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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 104: Slade 83
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"The door is secured against us," one of the men said. "Let us force it open."
"We could do that," Slade answered. "Then they would know we were here, and wake the rest of the guard to fight against us."
"Then what do we do?"
"I have some skills," Slade said, but as the word thief passed into his mind, he thought better not to use it. "Before I was a warrior, I was a mechanic--sort of like an artillerist. I learned how machines work." The man stared at him blankly. "The door is a kind of machine, with several parts that help it do what it's made to do. Since I understand the machine, I can make it work for us. Now, give me a moment to do this."
There was silence, and he fitted a good bar into the lock. Feeling around, he found the lever and began to press it. If he could get it past the stop--
"How do you do that?" the man said.
Don't let it get you, Slade thought. You didn't ask for bright men. Just do the job. What he said was, "It requires some concentration and a lot of thought, plus a bit of practiced skill." Then he turned his attention back to the pick, and felt the bolt shift out of the frame.
The door did not open. Slade remembered; there was a bar on the inside. That was why the door hadn't been guarded; it was barred. Still, that wasn't fatal. Long ago Filp had shown him the tricks of the trade, and although this wasn't one he'd done often, he knew what he was supposed to do. It was time to change tools.
The next tool was a thin strip of metal with a bit of a hooked end. Carefully he examined the planking in the wooden door and the edges around the frame. He knew the height of the bar from having seen it on the other side. He had to get under it, and then raise it up. Finding a spot, he slipped his lift through the crack, and gently but firmly worked it up until he had it. Up, up, up it moved; then he felt the door loosen, and swing open.
"We're in," he said, realizing he was stating the obvious. He passed through the frame into the quiet garden beyond. In a moment the others followed.
"Replace the bar," he said. "There's not much point in locking it. If Acquivar has the key, the lock's no good; even if he doesn't, the bar should hold as well as the lock. If everything goes bad, retreat through the garden out into the city, and vanish there until you can slip out through the gates."
He packed up his tools, and looked over the men.
"The first thing," he said, "is to deal with the men on duty. Most of these, and there won't be many, will be on the wall. When we get to the top, you five," he pointed to one group, "will turn left and work your way around the walls, while the rest of you turn right. Shella and I will be turning right, but we're only going as far as the barracks tower, so we can prevent anyone else from joining the guard on the wall. Anyone you meet has to be silenced and incapacitated. That is, we can't have them raising an alarm, and we can't have them coming after us later. How you do that is your business.
"Once the walls are clear, we'll go down through the barracks tower and capture the sleepers. We can take them from there directly to the prison, where we'll have little trouble holding them for the present. There will be a couple of other people we'll have to deal with after that, but if we get that far, gentlemen, we'll be in very good shape. Let's go."
By now he had his pack back on his back, and he began to ascend the stairs to the top of the wall. He heard the others behind him; but his ears were reaching ahead.
"Also, remember, it's dark, and the people you see aren't going to know you aren't their fellow guards until you get close. Use that to your advantage."
Reaching the top, he stepped out onto the wall, and looked both directions. The soldiers moved out from behind him, and began swiftly sweeping in opposite directions.
As they passed out of hearing, he and Shella were left behind in the darkness. "This could actually work," he said.
"You say that as if you didn't believe it," she replied.
"I never believe it until it happens, I think. I'm not like your father; I don't really make great battle plans. I sort of make it up as I go along, and hope I don't miss something. With the number of things that go wrong, I'm always surprised that I come out all right. Of course, once I didn't, and it will probably happen again, but maybe not tonight. Come, we've got a door to guard." Then, as if there were no problems in the world and no reason ever to rush, he gave his arm to his bride and strolled along the top of the wall to the barracks tower.
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: