I wasn't sure how long I was in the prison cell, but one thing was certain:
I was going to free myself this time.
Standing up, I walked in circles in the cell, the smell of dungeon weed growing on the castle stones around me clogging my thoughts.
Perhaps that's why they let this weed grow; to stop one from thinking straight.
The circles in which I walked to free up my mind weren't too large, for my leg was chained to a large three hundred pound ball of iron.
Why was this so different? I had broken out of worse scratches than this before, right? I had been to these prison cells so many times it was like home, but I was tired of being kicked around, treated like dirt. Just because I wasn't as prominent as my elder brother, and as he wasn't around anymore, it shouldn't make my presence at court so lessened.
I tugged at my chain ball, but in vain. I would have kicked the stupid lump of iron if the pain it would cause balanced out with the anger I would have released.
But it wouldn't; I'd have broken my toe and be angrier than ever.
Unable to think of how to break out of the cell I sat down, listening to an incessant dripping of water on the other side of the cell.
I felt my pale brown hair now damp in the odd moisture of the prison. Looking around in the darkness, I could make out the details of the chamber quite well, due to my unusally keen eyesight procured over many long years of training, and promoted by the eerie golden colour of my eyes.
I then remembered how in the academy I was told to use anything in my surroundings to my advantage. I exhaled, then steadying my breathing, let the water drops give a sense of rythym to my thoughts to organise them, and the flow of new ones.
I was compelled to admit that I had been priviliged with a far more secure dungeon chamber than ever before; perhaps my name as one of the best most skilled Trackers in Gaelthon had a downside. Trackers were trained to find any opponent no matter how elusive, break out of any complex situation as the victor, and avoid detection from whoever they wished, among other crafty things. I smirked as I contemplated the victory there would be in freeing myself from among the most contained cells in Ialdenor's dungeon. This Gaelthon city was famous for its security. It would make me feel like royalty to break that bubble of obstinate confidence they had.
In the silence I had sunken into, I heard footsteps outside in the dungeon corridor. Turning to my door, I cocked my head, my acute hearing picking up the noises.
There were guards, two guards, and a smaller person, a child, then followed my a third guard who was walking oddly...he must be holding a crossbow to the child's back.
As I listened on, they passed my door I noted that this child had a very heavy shuffling sort of footstep...too heavy for any normal child.
I heard a gruff voice mumbling curses.
I chuckled; it was a dwarf! Oh, this is quite a diplomatic intrigue. Imprisoning another race was a breach of every convential law; no wonder the little guy was so enfuriated.
"A travesty...revenge...prejudiced...will be free...continue..." I heard these words repeated over and over beneath the little warrior's breath, his muffled voice exposed to me the fact he had a nicely thick beard.
He was definitely a warrior, because of the firmness of his voice, the way he cut them off at the end equally denoted a resolution of will. Whatever he had done to merit this treatment, he was not sorry. His every footstep was hesitant, as if he was reluctant to go any further each time. No wait... he was preparing himself.
I smiled; the little fellow was planning on breaking loose.
"Pass me the keys, there." one of the guards said.
There was the jingling of keys being unattached from the third guard's belt -- I counted twenty-three keys to be exact -- and he passed them to one of the guards holding the dwarf. This was just the window of oppurtunity the dwarf required; he only had one set of hands on him.
Closing my golden-coloured eyes to increase the acuteness of my hearing, I was able to pick up every detail of the fight.
The dwarf wrenched off the hands of the guard who was holding him, propelling him into the guard who now held the keys.
The back guard who had produced the keys exclaimed and reached for his sword, but the dwarf bounded onto him, grabbing his collar and throwing a full hearty fist into his face. The dungeon guards had no visors on their helmets, so he was struck out cold.
The dwarf landed and turned to the rising two, one who had scrambled out his sword. He swung at the dwarf who snatched up the fallen cluster of keys, blocking the hit in a shower of sparks which burnt his hands, making him drop them. As they fell form the dwarf's hands, the swordless guard leapt on him. The dwarf fell heavily in the man's grip, but managed to squeeze up a foot against the man's face as he landed, shoving a hefty thrust-kick into the guard's jaw. There was a sickening crack and the guard rolled into the wall, howling.
