Al fell on the tray and stuffed a half a heel of bread into his mouth, followed quickly by the full cup of wine. He scooped up the remaining hunks of bread and placed them inside the back of Telbarisk’s bakinar.
“After you, my lady,” Raulin said.
Anla looked at the trirec with a puzzled look. “I thought you were leading.”
“I neglected to ask you about how you followed me from your bedroom to the count’s room, especially via the countess’s room. I can only assume that either you’re a very good tracker or there’s something about your magic that allows you to follow people. Either way, I was barely conscious when they dragged me down here. I don’t remember anything. Unless someone else knows the path they took, I need you to lead us.”
“All right,” she said. “If I hold up my hand, I will need you to be quiet.”
“I can do that with ease. Lead on.”
Anladet nodded but did not move. It was hard to see her face in the dark hallway, but she appeared to be listening. Raulin turned and grabbed the wizard’s jaw with his fingers, to stop him from chewing loudly. He watched as she trailed her hands to follow the corridor back to the cell, then back again to Raulin’s hand, which held the set of keys the jailer had. He squeezed them together to stop the noise and nodded.
Her hand trailed from his hand back to the cell, then again to where they were standing. She bounced her hand in the air, as if she were conducting a band, and set off down the hallway.
It actually hadn’t been a complicated journey. There were two T intersections where Anla had to stop and listen intently. Raulin was pleased that he would have guessed correctly in both cases, based purely on the shininess of the well-worn path the servants took. Still, he wasn’t disappointed to be following her and enjoying the graceful way she walked in front of them.
She raised her hand but continued on until they got close to an opening. Raulin could hear the crackling of torches, the occasional scrape of a fork on a plate, and men speaking lowly. He motioned for them to stay and ducked his head around the corner quickly. Two guards were sitting at the butcher block he had earlier, playing a game of cards. From the scattered pile of discards in the middle, he guessed it was Maccre. One faced the locked door to the room and the other towards the opening of the hallway where they’d have to enter.
Raulin had spent a year’s worth of time in Arvarikor working on milket-varet-a eptha, “enter and leave plans”. He had to respect the fact that, instead of rigidly refusing to acknowledge that their trirecs would never got caught, the organization had long ago incorporated the misfortune as a normal part of everyone’s training. They drilled scenarios into the young students’ heads, teaching them to account for as much detail as possible. How many men? How many exits? What kind of exits? Obstacles? Potential issues? Each had their own name, a long, clumsy phrase in Merakian to identify it and, more importantly, how to overcome it.
Two men guarding an area. One exit, a locked door. There could be any number of other guards on the other side, but likely they only had half the squad in the manor. One man unaccounted for, but a clear line from their position to the door. But, one of the men was sure to see them as they moved across.
Not impossible, especially with added help. Even without the other three, there was a solution.
“I need a distraction,” he said quietly to the other three. Al tore a piece of bread in half and threw it into the room before anyone could say otherwise. Raulin stared at the wizard and sighed very slowly and very deeply.
“Crendit, cease your tomfoolery,” the guard facing them said, barely looking up from his cards. “We’ll deal you in as soon as your back from checking in with the sergeant.”
“Why do you need a distraction?” Anladet asked. Raulin held up his finger to where his lips were under his mask.
She nodded after a moment and spoke normally. “They can’t hear us now.”
The air had taken an echoing quality, like being stuck in a coffin. It wasn’t a memory he liked to think of and shuddered. “Can you make it so no one can hear them?” he asked, gesturing to the guards.
“I could make us silent or them. Not both at the same time.”
“That should be fine. Two possibilities, no three: one comes to inspect the handiwork of the wizard, they both come to inspect, or they don’t. If it’s either of the first two, dampen the sound here and around them. I can’t have them sounding an alarm and flooding this cramped area with more guards. Let’s give them a few minutes to see what they do.”
Al took the initiative and threw the other piece of bread. “Wizard, seriously?” he hissed. “That is a lame excuse for a distraction. And you owe Anladet dinner.”
“Crendit, I’m not in a good humor,” the same guard said. “Stop playing childish games or I’ll have Tibbits knock some sense into you.”
When Crendit didn’t come forward, the guard said, “Tibbits, go check on him.”
“Because I outrank you.”
A chair scraped against the floor. “I outrank Crendit now, don’t I?”
“I suppose you do.”
“Which means I can punish Crendit if he doesn’t comply posthaste.”
“I don’t believe it works like that, but you won’t find me speaking to the sergeant about it.”
