For The Record

Queue of pending Appendix A posts

I just wrote six chapters and 10,701 words this weekend. (Seven chapters and 12,648 words if you count Friday evening.) I think I’ll spend the coming week doing whatever the opposite of writing is.

Appendix A: Chapter 23

[Editor's note: Chapter 23 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

Roland took a few slow, deep breaths before rounding the final bend of the staircase leading to the bottom floor of the dungeon. Staying calm and focused on the task at hand was going to be essential if he was going to get through this. His churning stomach reminded him that luck was also a key factor, and he wouldn’t know whether it would work in his favor until it was too late to turn back.

“I’m here to see the prisoner,” Roland said to the guards in front of the gate, speaking in a voice a little deeper than necessary.

“And you are?” one of them asked.

“Sir Roland, paladin third class of the Order of Yssindria,” he replied.

“You may pass,” the other said after a few seconds pause. He repeated the same instructions as Roland had been given the previous two times he had gone inside before turning the crank to open the gate.

Roland entered, walking past the two guards stationed on the other side without looking at either of them. He heard the gate begin groaning shut as he began navigating the corridor as it wound back and forth, noticing the sound of the gate becoming quieter as he rounded each corner. He ran his fingers along the wall for a bit and felt the rough, uneven texture of the stone. Roland soon noticed that he could no longer hear the gate moving at all, nor did he remember hearing the final clang as it would have presumably locked itself back into place.

So far, so good.

Roland entered the chamber where Anna’s lone cell was located, precisely the same as he remembered it from his previous visit, down to the guards standing in the two corners opposite the cell itself. Anna was sitting on the stone slab that passed for a bed. She turned her head briefly towards Roland as he entered, then resumed staring at nothing in particular on the wall in front of her.

Roland shrugged off his pack and set it on the floor next to him. He bent down, opened it, and pulled out the foul-smelling cloak. Dropping it on the floor at arm’s length from him, he began making a show of rummaging through the pack for something. He grabbed the coil of rope and the loose pieces with one hand and pulled them out, setting them on the floor next to him.

“Here it is,” he announced to no one in particular as he pulled out the folded letter. He turned to one of the guards watching him and said, “I have a message to deliver to the prisoner.”

Roland assumed the guard was eying him, but it was impossible to tell for sure through the lowered visor on the guard’s helmet. “From whom?” the guard asked.

“It is… a personal note,” Roland replied.

“One of us will have to review it first to verify there is nothing inappropriate in it.”

“And then I may deliver it to the prisoner?” Roland asked hopefully.

“No, one of the guards will give it to her.”

“So I just give it to you, then, and you’ll walk over and hand it to her?”

“No. There must be two guards posted at all time, in addition to anyone approaching the prisoner. You will need to go back up to the gate and ask one of the guards there to come over and handle it.”

“Can’t I just call out to one of them from here?”

“They wouldn’t be able to hear you from down here.”

“I see. I suppose nothing can ever be that simple, can it?” Roland asked as he turned around and knelt down by his pack, returning the letter to its original place. It was not the ideal situation Roland had hoped for, but it could certainly be worse.

His stomach tightened, reminding him there was still plenty of time for things to turn worse.

Roland reached out to the folded cloak. With a flick of his wrist, he flung it towards the other guard. The cloak unfolded in mid-air and landed on his helmet, covering his head and most of his body. While this happened, Roland seized his brief moment of surprise and rushed toward the first guard, slamming his shoulder into the guard’s chest plate just hard enough to knock him off balance. The guard staggered back a step and began reaching for his sword, but Roland quickly grabbed the guard’s helmet and slammed it into the wall with a loud clank. Roland felt the guard go limp inside his armor, hopefully unconscious from the blow but at the very least stunned momentarily.

Roland turned around just in time to see the other guard flinging the cloak away with one hand and drawing his sword with the other. Roland responded by drawing his own sword and assuming a defensive stance as the guard charged towards him. Roland’s inner tactician quickly ticked off all the ways Roland was at a disadvantage. First, the guard was much more heavily armored than Roland. Second, the guard presumably had orders to kill, whereas Roland was unwilling to use lethal force. Third, Roland had fully used up his element of surprise.

Their swords clashed, and Roland moved to circle around the guard, not wanting to find himself trapped between the two should the first guard come around too soon. That was one advantage he still had, at least: he had better agility than someone in a suit of armor. Unfortunately, that was about it, as Roland soon found himself being pushed back towards the other wall as the guard advanced, swinging his sword.

