In the dining cabin after Crit left, the captain was still cursing as he moved to lift the prone woman. Wisteria decided this was as distracted as the man would get. Assuming the yelling and commotion from above was caused by her rescuers, she expected the captain would use herself and Lord Nikola as leverage against them as soon as he finished with the woman. So Wisteria seized the hammer and rushed him. She made a clumsy strike for the back of his head with the hammer: maneuvering her bound hands worked badly.
The captain sensed her approach and twisted, catching the hammer as she swung. “You wretched cow!” He wrenched the hammer from her hands and grabbed for her with the other hand, hammer raised menacingly. Wisteria evaded his first grasp and dashed for the door. He snatched a hank of her hair, drawing her up short. “I’ll beat some yaaAAARGH!” A crash and a clatter accompanied his scream, and she whirled about as his grip on her hair slackened. Ash and hot coals were falling from the captain’s smoldering coat, more scattered across the floor along with a handful of needles, a pair of pliers, and the pot that had been on the table. Lord Nikola was twisted in the chair he was tied to, bloody right hand free, face screwed up against pain. “Vile treacherous backstabbing worm—” the captain cursed as he beat off the embers, turning his wrath on Lord Nikola and forgetting Wisteria for the moment. He advanced on Lord Nikola, who lifted his free arm in a vain motion of warding.
Wisteria charged for their tormentor’s turned back. He twisted again, moving one arm to intercept, but this time he wasn’t fast enough. She threw her linked arms about his neck and pulled, using the leverage to haul herself onto his back, legs wrapping around his waist as she bit at one of his ears. He scrabbled at her arms and grabbed a fistful of her hair. She could not choke him very well with the way her hands were tied, but she was certainly inconveniencing him. The captain leaned forward and shook like a dog, hauling on her hair and cursing as he tried to pry her off. Then he froze.
“If you release that young lady’s hair and stop struggling, sirrah, I will consider rescuing you from her. Alternatively, I can run you through now. Take your time! But in three seconds I’m going with ‘you die’. One, two—”
“I yield,” the captain growled, releasing her hair. Wisteria looked about her, dropping her legs as the captain straightened. Lord Comfrey was holding the point of a sword to the man’s side, a knife in his other hand. Profound relief filled her at the sight of him. She unhooked her hands from the captain’s neck as the man unbuckled his sword belt and let it fall at Lord Comfrey’s direction.
Lord Comfrey kicked the sword across the room and ordered the man to lie down, sheathing his own sword and cutting the cords about Wisteria’s wrists with his knife. “Are you injured, Miss Vasilver?”
She shook her head. “I’m fine, but Lord Nikola—”
He was moving from her to Lord Nikola almost before she got the words out. “We need to hurry, there’s at least two men still unaccounted for.” Wisteria wanted to go to Lord Nikola as well, but she didn’t think she’d be able to unknot the cords still binding him. She searched the desk for a knife, found a coil of cord first, and settled for trussing the captain instead. She’d learned about knots in her shipboard time, too. She was surprised that he didn’t resist; surprised that he’d yielded at all. Abduction and torture: he must know that he will hang for this. With a length of cord left in her hands after she secured his hands and feet, she was sorely tempted to strangle him now and save the hangman the trouble. Wisteria leaned down and looped the cord around his neck. “It is lucky for you that I did not find a knife first,” she whispered in his bloody ear. Releasing the cord, she stood.
The sight of Wisteria clinging to her abductor’s back, half-throttling him, had jolted Justin partly out of his bloody single-minded rage. So absurd, so courageous, so resourceful. It was an honor to know her.
He’d not registered Nikola when he entered: distracted as he was by Wisteria’s battle, his mind had only categorized the man seated with his back to the door and the prone woman lying on the floor as “non-threatening”. It wasn’t until Wisteria said Nikola’s name that he truly looked, and then he could think of nothing else. “Saints and angels,” he breathed out, kneeling as he slid his knife beneath the cord of the gag. Justin used his other hand to hold the cord back as he cut it. “What did they do to you?” Nikola’s face looked awful, filthy and streaked, bruises swelling across one cheek and blackening his right eye. The room reeked of blood, human waste and vomit, and to his horror Justin realized most of the stench was focused on Nikola. My angel, my beautiful angel, what have these animals done to you?
