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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 33: Slade 11
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Previous chapter: Chapter 32, Kondor 11
As he stood staring up the stone wall of the castle, Slade saw the dark star-filled sky beyond. He had never realized how many stars there were. But the voice of his companion brought him back to earth.
"We could climb this wall. Castle walls are actually easy." Filp seemed to be getting into being a teacher. "Everyone thinks they're sheer smooth walls, but they aren't. First, they're made of stone, and the stone is rough and not well fitted. If they were made of brick, that would be tougher, but brick doesn't withstand battering as well, so stone is used. That means there are cracks and ledges, and it's easy to get your fingers and toes into things. Besides, in order for the thing to be stable, the top of the wall has to be narrower than the bottom, and that means the whole thing slopes back slightly, and you can lie on it. If they didn't do it that way, the wall could just fall over from its own weight."
Slade frowned. "So, we're going to creep up this wall to the top?"
"No," Filp answered. "We could do that, but it would take too long tonight, and you might fall. It takes a lot of practice to be able to do it, and it's a useful thing to know, but it's quicker to do it this way." With that, he produced a grappling hook which fitted into an oversized crossbow he'd brought. "Special equipment--this cost me quite a bit." Firing the missile, he watched it fly, and then abruptly yanked the trailing rope. It hung, draped against the wall. "Watch how I do this, and then follow after I've gotten over the top. Remember, the rope is good, but you don't want your life hanging from it. Too many things could go wrong--that hook could slip, a weak spot could snap--well, watch how I do it."
He proceeded to pull himself up along the wall, scrambling with his feet to find footholds, sometimes using a free hand on the wall, but always keeping tension on the rope and leaning on the wall. The few minutes it took seemed interminably long to the impatient Slade, but the thief soon reached the top, where he seemed to hesitate before pulling himself over the ledge into the castle. Then Slade followed.
If it had seemed to take forever for Filp to make the climb, there was no word for the time it seemed to take for Slade. He began to wonder if he would ever make it to the top, if the sun would rise and reveal him hanging on a rope on the wall. But he inched his way up, a foothold here, a handhold there, a tug on the rope. Eventually, with sore arms and sore belly, he cleared the top and found his friend lying along the inside of the wall.
"What kept you?" Filp whispered.
"Sorry," Slade replied. "Construction delays." It was another of Slade's jokes, funny to him because of being so out of place.
Filp pulled up the rope. There was a catapult a few yards away, and his gear was easily disguised as part of those ropes and equipment. He then signaled Slade to follow him to a door. He inched it open and the two of them moved into a dark stairwell, and down into the castle. Filp did not speak again until they reached the lower levels.
"Sound echoes in these halls, but the guards are mostly on the walls and gates. Once we're inside, the danger is from the household staff, and it would be very unusual for them to have business down here this late. But we had to be especially careful with the door, because sometimes a squeak is all it takes for an alert guard."
He moved on, quickly and quietly in his soft boots. Slade was wearing a pair of sneakers he brought from home, and appreciated the pun when it occurred to him.
Reaching a door which seemed to be the objective, Filp produced a few pieces of bent iron from a pouch, and went to work on the large lock. He also dripped some oil into it, letting it roll down a thin stick, and shifting it so that the drops would spread inside. It took about ten minutes, but the bolt shifted and the heavy door swung in to a dark room.
At this point, Filp risked a torch. There was one by the door, and it provided enough light to show the room; but the smoke smell drifted into the hall. It had become a familiar smell to Slade, but he thought it could give them away. He stepped through and pushed the door to behind them without closing it.
Filp looked around, and then said, "Ah, there it is. That's what we'll take." He picked up a very valuable-looking gem encrusted tiara, and hid it in his pack. "And now something for you. See anything you like?"
Slade threw several baubles into his sack. "That's enough," Filp warned. "You don't want the loot to cost you the job." He opened the door, doused the light, and stepped back into the hall. Slade followed, and closed the door.
Quietly retracing their steps, they returned to the roof. Filp retrieved the grapple and rope, and began looking for a secure place to put it. It would have to be secure enough to stay while they climbed down, he explained, but come loose easily when they shook it. He found a spot to his liking, on the inside corner of a parapet, and dropped the rope. "All right, you go first," he said. But then another voice spoke.
"Stand where you are if you value your lives," it said. An armored soldier stood on the battlements, sword drawn, a few feet away.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #30: Novel Directions. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: