Appendix A: Chapter 15

[Editor's note: Chapter 15 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

Roland walked through the narrow hallway in the keep of Castle Blackstone, counting the doorways on the right-hand wall as he walked past. The clerk on the first floor had given him directions to the room that Anna had been assigned to during her stay at the castle, and Roland wanted to check how she and Derek were holding up.

As he made his way forward, Roland wondered if the keep had been designed specifically to confuse any invaders who breached the outer walls of the castle. The directions Roland had been given involved a long series of turns down corridors, none of which were clearly labeled. For some reason Roland had needed to climb five flights of stairs, navigate a series of hallways, then go back down two flights of stairs in a completely different stairwell, followed by another series of hallways, to reach this point. Roland had difficulty believing that there wasn’t a more direct way to Anna’s room, but he wasn’t about to get himself lost trying to find it. As undignified as it may be for a paladin to fall for some clerk’s prank, getting lost in one of the kingdom’s own castles was even worse.

Roland finally reached the eleventh door on the right-hand wall, which, assuming he had followed the directions correctly, brought him to Anna’s room. The number 476 carved into the stone next to the door confirmed it. He knocked lightly on the door and waited for a response. Receiving none, he tried knocking again, louder this time. Still no response.

“Anna?” he called, cupping his hands between his mouth and the door. Hearing nothing, he then placed his hand on the door’s handle and nudged the door slightly inward, just enough to feel the door stop against the locking mechanism.

Guessing that she was not in her room, Roland carefully reversed his twisting path through the castle until he reassuringly found himself back in the lobby of the Royal Knights’ barracks within the keep.

“Yes, sir?” the clerk looked up from his counter as Roland strode up. “Is there anything else I can do for you today?”

“Perhaps,” Roland replied. “There was no answer at the door. Do you know if they are in?”

The clerk shook his head. “No, sir. Sir Dalton has asked for her to have unescored access to the barracks, so we are not tracking her movements in and out.”

“So then I suppose you don’t know when they will return?”

“No, sir.” After a pause, he added, “They, sir?”

“Yes, ‘they.’ The girl Anna and her brother Derek.”

“One moment, please, sir, as I check.” The clerk’s head disappeared beneath the counter, and Roland heard the sound of papers being shuffled. “Here we are, sir,” the clerk called as his head reappeared, “Sir Dalton has assigned separate accomodations for the one called Derek.”

“Hmm,” Roland replied. “She may be with him, then. Can you direct me there?”

“Certainly, sir.”

—-

“It’s about time you showed up!” Anna shouted at Roland as he turned the corner. “What kind of sick joke is this?”

The outburst confirmed the fear that had been first formed within Roland when he had descended to the second basement level of the keep, grew when he passed a pair of armed guards, and surged as he passed prison cell after prison cell. As Roland approached, he saw that Derek was sitting on the bed inside the cell immediately opposite Anna.

“I certainly hope you can explain yourself,” Anna said, glaring at Roland.

“I… This…” Roland stammered.

“No, go ahead, I’ll wait,” Anna said. “The two of us have all the time in the world down here.”

“I have no idea what’s going on here,” Roland finally managed to get out.

“No? Then allow me to explain,” Anna continued, livid. “First, you ‘rescued’ my brother from some eccentric but otherwise harmless weirdo. Then you drag us through the forest for a week, rationing our food until there was almost none left, I might add. Finally you bring us to this place, tell us you’re going to take care of everything, and then disappear. Next thing I know, my brother is thrown into a dungeon, and some guy pretending to be a knight, after grilling me for two hours about everything I’ve been through since Doomhammer, warns me against leaving the castle. Does that about cover it?” she asked, turning to Derek.

Derek continued staring at the floor of his cell, silent.

“All I asked Dalton was to give the two of you accomodations until the two of you could get back on your feet,” Roland said quietly.

“Maybe you should’ve been more specific,” Anna replied. She strode up to him. “Well, why don’t you go tell ‘Dalton’ that I’m on my feet now, and Derek will be too once he’s allowed to walk anywhere. But for some reason I don’t think that’s going to be enough for him.”

Roland stood there, silent, trying to think of something appropriate to say. He wanted to say something to calm Anna down, but as far as Roland could tell, she had every right to be angry. He wasn’t sure he could even make the argument that despite being imprisoned, Derek was still better off here than he was in Castle Helioth.