Feeling the wall behind him with his foot, Roland quickly ducked down and circled back behind the guard. As the guard pivoted to face Roland, he suddenly froze as a wave of liquid splashed over him. Out the corner of his eye, Roland saw Anna standing right behind the bars of the cell, holding the bucket that had been in the corner. Roland knew better than to think about what had been in the bucket, and instead slammed himself into the guard’s back, knocking him forward into the vile puddle and landing on top of him.

Pressing his full weight down onto the guard’s back, or at least the armor protecting his back, Roland wrestled the guard’s helmet off as the guard tried to writhe his way out from under Roland. Once the helmet was free, Roland hefted it and slammed it down into the back of the guard’s head repeatedly until the guard went limp.

Roland breathed a sigh of relief and looked towards the far corner of the room to see that the guard there had still not moved. He then turned his attention to the door of the cell.

“One of them will have a key on a chain around his neck,” Anna volunteered.

Roland rolled the second guard over onto his back and reached down the neck of the armor, feeling for a chain. Find it, he yanked it free and carried it to the cell, unlocking it.

“How many more are there out there?” Anna asked, as she stepped through the door.

“Four, at least. Which is why we’re not going out that way,” Roland replied. “Take that rope and tie their hands and feet. Start with that one,” he added, pointing towards the first one he had incapacitated. “I don’t know when they’ll regain consciousness, and I don’t want them being mobile if they do. You know how to tie a knot, right?”

“I do know a couple rope tricks, so yes,” Anna said, with a couple of the short pieces already in hand. “Wait, what do you mean we’re not going out ‘that way?’”

“That cloak on the floor is yours now,” Roland continued, ignoring the question as rummaged through the maps in the side pouch of his pack until he found the one in the middle. “Put it on when you’re done. We can’t afford anyone recognizing you. Sorry about the smell.”

Anna finished tying the guard’s hands behind his back and was turning to do the same to his feet. “You mean the, uh–”

“If you’re lucky, it’ll cover up the yak smell. Don’t ask.” Roland walked through the cell door and towards the corner.

“If it gets me out of here, I don’t care what it smells like.” She finished with the first guard and walked over to the second. “Speaking of which, how did you say we’re getting out of here?”

“Did you have a chance to visit the library before you, um, were brought here?” Roland consulted the drawing and, sliding his hand along the wall, counted to himself.

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“They’re aren’t kidding when they say they have records that go all the way back to the construction of this castle. They even have some of the design documents available.” Roland hesitantly pushed against a stone in the wall with one hand while holding the paper in the other.

“I’m sure it’s fascinating. I’ll have to check it out sometime,” she deadpanned as she finished another knot.

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to take you there to show you,” Roland said distractedly. He held the paper in his teeth as he started pushing another stone in the wall with his other hand.

“OK, that takes care of them. Would you quit messing around in there? We only have about an hour until the next shift change, and that’s assuming there’s not half an army charging down the hallway as we speak.”

Roland shook his head. “Come over here and push this,” he said through clenched teeth.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s stuck, and I can’t push both hard enough. At least, I hope it’s stuck.”

Anna sighed, and Roland heard her footsteps as she approached.

“Push right there, straight into the wall,” he said. “Use both hands.” Roland moved his left hand to join his right as it pushed another stone.

“And if it’s not stuck?” Anna asked.

“Then we only have an hour.”

Roland’s feet slid on the floor as he put his entire weight against the stone. He heard Anna grunt as she presumably did likewise behind his back. Suddenly the stone lurched forward an inch, and Roland almost lost his footing.

“Keep pushing!” he shouted through his teeth as he shoved the stone farther back.

Nearby, he heard the sound of rock sliding against rock. He stopped pushing when the stone clicked into place, several inches recessed from the rest of the wall. He turned to see that the slab that served as a bed had raised up a couple inches. He walked over to the side of it and pushed it forward, rolling it on unseen wheels underneath as it revealed a hole in the floor.

“You’re kidding me,” Anna said next to him.

Roland ran over to his pack, hurriedly shoved the unused rope into it before throwing it over his back. He then lifted the two torches out of their holders in the walls.

“Take the cloak and follow me,” he insisted.

He looked over to see Anna putting on the cloak. It had been long on him, but on her the bottom of it just brushed the floor. He handed her one of the torches and plucked the map from his teeth.

“No time to dawdle,” he said, once again able to properly enunciate. “Like you said, we only have an hour head start.”

Chapter word count: 1,920 (according to wc)
Total word count: 42,160 / 50,000 (84.32% complete)

Comments Off