Saturday, July 20, 2013

Castle Rajikline: Part Three

            Leopold continued to stare at the castle in front of him. The moon was setting and hung behind the castle, highlighting the details of the towers and walls. The silhouette of the structure was certainly less than impressive to look at, though he had heard all of the stories of people trying to breach the walls. Never before in history had that task been successfully accomplished. Only once had the structure switched hands and that was with the help of a famine and a plague. Dying as his people were, the baron who had originally owned the castle had given it up gladly in return for food and medicine. Now, with the current owner on firm economic and political footing, breaching the walls and gaining access to the keep seemed like a dream at best.
            Leopold climbed down from his perch on the broken remnants of the old watch tower and rejoined the other members of his team around a small, make-shift table on the tower's ground floor. First, there was the most esteemed member of their infamous group, the wizard Daniel. Daniel was no wizard in the strictest sense of the word; what he did have was an acute knowledge and proficiency in many things medical and scientific. Much of his research and knowledge stretched considerably beyond that of common men, and many of his methods seemed mystical to them. He also cultivated the image of 'wizard' with his long, white beard, flowing robes, and wizard's hat, though he claimed the latter two were simply for utility and comfort. Though not significantly advanced in years, Daniel was the oldest member of the group and consequently the leader.
            Raven was across the table from Daniel and slouched against a crumbling wall. She was, in fact, a woman, though it was hard to discern from her looks. She was dressed in men's clothes and wore her brown hair several inches above her shoulders, a style frequented by males of the area. She was not any cleaner than the other members of the group but wore stains and tears proudly on her clothes and dirt smudges on her face. To complete the image, she sported several scars on her face, the largest of which remained as a whitish line that started above her left eye and stretched to the point of her chin. She had received that particular trophy in her younger years before any of the other members of the group knew her and declined to tell anyone the story of how she got it. Though a stranger might have guessed Raven to be a fighter, she was actually the brains of the group. That wasn't to say that the others were helpless on the mental stage without her, nor was it to imply that she could not handle herself in a fight. She just happened to do her best work making plans rather than executing them.
            The third member of the group was Midas. No, he was not King Midas with the golden touch as people often jokingly asked. If that were the case, he would not have gotten into his current line of work. The only things 'golden' about Midas were the shaggy hair on his head and his ability with weapons of all kinds. He was most comfortable when wielding weapons; this was only natural since he had practically grown up swinging a sword. Actually the turn of phrase was 'swinging a sword,' but for Midas it had actually been a club; he hadn't started learning the sword until he was thirteen. Now, with only four years of experience under his belt, he could still best most swordsmen of better than average skill. Even without a weapon, he was a formidable opponent. Standing well over six feet tall, his arms and chest probably weighed more by themselves than Leopold weighed in his entirety. His whole body rippled with muscles and he was not afraid to use them. Leopold had once seen him kill a man just with a well-placed blow from his fist. Altogether, Midas was not a person than you wanted to make angry.
            Leopold rounded out The Group's four members. At the age of fourteen, he was uncontested for the title of the group's youngest member. He was short for his age, but that was just an advantage to him; he was the group's sneaker. He had yet to come up against a building that he could not infiltrate or a patrol that he could not sneak past. He carried a short sword strapped to his back and a long knife strapped to his leg, but his greatest weapons were the dark and the cloak that he wore. Its shade was dark, and its colors many. Splotches of dark green, gray, and black adorned the fabric, allowing him to blend into the shadows more completely. With this cloak and a moonless night, he was often able to infiltrate and exit without being seen even once, the only conditions that he held for a perfectly executed mission. His hair was short and black, though it was impossible to tell, hidden as it was now beneath the hood of his cloak. Though sneaking was his game, he was no slouch with his weapons. He would much rather slip his knife between your ribs while you were not looking, but he was just as deadly using his short sword in a fair fight. Despite all of his abilities, Leopold was mild in nature and preferred avoiding fights when possible.
            "Castle Rajikline," Raven said. "You couldn't have taken an easier job, could you Daniel?"
            "There were plenty of other jobs," Daniel said calmly. "This paid a lot more, though."
            "What's the goal?" Leopold asked. He was always thinking five steps ahead and liked to know what the ultimate object of a mission was.
            "You'll like this one, Leo," Daniel answered. "It doesn't require any killing; all we're doing is stealing something."
            "I'm not a child so don't treat me like one," Leopold said and he was correct. Though he was only fourteen, he had left all remnants of his childhood behind. "What you mean to say is that our task is not to kill a person. Doing anything in Rajikline will involve killing people, probably a lot of them."
            "Well, if anyone can pull it off without any bloodshed, it will be you," Raven said. "We obviously can't assault the place with four people, so you'll be sneaking it."
            "A daunting task to say the least. How exactly do you expect me to get it done when so many people have tried and failed?" Leopold asked. His words might have implied doubt or even fear, but his heart was starting to race with excitement. There was nothing like an impossible task to dispel boredom, and has life had become pretty boring of late. Only a few of The Group's most recent jobs required his particular abilities, and those were all easy tasks to say the least. Sneak into a tavern a steal a painting from the room of a traveling merchant? Easy. Now the matching painting from a baron's castle? Even easier. The hardest job had involved stealing a family heirloom from the house of a freeman and that was just because he had two hounds guarding the place, something that Leopold hadn't credited him with the intelligence to do.
            "Well, I hope that you know something that I don't because last I heard, this place was impossible to get into," Leopold said. Yes, sneaking into this castle was going to be a lot harder than dealing with two dogs.
            "What we do know is that the castle is a lot like other castles," Daniel said, "except a lot more so."
            "That's unutterably helpful," Leopold said. "Tell me something that I don't know."
            "Well, this should make you happy," Raven offered, finally standing from her spot on the wall and approaching the make-shift table in the middle of the gathering. "The castle's garrison is down to about half of its normal size. By our best estimations, you'll only have to contend with about one hundred guards instead of two."
            "That's better news, but not great," Leopold said. "We both know that Rajikline could probably be held by as few as twenty soldiers. With one hundred, there are still plenty of eyes watching the walls to make a climb impossible."
            "And you can't think of any other way up the wall?" Midas asked. "One that would allow you to get up without being seen?"
            "Oh no," Leopold said, looking two Daniel and Raven. They were looking back at him, nodding their heads. "I see that you held a conference on the matter without my being present."
            "As you said, it's the only way into the castle," Raven said.
            "I'm not going to do it," Leopold said. "Not again. Once was quite enough for me."
            "Be reasonable, Leo," Raven said. "We all agree that there is no other way into the castle. This is the only way to get in."
            "I don't care what the payout is," Leopold said. "None of you have ever done what you're suggesting so you don't know."
            "It's temporary discomfort for eternal glory," Daniel offered. "Just imagine, you will be the only person alive who has ever broken into Castle Rajikline by stealth or by force."
            "That is true," Leopold said slowly. It would be impressive to do this thing. Break into the unbreakable castle and steal something from it to prove it. Of course, with more glory came more risk. The Rajikline would be a tough nut to crack, but it could be done. And if anyone could come up with a plan to do it, Raven could.

            "Okay," Leopold conceded finally. "What's the plan to get me in?"

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