Monday, April 20, 2015

A Swordsman's Duty - Part Seven

The waypost inn in front of Erros was little different from many similar establishments.  For a place that should have had at least one or two travelers staying, there was disturbingly little activity.  He was crouched behind a small rise crowned with a bush to observe the place.  He had backtracked when the inn came in sight and tethered his horse out of view.
The only motion was two men on the front porch.  They didn’t seem like patrons. They were both armed and clearly keeping watch.  Erros was certain the Princess had been taken here, but was she still inside?  The front door was out of the question.  Even if he could deal with the two guards it would alert anyone inside, and that might mean death for the Princess. 
Erros made his way around the inn, keeping out of sight.  He reached a tree whose branches extended over the roof of the inn.  If he could get up there, then he could try to enter through one of the gabled windows on the second floor.  He grabbed the lowest branch on the tree and hauled himself up.  He slowly climbed higher, taking care to be as silent as he could and keep the bulk of the tree between him and any observers.  The branches over the inn were thick, but they still sagged as he crawled out on them. 
The foliage became thicker as he approached the end of the branch.  He looked down at the roof.  It was made of solid planks, coated with what looked like tar to keep the water off.  There was a gable with a shuttered window just up and to the left of the branch he was on.  He let his legs hang and eased himself as close to the roof as he could, then let go.
He hit hard, misjudging the height and his feet went out from under him.  He slid down the edge of the roof, clawing at the roof planks.  He caught himself before he slid too far and held absolutely still.  He held his breath but heard nothing to indicate that someone had heard him.  He got up on hands and knees and crawled to the window.  The shutter was held by a simple latch, but it was on the inside.  He drew his sword and slid the blade between the shutters.  They were a close fit but the blade slid in between.  He moved the blade up and against the catch.  It didn’t give.
“Sorry.” He whispered to his sword under his breath, and put his muscle behind it.  Master Akarris would have given him a thrashing for using a sword as a crowbar.  The latch gave way with a splintering sound.  He cringed at the noise but swiftly opened the shutter.  At least the hinges were well oiled. 
Inside was a dim room, lit only by the daylight coming in through the open shutter.  No one was inside nor were there signs of occupation.  The door was across the room from the window and he moved to it swiftly.  He listened at the door but heard nothing.  He tried the door handle and it turned smoothly.  He cracked the door open.  No guard waited to pounce on him.  He opened the door enough to poke his head out and look behind it.  No one seemed to be on this floor.
He crept out into the corridor.  A hallway ran the length of the upper floor, with doors to rooms on either side and a window at the end providing the only light.  The wooden floor was bare and Erros moved carefully, afraid of squeaky floorboards.  He heard voices coming from the stairs at the end of the hall opposite the window.  He couldn’t make out what they were saying, but there was no alarm in their voices.  He crept closer to the top of the stairs.  He could make out the words as he reached the landing. 
“When is Ristobel coming?  I’m tired and bored here.  There’s nothing to do.” A man’s voice whined.

“You’ll do as you’re told, unless you don’t want your share.  If you don’t want to stay I’ve got a sharp knife waiting for you, because I don’t trust you to hold your tongue.”  A woman’s voice scolded.  From his place at the top of the stairs Erros couldn’t see into the inn’s common room.  All he could see down the stairs was a door on the ground floor landing.  As he watched, the door handle wiggled.  The mount for the pull ring jiggled and twisted in its mount.  The door cracked open, a hand carefully holding it.  The top of a woman’s head appeared, and the door opened further.  The head turned and looked up the stairs.  It was Rylan.  Erros poked his head out further and put his finger over his lips as if to say ‘shhh.’  Surprise showed on her face, but she smiled and pulled her head back into the room.  She has a beautiful smile, thought Erros.  As she was closing the door, the door handle slipped out of her fingers.  It hit the floorboards with a metallic clunk.  All conversation stopped in the common room.  

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