Trouble in Proteshi: Part 2

I careened around the corner and saw the man disappear around a turn of the stairs.  Up it was then.  Despite not having seen much of the castle, I knew that there were five floors in total.  We reached the third floor, where Sidi and I had been given quarters, and kept on going.  I was out of shape and breathing hard.  Too much time spent on boats lately and not enough training.  I could hear my target above me, pounding up the steps, only a turn or so ahead of me, and then, nothing.  He’d stopped on the fourth floor. 

I charged around the final corner, expecting to see the assassin ready to attack, but instead I was confronted by a short corridor that ended in a door, a door that was just swinging closed.  I sprinted forward, my glaive held loosely in my right hand and once more smashed a door off its hinges.  I skidded to a halt just beyond the door as I was confronted by two of the Royal Guard, shields at the ready and swords drawn.  Just beyond them stood the assassin, still wearing armour like theirs.

“That’s the Assassin!”  The actual assassin shouted,  “He’s trying to kill the King!”

 

I hadn’t expected this.  I probably should have.

“I am no assassin!”  I told the Guardsmen firmly.  “My name is Taril Walanni, Captain of Lord Walanni’s escort.  That man is the assassin!”

 

It was as if they hadn’t heard me.  The two Guardsmen rushed forward while the assassin stepped back.  He waved at me and started walking away.  I growled in anger as I jumped back through the door, forcing the two warriors to come through one at a time.  I didn’t want to kill either of them, they were just doing what they were supposed to, but I couldn’t spare the time to be careful.  I needed to end this fight now.

As the first guardsman came through the door, I feinted high with my glaive and stabbed low, the blade slicing into the man’s right calf.  He shouted in pain as his leg collapsed under him.  To his credit, he kept his shield up and his sword ready.  I flicked a hand in his direction, and he slid back through the door, taking the legs out from the second guard.  I rushed through and stabbed the steel shod butt of my glaive down on second guard’s ankle, feeling the bones break as I did so.  Two guards down, and both alive.  I was rather proud of that.  The assassin looked back and saw that I’d disabled the two guards.  A look of annoyance crossed his face and he ran to the end of the corridor and turned the corner.  I followed him, running towards the corner, and heard him shout out again.

“Assassin!  Come to kill the King!”

I barrelled around the corner and saw another two guardsmen waiting for me, the assassin again standing behind them, backing towards another stairwell.  The two guardsmen rushed me, their swords drawn.  I’d had enough of this, I gathered my Will and knocked them from their feet, smashing them into the wall, leaving them alive, but hurt. 

“Drop your weapons!”  I shouted at the assassin.  “You’ve nowhere to go!”

The assassin sneered at me and tossed his bow aside.  He drew his sword, a large two-handed thing that I’d seen some of the Royal Guard carry, and charged at me.

I slid aside from his first attack, a long cut from high to low, and thrust my glaive forward, meaning to thrust my blade into him, just below his breastplate.  He countered with sidestep and an economical block.  And so it went, cut, thrust, block and parry, back and forth over and over as we circled each other.  After a few minutes we were both sweating freely, rarely had I been pushed this hard. 

I gritted my teeth and pushed through my tiredness, driving the assassin back towards the wall.  He realised what I was doing though and slipped my next attack.  He parried the thrust and drove his shoulder into my chest, throwing me off my feet.  As I hit the ground, he strode forward, and his sword arced down, aimed at my legs.  I gathered my mental energies and threw him back.  He flailed his arms and legs as he shot backwards and crashed to the floor, as I picked myself up.  I had meant for him to hit the wall, but I was getting tired. 

I threw my glaive at him, but despite being shaken, he rolled aside, and the weapon missed.  I recalled the weapon to my hand, and almost fumbled it.  I had to finish this fast.  The assassin was on his hands and knees, trying to stand up.  I had him.  I pushed through my fatigue and took two steps towards him.  The assassin looked at me and a wall of flame materialised between us. 

