Songbird in the Kitchen 7: The Final Bill

Never underestimate how quickly forgiveness can be given when the only man who can save you is behind bars.

— Sergan Mesar-Lavistol, Three Drops of Blood at Evening

Karin groaned and leaned against the rough stone bricks of the jail cell. The cold seeped into the bruises along the side of her face, giving her some relief from the morning’s beating. As the stone warmed up, she rolled to a cooler section until the throbbing subsided.

With a sigh of relief, she sat back into her seat. It felt like every part of her hurt, but it was nothing compared to being kicked in the chest by that howling horse with claws or when the leeches had burrowed in her gut.

The men Tristoh had bribed to beat her weren’t seriously injuring her. That meant that he still had plans for her. Fortunately, San Graif wasn’t large enough for dedicated justice so she had a few more days until her fate arrived.

She thought about Lilian’s voice and the memories that washed over her every time she sang a song. Leaning back against the wall, she smiled to herself. Her lips worked silently as she sang one of the song that Lilian had taught her to love and just let the pain ease away.

Even with her fears, Karin didn’t regret a single moment. She didn’t find a lover but she saved a songbird. She rubbed her split lip and just leaned back to enjoy the glow.

The door to the cells rattled loudly. She heard keys jingling on the other side.

Curious, she sat up.

The door swung open and a guard came in. It was one of Tristoh’s hirelings. She started to steel herself for another round of abuse but then she noticed he was covered in blood with thick bandages over one eye and a makeshift sling holding his arm. “She’s in here, Mother,” the guard said sullenly.

Sindil followed after him, her knitting bag hoisted over her shoulder and a pair of needles in her hand. The yarn was stained and torn. The knife hilt hung out of a scorched opening. She shuffled forward as she peered around until she spotted Karin and then hurried over.

Behind both of them, Roal came in with a grin on his face and his hands in his pockets. He had blood splattered across his chest and an equally gore-covered ax tucked underneath his arm.

Karin stood up, wincing a little from the discomfort.

Sindil peered at Karin for a moment. Then she turned to the guard. “Well, what are you waiting for? Let her out. Now!”

The guard looked nervously at Karin as he unlocked the gate.

Karin stared directly at him. She didn’t think telling Sindil that he had been beating Karin for days would help anyone at the moment. Maybe later.

Roal shoved the guard aside and pulled the gate open. “Tristoh left the city a surprise gift when he stormed away. A herd of bulls with thick armored plates and able to set fires with their feet. I need my sharpener. You up to it, Old Lady?”

Karin’s thoughts slid away from Lilian with a rush as she steeled herself for a fight. “Of course, Old Man.”

He gestured toward the door before heading toward it. “Come on, Rat Hunter. You need a weapon and we have people to save.”

Karin gave the guard a long hard look before she followed after.

The old woman caught her arm to walk with her. She was spry for her age but Karin suspected that she had fought off one of the creatures with knitting needles.

Karin smiled at the image and rested her palm over the old woman’s. “Thank you. Mind if I have that dagger now?”

Sindil looked her over. “You look more like you prefer a sword, right? What kind?”

“Short sword with a narrow hilt, but…”

The old woman dug into her scorched knitting bag. She pulled out a coil of yarn and a pair of needles. “Hold this,” she said as she handed the yarn to Karin.

Amused and confused, Karin took it.

Sindil reached into the bag, leaning into it as she delved deeper than the bag looked like it could handle. “Ah, there it is!”

She pulled out a short sword from her bag. As Karin stared in shock, Sindil deftly swapped the yarn for the weapon. “It’s a bit dull, but I suspect you can do something about that.”

Karin smiled. Energy danced along the blade as she sharpened it with a thought.

Sindil looked at her for a long moment and then sighed. “I’m sorry it took so long to get you free. Jon was being stubborn and the sheriff is still pissed at me for refusing to serve his wife when she was the worst tax collector we ever had; he changed his mind when he saw those bulls. A lot of bad blood for this old lady. At least her granddaughter is safe. I got a letter yesterday.”

Karin smiled. “She was worth it.”

“She is,” said the old woman. “Though, things were better when I was running the bakery. Twenty years ago, we didn’t have my granddaughter’s lovely voice but peach pie was always on the menu.”

Karin made it two steps before the words registered. She inhaled sharply and looked over.

The old woman grinned and squeezed Karin’s arm. “Maybe after you save our city, I could make you one? The recipe is on the old side, but I heard the classics are always the best. I’d bet you’d like a slice. I heard it’s got a bit of bite.”

Karin stared in shock and her smile returned.

The old woman hefted her bloody knitting needles, gave a wink, and headed after Roal.

Cover

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