Coffee Break Read – A Job for Erik

It seemed to Ishbel to have been a very long day, and now it was almost dawn. A number of people sat in Jorg’s tent awaiting the arrival of Lief’s party with its cargo of severed heads. Jorg had himself on a tight rein, but Ana and her maidens kept close in case of any sign of returning Bloodwrath. All at once Jorg’s head came up like a bloodhound scenting meat.
‘They’re close. The party has just met with our first ring of sentries. It should be no more than twenty minutes or so till they arrive.’
‘Who is delivering the heads to House Schiapetti?’ Hugo asked.
‘I thought I’d do it myself.’
‘Not a good idea’ said Jaya sternly ‘there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to keep a lid on the beast once you are close to the scum who murdered Saira. Let Erik and his big lads have the job. He’d be glad to do it for you, and his men are impressive. And steady.’
Jorg frowned at his mother-in-law, who met his fulminating glance without flinching. After a fraught couple of minutes he looked away. ‘Why is it’ he enquired of nobody in particular ‘that I am surrounded by women who are always right?’
Hugo grinned. ‘I seem to have the same complaint. My sons’ mother didn’t think I could get my shoes on the right foot without her help, and Ishbel only has to look at me a certain way to have me realise I’m being an ass. When you think of all the comfortably stupid milk cows of women there are out there, I guess it must be our own fault. Are we making the wrong choices?’ He spread his hands in a helpless gesture.
Jorg laughed, reluctantly at first, then heartily. ‘OK, I know when I’m beaten. Somebody go wake Erik up and tell him I need him and his boys here now. Better send a woman, that way nobody will get their head cracked open.’ Birgit said ‘I’ll go. That way nobody gets dragged into bed either. I guarantee to have him here in ten minutes.’
True to her word, she returned in rather less than that time with Erik ambling along in her wake looking rather like a bear that had been roused from hibernation.
‘Thunderhand’ he said crossly ‘this had better be important. I need my beauty sleep.’
‘It is, my friend.’ Something in Jorg’s voice alerted Erik’s sleep-fuddled brain, and he came awake with a snap. ‘What do you need?’
‘I need a consignment of severed heads delivering to a house in the city. You know what happened to Saira and the girls.’ His voice broke for a moment, but he struggled on. ‘This is the first instalment of punishment for those responsible.’
Erik laid a huge paw on Jorg’s shoulder. ‘Just give me a minute to rouse my boys and have our horses readied. Then I’ll come back and you can tell me exactly how you want it done.’ He scooted off a lot faster that he’d come in, already bawling orders at the top of his voice.
‘If his life had taken a different course, he’d have done well in the Church Army’ mused Heggar ‘he has the soul of a sergeant major.’
‘Oh indeed’ Jorg agreed ‘but don’t ever tell him that he’d be mortally insulted.’
Silence fell in the tent, but before it had time to be awkward Erik rolled back in, hastily tidying his beard with a small ivory comb. Ishbel motioned him to a low stool and taking the comb from his hand began to re-braid his thick corn-gold locks.
‘Right Jorg, my men are awake and making themselves look impressive. What exactly do you want us to do?’
‘In a very short while, Lief and some friends will be riding in with the heads of the people responsible for the atrocity at the mountain sanctuary. I want you to ride into the city, drop the heads on the doorstep of House Schiapetti, and then ride out again. I’d like there to be a lot of thundering hooves, but not a word from you or your boys. Oh, and take the heads out of the sacks as you drop them. The people in the house need to see what the consignment is, and they won’t be allowed out to look.’
‘OK but I need directions to this house.’
Hugo spoke. ‘Ride straight in through the gate and take the wide tree-lined road facing you. This road leads into a big square with a fountain in the middle. The house you want is the only one wholly on the west side of the square. It’s big and vulgar, and has an ugly marble portico that looks like it’s made of Frankish sausage.’
‘Got it!’ Ishbel finished braiding Erik’s hair and he got up. ‘Thanks Skinny Girl. I’d better go tell the boys the score.’

From The Long Game by Jane Jago

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