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white lie coverThey successfully get into the castle grounds, but a few difficulties arise, not the least of which is a soldier who wants to fight Wil in single combat. Never one to avoid an opportunity to show off, he agrees.

Wil dodged the swinging knife, ducking under the other man’s guard. A sharp blow to the ribs sent his opponent reeling a few steps. Wil heard three ribs shatter. Breath coming in gasps, the guard prepared more carefully. His next attack was better planned as he took a running leap, his booted foot aiming for Wil’s mid-section. Breaking stride, he dropped onto the lead foot, weaving an intricate pattern with the other; a powerful arc caught Wil behind the knee.

A lesser man would have been howling, his knee dislocated. Wil dropped and rolled sideways, using the momentum of the kick to propel him away from his attacker. Landing on both feet like a cat, he faced the soldier once more.

Lunging wildly, the guard rushed Wil, apparently deciding it was time to stop playing. Wil leaned backward, evading the whistling knife assault with ease. With a furious bellow, the man ran at Wil, attempting to tackle him.

A blow to one arm broke it, a knee to the chin shattered the jaw. Gasping and retching on his own blood, the guard fell to his knees, exposing his throat. In his good hand, he held out his knife, hilt first, asking for a quick death. He had earned it, having fought honorably. Taking the proffered knife, Wil drove it through his throat, severing the spinal cord. The lifeless body collapsed at Wil’s feet.

All the family were out now, lined up on the terrace, shivering from cold and fear, as Wil leisurely walked out the door. Ben had paired them up, an adult with each child.

One man stood alone, the king. Wil could have picked him out in any crowd, for he carried himself with pride. Despite his disheveled appearance, he looked like royalty. With a brief smile of thanks, he took his place in line giving his shoulder to his injured son.

Wil looked around for Emory and didn’t see him. Ben didn’t appear alarmed, so he waited. Emory came back a few moments later, smiling smugly. A whispered conference with the king, who smiled and nodded, and the grin widened. He trotted up to Wil.

“Royal stables to the south. Twenty-five thoroughbred horses, all saddled by the grooms. They are still loyal to the family and as soon as I explained what we were doing, they were happy to help. The guards there are no longer a problem.”

He chuckled remembering the short, brutal battle that had taken place. Pitchforks and riding crops made formidable weapons in the right hands.

“Can all of them ride?” Wil asked hopefully.

Emory nodded, “Yes, sir. The king confirmed it.”

“Get them out of here. Ben, you’re with me. We’ve got to find Aurialonus.”

Ben’s lips snapped shut on his comments, knowing it would be pointless to interject common sense. He gestured for the others to leave.

“Contact base camp when you get off the palace grounds. They’ll meet you,” Ben told Lance.

“Good luck,” Emory said, suddenly worried. He looked as if he wanted to speak to Wil, but there was no time for him to find the right words.

Later, he promised himself, he would talk to Wil and try to explain. If there was a later. Sighing inwardly, he squared his shoulders and took point, leading the way to the stables across the gardens. The men in the garden were still out, but the gas would last only another ten to fifteen minutes. They hustled along, careful where they trod, even a gassed man would wake if someone fell on him.

Wil and Ben exchanged a look, which in Wil’s case could have meant anything. Ben’s was one of puzzlement. Aurialonus had never been the main objective, but Wil was determined. Probably his bizarre code of ethics again.

“How do you propose to find the lunatic? He could be anywhere.”

“He’s still here.”

“How do you know?”

Wil shrugged, moving his weapon to the other hand as he drew a cheroot from his shirt pocket and lit it. “Matter of pride. He’d never give up when he’s come so far. To him, the palace represents power. Even without hostages, he considers himself as King. He’ll stay.”

“What a putz.”

“Yeah, well no one said he was smart.”

They were picking their way across the ballroom; empty save for dead bodies. They had no light, but each man moved with confidence in the dark.

“Got to be a safe room somewhere, a bolt hole,” Wil wended his way toward the servants stairway at the back of the house. There was a veritable warren of these, he knew since the blue-prints of the castle were feeding through his cybereye.

At the kitchen on the ground floor, they found the people Wil and Emory had gassed earlier. A cook, maid and butler were sitting at the table, out cold. Two guards had collapsed by the door. They left the servants tied up and gagged, but killed the guards.

A narrow stone stairway spiraled downward. It led to the servant’s quarters and wine cellar. Chances were good if there were a bolt hole for the King, it would be down here. It was the most defensible place in the palace.

Switching to infrared, Wil surveyed the cellar walls with care. They were thick, solidly built, probably part of the original structure dating back several hundred years. Cursing silently, he accessed the map once more and headed for the wine cellar first. It was to their right, down a damp, sloping tunnel, smelling of niter and mildew.

A systematic check of the area didn’t disclose any hidden mechanisms. Even the racks of wine bottles were built into the walls, hewn from the stone face of the bedrock. Wil examined it all with his cybereye, looking for the hint of a seam. The wine cellar was a dead end. Frustrated, they retraced their steps.

A long, dark hall continued in front of them, doors on either side, servants quarters. Wil switched again to infrared, stopping and scanning each room as they went down the hall. All of them there were empty.

Three doors from the end of the hall, Wil hesitated. He couldn’t see anything through the door, meaning it was shielded. This door was securely set in the wall and bolted inside. Wil figured a little plastique would do the trick to open it. He wasn’t an expert like Krall, but he could make something crudely effective. He set the charges and they took safe positions down the hall from the door, blowing it with a remote.

The explosives made a muffled thump, the door flying inward in pieces. Nothing happened. Moving quickly and silently, they cautiously picked their way into the room. Two men lay dead, killed by the impact of the door. Neither was Aurialonus.

On the wall behind the dead men, Wil saw the barest hint of a seam in the brick wall. It ran along the lines of the mortar, but little was hidden from his cybereye. He and Ben began a thorough search of the room looking for the control mechanism to open the door. Wil was ready to blow out another section of wall, but Ben had an idea.

“Could it be a voice code?”

“Hell if I know.”

“I’m guessing a password. Think about it, a command attuned to a particular voice could be risky. But a password, anyone can say and it will open right up. I mean, considering how lax the security has been so far, why not?”

©2015 Dellani Oakes

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