Chapter Eighteen

“When did he come back?”

“A second ago,” Rachel gasped, breathless and panicking. “I just saw him, I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t see you—“

“We have to warn Diego, come on.” Marisol dragged her beneath the window that Diego had pointed out to them. They alternated making noises like a crow, so that soon the neighbors must have thought a whole angry flock of them had descended on Toledo.

When this provoked no response from the impassive shutters, Marisol just began calling Diego’s name as loudly as she dared. Even this did not secure his attention.

“What is he doing in there?” Marisol demanded. Rachel shrugged helplessly.

At last, Marisol found a rock in the gutter, which she took and threw as hard as she could against the shutters. It made a sound like the crack of a pistol and, after a few moments, the wooden doors tentatively opened.

Diego peeked through the crack, golden light spilling out around him and into the dark street. “Marisol? What? “ He threw the shutters open the rest of the way . “What is it?”

“Diego, it’s—where is your shirt?”

“You are supposed to make a sound like a crow!”

“We did make a sound like a crow, you idiot, you didn’t hear us–!”

“You have to make it louder, then—“

“Diego,” Rachel interrupted. “He is inside, the guard is …”

She trailed off as they perceived a deep rumbling from within, the sound of a bear looking for its dinner. A girl appeared at the window; she was blond with flushed, rosy cheeks. Her hair and shift disheveled, she gripped Diego’s arm like he might fly away.

“It’s him, it’s Udo, he’s back!” She said.

“We know,” Rachel snapped, “Diego you have to get out!”

“Ai, me,” Diego said. “My shirt, hold, hold on…”

“No,” said the girl, “there’s no time, you have to go out the window.”

Diego looked down at the three-storey drop. “I don’t…think I can do that. Do…is there another stair, or could…do you think I could talk to him…”

There was a sound like a thunderclap from within, and the splintering of wood. A man or beast roared. Diego’s skin grew pale.

“All right. All right.” He gingerly climbed out the window, holding tightly to its frame.

“If you climb around,” Rachel offered, “you can maybe climb in the window over there, to your right…”

“No, no,” said Marisol. “Grab a hold of the trellis, you can climb down it like a ladder—“

“Shut up!” Diego snapped at them, as more sounds of breaking wood and grumbling came from inside the inn. The girl disappeared from the window, and presently she could be heard shrieking in Prussian, her shouts answered by a basso rumble that sounded like an avalanche.

Diego reached out to grab a hold of a copper drain spout, and had just secured his grip with the weathered metal snapped away from its moorings and bent sending him tumbling to the ground.

Howling with pain, Diego struggled to his feet. The copper drainpipe had slowed his fall enough that he’d broken no bones, but he was bruised and his feet were bare and in no shape for running over cobblestones.

Udo, the giant Prussian man with the drooping moustaches appeared at the window, his face contorted and bestial with fury. He vanished again and thundered through the inns interior.

“Diego,” the princess called out to him, leaning as far out of the window as she dared. “He is coming for you. If you live, remember me!”

“If I live–?” Diego said.

The girl through a scrap of white cloth down to the street. It was Diego’s shirt.

“Come, you idiot,” Marisol said. “We have to get out of here.”

Diego struggled to find the armholes in his shirt. “But where, he—“ Some more rumbling from the inn.

“Up the hill,” Marisol said, “to the Alcázar. There are people there, surely he won’t…go. Go now!” Marisol pushed Diego and Rachel up the street, as the door to the inn burst open, and Udo appeared in all his heaving fury.

“But—“ Diego said.

“Go,” Marisol insisted. “This is my fault. I will distract him.”

Without waiting to see if they ran the right way, or even if they ran at all, Marisol turned back towards Udo and held up her hand to greet him.  “Hello, sir!” She called. “I see that you are…clearly…very upset…”

The Prussian man seemed somehow even bigger than before, standing in a doorway that could barely contain his frame. His eyes started out from his sockets like they would explode. Veins thrummed in his neck. His moustaches bristled . His body seemed warped by the muscle that crammed his frame and he clenched fists like boulders. Udo strode forward and pushed Marisol aside as he passed; it felt to Marisol like she’d been struck by a battering ram, the force of the blow knocking her from her feet.

She watched in horror as Udo took up a ground-eating lope up the hill and after her friends. “No,” she said, “no no no. Not so fast.” She pulled her mother’s sword from the sack she kept it in and sprinted after him.

Marisol caught up with Udo after twenty yards, and slashed across his back with the point of her weapon. His leather jerkin parted easily; she knew she must have cut him, because she saw blood spatter the ground, and the man shrieked with rage and pain.

Udo whirled on her and, for a fraction of an instant, stared at her bloody blade with a look of disbelief.

“Sir, I have no desire to harm you, if you’d like we—“

Udo howled, like no animal Marisol had ever heard. No wolf or bear or wild cat, not even a man at his most agonized. It was a howl that she seemed to hear in her soul, one that transcended any sound or sense that might perceive it.

He slapped the point of her sword to the side with his bare hand, and swung one of those massive fists for her head, missing only by the space of a breath as Marisol leapt back and staggered down the hill.

She thought he would turn back and resume his pursuit of Diego and Rachel, but no. Marisol had drawn blood, and now his great fury was for her alone. Marisol turned and ran.

Udo pursued.