THIS. Was fun. =P I edited the last few paragraphs of chapter twenty nine so it made more sense *nods* So I’m re-posting them too =P So yea. Here you go =D
…Behind me, a jingle of keys indicated that Netya had recovered from her shock. Hearing the sound as well, the warden suddenly jumped to attention, pushing Thalon aside. Netya quickly thrust her hands behind her inside her cloak, hiding the guilty evidence of the key ring.
Upon seeing Netya standing beside me, the warden gasped, shaking his head. “Well, well. Two of ‘em, ‘eh? Dandy…There’s plenty here for the both of us.” Laughing good-naturedly, he gave Thalon a hearty slap on the back, nearly knocking him over. Then, grabbing Netya’s arm in one hand, he led her away from the gate. She tried to twist away, keeping her hands hidden behind her back as the strong grip of the warden pulled her across the room and pushed her down on his wide stone chair.
“Now,” he said, sitting himself heavily on the ground before her, “What may your name be? And how did two such lovely ladies get stuck with…that fellow?” he asked us genially, indicating Thalon with a nod of his head. “Everyone here calls me Warden,” he continued without waiting for an answer. “But,” he winked at Netya, “You may call me by my real name. Tugo, it is. What may I call you?”
Rain Of Curses
Recovering my wits finally after the strange reaction of the warden to our presence, I reached beneath my cloak, gripping the hilt of my sword. I took a step forward behind the giant man sitting on the ground before Netya. I caught her eye, drawing my sword slowly. As Tugo turned again towards the food left on the barrel, Netya shook her head hard at me. Confused, I let my sword slide silently back into the sheath.
Thalon stepped to my side, leaning down to whisper in my ear as the warden’s attention was distracted. “Don’t fight. Not yet. He might be…useful. He doesn’t seem to mean us any harm, at least as yet. Wait.”
I nodded, letting my cloak fall back to cover the glint of my sword. Tugo, finished with his appraisal of the contents of the barrel top, pushed himself up again, going to the door of the small guard room that opened into the rock beside the gate. “Don’ go anywheres!” he said happily over his shoulder, disappearing into the doorway. His voice floated back out to us, echoing slightly in the stone. A minute later he reappeared, arms laden with a package and a heavy flask. Depositing his burden on the barrel top, Tugo turned again, going back into the guard room and reappearing with another empty barrel on his shoulder. He set it down by the first, narrating the entire time.
“There now,” he said as he situated the barrels, “We have a proper good table, ‘eh? Such a lovely guest as yourself calls for another feast!” He smiled widely at Netya, where she still sat motionless on the stone seat, hands clenched behind her. He paused, obviously waiting for a response. Netya glanced up at him, giving him a frightened, uncomfortable smile. Tugo’s grin grew even bigger, and he continued on, talking happily almost to himself as he looked away and opened his package, unheedful of the soft jingle as Netya pulled the key ring back out from the depths of her cloak, placing it softly on the chair behind her. “Ah, good. Now, just look at these here victuals, my dear. Much better quality than what the soldiers normally get! I must say, I did have a bit of a time gettin’ ‘em, but then I have special relations with the guy in charge of the rations,” he winked slyly at Thalon and I, and motioned towards the barrels. “Do sit down now! You’re my guests too, I suppose…although this lovely lady is much more pleasant company than…you…” he said slowly, looking skeptically at the bruises marking Thalon’s skin and sitting down himself beside Netya.
Smiling charmingly up at her, he continued his perfectly serious monologue. “This here’s some o’ the best bread you’ll find in the fortress. Fresh made, too! It’s not even quite a week old yet, it is. Oh yes, quite fresh. It’s even still a bit soft in the middle. Now, you don’t get that in normal soldiers’ fare, do you? Of course not. And here,” he added, picking up the wineglass and wiping it out with the hem of his dirty tunic, “Here, this is for you, my lady.” Pulling the cork lovingly out of the large flask, he tipped it gently, spilling a bright fall of wine into the cup. Setting it before Netya, he said, “This is the finest wine in the forest! Don’ ask where the Master gets it. I ha’n’t a clue. The rations master gived it to me, for a pretty price, too.”
Turning suddenly on Thalon, Tugo raised his hand, shaking his finger menacingly. “Now, don’ you go spreadin’ the news of this all through the barracks, soldier! This here’s my own little stash of happiness, and I don’ want no dirty bunch of men graspin’ at me all day to get at it! So you just keep mum, see, or I’ll never hear the last of it, and you’ll never feel the last of it,” he exclaimed, grinding his huge fist meaningfully in the palm of his other hand. Suddenly cheerful again, he pressed the cork back into the flask, petting it blissfully. “Now, dig in! Fall to! Er…enjoy yersel’ now,” Tugo said, taking his own advice and grabbing the entire loaf of bread, ripping a piece off and beginning to eat ravenously.
Netya glanced helplessly over Tugo’s bent head at Thalon and I. I motioned urgently toward the gate. Each moment we delayed meant another moment spent inside Pethnor’s grasp. The warden seemed innocent enough, too infatuated with Netya to realize what he really was seeing: Three children trying to find their way from the dungeons in which they belonged and break from the jail Pethnor placed them in. However, I knew that as soon as he realized what we were about, he would not hesitate in calling down the guards on our heads, out of duty if not malice.
