Appendix A: Chapter 17

[Editor's note: Chapter 17 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

Roland awoke to the sound of someone pounding on the door. A look out the window suggested it was still in the middle of the night, and Roland’s body agreed. He groggily rolled out of bed, pulled on the cloak slung over a nearby chair, and stumbled towards the door. Blinking a few times to help focus his vision, he unbolted and opened the door, revealing two knights standing there, more alert than anyone had a right to be at this time of night.

“Sir Roland,” one of the knights announced, “we have orders to bring you to Sir Dalton.”

“What for?” Roland asked, rubbing one of his eyes.

“You will find that out when you meet Sir Dalton,” the other knight replied. In other words, Roland suspected, they had no idea either.

“Can it wait until morning?”

“We are to bring you before Sir Dalton immediately.”

“Can I at least get properly dressed first?”

The knights looked at each other briefly, before the first one replied, “Make it quick.”

Roland shut the door and let out a heavy sigh. As he hurriedly got dressed, the corner of his mind that wasn’t trying to fall back asleep wondered what was going on. He doubted that Dalton had had a sudden change of heart about Derek, and even if he had, he would have had no reason not to at least wait until morning. More worrisome, sending two knights to deliver the message instead of one seemed a little excessive.

Whatever was going on, Roland knew he would find out soon enough. Mostly awake now due to the flurry of activity, Roland opened the door and saw the two knights standing there, in the same positions as before.

“I’m ready,” Roland said.

“Follow us.”

The two knights led Roland through the dark, empty streets of Blackstone, heading directly towards the castle keep. Once inside, they led him not up to Dalton’s office, but down two flights of stairs to the entrance of the castle dungeon. Dalton was pacing back and forth in front of the doors into the dungeon when Roland and his escorts arrived. The knights brought Roland up to Dalton, then took a couple steps back to stand behind Roland as Dalton turned to face him.

“Tell me everything you know about the boy Derek,” Dalton ordered, “no matter how insignificant.”

“I believe I told you everything I know about him when we spoke earlier,” Roland replied.

“Then tell me again.”

“May I ask first what is so urgent?”

“No.”

Roland knew something was definitely going on, but it looked like the only way he might have a chance to find out what was to go along with Dalton’s request. “OK. Derek is Anna’s younger brother. He was abducted by Mattias during the Doomhammer fire months ago, and was taken to Castle Helioth. Anna tracked down where he had been taken, and I assisted her in rescuing him. I then brought the two of them here.” Part of Roland wanted to add, “where he was then imprisoned again against his or his sister’s will,” but he saw this was a very bad time to raise that issue again.

“I’m well aware of the sequence of events that brought him here,” Dalton replied dismissively. “But what do you know about the boy himself?”

Roland thought for a moment. “Not very much. He seems fairly quiet. Keeps to himself. He’s polite, almost to a fault. Never complains about anything. I was only around him for a week, though.”

“You had said his sister had some minor magical abilities. Does he?”

“I… think so?” Roland replied, hesitantly.

“What are they?”

“I do not know. I never saw him do anything while we were traveling through the forest to get here. If Anna or Mattias hadn’t said anything about it, I probably wouldn’t have suspected he had any to begin with.”

“What did they tell you about his abilities?”

“Not much.”

“Humor me.”

Roland closed his eyes, focusing on remembering the few times it had come up in conversation. “Anna always tried to change the subject whenever it came up. The only thing I can recall specifically is that she said something about him being unlucky, somehow, but she didn’t elaborate. She never did explain what she meant by that. And I think Mattias knew even less than I did. He was guessing that Derek had some kind of magic, but I don’t think he ever saw Derek do anything either. He did say something about Derek maybe being confused or scared about whatever it was, but I think he was just guessing based on Derek’s demeanor.”

Dalton leaned forward, scrutinizing Roland’s face. “And that is everything you know? You’re not forgetting anything or leaving anything out, no matter how insignificant?”

“No.” Roland wondered if Dalton was honestly trying to get more information out of him, or if Dalton was just testing him somehow.

“Then perhaps this might jog your memory. Guards! Follow me.”

Dalton turned and passed through the entrance to the dungeon. The pair of knights behind Roland nudged him forward, and kept close behind as Roland followed Dalton in. They walked past empty cell after empty cell, until they rounded the corner to where Derek was being held.

