The erstwhile Sir John, now known only as “the traitor”, was sitting in the center of the cell he had inhabited for the past several days. For much of that time, he had been thinking of nothing besides the manner in which he would cause himself to be released so that he could get the revenge on Valun that had been planted in his mind at an early age, and was entirely groundless. Suddenly, he stood up once more and strode to the window of his cell. As he looked out, he said to himself “Yes, I can do that. My father will be proud of me. It only remains to get myself out of this cell. Against the idiots guarding it, that will not be hard.”
According to his plan, he immediately turned from the window and strode straight to the door. Knocking hard on the door, he drew a guard close enough that he could speak with him.
“What do you want now? We bring you everything you need.”
“That is not true. There is one thing I need which you have yet to give me.”
“And what could that possibly be?”
“My freedom. That is all.”
“Everybody thinks they need their freedom. But people like you don’t deserve it. You’re to stay under guard until the King returns to decide how you are going to die.”
“Really? You must be unaware that the King is my good friend. I am not to die.”
“If that’s what you really think, then you’re out of your mind. Crazy people get put under heavier guard. If the King was your friend, then nobody would’ve put you in prison, with his protection behind you.”
“Oh no. You’ve got it all wrong. The King had me placed here to protect me from others that are searching for me. He believes they will let me be if I live in the prison for a time, thinking that I am being punished.” “Who would be hunting you?”
“Agents from other countries. Diplomats get in hot water sometimes.’
“You speak truly. You seem to have gotten into hot water here.”
“I have told you that is not the case. Go and ask the King, if you don’t believe me.”
“I will do so.” With that, the guard left John’s narrow field of vision. It was some time before he returned with the answer. “The flags are not flying. The King has marched to war.”
“No! He left without even remembering to leave orders regarding my release? I was only to remain in this cell for a few days! Now I am doomed to remain for weeks! My life! My hopes! All are gone!”
“Well, I am glad to see that you finally understand one thing. Your life will be gone as soon as the King returns. You were delivered to the prison by the King’s most trusted servant. He said that you had conspired to overthrow the King himself.”
“How did he know that?! I was under orders to do…” A moment later, John realized that this response had sealed his fate. He could not hope for release now. The only path open to him was to fight his way out, and adopt a bolder plan when he was free.
It was only minutes before several guards pushed their way into John’s cell, grabbed him roughly by both arms, and dragged him out of the room. Though he was a prisoner, and had no right, John still grew quite indignant at their behavior towards his person. “Where are you taking me? I am to be released!”
The guards pushed him along silently for several minutes until they came to the doors of the prison. As they pushed them open, one guard answered “Yes, you will be released. If there is a life after this one. But I’m afraid you won’t be able to tell us, seeing as you’ll be dead.”
“But… you need permission from the King to do something so drastic.”
“You think so? Is Captain Sir Robert of the Guard a high enough authority for you? The King left orders that Sir Robert was the authority on all questions of national security. You, being a traitor, are a threat to security, and as such, are subject to Sir Robert’s opinions on your life and death.” By the conclusion of this speech, they had reached a group of horses which were tied together, waiting patiently to transport John and the guards to the place of execution.
As the men lifted John up to mount the central horse, he felt a sharp pain in his left ankle. He could not stifle a loud groan as he thought to himself “I had forgotten. My way out of this lies down my boot. They can not stop me now.”
A moment later, one of the guards who had mounted beside him exclaimed “open the doors! All is arranged!”
As the party came increasingly closer to the doors of the prison courtyard, John slowly slid down the left side of the horse until he could nearly reach his boot, which he slid out of the stirrup silently. Just at that moment, a guard turned and demanded “And why would you be trying to escape? It will go harder for you if you try anything.” As he slipped the knife out of his boot and into a better position in his belt, John quickly righted himself, saying “The saddle is loose. It is falling.”
“I tightened it myself only minutes ago. You do not know how to stay on a horse!”