The second guard spoke up. “Crendit, if you don’t show yourself in three seconds, you will have to take my next post shift. I hear we’re in for some nasty weather, too. Three, two, one.” The chair was moved again and they heard the jangling of a sword alongside the clack of boots on the stone floor.
Raulin swept his arm to make the three move back. When the guard rounded the corner, Raulin dragged him back, turned him away, and squeezed his neck with his arm. The man struggled and stomped his heel into the floor, the clacking reverberating off of some unseen wall. He clawed and slapped at Raulin’s forearm, desperately trying to breath to no avail. After a few long moments, his protests died and he slumped. Raulin released the hold and dragged his body back, leaning it against the wall.
“I’m going for the other guard. Assist me with the silence around us as soon as I leave,” he said to Anladet. “If he calls out, we’re in trouble.”
“Understood,” she said and he wasted no time in beginning.
Raulin covered the thirty-foot distance in just a few seconds. The guard was hadn’t even dropped his cards when Raulin grabbed a dinner knife from the table, jammed it against the man’s throat, and said, “Tell me what I need to know and I won’t make a five-course meal of your neck. Understand?”
The guard bucked against him, yelling as he tried to wrench away from the knife. He was cut, still captive, and unlikely to get help for all his efforts.
When he finally settled down, he clenched his jaw and said nothing. Raulin hated ultimatums, especially ones he’d be forced to follow through. “Have you ever tasted your own blood?” The guard tried to pull away. “I find it odd that so many men haven’t, even accidentally. You’d think that they would have, playing games with other children, punching their way out of being bullied, defending a young lady’s honor. Us trirecs have to swallow a dish full of blood when we’re six, so that we learn how to fight others without that fear.”
The guard stopped fighting, but stiffened. “This isn’t a bad knife,” Raulin said, pushing it a little farther into the man’s neck. “I bet I could jam it through your teeth before it snaps. Then it will be a matter of whether you’re tasting the blood from your lips or your tongue. I hope you don’t have a lady love to consider. Either way, and depending on how well you’re acquainted, it might dampen your relationship for some time. She might understand while you’re healing.”
“You might have gone too far,” Anladet said, and Raulin thought she meant her delicate sensibilities were compromised. “I think he’s too afraid to speak now.”
“Greenhorn soldiers,” he spat. “I don’t suppose you have a proposal?”
To the annoyed shock of Raulin, Anla spoke in Arvonnese. “I’m assuming you understand this, since you’ve been to Arvonne a few times.”
“Yes,” he replied in the same tongue. “What do you need that he can’t hear?”
“I can’t hold the silence and enthrall him at the same time. I need you to make sure he doesn’t yell out before I can speak.”
“Oh, no problem. On three…” he said. He swung around and punched the guard hard in the stomach. The man inhaled a croak for a long moment
Anladet moved quickly, taking advantage of his doubled-over posture when whispering in his ear. “Gguardd, you will obey everything I say until I say ootherwisee.”
He straightened his posture slowly, still slouching forward slightly. “Yess,” he replied in a half-hiss, half-moan.
“Yyouu will not move or speak loudly. You will answer any question the trirec asks yyouu.”
“You can let go of him,” she said to Raulin. “He’ll behave.”
Raulin released the guard, though he kept his hands close to the soldier just in case. “I do believe I was right about your magic.”
“I never doubted I was going to be useful. It’s the ethics I always get tangled up in.” She nodded her head for him to start his interrogation.
“How many guards are on the premises?”
“A full squad,”
“Which is? Numbers.”
He growled softly. It was more than he had expected. “Where are they positioned?”
“Two here, one delivering food, one upstairs, eight in the bailey.”
Raulin cursed. That was far too many for even the combined abilities of the four of them. “Is there a way to get outside the walls of the castle without having to go through the door to upstairs?”
“Where do the tunnels here lead to?”
“Pantries, cells, crypts, storage rooms, pathways to other areas…”
Crypts. It would have been chilling to have accidentally taken the wrong path to where the count was potentially laid out. “What other areas do they lead to?”
“Some out to the cliffs and the beach, some to the walls or the other end of the house. May I kiss her?”
“No,” Raulin said. “If we were to escape to the beach, would we be able to escape from Carvek easily?”
“Not unless you had a boat waiting. It’s a secluded beach used as an occasional entrance for supplies and soldiers if there’s a problem between Carvek and Hanala or an emergency.”
“Is there a boat waiting there?”
“I don’t know.”
