And I'm like "whine! I don't wanna deal with this. I'm not even going to think about it."
And the Muse goes, "Oh yeah? I've got this whip . . . "
And the Muse has already informed me that this is the second story . . .
While not yet officially crowned, Jason was, none the less, King of Tornia.
Pacing around the stone walled cell, he had a nasty suspicion he wasn't going to make it back to the crown seat of Laston at all, let alone expeditiously.
With my father so ill, it seemed sensible to show my face to the neighbors, to look confident and in control, to . . . turn myself into a pawn in King Reynold's hands when his spies got word to him that father had died.
I wonder which cousin has tried to grab the throne, in my absence?
Heh. All of them, probably.
He shrugged that thought away and pressed himself to the iron bars of the little window in the heavy timbered door. Not that looking at the cell door across the hall got him anywhere. He'd already tried talking to other inmates, and got silence in return.
No one else here, no witnesses to whatever they have planned.
None of my escort is near. None of my friends within earshot.
They can't help me, and all I can do is hope they are alive. Free would be even better, but I'd settle for knowing they're at least alive.
A quick quiet patter of feet. A boy trotted into view from the right, looking at the first barred door as he hustled past.
A page? No, he had to be a scion of the house, the amount of gold and gems stitched onto his long jacket. The open jacket showed a black shirt and trousers, high leather boots.
No, no one in Reynold's family could possibly have that flaming red hair, or the blue eyes that spotted him, and brightened.
"Hello!" A boy's high tones. "Are you that Prince Jason they're all talking about murdering?"
Jason eyed the child. "Yes, I am. And who might you be?"
"Call me Ecksey. Umm, we don't really do titles much, where I come from. I'm definitely a lord . . . I think I'm far enough away from the crown to not be considered a prince." The boy's brows rose in inquiry. "Would you like to escape?"
"A pleasure to meet you, Lord Ecksey. Yes, I would like very much to escape, however . . . "
The door creaked open.
"C'mon. There's some other people locked in their rooms. Women. Guess they weren't dangerous enough to need a dungeon."
"Right." Jason stepped out. Two doors on each side of the short hall. "I don't know if . . ."
"And those guys down in the proper dungeon. The ones they just arrested yesterday might be friends of yours. If we released all of the prisoners we might be able to escape from the castle in the confusion."
"More likely they'd seal the gates." Jason eyed the boy. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm having an adventure."
Jason eased up on the alcove . . . with three snoring guards.
"Do you think you could wear one of their uniforms?"
"Shhh!" Not that any of the guards stirred
If we free the women . . . oh great. Assuming we can even get out of the castle, I'm to drag those idiots cross-country . . .
The boy nodded. "Girls are stupid. Well, some of them. But all the adventure stouies seem to have them along."
"Err, yes. And we don't want to let Reynold have any hostages. So the women first, then we'll see about the rest." Jason looked down at his own rumpled clothing.
So chummy of King Reynold. "Let me show you something special . . . " Ha! As soon as I was out of everyone's sight, the hand over the mouth, picked up by Reynold's pet monster and shoved in here.
"We aren't far from the hall. I can find the guest quarters from there . . . "
"Heheheh. I don't think so." A rumbling deep voice.
Jason spun. Blange was lighter on his feet than anyone that size should be . . . The King's Monster, they called him.
The kid zipped past Jason at a sprint. Leaped and hit the Monster's armored chest, grabbed his shoulders and flipped himself over the Monster's head and somehow managed to twist around and get an arm around the man's neck, knees braced against his back . . .
The Monster crashed to the ground and laid there.
Jason had been charging to join the fight, and barely got out from under the collapsing giant.
The boy grabbed for the fallen man's belt buckle. "You'll probably need his sword."
"Uh . . . yes?" How did he do that? Even if he was strong enough to strangle him, he didn't strangle him for nearly long enough!
He strained to lift the man enough for Ecksey to pull the belt out from under Blange. He slung the belt around his own waist, under his dress jacket where the overly ornate short sword wasn't obvious. Good thing he wasn't toting the matching long sword, I'd never be able to conceal that thing!
He growled a bit when he ran out of holes in the belt, and . . . The kid reached over with a pretty little stiletto and pressed it through the thick leather.
Didn't know he had any weapons at all.
Jason buckled up and stepped over the body. "When we walk out that door, we'll turn left and walk like we have every right to be there, then left again and up the stairs."
Ecksey grinned. "Right!"
Jason closed his mouth on an impulse to snap at the boy that this wasn't a lark. Because apparently it was. For whatever the "boy" was.
This time of the day, the hall was deserted but for a few scullions cleaning up after breakfast. They didn't so much as glance at the man and boy walking out to the stairs.
No guards on the upstairs hallway. The doors were locked by the simple expedient of rods stuck into holes in the frame, blocking the outward swing of the doors.
I wondered a bit at the lack of a bolt on the inside . . .
He jerked the upper rod out of it's hole, and then the lower. Opened the door cautiously . . . Lady Fern was picking up a chamber pot as if to throw it.
"Oh!" She fumbled the pot and set it on the floor hastily. "Your majesty! The things King Reynold said! He thinks he can be the king of two kingdoms!"
"Hmm, well after a night in a cell, I can't say I'm surprised. Now, get into your riding clothes, and bring a heavy cape. I'm going to release the others."
Lady Rose, Lady Wren and Countess Iris were less well armed, but also just as eager to leave.
"But what about William?" The Countess wrung her hands.
Jason smiled reassuringly. "I'm going to find them now. If you ladies will just casually stroll out to the stable, we'll join you there."
A glance over his shoulder. "Ecksey, can you escort them?"
The boy shook his head. "They'll be fine. The King hasn't told but a few people yet. You need me to unlock doors." A beaming grin. "And I know where the dungeons are."
These dungeons were indeed "proper."
Dank, noisome, rusty. Down dimly lit irregular steps that looked to have been cut from the stone of the hill King Reynold's castle had been built on.
Guarded. With a guard on either side of each of the two massive locked doors.
The first guard was straightening up from what had probably been a half-asleep slump and into a proper alert guard stance when his brain caught up with his guilt and he recognized Jason. He scrambled for his sword, slipped on the mossy step and the kid leaped from five steps up and completed his impact with the wall.
He slid limply down the wall.
The kid snatched up the helmet and handed it to Jason as the window in the door slid open.
"Whut was Dat?"
Jason slapped the helmet on. "Dammed slimy moss." He tried to keep his voice to an angry growl, sort of bent over as if getting up.
"Hahaha!" The window slammed shut.
Ecksey was probing the lock with his stiletto and something else. It thunked and Ecksey pulled the lever.
Jason threw himself at the door shoving it to the guard on the other side . . . and had to run down the steps as the man tumbled cursing down a steep flight.
Where he crashed into the next guard. Jason tried to slow and this time did slip.
He crashed into the third guard, sword out of position, but he swung his fist up and hit the guards chin with the big ruby on the hilt. The guard fell with limp finality.
Ecksey grinned and put one booted foot on the second guard's chest to lean and poke the stiletto and whatever the other thing was, into the lock.
Jason put his hand on the lever and at the thunk, shoved the door open and jumped through, nearly colliding with the on-rushing guard.
Caught him doing his rounds or something.
Jason blocked the man's sword as he rushed, sword out like a spear. The guard's momentum carried him past Jason. He turned . . . Ecksey jumped him from behind and he collapsed.
Jason snatched the ring of keys at the man's belt and hustled into the dark corridor. The lantern behind him threw his shadow ahead but he made out the bolt on the first door and jerked it clear. Ecksey trotted up with the lantern as he opened the door . . . on a trio of pathetic wrecks. He closed the door, reached for the bolt . . . stopped and turned to the cell across the corridor.
Ecksey set the lantern down and headed for the next cell.
Jason looked at more strangers, and closed the door.
Ecksey was backing away from a big muscular . . . "Franz! Don't mess with the kid! Do you know where anyone else is?"
Jason winced at the sight of the dried blood his friend's head, and turned to the next cell. That one held Ramon and Gerald.
Ecksey was working his way down the line and three servants and two grooms joined them quickly. And a whole lot of strangers. And finally Count William shoved and staggered his way out of the growing crowd.
"Your Majesty." Relief filled his voice. "Has Reynold come to his senses, then . . . " He took in the dim light, Jason, the lack of obsequious retainers . . .
The boy's cheerful voice rose from somewhere in the mass of men. "We're heading for the stables. If the rest of you wait until the alarm goes up, and they're chasing us, you can sneak right on out." He wiggled out from between two scruffy men and trotted up to Jason. "Right?"
"Right." Jason turned and led the way up the stairs.
He strode out toward the side entrance nearest the stables, walking confidently, ignoring the filthy men following him. And keeping an eye on the kid.
"Jason, I mean . . ." The count nearly stuttered. "Your majesty, the Countess . . ."
"I let the ladies out of their rooms, they should meet us in the stables." Jason frowned as the kid skipped out of sight, then hustled back.
"I spotted them, everything's going according to plan. Umm, let's hurry."