“I do not know how to ride? Then tell me if this is riding!” John shouted, as he drew his blade, sliced the ropes keeping the horse tethered, and dug his heels into its sides, riding off through the gate as hard as he could.
The guards stood momentarily shocked by his sudden action, but within seconds, they had spurred their own horses through the gate and were yelling after him “Some man stop him! He is wanted for treason!
Hearing their calls, John turned in the saddle and shouted back “Who will stop me? There is no one here, and you surely won’t catch up to me!” Laughing, he slapped his horse, causing it to jump forward and run even harder.
Behind him, the guards split up in an attempt to head him off. “He’ll be heading for the palace! Turn up another road, and we may be able to catch him sidelong!”
“So they think that’s where I’m going? How do they know? We shall see who looks foolish after I am done with my business!” Leaning forward on the horse’s neck, John sped on. Suddenly, he noticed that there was a commotion going on in his path. “What are the fools doing? Not trying to delay me, I’m sure, for no one in their right mind would try that.” As he approached more closely, he saw the cause. “Ah, it is the market. I am up to enough trouble already. Why should I avoid this?” So saying, he kept his steed pointed straight toward the central market.
John reveled in the horrified excitement his unexpected and rapid approach was creating in the square. He began to laugh wildly as people ran in every direction to avoid his crazed steed.
In another instant, a mounted prison guard came charging out of a street straight toward John. The guard pulled his horse up sharply, causing it to skid to a halt only two feet behind John’s own.
John, who had been startled at the guard’s sudden appearance and slowed his mount somewhat, kicked his horse once more, and the chase continued.
Finally, John, having winded his mount, was forced to jump off and run for cover down the narrow streets of the inner city. The guard on horseback continued to pursue him, though he had to lessen his pace to allow his steed to continue down the narrower paths. This gave John the time he needed to escape and run to the castle unmolested.
As he came near the castle, the sentries watching over the gates challenged him, calling “Who are you, and why would you be running so hard to the castle?”
“I have urgent news for the King!”
“Where have you been, that you have not heard that the King marched to war two days ago? Though if it is really urgent, you had best tell the Princess. I believe she is the head of state at this time.”
John had to wait while the guards raised the portcullis and pushed open the gates and he spent the time looking about nervously, worried that the prison guard would catch up to him before he could slip inside the safety of the royal walls, that no mere prison guard would be allowed to penetrate. The sentries seemed to have noticed his behavior, for they worked quickly. As soon as the space would allow a man, John squeezed through and bid them shut the gates once more.
It was not a moment too soon, either, for only a few short moments after John had gained the castle’s protection, the prison guard who had been pursuing him for the last several minutes rode up on his exhausted horse and shouted at the guards “You have a traitor within those walls!”
“A traitor? What traitor? The only men we have let inside today are Sir Robert of the guard and the ambassador, Sir John.”
“Find him! He is the one!”
“Sir John? A traitor? What proof do you have? We fear you must in some strange way have gotten him confused with some crooked merchant or other. We can not deliver Sir John up to you until we hear the King’s opinion, and that is not possible, as he is at war with Brandia.”
Knowing that he could not produce irrefutable evidence, the guard, letting his head fall toward his chest, turned to lead his horse away from the castle. The spy Sir John had escaped justice this time. It only remained to wait until the King returned, face his anger, and then, if given the chance, execute John with the King’s consent.
While the guard was being turned away at the gate, John continued his flight until he reached the entrance to the great hall, which was packed with cheerful and rambunctious guardsmen and servants gorging themselves on choice meats and drinks.
Struggling to appear unexcited and dignified, John made his entrance at a walk. At first, he went unnoticed, as the room was giving all of its attention to two large guardsmen who were attempting to recite the epic of Regidare the Bold while still quaffing down enough good wine to drown a man. Due to the large amount of spirits which both were continuing to swallow down, these impromptu bards were getting increasingly more incoherent and shaking as they attempted to stay on their feet. For no discernible reason, these facts were causing great hilarity among the audience, which laughed loudly as one every time a name was mispronounced.