“I’ll speak with Dalton about this,” Roland finally said.

“I’m sure you will,” Anna spat.

Roland looked into Anna’s eyes and said, slowly, deliberately, “I promise, I will see to it that Derek is freed.”

“Once you do, you’ll know where to find me.”

—-

“Ah, hello again, Roland,” Dalton greeted, extending his hand across the desk. “A pleasure to see you again.”

“Dalton,” Roland replied, returning a prefuctory shake before returning to the chair in front of Dalton’s desk.

“So, Roland,” Dalton said, settling himself down into his chair, “what is it I can do for you? You know, normally I don’t take guests on such short notice, but my aid told me you say this is of the utmost importance.”

“It’s about Derek.”

“Hmm, I figured as much,” Dalton replied, leaning back and resting his hands together in his lap. “I assume you’ve learned of the regrettable action we’ve needed to take?”

“You’ve imprisoned him in the dungeon,” Roland said, deliberately keeping his voice level.

“As I said, regrettable. However, technically, we have not imprisoned him. We have merely taken him into protective custody.”

“In the dungeon.”

“Yes, in the dungeon. But it was a necessary action, I assure you, to ensure his own safety.”

“From what, exactly?”

“Why, from the criminals who may be seeking to silence him for the assitance he has given, and hopefully will continue to give, us.”

“How so?” Roland asked, suspicious.

“As you yourself explained when we spoke earlier, the boy’s captors are active in the kingdom’s black market, smuggling contraband in and our of our villages and, yes, even some of our castles. It is very likely that the boy came into direct contact with the various local criminals involved in the black market, as he was taken along what we assume to be the smuggling routes linking Doomhammer to Castle Helioth and all points between. All this means that the boy can give us specific information about who is involved, when they meet, where they meet, and what they do when they meet. This information is essential for our operations to disrupt their activities and apprehend those involved.”

“Pardon my confusion here, but isn’t it the role of the town guards to deal with criminal activity in the villages? Why are the knights involved?”

“In the old days, yes,” Dalton explained. “But that was when criminal activity was confined to individual villages, when it was purely a local problem. But as I said, these smuggling networks operate across much of the kingdom. It’s no longer a local problem, nor one that each town’s own forces can adequately address. That is where the Royal Knights come in; we have both the resources and the jurisdiction to intervene in affairs that affect the kingdom as a whole.”

“But Derek has done nothing wrong,” Roland protested, steering the conversation back to the task at hand.

“He has done nothing wrong to us,” Dalton emphasized. “And if that were the only concern, I would have no problem letting him go free. But criminals do not play by our rules, and they certainly don’t play by yours. Nor can I assume that some of them won’t figure out where we’re getting our information on them once we start cleaning them out of our villages. After all, criminals are just as good at passing information amongst themselves as they are keeping it from us. As tragic as Derek’s circumstances are, having him available to us has been a godsend; it’s the biggest break we’ve had in the issue in quite a while. There are probably many out there who would do anything they can to stop him from helping us.”

“And Derek is helping you freely?” Roland asked.

“Yes, though I admit there have been difficulties getting him to offer information. But my associates are skilled at what they do.”

“How so?” Roland asked, warily.

Dalton held up his hands. “We are not monsters, if that’s what you’re thinking of. But you cannot treat children as though there are merely young adults. He’s too young to understand the rationale for being kept in protective custody, and his sister is too emotionally wound up over his prior captivity to see the reality of the current situation, which is why we’ve needed to act without her consent.”

“And how long will you find it necessary to keep him here.”

“No longer than we have to. But it will take at least several weeks to fully act on the information we now have. Plus, there is the concern that someone may act against him out of revenge rather than to merely stop him from continuing to assist us. So, realistically, if I had to give you a figure, I might say, a year, perhaps? Maybe less?”

“I see.”

“Roland,” Dalton said, rising from his chair. “I understand how you may feel you have a personal involvement in this manner, after what you’ve done for the boy in Castle Helioth. I respect that. However, I’d like to remind you that this matter is now in the hands of the Royal Knights, and I’ve only discussed this much of it with you as a courtesy. While I’m appreciative of all you’ve done so far, I must ask that you leave the rest up to us.”

Roland took the hint and rose from his seat.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have other matters that demand my attention. Please ask the guard outside to show you out.”

Chapter word count: 1,799 (according to wc)
Total word count: 27,652 / 50,000 (55.304% complete)

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