Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Castle Rajikline: Part Five

            Leopold woke suddenly but did not move. In his line of work, such a movement could give away your position almost as fast as standing up and shouting and would negate the past forty-eight hours of work. He had known that approaching the castle unnoticed would be hard since he had to bound across open field while dodging the prying spotlights and eyes looking from the castle walls. Even nature was against him; the moon was full the night that he started. Needless to say, the job was boring and stressful at the same time. Sliding forward on his belly an inch at a time, stopping whenever a spotlight came close was the slowest form of movement ever. He had managed to cross close to half of the field by the end of the first night and took refuge in a conveniently placed haystack where he had waited out the day, sleeping when he could and making sparing use of the supplies that he had brought with him. When night had fallen the second day, he started to move again. The terrain here was better suited to his purpose, and he was able to move slightly faster than before. He reached the bank of the moat about an hour before sunrise and spent about half of the remaining time searching for an appropriate spot to wait out the day. He found what he hoped was an abandoned dugout about a dozen yards from the water. It looked like the water had at one time risen all of the way to the dugout, but had receded since then. Tall grass hung across the indention's opening, masking its interior from sight, and Leopold decided that it would make a good hiding spot.

            Laying in the dugout, motionless except to drink some water and eat some food, he passed the day not a stone's throw from the moat of Castle Rajikline. It was possible that he could have attained this position without going through all of the trouble that he had. One of the options that had been discussed at great length was for him to dress as a peasant and simply hide out near the moat, but they were unsure of how the guards would react and if they would notice. In the end, they had elected to go with the longer method, but one that they were sure would work. Now, forty-eight hours after Leopold had started the ordeal, it was getting dark again, and he mentally prepared for the next step. Though the last two days had been stressful and strenuous, the next part would be his least favorite by far.
            Leopold slowly spread the grass near his face and looked out of the dugout. The moat and castle wall filled his field of vision, though he could barely distinguish the individual stones of the wall. It was almost dark enough for him to begin. To be safe, he waited an additional thirty minutes before he dared to move.
            Making sure that all of his equipment was securely attached to his body, he inched out of the dugout and started crawling toward the moat. One of the reasons that he had settled on this spot was that the algae on the moat's water was greener here, suggesting that this was the spot that he wanted. Also the group sloped gently toward the water and was covered with a layer of slick grass. It took almost no effort at all to slide down the bank to the water's edge. Now he had to enter the water, a task that he knew was considerably trickier than what he had just done. The acoustics of the water and castle wall would reflect any sound that he made up to the watchmen in the towers. He had contemplated ideas involving throwing a rock to distract the watchmen, but he didn't know what kind of a reaction this would induce. Would they simply scan the water more thoroughly, or would they turn a spot light on the moat? How far out would their radius of search extend? Could he get the stone far enough from himself that they would not see him?
            Not knowing the answers to these questions, he opted for simply entering the water silently and never giving them any indication of his presents. Of course, this process was more easily said than done. Taking a deep breath, he began to allow his body to ever so slowly slide into the water surrounding the castle. The weight of his gear kept his body from floating to the surface, and he continued to slide forward until he felt his feet submerge in the dingy liquid. He continued to slide forward a few more feet, more quickly now that there would be no disturbance on the surface to give him away. Then, when he deemed it safe, he took a slow steady stroke with his arms, propelling himself forward through the water. Another stroke and he deemed that he was far enough out to begin using his feet.
            Progress was quicker now, and for that he was grateful. It was difficult to swim with even the added weight of clothes and boots which was why he had decided to leave his short sword with The Group and take only his knife. After all, if the alarm was sounded and the whole garrison of Rajikline turned out to fight, his sword would not help him any more than his knife could. His chosen weapon combined with the rest of his gear seemed to be just enough weight to prevent him from floating to the moat's surface without significantly restricting his ability to swim. After all, he had practiced in conditions like this and was ready for it.
            Leopold continued to stroke, cutting through the water at a leisurely pace. His mental compass was good enough that he had little fear of straying from the course he had set before entering the moat. The only limitation that he had was the length of time that he could hold his breath. Through extensive training, he had been able to increase that time to the duration of six minutes if he was motionless, but that time was considerably less when he was performing activities, particularly strenuous ones. Had he been swimming unburdened across the moat, he would have been able to easily cover the distance with only one breath, but weighed down as he was, he was only half way across, he estimated, and already his throat was burning from the lack of oxygen.
            Leopold was the best as what he did, and that wasn't because he overlooked details like not being able to cross the moat in one breath. For ever problem there was a solution, this one in particular coming from the mystical bag of Daniel's tricks. As the burning in his throat and lungs became more unbearable, Leopold located a medium sized cylinder strapped to his chest and manipulated a hose attached to it, forcing the free end between his lips. He allowed the air in his lungs to pass out of his mouth in a small stream to minimize the size of bubbles that the action would create on the surface. He reached for a stopper located near the end of the cylinder, twisted it open, and inhaled. A lung-full of air flooded down his throat, relieving the burning, and giving him more strength. He twisted the stopper close and continued to stroke through the water, moving ever nearer to the walls of the castle.
            Leopold had to use the contraption once more to replenish the air in his lungs, this time emptying the cylinder. Two strokes later, his fingers felt the stones of the castle wall, and he began to use them to pull his body up toward the surface. The construction of the castle was extremely curious, a fact that he had noted when he was planning his entrance the night before. Most castles were built on solid ground and a moat was dug later thereby producing a situation where the water of the moat rarely, if ever, came close enough to the walls to touch them. This castle was designed such that the moat directly abutted the wall with the stones extending below the water's surface. This design was used to hide a single weakness in most castles' designs, the very weakness that Leopold was currently trying to exploit.
            He pulled himself upward, stone by stone. The plan was to re-orient himself once he could see and from there try to dive and find what he was looking for. As luck would have it, he found it before he even reached the surface. As he climbed, his fingers fell on open space. He quickly traced the shape, a circle, and determined that it was exactly what he needed. Half swimming, half climbing, he pulled himself into the stone pipe and began to walk up the sloping floor. The water became more sludgy and he tried desperately not to think about the filthy that he was currently wading through. It was impossible to block out the thought.
            Leopold had determined earlier that the pipe could not be very long, and sure enough, less than ten feet later, his head broke the surface of the water. His sense of smell had been impeded when he was submerged, but now the full smell of the place filled his nostrils and he vomited. The burning in his throat could not get rid of the thick film that had began to coat it as a result of breathing the air in this place. The thought of it made him vomit again. He wiped his mouth, certain that he had a firm grip on his physical reactions now and began to examine his surroundings.
            There was actually very little to see due to the lack of light and for this he was thankful. It was bad enough knowing what he was standing in, but to see it might set off another wave of nausea. He began to feel with his hands until he had determined the dimensions of his surroundings. He was in a pipe, square in shape, approximately three feet on a side. Above him was a small circle of light about the size of his thumbnail from appearances. Based on what he knew of places like this, that meant the climb would be about thirty to forty feet. It would not be easy nor impossible. This was the sort of thing that was right up his alley.

            Using is hands to direct him, Leopold positioned himself with his back against one wall and his feet near the other. Bracing his back against the stones behind it, he raised one foot and planted it, freeing the other. He raised his other foot to approximately the same height as the first and pushed off with both, shoving his back higher up the wall. He repeated the process again, gaining another six inches in altitude. Two down, seventy-eight more to go.

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