The sword-wielding guard glanced in dismay at his friend, and the dwarf siezed his oppurtunity to throw the keys at his head. The throw misses, but grazed the guard's nose. The dwarf panted quickly and rolled forward beneath the guard's legs, standing up quickly and shoving the man into the air, holding tight onto the man's thigh and swinging him onto the floor. The dwarf's was wheezing slightly as he extracted the sword from the unconscious guard's fingers and walking over to the howling guard, promptly knocked him out with the pommel.
As the howling died away, I heard footsteps which had been growing in volume during the fight sneaking up behind the struggle. They sounded like another dungeon guard, though due to the irregularity of the footsteps he was not often employed, perhaps due to lack of trustworthiness, for he wasn't even hodling a sword...it was something heavier, perhaps a mace. No, the way his fingers kept readjusting to the grip, it must be some sort of club, perhaps a chair leg.
By the gradual calming of the dwarf's breathing, he was oblivious of the impending threat. I could not remain silent as the footsteps revealed him to be a yard away from the stout warrior.
"Look out behind you!" I roared as loudly as I could.
The dwarf turned around with a grunt, seeing the fourth soldier suddenly bound at him with the club. The dwarf roared with exertion and holding up his arms, absorbed the hit on his thick left bracer, grabbing the man's wrists and twisting them viciously, sending him headlong into the wall. Before the man had even tumbled to the floor from the impact of the wall, the dwarf had jumped onto his shoulders and pummeled him until it was certain he wasn't going to get up again. I whistled; the last person I would want to be would be that unfortunate guard who suffered that downpour of dwarven knuckles.
I leaned back against the wall, almost after one does after watching a theatre performance. I had actually enjoyed it all, especially being the one who assisted in the suspenseful climax. I wondered if the dwarf had forgotten about my calling out to him, and would leave without a word.
I could hear his breathing, and knew he was deliberating. He was probably lost in the maze of dungeon corridors, and needed a hand.
There was a scuffling as he dragged one of the limp bodies to my door. He cranked open the metal door that covered the small grate-covered window in my door.
I could only see the top half of a rugged face with two dark eyes like currants looking down at me.
"Who are you?" he asked in a loud but hoarse whisper. "How were you able to warn me?"
"My name is Talegan," I explained. "I am a Tracker by trade. I was listening to the proceedings of your struggle of the corridor. Upon being cognizant of the approaching soldier, I decided to alert you, as you were evidently unaware."
"You seem to quite a sensitive talent." said the dwarf. "And due to your act of summoning my attention, I believe I owe to you my freedom, perhaps my life."
"From what I've percieved of your fourth aggressor, he was an untrustworthy one due to his lack of a sword. He would have had much more to gain by taking your life, it being more presitigious that he overpowered and slayed a dwarven warrior who was just a victor over three guards."
"I do believe you are correct concerning his being an outcast soldier," the dwarf looked to his left, evidently at the limp form of the fourht soldier. "He is clad in a ragged uniform and was brandishing a broken torch. Then I conclude," he turned to me. "That I owe you my life."
"As far as I can see," I said with a chuckle before he could say anything else. "You are lost in the labrynth of this city's famed dungeon. Right so; Iliden has contained many a feared criminal, and creature. But due to your pride," I took the liberty of being extra frank. "You do not want to admit this, and so you wish to liberate me in kind return for my services of saving your life. That way I can lead us out, and you have your freedom overcoming the predicament of being rendered the inability to find your way."
"Quite an interesting analysis," the dwarf said, amused. "Due to your unaffected tone of voice, I surmise you have frequented this dungeon; you would know the way out. Equally so, I should not be rebuked for deeming you quite a criminal for such familiarity with the prison." his voice became grave. "I know I am completely innocent and I have a journey to continue which is of great import, but I would not want to release a danger to others in return for my personal liberty."