I could feel the furnace like heat radiating from it and took an involuntary step back.  I could feel my armour starting to heat up, even the stone walls were starting to radiate the heat.  I couldn’t fight this.  I took another step backwards and as I did, the assassin rushed through the wall, his sword ready, and thrust forward.  His blade slid into my flesh, high on my left shoulder.  I shouted in pain and made to thrust my glaive into him with my right arm, my left now useless, but he grabbed the shaft of the weapon and pulled it out of my hand.  I kicked him in the knee with my heavy boots and he swore in pain and jerked back, pulling his blade from my shoulder.  I lurched backwards and drew my sabre righthanded.  I wasn’t going down without taking him with me. 

The assassin nodded briefly, a gesture of respect, I assumed.  I spat on the ground, letting him know what I thought of his respect and he narrowed his eyes.  I could feel blood trickling down my left arm as it hung useless at my side.  Time wasn’t on my side.  I took a breath, but before either of us could make a move, a shout from the far end of the corridor interrupted us. 

A quick glance over the assassin’s shoulder showed two more of the Royal Guard running towards us.  The king himself was pressed to the wall beside the stairwell, with Lord Aradus beside him.  Aradus had a sword of his own, drawn and ready to protect his King.  This was going from bad to worse.

“The assassin!”  Aradus shouted to the two guardsmen.  “Kill him!”

The guardsmen ran towards us, leaving Aradus to guard the King.  I threw myself forward, hoping to distract the assassin until the guardsmen could reach us, but the assassin swept my sword aside and hammered his sword’s pommel down on my head.  I hit the wall, hard, and discovered when I tried to push off it, that it was actually the floor.  Everything got very hazy, very fast.  I looked up and saw the assassin kill the first guard and then wound the second before turning around and leaping out a window.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  I was going to live.

I saw Aradus sheath his sword and relax, the King beside him.

I saw Aradus bend down and pick up my glaive and glance in my direction.

Everything went dark for a moment.  I struggled against it and manage to rouse myself again, and saw my glaive, in Aradus’s hands, slice through the King’s throat.  Everything went dark again.

Once again, I managed to beat back the darkness and found Aradus on one knee beside my head.

“Still alive then.”  He muttered.  “You really are a tough son of a bitch.  Well that clearly won’t do.”

A clattering of feet on the stairwell caused him to roll his eyes and growl in annoyance.  He stood up, stepped back from me and drew his sword again.

“Over here!”  He shouted.  “The King is dead!  I’ve captured the assassin!”

*

I woke sometime later, lying on a stone floor.  I looked around groggily and assessed my situation.  My armour was gone, and I was wearing only my small clothes.  I had a steel collar around my neck that was chained to the wall.  My shoulder wound had been bandaged and judging by how it pulled when I tried to move, it had been stitched.  I shuffled painfully back towards the rear wall of my cell and sat up slowly.  I could feel bruises on my sides, legs and arms.  I didn’t remember getting them during the fight, so I could only surmise that I’d not been kindly treated during my unwilling sleep.  I could also surmise, by how much they hurt, that they’d been inflicted at least a day earlier, at least. 

“This is why you don’t trust foreigners.”  I muttered.  “Nothing good comes of it.”

I sighed and composed myself.  I had to know what was going on, and there was only one person who could do that, if he still lived.  I hoped he did.

“Father.”  I cast.  “Can you hear me?”

I waited for what seemed like hours.  The silence in the vaults of my mind grew louder and louder.  He couldn’t be dead.  The wound hadn’t seemed mortal.  Serious yes, but not deadly.  And yet, why had he not answered? 

“My son.  I had thought you dead.” 

I almost wept in relief.  He was still alive.  His cast was weak though and had been tinged with what I thought was anger.

“I, too, worried for you.  Father, I am chained in a cell.”

“Is that so?  Perhaps I should leave you there to consider what you’ve done.  You have ruined years of planning.  Years!”  Sidi cast angrily.

