Appendix A: Chapter 19

[Editor's note: Chapter 19 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

Roland passed the guards stationed at the entrace to the dungeon. They showed no reaction to him at all, other than the ones standing immediately in front of the doorway stepping aside as he approached, and stepping back into place once he was through. Their presence there reminded Roland of the orders Dalton had given them. It was probably fortunate that Dalton had said to use lethal force specifically against anyone trying to enter, not anyone who merely tried to pass through. From the looks of their faces, Roland guessed they were the type to take their orders seriously.

Being underground, Roland had no idea what time it now was. Roland could feel the fatigue creeping back into his body, but decided to ignore it for the time being. Instead of climbing the stairs, he descended to the bottom level, which turned out to be another two flights down.

Roland exited the stairwell to find two knights standing in front of a solid iron gate set in the stone wall. Unlike the guards on the main dungeon floor, these were dressed in full armor. The design was similar to that of a paladin’s suit of armor, but with minimal decorative embellishments and colored the standard silver.

“Halt! Who goes there?” the knight on the left said, his voice taking on a metallic echo from his lowered visor.

Roland quickly straightened himself and replied in his most official-sounding voice, “Sir Roland, paladin third class of the Order of Yssindria. I come to see the prisoner Anna. Sir Dalton has told me she is being held here.”

Roland stood motionless while the knight studied him. Finally, the guard said, “You may pass. Do not approach the prisoner’s cell within the boundary marked on the floor. Speak to the guards on the other side when you wish to exit.”

The other knight began turning a crank, and the heavy iron gate slowly began sliding to the side, groaning slightly. As it opened, Roland saw two additional guards, also wearing suits of armor, standing just inside the gate, facing the other direction.

Dalton was clearly taking every precaution with Anna. On the main dungeon floor, Roland had been able to move about freely with no problem. Here, however, the guards were carefully controlling access to the interior, though for whatever reason he was still being permitted to enter. Presumably Dalton was still holding out some hope that Roland might be able to get some critical bit of information out of Anna.

Once the gate was fully opened, the guards motioned Roland through. As soon as he was passed, he heard the gate groaning again, presumably as it shut behind him. Roland proceeded down a narrow hallway, only about one and a half people wide and which curved back and forth. Shadows danced on the walls and floor around Roland as he passed one torch set in the wall after another.

The passageway eventually opened up into a small chamber, with a single cell on the opposite wall. A line made of some kind of white powder stretched in front of the cell, about two arm lengths from the row of iron bars. As Roland exited the passageway into the chamber, he saw on the periphery of his vision two more guards, again in full armor, standing in the corners of the room opposite the cell.

The walls of the cell, along with the floor and ceiling, were made of almost perfectly rectangular stones, with only minute gaps between them. The iron bars separating the cell from the rest of the chamber looked much like those on the main floor, put packed more closely together and with horizontal bars running across for good measure. Inside the cell, the only furnishings were a squat wooden bucket in one corner, which Roland quickly realized it was wisest not to focus too carefully on, and an raised stone slab apparently meant to serve as a bed.

On that bed, Roland saw Anna curled up, using her hands as a pillow. Roland mused that she looked oddly peaceful as she slept, in contrast to the brutal surroundings. He stood there watching her for a few minutes, too reluctant to wake her from what was probably her only respite from her imprisonment. If he was going to speak with her, Roland would need to return later. Besides, seeing Anna sleeping was reminding his body that sleep sounded like a good idea too.

Silently, Roland turned and walked through the winding passage back to the iron gate.

“I am ready to leave,” he said to the guards. “I will return when Anna — the prisoner is awake.”

One of the guards knocked on the gate, leaned towards it, and lifted the visor on the helmet. “‘Spoiled holiday,’” he shouted through it, and in a few seconds, the gate began sliding open.

Roland exited the dungeon, climbed the stairs back to ground level, left the keep, and began his walk back to his quarters, growing more tired with each step. When he arrived, he flopped down onto his bed, not bothering to change first, just as the first light of sunrise began shining through the room’s window.

Roland closed his eyes and tried to sleep, struggling to push the events of the last couple hours out of his mind as best he could. As he finally drifted asleep, his last thought was hoping the priest was right about problems being easier after a good night’s rest.

—-

Roland returned to the bottom floor of the dungeon after he woke around noon. The procedure was much the same as before, the only difference being a slightly different voice spoken by the guard, suggesting there had been a shift change at some point after he had left.

When he entered the chamber holding Anna’s cell, Roland saw her lying on her back on the stone slab, staring at the ceiling. She didn’t seem to react to Roland’s entrance.

“Hi, Anna,” Roland said softly.

Anna leaned her head back slightly to look at Roland, then returned to her original position, saying nothing.

“How are you holding up?” he asked.

“Never been better,” she replied, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

Roland sighed, and struggled to think of something to say. He finally settled on, “Is there anything I can do?”

“Do you mean to help me, or are you capable of doing anything in general?” she replied, rolling onto her stomach and lifting her head to look at Roland. “Not that it matters; my answer’s going to be the same either way.”

“Look, I know things haven’t exactly been going well–”

“Oh, really? I hadn’t noticed,” Anna interrupted. “Though come to think of it, your goons did burst into my room in the middle of the night and grill me for hours before throwing me down here to rot.”

“They weren’t my goons,” Roland said. “I had nothing to do with any of this.”

“But that’s the problem, isn’t it? You haven’t had anything to do with anything that’s happened since you brought us here. It’s all been what’s-his-name running everything. Seems like the only person with less authority around here than you is me.”

“Look, I’ve been doing everything I can. It’s just been a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. And last night isn’t going to make it any easier.”

“Yeah, it certainly cut down on my options a bit. But apparently it hasn’t worked out nearly so badly for you; they’re still letting you run around the place. Lucky you.”

Roland saw that Anna was hardly going to stop criticizing his recent lack of performance, so he tried changing the subject to something that might be a little more productive. “Do you have any idea what happened with Derek last night?”

“So what’s-his-name sent you down here to interrogate me now?”

“Is there something he needs to know? Things are… a lot more serious than you might be aware.”

“That’s a shame. I’ve told him everything I’m going to tell him.”

“He says you haven’t told him anything.”

“Exactly. So I guess we’re done here, then.” Anna sat up on the slab and turned to face the far wall, her back to Roland.

“OK, I know you’re upset and frustrated with me. And really, you have every right to be. Things have just gone from bad to worse ever since I brought you here. I wish I could tell you that I’m going to get you out of here, and that we’ll track down your brother again, but I can’t, because I don’t know how I’m going to do that, if it’s even possible.”

Anna didn’t respond.

“But like it or not,” Roland continued, “I’m the closest thing to a friend you’ve got around here. And maybe I haven’t been able to do much lately to inspire a lot of faith in me, but the only thing I can give you right now is a promise, and that’ll have to be enough for now. I’m not going to give up. I’m going to do everything I can to not let you down. And I’m not going to just turn around and desert you, no matter how bleak things might look. None of what’s happened is my fault, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not my responsibility to set things right. And at the end of the day, that’s what we paladins are here for. We are the light when all else is darkness. We are the hope when all hope is lost. And whether or not you believe any of that, it’s true.”

Roland couldn’t tell if his clumsy attempt to raise Anna’s spirits had any effect, as she sat silent and motionless in her cell, looking away.

“You may have turned your back on me, but I’m not going to turn my back on you,” he finished. It was cheesy, and literally false since he’d have to turn around to exit the chamber anyway, but it would have to do until he could return with better news.

Chapter word count: 1,678 (according to wc)
Total word count: 34,754 / 50,000 (69.508% complete)

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