Friday, July 26, 2013

Castle Rajikline: Part Six

            Leopold listened carefully for any indication of a person nearby. Not hearing any, he pushed one final time with his legs, forcing his body through the hole at the top of the pipe and into the room above. Rising to his feet, he scraped some of the muddy sludge off of his clothes and slung it back through the hole he had just come through. By now all thoughts of what he had just done were gone. After the mission, he would probably have to bathe twenty times before he felt clean again, but for now he was immune to it. The only thought on his mind was completing the mission.

            Leopold had expected the room to be small with a single hole, a single place for a person to sit, but this was not the case. This latrine was quite large with six seats, each separated by dividing walls. Six holes meant six pipes emptying into the moat which would explain why it had been so easy to locate the exit pipe. Thank goodness for small favors.
            The door to the latrine jiggled, and Leopold tore across the room, stepping up onto the far seat and crouching behind the partition. He could hear the door open and people enter, from the sounds of the footsteps, he guessed that there were two men. The door closed and Leopold slowly drew his knife, careful to not make a sound. He had chosen the last stall because it seemed likely that no one would use it, but he wanted to be ready just in case.
            "I know that this is the unbreachable castle, but this job is utter malarkey," one of the soldiers said. "It's the same thing over and over, day after day, and it isn't even interesting."
            "That's why we only have this assignment for six months," the other soldier said. "It's not because they care what we think; it's because they know that we become considerably less vigilant after that amount of time."
            "That doesn't surprise me in the least," the first soldier said. "Freakin' government! Sometimes I hate them but they do dole out my pay."
            Leopold smiled grimly to himself at that statement. Because he was often on the wrong side of the law, many people assumed that he hated the government. On the contrary, he loved what the government did to make his job easier and safer. If burglary were legal, everyone would do it, and individuals would be much more vigilant concerning the protection of their own property. As it was, since many people left their own security to the lawmen and the courts, they let done their guard and made it considerably easier for Leopold to rob from them. So it would seem that the soldiers who worked for the king hated him more than the thief did. Ironic.
            The two soldiers talked for a while longer but eventually finished and left, leaving Leopold alone again. He had been considering his next move for a while and knew that his biggest enemy right now was his smell. Though he had been around the smell of sewage long enough that he had almost grown immune to it, the castle guards would almost certainly pick up his stink from a mile away. In the latrine it was possible to hide it because the open toilet holes allowed the stink to permeate the room, but outside would be a different story. He needed to get to a source of water quickly and wash the filth off of himself. He'd been through this part of the plan many times over the past two days, but no matter how hard he had tried, he could only come up with two locations that he was absolutely positive that he would be able to find water. The castle well, typically located near the center of the castle grounds, would be a source, though it would be hard to approach without being seen as well as very deep. Altogether, it would be a bad solution to his problem at best.
            Leopold stepped down off of the latrine that he had been standing on and moved to the latrine door. Careful to not make any noise, he cracked it open and looked outside, gathering as much information on his surroundings as possible. He had a view of a small slice of the castle's parapets and towers. Guards seemed to patrol them constantly with no discernible patterns and no usable dead spots. This would certainly be difficult. Waiting for a short period when it appeared as though no one was looking in his direction, he slipped out of the latrine and moved three paces forward into a dark area created by a low hanging banner.
            From the safety of the shadows he examined the situation, the guards, the defenses that he would have to sneak past to get to the central keep. From there, he had decided to move upward to the fourth and fifth levels of the castle, not only because no one had been up there and survived to talk about it, but also because if he had a prisoner, that is where he would hold them. The problem with dungeons in the ground was that anyone in them could get out by tunneling if they were properly motivated. Lining the place with stone would only deter but not altogether stop a person determined to escape a dungeon. Transfer a dungeon to the top of a tower, and there was no place to go, especially in a place like Castle Rajikline. To escape would require climbing down five stories of bare rock with not a place to hide. Towers were far more secure than dungeons.