“What I’ve done?  Father!  I didn’t kill the King!  Surely you believe that?” 

“It doesn’t matter.  You were found with the King’s body after the assassin fled.  As matters stand, we are now, unofficially, discouraged from leaving the ship.”

“It wasn’t the assassin either father!  It was Aradus.”

“Aradus?!”  My father snapped.  “That conniving little weasel.  Too soon!  Too damn soon!”

My father was obviously still weak from his wounds.  He was muttering to himself, something he never, ever, did. 

“Too soon father?  What is too soon?”

“Never mind.  Open your mind to me, I want to see how you were foolish enough to be captured.”

That hurt.  I trained as hard as anyone I knew, harder even.  Father knew that.  I angrily opened my mind and felt his mind connect with mine.  I could feel him reliving what I’d seen and done between the feast and now.  It didn’t take long.

“Perhaps it wasn’t entirely your fault.”  My father allowed, as he withdrew from my mind.  “The assassin was a Sorcerer, an Illusionist.  A strong one for you to have felt his flames.”

I cursed and punched the floor.  I knew about Illusionists.  Sidi had taught me everything he knew about Sorcerers.  Masters of the mind, he called us.  Mentalists.  The power to affect people and objects around us with nothing more than a thought.  Illusionists, he said, were the most insidious, able to make people see exactly what the Illusionist wanted.  He claimed that it took a strong mind to pierce their web of lies.

“I’m sorry, Father.  I failed you and failed to take you warnings seriously enough.  I should have beaten him.”

“Perhaps next time you’ll remember my lessons.  Enough!  What is done is done.  Get yourself free and get to the ship.  I’ll have the captain get ready to sail.”

“Yes Father.” 

I felt the connection die and again I was on my own.  Despite my bruising and soreness, my mental strength had returned and I felt sure that I could escape.  Sidi expected no less.  I closed my eyes for a moment and centred myself, walling away the pain for now.  There would be plenty of time later to suffer.  I had failed my father once, I would not do so now.

I concentrated on the metal collar, carefully, a wrong move now could kill me.  The metal squealed in protest as I stretched it and with a snap it split, and the collar fell to the ground.  I took a hold of the long chain and with another thought I ripped it out of the wall.   I could hear a door open outside in the corridor.  I must have made too much noise.  Well there was no helping it now.  I sat back on the floor and leaned back against where the chain had been embedded in the wall, hiding the damage.  The remnants of the collar I placed on my neck, hoping that the guard wouldn’t notice that it was split.

A moment later a guard arrived outside my cell and glanced through the bars.  I had my eyes half closed, pretending to sleep.  He looked satisfied and turned to go.  I reached out with my mind and grabbed him, and then slammed him back against the bars of my cell.  He slumped to the ground, unconscious.  Jumping up, I ran to where he lay against the bars and found a set of keys on his belt.  Several attempts later, I was outside my cell, armed with a wooden cudgel and the chain that had bound me to the wall.  The guard’s pants were looser than I liked but they were better than what I had.  His boots though, were too small.  I tossed them aside and after dragging the unconscious guard into the cell, I locked him in there and made my way cautiously towards the only door in the corridor.  A gentle test revealed it to be locked, as I expected.  I was sure there’d be more guards outside.  How many, I didn’t know but I guessed one on duty and maybe another two nearby. 

I took a few steps back from the door and blew it off it’s hinges.  I sprinted through, cudgel ready and chain wrapped around my left forearm, as a sort of impromptu shield.  As I had thought, there had been one guard outside the door.  He was bleeding heavily, wounded from fragments of the door.  Two guards had run out of a room a few metres away, one ran towards me, sword in hand while the other ran away, probably going to get help.  I pulled the legs out from under the fleeing guard with a quick thought and he crashed to the ground.  I intercepted the sword of the charging guard with the cudgel and slammed my chain wrapped forearm into his throat.  The guard gagged and fell back, but in fairness to him, he stayed on his feet.  He tried another attack, but I struck out with the chain and snagged his sword arm.  I surged in and a quick rap of the cudgel lay him out on the ground.  The other guard was back on his feet, but I charged him and bore him to the ground.  The cudgel again did its thing and I was able to finally draw a breath.