"I understand how it would seem," I replied, my voice rather subdued in the humilation of the situation. "Perhaps upon other occasions I may have merited my punishment to a certain extent; but many of my social interactiosn and professional dealings are in court and the sensitivity of the nobles is almost extreme. But upon my current sentence to this cell, I firmly attest my innocence on the matter. And I can readily assure you, I am no harm to people of peace, so granting me liberty would be of no concern to the law or the innocent." The dwarf nodded to this, thinking it over. In case other hesitations occured to him, I quickly added, "It needs no scholar to presume that upon your departure from this dungeon, you will be taking leave of Iliden. I will equally be compelled to acquit my life and connections to this city, for the enforcement of the law will inevitably mandate a search for me, as would occur to anyone who breaks out of prison, no matter the reason." The dwarf was now listening for my point. "So in freeing me, you will have a direct road to liberty out of the city."
"Very well," the dwarf said stoutly. "Then let us away. Much time has been lost for me concerning this whole matter of imprisonment. Do you know which key I require?"
"Hold them up to the light," I asked. "And quickly; the ruckus of your dealings must have triggered some sort of attention, and I sense footsteps drumming the hallway."
The dwarf grunted with effort and hurried over to the keys, rushing back onto the piled up body and hodling them in front of the grate. I approached the door, but couldn't reach it due to the heavy ball. I stretched forward and peered closely at the keys, analysing their forms and remembering which one had been used when the guards had put me in this chamber.
"The third one from the right of the bronze key." I said hurriedly. "Please make haste."
The dwarf fumbled with the keys and selecting the appropriate one, pushed it into the lock and turned it hard. There was a satisfying click and he pushed open the door. The torchlight poured in and I had to squint in the brightness of it.
For the first time I was able to see the rest of him. He had a round face, with thick eyebrows that cast shadows over his deepset eyes. His moustache and beard were so thick I could hardly see his mouth, despite the fact they were braided out of the way and held with simple brass clasps. He was not even five feet tall, very stout, but not particularly fat; this I knew by the force of his attacks in the previous brawl. He was clothed in suede and cloth travelling clothes, a blend of different green colours, with thick boiled leather bracers, gorget and a belt that was wide enough to cover his stomach, fastened with a heavy buckle. The buckle was the only ornate piece of attire, the rest spoke of strength, resilience and a solid sort of unrelenting efficiency. As far as I could see he was relatively young, perhaps just over my own age, though dwarves apparently grew faster than men.
I took this all in in a moment, for he was quickly out of the light and approaching my leg, pulled out the standard shackle key used for all the dungeon shackles and freed me from the enfuriating weight.
He looked at my eyes.
"I have never seen such a golden colour in eyes before." he said. "You are of the race of men?"
"Yes," I said, shirking the chains from me. "These eyes...the infamous mark of a Tracker. Come," I said, clapping his shoulder as I hurried past.
He followed me quickly as I entered the corridor. He was of smaller stature, but evidently of a higher vitality, for he covered the ground in little time. The sound of arguing men coming around the corridor he had intially been escorted from encouraged us to keep a speedened pace.
Rushing down he hallway lined by the smouldering torches, I glanced around at the various corridors leading away, trying to recognise this piece of green weed here, or that crack there. The floor, walls and cieling were all formed out of the same huge castle blocks, allowing little warmth into the place, but thankfully their well-ordered structure with occasional discrepancies allowing me to find my way out quickly.
Running up a stairwell, I then took a narrow corridor and turning a corner, crossed a bridge from which I could see scores of paths and doorways below on the many levels of the dungeon. This prison was truly not an easy one from which to escape.
As we passed down the next corridor, I heard approaching guards, and jumping into a darker side path, I pulled the dwarf with me. The dwarf lost his footing and fell over, but the guards marched on none the wiser. After waiting for them to be completely out of earshot, we hurried around the corner and found ourselves looking at the last pair of doors which were between us and the marketplace outside. I could almost smell the fresh apples and hear the clamour of the people bargaining. We were so close.
"Now what?" whispered the dwarf, looking disappointedly at the score of four and twenty soldiers impeding our passage to liberty.