Raulin thought for a few moments. Knowledge was always the most important asset to a trirec. After that, is was time followed by luck. He had very little of the first two, but with Anladet’s magic he had plenty of the last, which in turn meant he could have as much of the first he wanted.
He was approaching the questioning wrong; he didn’t need to ask the guard for information in order to plan. The guard would be more than happy to supply him with his own ideas. “What do you think would be the best path for four people to escape from the castle without alerting the other guards?”
The guard looked slack-jawed for a few moments, then brightened. “One of the tunnels leads to an exit in the wall of the castle. If you take that, you can bypass the bailey and sneak out the front.”
“Show us the way.”
“No,” Al interrupted. “We have our affects upstairs and we need to retrieve them.”
Raulin sighed. “Yes, you’re right. Guard, are there any other soldiers in the chateau or anyone who would alert them?”
“Crendit and Ralabas are on go-fer duty. No one is stationed in the household.”
“How about staff? Maids? Butlers? Cooks?”
That would have been problematic. He wouldn’t have thought to ask or look for a priest, even though it was obvious that one would have been called to watch over the body. They wouldn’t be going up to the third floor, assuming a vigil would be held in the count’s bedroom, but they could always bump into a priest who was relieving someone. But wait…
“Priests? Why would there be more than one?”
“A Kriskin priest for his death, a Magrithonen priest because he was in politics, and an Iondikan priest for his family’s patronage.”
“He sounds more popular in death than he was in life,” Al quipped.
“Wizard, don’t give me cause to make you ‘popular’, too,” he said. “Anladet, could you instruct our guard to unlock the door and maybe stay here until we need to come back?”
She did, giving him extra instructions that the trirec didn’t hear while he was replacing all his knives. He was on his third set when he looked up and saw Al was watching him. “Mind if I have a little privacy?”
“Why do you have so many knives?” he asked, though he did turn away while Raulin finished.
“I’ve seen men with dozens of different coats, yet no one comments on the excessiveness of his wardrobe. If someone did, he’d likely say, ‘I need them for different occasions’, which is what I would say to you about my weapons.”
“You need different knives depending on the weather or if the moon is full?”
“Sure, Wizard. That sounds like a plausible explanation. Now, let’s go. It’s still raining and I haven’t sharpened my left calf knife today.”
They didn’t run into anyone on their way to the apartment that Anladet, Alpine, and Telbarisk had shared. Raulin wasn’t surprised to find that Tel’s bed had been a blanket strewn across Anla’s floor.
No one had disturbed anything and all their belongings were where they had left them. When Al returned to the hallway with his enormous backpack, Raulin laughed lightly. “Wizard, were you planning on traveling to Noh Amair the hard way?”
“What’s the hard way?”
“I like to be prepared. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve had a few occasions where I’ve been very happy that I’ve brought things the normal traveler would leave behind.”
“I suppose. Everyone have everything they came with? Can we get going?” Three nods later and Raulin was leading them back down the corridor to the kitchens, where the entrance to the cellar was.
They found the guard sitting in his chair, waiting for them to return. “I waited for you, my lady,” he said, taking Anladet’s hand. She didn’t pull away, but also kept as far from him as possible.
“Ppleasee lead uuss,” she said and he eagerly walked moved forward.
He led them through on a path that was more simpler than the one they took the previous day. Three turns in quick succession led them to a staircase. “The door to the top will open to the shared library for all the offices upstairs.” The guard pulled a ring off his loop and gave it to Anladet. “If you go left when you reach the hallway, it will take you to the barbican.” His hand lingered on Anla’s. “May I have just one kiss, my lady?”
She gave him a peck on his cheek that sent him into a deep, blissful state. “Gguard, return to your post. Take a position that would appear like you’ve been injured and fall asleep until either someone awakens you, two hours have passed, or if either Crendit or Tibbits awakens and tries to get help.” Al leaned in and whispered something in her ear. “When you wake up, you will think you’ve been knocked out, but you won’t know who did it. You won’t remember anything past that point when Tibbits left the table. You will find the key you just gave me upstairs in a book by Ttichenn.”
When the guard had left, she led them up the stairs to the door. “That was kind of you,” Raulin said.
“There’s no need to be unkind. He’s just doing his job.”
“Many wouldn’t take the time to see to his comforts. I think it’s noble.”
“However, I hope you’re not offended when I say that your magic frightens me.”
Anla turned the key in the lock and chuckled lowly. “If I were you, I would be frightened. Since I’m not, I’m just merely terrified by what I can do.”