I stuck my head into the room the two extra guards had been in, and found a small chamber with a table, two chairs, and some food and ale.  I dragged the two unconscious men in to the room and ate all the food I could find.  Fighting and using my abilities took a lot of energy and I was starving.

A quick meal of cold stew and I almost felt normal again.  I found a pair of boots that fit and a plain pants and tunic.  I unlocked the door at the end of the corridor and locked it again behind me.  Hopefully no one would notice anything amiss until the next shift change.  I kept the cudgel tucked into the sleeve of the tunic, the chain I had left behind.  I figured that the easiest way to get out would be to stow away under a cart leaving the castle or get access to the wall and climb down the outside.  Both were risky, but short of bribing a guard with money I didn’t have, there was no other way. 

I found my way to a spiral staircase and cautiously climbed upwards.  A few turns and I found myself in a corridor that, judging from the smells, led to the kitchen.  If my memory was correct, there was a small door that led from the kitchen out into the courtyard, near the stables.  At least I think that’s where Uksem said it went. He’d been talking about some serving girl or other that he’d followed, in hopes of a quick tumble in the hay.  Trusting to the drink blurred memory, I walked towards the kitchen.  I had to get through it quickly, before anyone there wondered why I was lurking around the place.

I ducked through a door into the very busy kitchen.  I pushed past several servants and found the door I sought, more by luck than anything else.  My ancestors were smiling on me!  I pushed open the door and sure enough, the stables lay just across the wide expanse of the courtyard.  I was surprised to find that it was early evening.  It had felt like it was much earlier in the day.  Maybe I was more battered than I thought.  I paused in the shadow of the door, watching the comings and goings.  The gate was busy, several wagons were passing in through the gate.  Any hope of being able to walk out was lost.  The guards were examining the wagons and the drivers closely.  Considering their King had been murdered, I supposed I should have expected it.  I was going to have to attempt the wall.  If I could get to the top I was sure I’d be able to cushion my fall on the other side.  Forty feet or so was more than I wanted to jump, but I didn’t have a choice.

I eyed the castle’s outer wall and the two towers that I could see.  The wall could be accessed from any of the seven towers, but from my position, only two were in reach.  I weighed up my odds and picked the closest.  It would mean I’d be in sight of the gate guards for longer, but only if they happened to look in my direction.  I picked up a discarded wooden crate from beside the door and lofted it on to my shoulders.  Hopefully if I were seen they’d just assume I was carrying supplies to the tower.  I walked with purpose and confidence across the open courtyard and arrived at the tower door.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I pushed it open and stepped inside. 

So far so good.  I spotted another of those odd spiral staircases and dropped the crate by the door.  I hiked up those damn stairs and their uneven steps until I arrived at another door.  By my estimation I was about level with the walkway at the top of the wall.  I pushed in the door, stepped into a small room lit by a few torches, and froze.  Several guards were sitting around a table throwing dice.  One of them glanced up at me and then back to the dice.  I hardly dared to breathe.  I’d already noticed two other doors in the room.  Certain that both led out on to the wall.  I picked the nearest one and strode towards it.  The dice rattled on the table and one of the men cursed.  As I made it to the door I heard a faint shout from somewhere outside.  It was past time I was gone.  I pulled open the door and walked out on to the wall, closing the door behind me.  More shouting, from the courtyard.  I looked around and saw armed men running out of the kitchen door.  One of them looked up and I saw him point right at me. 

“Too late.”  I muttered.

I leant over the wall, looking towards the ground outside the castle wall.  Forty feet had never looked so far.  With a quick prayer to my ancestors, I rolled over the top of the wall and dropped like a stone towards the street below.

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© ODunin 2020