"I do not know," I sighed, "Maybe we should wait for the change of guard at evening time."
"Not a chance," said the dwarf firmly, looking with a twisted mouth of determination at the guards. "Give me a club; I will blow straight through them."
I scoffed quietly at his fearlessness. This little fellow was staring at the gateway with more determination than a starved dog who has just smelled frying bacon.
I ran over different ideas in my mind on how to outwit the guards. One occured to me, but I at brushed it away as madness, but then perhaps it was the best one. We would put ourselves in greater danger, but it would give us a chance of freedom.
"We're going to sound the alarm," I said. He expressed a complete lack of belief. "This call to attention will cause one half of the guards to leave to find out why the bell was rung, then five or so others will head to the side exit and reinforce that, since the smaller door is more attractive to escaping prisoners. With any luck, our opponents will be narrowed to seven or so. I can call for help from a side corridor, and that will attract perhaps three. I can deal with them, but can you deal with the remaining four?"
"That sounds like quite a plan!" he almost laughed in relief. "Give me four, give me ten, I will down them all."
His short phrases were encouraging. I nodded and said I would be back in a few minutes; the bell was a mere two halls away.
He nodded and I sneaked up the poorly lit steps, my ears strained for the slightest noise which could expose any approaching guards. I couldn't help but be amused that despite the situation, the dwarf wasn't phased; he was so detemined to be on his way out of the dungeon that he didn't even flinch when I said I would leave him behind.
For the first time, I was actually intrigued by a mission that was not related to me in any way. Where did such a small person derive such perseverance?
Reaching the first corridor, I looked at the thick wooden doors, most of them locked. Approaching the corner I needed to turn, I paused and listened. I could hear... two guards stationed in the next corridor. Their breathing was at ease; they weren't expecting anything in the least. I wondered if I could take them both down. I peered around the corner; they were standing resolutely in the gray armour of the dungeon elite guards, one outside the alarm room, brandishing a long poleaxe, same as like the other. The other outside the general's room, which was further down the hall, just near the window through which I saw the evening sun spread a warm glow over the hills of farmers' fields of wheat, speckled with purple flowers. I could almost smell freedom. And it was good.
I looked around me for something to divert their attention. Snatching up a pebble from the ground, I aimed at one of the doors opened out into the hall. Aiming at that door across from the guards, I threw my rock through the opening. Both guards turned towards the door, one of them swinging down his poleaxe at the door, his armour clanking mechanically. He walked towards the door, throwing it open and entering. I could see it was a storage room. The guard near the general's door waited for his companion to emerge. Holding his halberd in two hands, he approached the door and looked in.
Siezing the oppurtunity, I rushed behind him and kicked him in the side so hard he fell into a roll. I snatched up his halberd from him and placing one foot against his neck, smashed the butt of it into his helmet. His head smashed back against the floor. I smacked him again to make sure he was unconscious before turning to the storage room from which I could hear the other guard returning. Moving towards the outward-opened door, I waited for him to emerge. First his blade came through, then his gloved hands, then his head. With as much force as I could, I shoved the door closed on his head; there was a muffled shout of pain and he crumbled to the ground.
I could imagine the heavy bruising he now had; he was going to feel that tomorrow morning.
Turning to the doorway to the alarm, I opened the door and entered, seeing the huge bell there. Three slow hits was all it required to send the signal to the whole dungeon complex that there had been a prison break.
I picked up the heavy baton and looked at the bell. This was the it, the precarious moment that would either free my new friend and I from the prison, or secure us both in the cells for double the time. I was sure my time would perhaps be extended to triple, as I was evidently the one leading the expedition.
Deciding it was too late now to turn back, I swung three times at the bell, knowing anyone could pass by and see the elite guards outside.
Upon the third strike I was in such jitters from each impact and the deep noise roaring in that room, that I was staggering outside the door. My ears were still ringing as I stumbled down the corridors and back down the steps, losing my footing more than once.