            But the first order of business was to find water to wash in, and Leopold scanned the courtyard of the castle. A trough of water was located near the gates, precisely where he had expected it to be, for tired and thirsty horses to drink from. Leopold felt sorry for any horse that decided to drink from the trough, but it was the closest place that he could wash some of the stench off of himself and so that was where he was going to go. slipping between the wall's crenellations, he began to climb down.
            The principles of climbing were simple, so simple that he had learned them by the time he was eight years old. The first was that no surface, no matter how smooth it looked from a distance, was actually smooth. There were always grooves, protrusions, and other anomalies that would allow a very determined person to climb them, and Leopold was very determined. The second principle was that though every wall is scalable, people to use walls as protection never believe that their particular wall can be climbed. Once inside a compound or castle, you are considerably safer than on the approach, particularly in a place like Rajikline where popular belief that it was unbreachable. The soldiers on the walls might watch the surrounding fields like hawks watching for their next meal, but inside the castle would be considered safe. Except for dodging the obligator patrol or two, Leopold would have free reign of the place.
            Leopold's feet touched the ground and he headed for the horse troughs, keeping a crouched posture and staying in the shadows. He reached the troughs without being seen, but wasn't about to give up the element of surprise to a stupid mistake. Keeping a low profile, he slid over the edge of the trough and into the water. He had expected the trough's water to be cool as the moat had been, but it was actually quite warm. Apparently the smaller size of the trough coupled with its exposure to direct sunlight before night had fallen had heated it considerably. Thankful once again for small favors, he commenced washing himself as best he could. He knew that warm water washed better and faster than cold water did, and time was not a thing that he could waste. In a matter of minutes he had scrubbed himself relatively clean and was about to climb back out of the trough when a sound off to his left made him freeze. Sliding slowly into the water so that only his head was above the surface, he looked to where he had heard the noise.
            Because he worked primarily in darkness, Leopold knew that the eyes did not see the same in light as they did in dark. One could not look at an object and expect to see it, rather, it was necessary to look to the side of what you wanted to see. He did this squinting slightly to make out the shapes in the dark. The corner of a building came into view, not by his efforts but because light was beginning to spill around its edge. Closing a single eye to preserve his night vision, Leopold slid further into the water, all the while keeping the corner fixed with his open eye. Two soldiers carrying a torch rounded the building and headed straight for his hiding place. He slid further into the water, keeping an eye on the approaching soldiers until it was certain that they would pass near him. Taking a deep breath and closing his open eye, he slid the rest of his body into the water.
            Through closed eyes, Leopold could see the torch light dance across the water's surface. The light continued to get brighter until he judged that it was beside the trough. It had taken two minutes for the soldiers to cover the distance, so in two minutes, they would be a sufficient distance away for him to resurface. The light stopped moving and he realized with horror that the patrol had stopped by the trough. The idiots had stopped by a blasted horse trough? For what reason? Had they seen him?
            Though it took every ounce of his will, Leopold did not move but lay motionless at the bottom of the trough. He knew that water at night reflected similarly to a mirror. In theory, the soldiers would be unable to see him if they looked straight into the water, seeing only their own reflection instead. There was movement at the water's surface, and Leopold again had to make a conscious effort not to spring out of the water and kill both members of the patrol. He had no doubt that he would be able to complete the deed, but the last thing that he wanted to do was leave dead bodies behind. That would certainly turn an almost impossible mission into a completely impossible one.

            After what seemed like years though it was only a minute and a half, the light moved away from the trough and grew dimmer. Leopold's heart was pumping now, and his lungs were burning. He was nearing the upper limit of the length he could hold his breath and had to break the surface of the water. Slowly so as to not make any noise he slid his head out of the water and took several slow breaths. His eyes were on the move again, searching for anything that could give him away, but this time he saw nothing. Quickly he slid out of the trough and headed for the shadows. In his haste he was not as quiet as usual, but he didn't care. He was not going to be stuck in that trough again.

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