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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 101: Slade 82
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Previous chapter: Chapter 100: Hastings 126
When Slade reached the outer wall of the city, he was not certain of the time, but thought it probably a bit later than he had hoped. They had swung wide around Acquivar's army, and for the first part of their journey he had kept them parallel to but off the road. Much of his plan depended on secrecy. If they were observed and identified, the castle could easily be reinforced against them faster than they could breach its defenses, and this would swiftly become a fool’s errand. Travel off the road was not as swift, and after a couple hours Slade decided the risks had shifted, and speed was more important than secrecy.
Now as they stood at the base of the city wall, it was time to inform his troops of the plan. It was rather simple, really. Using Filp's crossbow and grapple, he would climb to the top of the wall. Once he had secured the rope to something more solid than a grappling hook, the others would climb to join him. Shella would be able to watch the top, and so would tell each when it was his turn; they would draw her up last. Everyone was to maintain a low profile on the walls, to avoid being spotted, and then all would drop down by the same rope into the city. Once they were in, he would explain the next step; if he didn't make it, Shella knew what to do.
It took him two tries to get a secure grapple on the walls, but once he had it it was a simple matter to scale to the top. He was getting better at this, he thought, even now. Then he found a solid bit of iron bracing, tied the rope to it securely, and waited. In a moment, the rope grew taut.
There were no guards at this point on the wall. Slade scanned each direction, wondering whether they were making rounds or merely taken off post to join the lines. He then thought he should hurry the process, and so took his own climbing rope, secured it to a separate brace, and lowered it. Clearly Shella was watching, as the rope drew taut almost as soon as it fell. Now the first of his soldiers cleared the top, and the third started on that rope, and so each ascended.
Drawing up Shella was not a problem; Slade could have done it easily himself, but got one of the other men to anchor him in case he slipped.
"Now," he said as he moved the lines, "down the other side. Shella first."
One of the men asked, "Won't the lady have to tell us when the rope is free?"
"Not a problem. I'll know when you're down. Shella?" Again with someone backing him up, he lowered her to the ground, sending one of the soldiers down on the other rope at the same time. Two more followed, then two more, until there was one. "That rope," he said, pointing to the one without the grapple. "I've got to untie this one before I descend." Then he was alone on the wall.
He quickly untied the grapple, wrapped the rope, and reloaded everything. He saw his other rope grow slack, and knew it was time.
Before he did anything else, he surveyed the sleeping city below. A lot depended on his ability to find that back door; they were lost in the city for quite a while when they came out of it, and there weren't many landmarks he would recognize. This was the right side of the city, or that's what he believed. Speed was still important.
He quickly tied a sheepshank in the remaining rope and cut the center cord. It was risky, but as long as the rope stayed taut it should hold. He didn't want to leave the rope behind, and if he did it this way the rope would let go when he did. It had occurred to him that he might be able to untie it by magic; but not all the magic he knew worked in this world, and he was not certain whether that particular trick was possible. Thus prepared, he went down the line, remembering to use both the wall and the rope all the way to the ground.
Reaching the bottom, he gave the rope a couple of flips, sending slack up the line, until the far end released and the rope fell. Several of the soldiers seemed, in a word, astonished.
"What sort of magic is that?" one of them asked.
Slade laughed. "The sort of magic that comes with knowledge, knowing what knot will do the job you want to do when you need it, and having enough confidence in your knowledge to trust your life to it. Now, as soon as I get this coiled, we can continue."
He began to coil the rope, and again considered that he had only a vague idea of how the next step worked. They had to find the door. His instinct suggested it was around the back of the castle--that made the most sense, given which way they had gone to reach it. He did not know exactly how to get there.
"There's a door. Prince Acquivar's castle has a back door. We brought Phasius out through it--I don't think he knows that, at least, not yet. It was unguarded, and the lock is simple enough. We're going to find that door, and slip into the castle that way."
"It hardly seems chivalrous," one of the men said.
"Maybe not," Slade replied, as he remembered Torelle. "Then again, it's hardly chivalrous to murder your wife and marry her best friend. We can't expect Acquivar to play fair, now, can we?"
"Just because we expect him to cheat, do we have the right to cheat also?"
"Certainly not," Slade said; it was the clearly expected answer, and he felt he'd better give it. However, he was not at all certain how to explain it. Once again, Shella came to his rescue.
"My father was a great warrior, Baron Torelle of Corlander. He often spoke to my brothers about war. 'Always look for your opponent's weaknesses, and use them against him,' he would say. Acquivar has left his flank unguarded. If that flank were on the battlefield, you would strike against it and count it a fair advantage. In this case, that flank is the unguarded back door of his fortress and the princess he left behind."
"I see," the man said. Slade was already back to wondering how to find the door.
"May the Norns guide my steps," he again said.
Suddenly a thought came to his mind. "Shella," he said, "you were watching us come out of that back door. Do you think you know where it is well enough to get us to it?"
"Didn't you just pray for direction?" one of the men asked.
"Yeah, I did," Slade said. "And maybe I got it. Shella?"
There was a moment of thought on her face, and then she smiled. "Of course. It's really rather simple. Remember: you came up the steps from the barracks to the wall; that was the same wall you'd climbed to get in, so that's this wall. Reaching the top, you turned toward the rear of the castle--that's away from us--and rushed to the corner tower, where you disappeared for a moment in the darkness."
"Yeah, that bit of darkness saved us, I'd say."
"Then you continued along the back to the next tower, and went down to the garden. The door was in the garden; so it has to be next to that tower."
She obviously had her father's keen abilities to reason. It made such perfect sense Slade was almost embarrassed he hadn't realized it. She continued.
"We can't see the tower from here, because we're on the wrong side of the castle; and it might be difficult to see from much of the town. But once we get around that side, we should be able see the tower, at least from some positions."
Slade smiled. He almost said something; she must have seen it in his face, because she said, "I know."
He wasted no more time, but struck out afoot toward the castle, always toward the back, but closing the gap as they went. At times he trotted, eager to get inside while he still had whatever remained of the night. There was no night watch; the prince clearly did not wish to leave men behind for it. There was no wandering the city this time. They could see the castle whenever there was a break in the buildings around them. Soon they were there. It was not possible to walk the base of the wall, as many houses were built directly on it; but it was easy enough to parallel the wall until it ended, and turn behind it to find the tower. Soon they were beside the door, and Slade was opening his pack to procure his tools, the oversized lock picks Filp had long ago taught him to use. At the moment, it depended on him. If he could not open the door, they were stuck in perhaps the worst place they could be.
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 #202: Verser Confrontations. 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: