Friday, November 18, 2005
part 3, chapter 5 - one angry man
They heard it before they saw it. A fight. Somewhere in this level of the dungeons, there was a brawl going on.
Forest looked at James, and James looked at Forest. And they hurried to chase down the sound.
They had just come up the stairs from the deepest dungeon, had just said their good-byes to the rest of their friends before coming through the stairway door onto this level. It was night, they knew, so all the prisoners should certainly be locked in their cells now. Right? So how could there be a fight?
There came a uproar, followed by a dead lull. Something had happened.
Throwing glances at each other once more, they hurried forward along the leftmost of the five long corridors on this level, moving as softly as they could. Dozens of doors they passed, all closed, all silent. The sounds of the fight were ahead of them. Round the corner, to their right.
They pulled up just shy of the corner. James made a small gesture, giving Forest the chance to look first. The boy nodded and put his eye round the corner, showing only the slightest sliver of himself in the process. He saw...
A short corridor, torch lit, with four openings at regular intervals where the other long corridors joined into it. The wall opposite was a long blank, broken only by a single door marked 'Brooms.' And there was someone up against that wall, being held up there, his feet dangling off the ground, by a large and hairy arm.
'You give?' growled the voice at the other end of the arm.
The man against the wall, eyes glassy and petrified, gave a speechless nod. And then landed in a crumpled heap when the arm let him go.
From the crowd all around them, howls erupted. Some of triumph, some of loss. Things - not necessarily money, but some sort of bets - changed hands. The hairy guy turned and grinned leeringly at the others. 'Who's next?' he smirked.
'Naw, naw,' a voice interrupted. 'Getting late. Time to clear out.'
Forest looked to see who was talking, then jerked back around the corner out of sight. 'A guard!' the boy whispered, then backed away to let James have a look.
Yes indeed, there was a guard. In fact, two of them - no, three. They were starting to herd together the group of prisoners. 'Back to your cells now,' one of them commanded.
Uh oh, thought James. What if the guards were about to bring their prisoners up this corridor? The man glanced quickly about - nowhere to hide here. Um, Master...? he began in silent prayer.
'Move along,' said a guard crisply. Tensely, James peered round the corner again, fearing to see that the guards would be bringing them all this way, hoping to see the group going off in any other direction. As the line of prisoners moved out...
Going up the furthest away of the other four corridors.
James relaxed - marginally. A quick speechless prayer of thanksgiving to the Master for the break in their favor. Silently he waited, watching till the line of guards and prisoners had all passed into that far corridor. Then he gestured Forest forward, and the pair of them slipped noiselessly into the short corridor. They reached the nearest corner and paused, glancing up the second long corridor to be sure it was clear before darting across the opening. Did the same at the third corridor. Then the fourth.
And so they reached the fifth corridor, the one all prisoners had been marched up. Both knew, without having to say a word about it to each other, that they needed to keep an eye on that crowd of guards and prisoners. After all, what if one of them - or some of them, or all - were to turn back and catch them by surprise?
From the fifth corner they watched as the guards dropped off the prisoners, one by one, locking them up into their cells. Then the guards marched the remaining prisoners round the far end of the corridor and back down the fourth, locking up more prisoners as they went. By the time the group reached the short corridor where they had started out from again, James and Forest had hidden themselves from sight round the fifth corner.
And there they waited as the guards took the prisoners back up the third corridor. Then back down the second.
'Dodged that one, didn't we?' Forest whispered as the guards turned the farthest corridor and marched their last few prisoners up it. 'That's exactly where we were not ten minutes ago.'
A nod, as James rasped out, 'I know.' And then he grimaced. It still was an effort to talk, and he always regretted afterwards even trying to speak.
Warily, Forest leading the way, the two of them slipped back through the short corridor to spy on the dwindled group of guards and prisoners. Only five prisoners remained now. And once the guards had them locked up as well - where were the guards going to go? That was the main question in Forest's and James' minds just now, and they waited to see the answer.
A cell door was unlocked, a prisoner put through it, and then the door was clashed shut again. Four prisoners left. Then three. Then two. Then...
One last prisoner to go - and that one the hairy guy who had been in the thick of the fight.
One of the guards was opening a cell door about midway up the corridor when another said, 'Here's your take.' He held out a hand to the prisoner and littered several somethings into the big man's palm.
The hairy fellow stared into his palm for a bit, then snorted.
The guard who had just paid him bristled. 'Don't you go complaining about your cut there, Logan! I ain't stiffing you none.'
Logan's eyes narrowed. 'It ever occur to you,' he said, 'that if I had a mind to, I could just take the three of you apart? Right here, right now?'
All three guards dropped their hands to the clubs shoved through their belts. 'You just try...' said one of them, braver (or perhaps just more foolhardy) than the rest.
Logan scoffed. 'Clubs? I eat 'em for breakfast. You don't scare me.'
'Just get in your cell there, Logan,' another guard said, pointing at a door that was now standing open. His voice are low and menacing - or at least trying to be.
Snorting again, Logan stared them all down. 'If I go in that cell,' he said, 'and mind you, I said if...' baleful glare at them all, '...it's 'cause I wanna go. I don't hafta do anything I don't wanna do. My kid brother...'
'He left here in a shroud!' one of the guards exclaimed.
'But he left!' Logan roared back. 'He ain't here no more, in your grip.' He glared at the three. 'And maybe he's got the best of it.'
A guard half-drew his club. 'Just get in the cell, Logan...' he warned.
Logan's eyes narrowed, and he spat thoughtfully at the guard's feet. 'I do what I wanna do, when I wanna do it,' he sneered. Then, jerking his chin at the open cell, he added, 'And I wanna sleep. Get out of my face!'
And he stalked past them and stomped into the tiny room.
Shaking, the guards quickly slammed the door shut behind Logan. 'Man!' one of them said. 'After all that, I need a drink!'
'I hear that,' said another. And they all three hurried away up the corridor, heading for the stairs.
And then they were gone.
Forest brushed his hand across his forehead, wiping imaginary sweat. 'Wow!' he said. And then, 'Well, what do you think? Ready to go and have a talk with the gorilla?'
James turned and frowned at the boy's choice of word. 'Gorilla?' he said painfully.
'Yeah, well, you know, he...' And then Forest caught on. 'Oh. Yeah. I guess that was rude of me, wasn't it?'
Slowly James nodded. 'Very,' he grated.
Forest glanced up the corridor at Logan's cell door, then added, 'You know, I don't see how we're gonna do this. You can barely talk. How do we talk to that guy, when you can't hardly say two words together?'
A shrug and a spreading of James' hands was all the answer he could make.
'Well,' said Forest. He glanced down the corridor again. 'Either we go talk to the... um... to the guy we're supposed to rescue. Or we search for Walker. Which do you want to do first?'
James frowned. 'Sleep first.'
Forest gawped. 'We just got here, and you wanna go sleep?'
A shake of his head. 'Not us - them,' said James.
'Ohhhh. Let the prisoners all get good asleep first, and then we make our move.' He nodded. 'Sounds like a plan. But what do we do in the meantime?'
Waving a hand at the little door in the short corridor behind them, James winced a smile and replied, 'Be brooms.'
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