Donatella pulled her feet up through the hole in the plaster ceiling, just as the guards managed to kick the door open. The vomit splattered Bompanzini pointed up mutely to where she had vanished and the guards made to follow.
Donatella thought quickly and unhooked the chain that supported the chandelier and released it, striking one of the guards on the side of the head. He roared in anger and pain, and his companions looked for a way that they could climb up, casting about until they realised that they could use the desk to stand on and from there be able to reach the attic space. One of them had the sense to run down the stairs to see if he could spot Donatella from the street when she reached roof level..
Donatella crossed the beams of the attic towards the hole in the tiles. She forced herself to slow down and not rush. The last thing that she wanted now was to step off one of the solid joists and fall through a thin plaster and lath ceiling into who knows what room below.
Again, she managed to haul herself up, just as her pursuers got within sight of her. She was now on the roof and faced with a dilemma. Should she try to climb down, or to increase the distance between herself and the men chasing her.
She hesitated for a moment, and then took the second option. She climbed to the top of the roof and found that the ridge tiles were sturdy enough to support her weight and wide enough to able to traverse at a reasonable rate. She balanced herself like a tightrope walker and moved as fast as she dared. Once more she gave thanks for her innate sense of poise that had made her night time exploits a realistic proposition rather than a completely foolhardy risk.
She recalled that as a child she had played at being a tight rope walker on the high banister at the top of the marble stair case in her family home. Needless to say it was a risky business but she had only slipped and fallen on one occasion. Fortunately she fell onto the landing rather than the other direction which would have seen her plummet twenty feet or more to a hard tiled floor below, a fall which doubtless would either have killed her or left her very seriously injured. As it was she had a series of colourful and spectacular bruises along her entire right hand side stretching from her thigh up to her shoulder.
The one lesson that she had learned above everything else was to never look down. You had to trust that your feet would find a secure hold and keep your eyes on the horizon ahead of you so that you could feel your balance shift and adjust the weight of your body to compensate.
She risked a glance behind. One man had slipped down to the edge of the roof and was frozen with fear of the drop below. The other had a greater sense of confidence and had followed her up to line of the ridge tiles and was recklessly running towards her to try and catch her up. He stopped for a moment and pulled a wicked looking dagger, and started to advance toward her again, waving it menacingly.
Donatella pivoted on one foot so that she was now facing the man with the knife, and drew her own blade. She knew that a dagger fight was a dangerous lottery at the best of times, never mind on such dangerous ground that she now occupied. A knife was quick and deadly, provided that you could get into close measure, and a fight was usually decided by whichever combatant was lucky enough to score a solid blow first.
Her opponent was moving his blade from side to side in a cutting motion, trying to intimidate her into making a rash move. In reply, Donatella kept her blade held out straight in front of her and was retreating step by careful step along the roof line. She knew that this tactic would fail when she reached the end of the space that she had available to her, so she had to think of something quickly.
An opportunity presented itself. She felt a tile shift under her back foot and she realised that it was loose. She needed to provoke her opponent into a rash lunge so that he would step on the tile before realising it was unsafe. She dropped her guard slightly, and when he thrust forward she disengaged over his blade and nicked the back of his hand with the tip of her dagger in a perfect stramazone cut. It wouldn’t kill him, but it would certainly provoke him.
“You bloody bitch!” he roared, “I’ll stick you good and proper for that” he said and lunged forward attempting to drive his dagger between her ribs.
Donatella danced back two steps and her attacker landed on the loose tile, twisted awkwardly as he tried to keep his balance and then slipped, falling down the slope of the roof to his death on the cobbled street below.
Donatella listened to the sickening thud and shuddered, and realised that she was shaking. She took a deep breath to calm herself before moving. She was, after all, still standing on a narrow strip of slippery and uncertain roof and falling herself would be foolish and pointless.
She turned to face her original direction and saw how little space she had had left. Just a few more paces and she would have fallen off the roof herself. She shuddered again. Now she needed to get down to street level, quickly.
She carefully descended the slope of the roof and looked down into the alley way below. Piled up against one of the walls was a substantial rubbish heap consisting of kitchen waste, scraps of material, old sacking and rotted straw. It wasn’t pleasant, but it would have to do.
She lowered herself from the eaves, feeling again the pain in her arms from when she had been chained to wall of the Inquisition’s torture cell, took a deep breath and let herself drop into the rubbish pile, rolling as she landed.
“Not bad, no bones broken” she said as she stood up and brushed herself down. The rubbish pile was a trifle fragrant, but she was past caring by this stage. Her troubles were not yet over though. The guard who had chosen to track the chase from the ground rather than risk scaling the roof tops now appeared at the end of the alley, with a drawn sword, and was evidently not very happy.
“That was my mate who’s lying in a heap back there, you bitch. I don’t care if they said that they wanted you alive – I’m going to make you pay for what you’ve done.”
Donatella drew her own rapier and quickly wrapped her cloak around her left arm to afford some extra degree of protection. She really did not want this fight.
The guard opened his attack by rushing her, hoping to catch her off guard, but this was a situation that Donatella had trained for and she anticipated it by stepping neatly to the right allowing his sword to pass safely by on her left. The guard quickly realised that he had been foolish in his rash attack, and began circling Donatella in a counter clockwise direction launching probing thrusts along different lines to see how she would react. Donatella held her ground for as long as she dared, parrying attacks as they came in but refusing to reply in kind. She could see that he was starting to get frustrated at being constantly blocked and so she judged that the time was right to show him an opening.
Donatella allowed the tip of her sword to drift out to the right in front of her. It was a subtle move, but one that an opponent might interpret as an opportunity for an attack. The guard had evidently been waiting for such an opportunity and stepped in to make a thrust attack for Donatella’s chest. Instead of stepping away to avoid the attack, she stepped in and used her cloak to wrap and envelop her opponent’s blade. When she had control, she stepped back again neatly lifting the sword from his grasp and in an instinctive reply she made her own thrust attack which landed under his armpit and pierced his right lung.
The guard clutched his side as Donatella pulled her sword free from the sucking grasp of the man’s flesh. He struggled to breath as his lung collapsed and filled with blood, and in a matter of seconds he had collapsed to the floor, unable to make a sound. He would be dead within minutes.
Donatella felt numb with shock. She was a good swords woman, an expert some would say, but her experience had been confined to the training sale with blunted weapons. Prior to this night she had never fought for her life, and now in the space of a handful of minutes she had killed two men. Her need to escape was now greater than ever.
She whispered a mute apology to the dying man on the ground and quickly cleaned the blood from her blade before sheathing it and hiding it under her cloak again. She forced herself to take a breath and left the alley way at a fast walk, not a run.
She headed for the docks, hoping to lose any pursuit in the night time crowd that thronged the taverns and brothels of the area. She became aware that she was being followed, even after ducking in and out of several of the maze like back alley ways that punctuated the buildings. Finally, she resorted to entering a tavern, but the crush was too great to allow her to use it as a through way. She was trapped. She felt a hand touch her arm and she heard a voice say.
“This is a surprise. I’ve been looking for you for some time now.”