Roland immediately noticed that the door to Derek’s cell was lying on the floor of the hallway. The edges of the door, especially around the hinges and lock, were bent wildly out of shape, as though struck with great force. Roland’s attention then turned to the splatters of blood on the walls and floor of the hallway. As he slowly walked forward, surveying the scene, his foot slid briefly on some pebbles strewn about the floor. Roland guessed they were from a couple gouges in the stone wall opposite the row of cells.

“I suppose now you understand why I saw the need to keep the boy here instead of letting him go,” Dalton said matter-of-factly.

“What happened here?” Roland asked, trying to come to grips with what he was seeing.

“My men,” Dalton replied, motioning towards a few people in the hallway and in the cell, moving carefully and carrying small notebooks, “are working on figuring that out as we speak. But here’s what we do know for sure. I have six knights in the morgue right now, and four others being treated for severe injuries. Blunt trauma. And, in addition to the damage you can see, the boy is nowhere to be found.”

“So someone broke into the dungeon, came here, busted Derek out of his cell, then fought their way back out?” Roland guessed.

“That was our first guess,” Dalton replied, “but it doesn’t make sense. If someone wanted to silence the boy, it would be easier to just kill him here. Taking him with them would only slow them down and make it more difficult to escape. So the boy must be more valuable than even we had initially thought.”

Roland frowned. “That’s not a terribly convincing argument.”

“It doesn’t have to be; the evidence supports it. Look at where the door of the cell used to be, and tell me what you notice.”

Roland cautiously stepped forward towards the cell. Iron bars ran from floor to ceiling, forming three of the four walls of the cell. The bars along the sides of the door were bent out of shape, as though someone had smashed the lock and beaten the door off its hinges. But something about the damage seemed a little off….

“The damage to the door came from inside the cell?” Roland guessed. “The bars are all bent outwards, towards the hall. If someone on the outside tried to break the door down, the bars would be bent inward.”

“Exactly,” Dalton said. “Plus, the door itself is lying in the hallway, not the cell, so it must have fallen outward. Additionally, the guards outside the keep who witnessed the escape only reported someone exiting the keep, not entering it. The guards in the dungeon itself who might have witnessed what happened are all dead or unconscious. So I turn to you, good Sir Roland, to ask: how is it that a timid young boy, devoid of weapons or outside help, manages to break out of a cell and fight his way through nearly a dozen trained guards?”

“I… I have no idea,” was all Roland could say.

“I do,” Dalton said. “It’s clear to me that the boy is far more dangerous than he appears. Whatever magical abilities he has, it is something far greater than the little parlor tricks you’ve told me about. You had wanted me to let him go free? It seems that my mistake was not having thrown him into a maximum security cell under twenty-four-hour guard!”

“Surely you’re not somehow suggesting I had something to do with this?” Roland asked.

Dalton turned his back to Roland. “No, of course not. The only thing I can accuse you of right now is having bought in to his innocent-boy act. Something which, unfortunately, it seems we all are guilty of. But that is not why I summoned you here tonight,” he continued, turning back to face Roland. “I need to know if there is anything, anything at all, that you know which might tell us how the boy was able to do this, or where he might have gone, or what else he might be planning on doing. The safety of this castle, maybe even of this kingdom, is at stake.”

“You honestly think Derek may have some kind of ulterior motive? He’s still just a boy.”

“A boy who killed six men!” Dalton shouted, pounding his fist in the air against an invisible table. “Maybe ten, depending on whether the survivors are able to recover. Someone capable of that is capable of anything. I don’t care how young he is.”

“Even if he has killed them,” Roland said, raising his voice, “that doesn’t mean he’s evil! He’s been traumatized by everything he’s gone through: losing his parents, being kidnapped, imprisoned, and just when things start looking up for him, imprisoned again, with no hope of ever being free. He finally lashed out when he could no longer bear it. I’m not defending what he may have done here, but he needs our help, not an army treating him like an enemy to the throne! You say you should’ve treated him even more harshly? For all we know, that might be what set him off in the first place!”

Dalton glared at Roland, breathing heavily. Finally, he shouted, “Everyone, leave us. That is an order! Guards, secure the entrance. Lethal force is authorized against anyone who tries to get in until I tell you otherwise. Understood?”

The guards and investigators hurriedly made their way past Dalton and Roland, down the hall and out of view. Dalton stood there, silently, until the sound of the entrace to the dungeon being shut and barred echoed down the now-empty hallway.

“Well then, good Sir Roland, allow me to explain why I think otherwise.”

Chapter word count: 1,847 (according to wc)
Total word count: 31,356 / 50,000 (62.712% complete)

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