John stood watching this ridiculous behavior for a short time, and then moved around the room to Valun’s chair, which surprisingly, the rabble respected enough to leave empty, and rang the bell which hung alongside for Valun’s use.
Almost instantly the clamor came to a halt. The two tipsy bards promptly collapsed on the floor. Each was carried out of sight by four of their companions. When he saw that everyone was looking at him, John announced “I am the ambassador of his majesty King Valun, and I came to bring him news, but I have been informed that I came too late. Since such is the case, I wish to be presented to her majesty the newly arrived Gairbairian Princess, whom I hear will soon become our own fair queen. Would any man show me where she is lodged?”
“Aye. I shall, sir, though do not be surprised if she does not want to see you. Her black guards came down here an hour ago and left with a fairly large feast of their own. I expect they’re trying to sleep it off now.” The man continued under his breath “Confound those desert shadows. Make a man’s spine shudder when one of those silent freaks turns up next to you.”
As the volunteer guide led John out of the great hall, the rest of the crowd, seeing that they were not in trouble with their superiors as of yet, resumed their loud feasting.
John followed the guide for several minutes before they reached the level at which the royal chamber was situated. The guide stopped a few feet away from the stairs and said “No one was told, but we think she’s on this level, though not in the King’s own chamber, of course.”
“Very well. I will find it myself. You are free to go.”
John stood still until the servant had retraced his steps down the stairway and John could no longer hear his descent. When that time came, John resumed walking down the corridor, stopping at each door to discover whether anyone was inside. Hearing no one, he would continue on. About ten minutes after he had reached the proper level, he finally approached the correct door. He knew it was the correct door because two of the dark guards who had accompanied the Princess throughout her journey were standing as sentries outside it. Several feet away, John stopped to discover whether the guards were awake. When he had determined the truth, which was that the silence of the position had caused the guards to doze off, he approached the door more closely, laughing quietly at the plans he anticipated.
When he had gotten close enough, he reached out and tried the handle of the door. It yielded to his pressure. “Excellent. They have not locked it. She must believe that her guards out here are keeping a good watch. Now I am free to proceed with my plan.” Accordingly, he crept away from the door of the Princess’s chamber and returned to the King’s own chamber, which he had passed on his way. When he had reached it, he tried the handle. This door also was left unlocked. “Still better. In fact, the plan could not be unfolding more smoothly.”
A moment later he had entered the King’s chamber. He stood silently for a moment, contemplating the surrounding room. Then, he sprang into action, turning over the bedcovers and opening all the drawers of Valun’s writing desk. When he found nothing of any particular importance anywhere, he shouted in frustration and kicked at the bed. He missed the bed and instead his foot connected with the chest which Valun kept all of his personal belongings in. Dropping down so that he was lying flat on the floor, John laughed again as he reached out and pulled the chest out from its place. Sliding along until he had completely removed the chest from under the bed, John then leaped up and shifted position to the side where the locks could be found. Unfortunately for him, there were locks on the chest, and he knew that Valun was carrying the keys. Leaping up, he ran to Valun’s desk, where he had spotted the knife which Valun used to open all correspondence. Grabbing it, he returned to the chest and had soon cut the locks off. As soon as this was done, he lifted the lid of the chest and began throwing things wildly all over the room. Finally, he found what he was looking for. The unmistakable shape of Valun’s crown in its velvet sack drew his eyes like a magnet does to piece of iron. Quickly, he grabbed the sack out of the chest and buried it in his cloak. Then he began to attempt restore order to the room in order to hide traces of his visit. When he finished, he shoved the chest back under the bed and stood up, dusting himself off. “That is good. Let’s see Valun find out who’s behind this now. And now, I have more work to attend to.”