Thalon glanced between Netya and I, and I could see his thoughts flying a hundred miles an hour behind his eyes. The moments passed, inching by like centipedes through the dark rocky cave. The torches on the wall, flickering sickly, cast grotesque shadows over the barrel tops, contrasting sinisterly with the cheerful, childlike manner of the giant who sat before us, face turned down towards the food. His tunic, stretched wide from far too many solitary meals in the guardroom, masked his jovial nature behind a black lynx, rearing in defiance of the sun it devoured, outlined and soaked in bloody crimson.
Finally, Netya shifted her position and looked up, catching my gaze. She nodded slightly, taking a deep breath and turning towards the warden, who still sat gleefully chewing. Coughing to get the man’s attention, Netya spoke carefully. “I’m sorry…Tugo…but we really must be going. This feast is quite…quite wonderful, I’m sure, but I’m afraid we can’t stay to enjoy it.”
Looking suddenly up, the warden swallowed, speaking through a mouthful of food. “Wha’? Now see here, miss. Look–…Lookie here! You can’t do that! Yer my guests! Ya have ta stay! I don’ get many people comin’ special to see me, you know. How come you has to go so soon like? What can be so pressing as all that, ‘eh?” he asked, smiling graciously and sidling closer to Netya, who flinched away.
Thalon stood up suddenly, nodding at Netya. “Yes, I’m afraid we really do have to go. Your hospitality is very kind, Tugo, but we are in a rush. It would not be wise for you to be seen with us,” he said, reaching down and pulling me up. Netya stood as well, grabbing the ring of keys behind her and holding it still concealed in the folds of her cloak. Thalon pulled me beside him, starting to back slowly towards the gate. His grip hurt my arm, and I looked up at him. I could see fire smoldering in his glance. Netya went quickly to the gate behind us, searching again for the correct key. Her hands shook in her haste. We all knew that soon the truth would seep at last into the warden’s thick skull, and our cover would be blown.
Staring up at us from where he still sat, one hand clutching a large chunk of bread and the other wrapped about the stem of the wineglass, Tugo continued protesting loudly. “You can’t just go off like that! I don’ even know yer names yet! Now that ain’t proper etiquette! I’s told you my name, now you must tell me your’n! What be yer name, little miss?” he asked desperately, stepping forward and looking sadly at Netya.
She jumped away from the gate, still striving to conceal her purpose. “I…my…my name?” she stammered, looking with fresh loathing at the warden.
“Aye! ‘S what I said. What be it? Such a lovely thing as you must ha’ a pretty one. What be yer name?” Tugo asked again, an almost plaintive, pleading note creeping into his voice.
Netya hesitated a moment, then looked away, answering fiercely with her back turned. “Merce. My name is Merce.”
“Merce…” Tugo said, turning the name over in his mind. “Merce. Aye, that’s a pretty ‘un. Now, me dear Merce, you can’t just go leavin’ now! Now as I’ve just learned yer name an’ all. An’…an’ besides,” he pronounced in triumph, standing up and grinning. “You can’t leave. The gate’s locked. And you don’ ha’ the key!” He sprang across the room to the hook on the wall where Netya had taken the ring of keys.
As Tugo stopped suddenly with surprise at finding the hook empty, Thalon stepped quickly back to the barrels, grabbing the warden’s sword and belt where they still leaned beside the stone chair. Buckling the belt about his waist hurriedly, he drew the blade, stepping back beside Netya and I at the gate. Tugo froze as he heard the ring of steel behind him and turned slowly to face us. Thalon spoke softly. “Yes, the gate’s locked. But there your accuracy ends. Because we can leave. We do have the key.”
As he spoke, Netya fitted the last key on the ring into the rusty lock on the thick bars. Grasping the stem of the key with both hands, she turned it roughly, grating in the lock. The gate swung slowly outward.
I smiled in triumph as the three of us backed out of the dungeon mouth, Tugo standing silent in open-mouthed shock as he watched. The gate clanged softly shut behind us, and Netya reached carefully back through the bars, locking it and drawing the ring of keys out again. Thalon nodded in approval, and we turned up the empty street, walking softly, then running towards the dim light of late dawn that shone in through the mouth of the cavern, twisting around the buildings to greet us.
Behind us, I heard the gate creak as Tugo threw himself at the bars. His voice echoed after us, first softly, then mounting to a great yell. “Merce! Merce! Wait! Ya can’t…! Merce!” he paused for a moment, and I glanced back. Tugo’s face through the bars looked suddenly hostile and angry as he spoke again, bellowing after us. “A prison-break. A prison-break! Tha’s what you is! Guards! Guards! Prison-break! Guards! How coul’ I ha’ missed it? Right beneath me nose, you was! Guards!”
I jerked my eyes away, concentrating on the path before me, as yet still empty of Pethnor’s soldiers. Thalon and Netya ran beside me, and together we slipped hurriedly off the main road, weaving in between the cold stone houses as we ran towards the opening of the cavern, the wall, and then freedom.
Netya panted beside me as we ran, the heavy ring still grasped in her hand. “Last…key. Why…Why is it always…the last key?”
Even as the warden shouted after us, brandishing his fist through the bars of his prison, hurling curses on our heads and shouting for Pethnor himself, I could not stop myself from laughing.