Looking at the base of the steps, I saw guards rushing up, and the dwarf was nowhere to be seen. It struck me that perhaps he had been captured. I felt a pang of guilt, unsure whether his trust in my leaving him behind to facilitate the speed of my operation was his downfall. With no time to think it all over though, I rushed back up the stairs as the guards approached, and hurried to the left this time, turning down another flight of steps. I quickly came to the base, finding myself in a dark corridor, and turning several corners, reached the large dungeon entrance room again, but from another direction. I looked across at the stairwell where the dwarf and I were before, wondering where he had gone from there. I turned to the huge gates to my right where, as I had predicted, only seven men stood there, looking up and around pensively in their ignorance of who or what had been unleashed. Was it some brigand that had a stroke of luck? Or was it some enormous untamed beast?
I heard footsteps approaching from the barely-lit corridor just near the steps we were before, where we had crept out onto the stairs to analyse our exit. The footsteps were light, of a probably young and unarmoured soldier or messenger. As he neared the stairwell, eager to come into the light of the entrance room, there was a scuffle of clothes and a muffled shout cut short by the heavy thud of a solid punch. The soldier was at the wrong place and time, obviously having walked into a dwarf who was on the edge of gaining freedom and wasn't keen on losing his chance. The guards in the entrance room hadn't picked up these quiet sounds from across the room, and I saw a gloved hand emerge from the darkness to give me a gesture that everything was alright. I nodded in his direction, but upon noting that I was evidently visible by the light of the room, I jumped back into the shadows.
It was time for the second phase of the plan, and stepping back further into the darkness, cupped my hands around my mouth.
"I require assistance, men! The prisoners!" I hollered as loud as I could.
The guards looked at eachother hesitantly, then five separated and rushed into my corridor. My shoulders sank with dismay; I had miscalculated how many would come. It made sense that if the prisoners were around the corner, they would spare more to apprehend them than to guard the front, since stopping them before the reached the exit would make guarding the exit itself unnecessary.
Three of the guards were brandishing short swords, two held spears. The spears coming in first, I kept my eyes peeled for their every detail as they approached, the lighting in the corridor dim, but enough for me to see them without while they were oblivious of me. I stood in the centre of the corridor as the two spears came at me, my fingers tingling at my sides as I waited in the tension of the moment. As soon as the spears ignorantly passed by either side, I curved my arms around them rapidly, shooting my legs out into a double kick that knocked the two men back. Grabbing away their spears as they fell back from the impact I spun the spears around to face and stabbed forward at to the two swordsmen on the sides. One spear pierced the shoulder of one, the other man managed to block. I threw the spears around so the staffs knocked together into the centre swordsman. I rushed forward without delay as the centre swordsman was momentarily dioriented by the two staffs bounding off his sword and head, and grabbing his sword hilt with one hand, I punched him across the jaw with the other as hard as I could. He collapsed against his friend to the left. The one from the right swung at me, and I sidestepped the blade, grabbing his wrist and smacking his face with the back of my fist, I firmened my grip on his outstretched arm and threw a kick into his stomach. Turning to the rising spearmen, I swung him around into them, causing further confusion. The swordsman who was knocked over by the centre swordsman rose angrily at me, his hands grabbing out. I ducked his clutch and punched him in the gut, rising between his open arms with an elbow to his chin, pushing him away with a forceful kick to the chest. One of the spearmen jumped onto my arms and held them fast, as the other steadied himself in front of me to lay his knuckles into my face. Grabbing onto the man behind me, using him as leverage, I leaned back on him and lifting my legs up, thust-kicked the man in front away, propelling myself and the one behind into the wall. His grip loosened as he was winded and I dropped down into a crouch, grabbing his one arm that still held mindlessly onto my shoulder. Still holding his arm, I stood up, turning around with a swift twist of my hips to propell him into the other spearman. Jumping on them both, a few punches ensured neither would rise for at least another half-hour.
Panting, I turned to the front room and found the three guards there completely senseless, the dwarf not there either.
I walked out into the light of the room, calling "Where are you?" in a half-hesitating voice.
"Here," said a loud, gruff voice from the Dungeon General's office across the room.
