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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 49: Slade 63
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The faint image in the mirror did not reveal much; but the movement Slade saw could only be two men walking. The dim light of the night sky reflected on bits of armor. They were coming toward the tower, the stairs, the rather poor hiding place in which the threesome were standing. In a moment, it would come to blows.
If that moment came, Slade needed to be ready. He pocketed the mirror, turned off the flashlight, and drew his sword. Filp was behind Phasius on the stairs; he could not count on either of them, at least until he cleared the door. The moment the door opened, he would have to kill one, and then engage the other quickly enough that he would not have time to cry out. They were about to lose their cloak of secrecy; all they could hope was that it would last long enough for them to get Phasius off the wall. Yes, Phasius had to go out first. The mission was about him. Filp should go second; Slade's life was easy to sacrifice, if he could rely on Filp to finish the mission. It would all change in a flash from burglary to riot, but they still had a chance.
He could now hear voices and movement beyond the door, the sound of heavy boots and creaking armor. They were approaching. Wait for it, he thought, but he steadied his stance and raised his sword. In seconds the tramping and talking reached the door. Slade lowered his weight, ready to spring forward.
The door did not open. The voices began to fade, the tramping continued beyond them. The battle was not joined.
As he released his breath, he realized he had been holding it. Apparently his companions had been equally tense, as he heard each of them abruptly return to breathing. He waited another moment to be sure, then sheathed his sword and again drew out his flashlight and mirror. All was still.
Stepping quietly onto the battlement, Slade peered through the night after the now unseen soldiers who had just marched past them. "Where do you suppose they're going?" he asked.
"No clue," Filp said. "Should I care?"
Something was bothering Slade, but he couldn't put his finger on it. "Guess not.
"I suppose," he continued, "that we're going to have to somehow fasten Phasius to the rope and lower him; then we're going to have to get down to make sure he's on the ground. But probably not from here; this spot is a bit too public, what with the barracks door on our backs."
"Agreed," Filp said, and Slade started walking in the same direction as the guards.
What was it that bothered him about them? It was expected that guards would make regular rounds of the walls; that was why guards were up here, the very reason they had had to be so careful when they entered. These guards weren't making routine rounds. They were moving too fast; they were distracted by their conversation. They had the sort of purposeful movement of men who were going somewhere. Where were they going? They could not be coming on duty, because they had not come up from the barracks. They were not going off duty, because they weren't going to the barracks. Both the dungeon and the treasury were below; they weren't headed that direction. They also weren't headed toward the front gate. What might there be in a castle that you would send two guards to check in the middle of the night, but wouldn't keep constantly guarded--particularly given that there was no evidence they guarded or even checked the dungeon or treasury, beyond that you had to get past the barracks to reach them?
"Don't take out that rope yet," Slade said. "I have an idea."
The mirror scanned ahead. As he anticipated, the guards took a door in another tower. The light of a torch now shone in the glass, and he watched them descend a spiral staircase similar to the one by the barracks.
At the bottom the scene opened into what appeared a walled garden. The men rather casually flashed the torch around, as if checking something just beyond what Slade could see in his mirror. They then seemed satisfied, and started back up the steps.
"Those two men are coming back," he said. "We need them to pass us, and then we're going where they went."
In the ensuing silence, he fancied he could feel Filp staring at the back of his head. He knew what he was doing.
"They're already on their way back; we must hide quickly. What do you see?"
"I see a lot of open space is what I see," Filp said. "Let's see, where can we hide? Oh, I know! Let's just stand here and hope they mistake us for decorations."
Slade turned toward Filp. "You know, that's almost right. I think we can do something very like that. Quickly, this way." And he rushed forward.
At the corner of the castle was a sheltered parapet, wider than the battlements and partially walled. With very little time to spare, Slade moved to the darker inner corner, and got his companions to stand against the wall. Quietly he whispered, "Torkon chiana sinvillan, tau settick goron vien," and the darkness around them grew considerably darker.
It was a calculated risk. Even as the tromping feet approached and the casual voices came into range, Slade realized that they might pass through his field of darkness, and realize that they couldn't see. They had abandoned the torch, though, and it would seem natural enough to them for the enclosure to be darker than the walls. If they didn't actually walk into the dark area (which Slade for once hoped was not so large) they might not be aware of it.
It worked. The men were so intent on their discussion and so fixed in their routine that they passed through the room without breaking cadence in step or voice. Slade let them fade before speaking.
"Carefully walk forward, away from the wall, and in a few steps you should be able to see again." He followed his own advice, and was soon standing in the dim light of the shelter. Filp emerged next, then Phasius.
"Where'd you learn that?" Filp said.
"One of Omigger's books, of course. I used it once before on a space ship, and really confused them. Anyway, time to go."
It was not much farther to the other tower; soon they were descending the dark stairs again by Slade's flashlight. They emerged in the garden, as Slade had seen. Shining the light on the surrounding stone, he found what he sought: a panel of oak.
"It seems Acquivar's castle," he said, "has a back door."
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #180: Versers Focus. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: