning she appeared to glow, as if an inner flame had been lit to spread its radiance throughout her body and her face, and shine in her eyes. It took Yulen several seconds to collect himself enough to remember what he meant to ask her. “Did you get my note?”
“Yeah. I was heading for the archery field, but I was going to drop by on the way.”
MaGrath threaded his way through the crowd and made a quick examination of the man before ordering several men nearby to carry the soldier to the clinic. “Atty?”
“I’m fine, Liam. Honest.”
Nodding, the physician took her word and hurried after his comatose patient. Yulen looked back at his wife. “Archery field?” he reiterated. “Can I watch?”
“Okay, but no snide comments, or I just might be tempted stick this Ballock up your—”
“Well, he pissed me off!”
“Same here. So let’s go take it out on the target.”
“What about the—”
“We can do that later,” he told her. Getting to his feet, Yulen took her hand and helped her up, and together they headed for the back of the compound.