I moved quickly towards the ornate wooden door and pushing against the fancy brass knocker, the door opened to reveal the General himself sprawled over his desk with a growing bruise to the side of his head, his clothes leather clothes ruffled. I looked down the rows of shelves which contained hundreds of boxes of confiscated articles of the prisoners.
"Let us away!" I compelled him. "This is our one chance before more guards come, and we do not have the advantage of darkness. Do not ruin our hope of leaving!"
"I must find my things," he said hurriedly as he pulled down another box, rummaging through its contents before dropping it for another. "If I leave without them, I may as well have stayed imprisoned."
Knowing he wouldn't back down, I looked at the hopeless lines of boxes and turning to the General, flipped through his book of charts which listed what the multiple boxes contained. Flipping through the pages, my eyes abruptly caught sight of the word "dwarf" and alongside it "diplomatic issue" and "item to be considered".
Whatever this dwarf had, there was an item of interest which the Dungeon General had been ordered to set aside. Turning to the special-situation shelves to the right of the desk, I browsed over them briefly before noting a green leather-edged mantle protruding the side of one. I pulled it open and saw several travelling bags inside, including a sort of thick rod which was tightly bound in cloth. I initially presumed it to be a walking staff, but they weren't usually bound to preserve them from the elements, were they?
"Excellent, I thank you!" he shoved me aside and pulling away the bog, began shouldering and wrapping the various bags around himself in great haste. He then snatched out the cloth-bound staff and paused for a second, letting out a long sigh of relief. He pressed it to his chest, then looked up at me. "Let us be free of this place." he said.
"Agreed," I replied, and returned to the door.
Upon opening the door, I saw the room full of four guards. They turned to us, agitated at their beaten companions strewn across the ground, and charged to the door.
I slammed the door immediately, the dwarf jumping to my side to slam the two bolts securely. The men pounded on the door for several seconds before retreating to find something with which to break it down.
"Now we are royally in trouble," I groaned. I turned to the dwarf, who was resolutely looking at the door as if unafraid of the growing threat beyond, his bushy eyebrows beneath his travelling mantle's hood covering his dark eyes of concentration.
I could hear more men entering the room. In all likeliness, our plan had been sussed out and the guards were returning.
He turned to me abruptly. "What is beyond this wall?" he asked me, pointing at the wall to our side behind the Dungeon General's desk.
I paused in thought. "Probably a storage room."
"And beyond that wall?" he asked, pointing to the wall on the other side of the room behind the last row of shelves.
I narrowed my eyes as I ran over what I knew of Iliden. "There would be an outside alley of but a few inches, then the wall of Iliden itself."
"Good." He nodded, walking off towards the farthest corner of the room.
"Good?" I asked. There was the sound like a massive hammer striking the door, making me jump. They had a battering ram, and were going to charge the door down. I turned after the dwarf in exasperation. "What do you mean by 'good'? We are now at a dead end!"
"No we're not," I voice said from the other side of the room.
As I headed around the shelves to see what he was doing, there was a sound like a dragon bellowing at the same time as that of a catapult's rock exploding through a brick wall. I fell over as mutliple boxes tumbled off the shelves, their contents scattering. Staggering to my feet, I turned in fear, expecting to see the room's door shattered, wondering what the soldiers did to break it open so efficiently. To my surprise, the men were not coming, and neither was the door broken. The door stood there just as before; and I could hear the men picking themselves up off the ground outside.
Turning to my friend, I saw nothing my dust had filled the air where he was, rubble strewn all over the ground, many pieces having blown straight through the shelves and boxes. As I neared, waving my arms to clear the cough-inducing cloud of debris, I was elated to discover rosy shafts of sunlight beaming through. I found that there was a huge hole blown through the wall, the stones replaced by a round picture of a lively forest, with a scarlet sky behind. Staring in utter astonishment at the huge breach to freedom, I heard a voice calling me down.
"Let's be out of here!" I turned down to see the dwarf standing on the soft grass twenty feet below.
I dropped out of the window, landing as lightly as I could.
"Come on," he said quickly. "Before they open that door and see us!"