Nikola coughed as he spit out the loosed gag. “Good to see you, too,” he croaked, voice raw and low.
Justin chuckled so he wouldn’t cry, wanting to touch Nikola, kiss him, hold him, not daring to do any of it less because of Wisteria’s presence than for fear of hurting him. “Sorry I’m late,” he managed to say, tearing his eyes from Nikola’s face to free his hands.
“Me too.” Nikola looked over his shoulder. “Miss Vasilver – are you – did they hurt you badly?”
“No,” she answered. “Not at all, my lord.”
“…as you say.” Nikola sounded worried rather than convinced, but he relaxed fractionally. “I must apologize for not making it back to the ball last night. I truly wish I had, believe me. Comfrey, are you injured? You’re covered in blood.”
Justin was barely aware of the question, unable to look away from the horror of what had happened – been done – to Nikola’s hands. “It’s not mine,” he said at length, forcing himself to act, to cut free Nikola’s still-bound and mutilated hand. “Who did this to you?” he growled, rage resurfacing from beneath concern and relief at finding Nikola alive. But not unharmed.
Nikola did not mistake his question. “Brogan.”
Mechanically, Justin sawed through the cord tying his left ankle to the chair leg. “Which one is Brogan?”
His love motioned with his head to the man Wisteria had been grappling when Justin entered. “Him.”
Justin cut the cord binding Nikola’s right leg and rose. Wisteria watched dispassionately as Justin approached Brogan and kicked the man hard in the ribs, feeling a furious satisfaction as the man groaned and curled on his side as best he could with hands and feet tied. “Look at me,” Justin commanded, then kicked the man’s head when he didn’t move fast enough. “Look at me!” He unleashed a torrent of the worst insults and profanities he knew, indifferent to Wisteria’s presence. He was dimly aware of Nikola rising behind him, aware that they were not safe, but the need to punish this vicious monster who’d tortured his lover overpowered all else.
“Comfrey…” The rawness in Nikola’s voice only whetted the keen edge of Justin’s fury.
Justin kicked Brogan in the stomach. “I’m glad I didn’t kill you, you black-hearted motherless worm, because you don’t deserve a quick death!” He stomped on the man’s bound hands.
“He deserved it,” Brogan bit out.
Justin kicked him in the teeth. “What was that? What did you say? You bastard son of an impotent pig, I’ll cut your lying tongue out for that!” He stooped to make good on his threat.
“Justin!” Nikola shouted hoarsely. Justin felt the touch of Nikola’s wrist against his shoulder and paused, half turning his head, swallowing at the sight of Nikola’s mangled fingers. “Enough. He’s possessed.”
I don’t care. Nikola’s arm was trembling and he withdrew abruptly, looking unsteady. Wisteria tried to help him, but he shuddered and pulled away from her too. Justin realized that his own actions were not helping; were, in fact, adding to the considerable load of Nikola’s miseries. With an effort, he wrenched his mind away from vengeance. “As you say.” He worked at sounding normal, civilized. “Are you all right to walk?” Justin ached to help him, but Nikola’s demeanor made it plain such assistance would be unwelcome if not outright harmful. Nikola nodded, picking his way along one wall to avoid walking barefoot on the smoldering coals and ash scattered across the center. Justin drew his sword again and glanced to the strange woman lying near the door. “Who’s she? A collaborator or another captive?”
Nikola grimaced. “Neither. She’s catatonic. Brogan wanted me to heal her, but I can’t.”
Justin’s knuckles whitened around the hilt of the sword, but he confined himself to an acknowledging nod and strode to the door. As he entered the hall without, two sailors were advancing down it with swords bared. Justin gave them a death’s head grin. “Please don’t surrender. I would dearly love to kill someone just now.”
The men looked at his heavily-muscled and gore-splattered form and dropped their swords, raising their hands. Justin sighed and motioned with his sword for them to lead the way out.
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