In this tale, a nameless sword slinger journeys toward a mysterious castle. Inside, he expects to find a Baron who preys on the nearby village. This is part 3 of the story. Read part 2 here,
In this tale, a nameless sword slinger journeys toward a mysterious castle. Inside, he expects to find a Baron who preys on the nearby village. This is part 3 of the story. Read part 2 here, and part 1 here.
Cooler air greets my face as I exit the overgrown section of the path to the Baron’s castle. The sun is nearly extinguished for the day, but a dim reddish light remains. The road rises steeply, and when I ascend the hill, I spot my destination.
Clouds the color of coal hover over the imposing stone walls. Surveying the journey behind me, the small village in the valley below now looks ant-sized. I take in a deep breath of fresh mountain air before turning to face the task ahead.
The castle looks to be a simple square structure, with a tower sticking up from each corner. A central spire, the keep, sticks out from the middle. Two giant oak doors bar passage into the structure. No guards or signs of life are present. If the way weren’t shut tight, I’d assume this castle was abandoned. Solid stonework makes up most of the façade, but I spot a small section near the top of the gate that’s collapsed. It’s as good an entry point as I’m likely to find.
As I remove my pack and kneel to rummage in it, rain begins to fall gently. I monitor the archer slits out of the corner of my eye. If anyone is up on the walls, this is the moment they should strike. Inside the bag, my hands grip what they’re looking for. I remove a metal grappling hook. It hasn’t failed to gain purchase in the stones I’ve thrown it toward since I purchased it in the fabulous capital of Marquad years before. The ropes attached to it, on the other hand, have needed replacing over a dozen times. I check the current one for signs of weakness before standing tall. Still no movement from the walls. I plant my feet in the dirt and swing the rope-tied hook around in a circle, increasing its speed to build momentum. Just as I prepare to let it fly, unexpected movement causes me to send it into the dirt.
The gates swing inward.
The metal of my sword sings as I slide my blade free of its scabbard. I stand ready to hack and slash at any foe that rides out to meet me. Moments turn to minutes as I stand, waiting. No one comes out. I begin to approach the midnight maw of the castle gates with caution. Each new step could be bringing me closer to the gaze of a hidden archer.
When I’m staring deep into the entrance, I relax. If the Baron wanted me dead, he’d have tried to strike by now. Still, I keep my sword drawn as I continue forward. My eyes dart up to the murder-holes Zed informed me of. Two of them are angled to spill deadly liquids down on intruders. I step over the threshold inside and torches spring to life on both sides of me. They cast an eerie green glow. A stone tunnel leads deeper inside. I continue, and more flames spring to life ahead of me as the ones behind are snuffed by invisible hands. Damned sorcery. Nothing good ever comes of it. I come to a turn, and I prepare to meet doom around the bend.
Relief greets me instead. Another empty stretch of tunnel, but within this one, the walls grow closer together as I pass through. More murder-holes line the passage above. I investigate each one expecting to need to dash out of the way of falling liquid or stones. In past years, this tunnel would’ve been an extremely useful weapon against opposing forces. It cut down the number of foes that could be sent against the castle’s defenders. Six battle-tested soldiers with shields and spears could keep armies of men from entering the courtyard, so why was I being allowed in easily? At my feet, the torchlight reveals a surprise.
Signs of past visitors to the castle litter the sides of the stone walls. Discarded weapons, bones, and armor pieces. Men have died often in this tunnel. Every step feels like agony as the I need to squeeze through the tight walls leading to the next turn. The air is now stagnant, and dust floats freely. I feel trapped when I hear the gates behind me slam shut. No turning back. I charge forward as fast as I can. If I’m going to meet my end here, I’ll do it fast.
I round another turn, and fresh air greets me.
Outside of the tunnel, the rain picks up speed and begins stinging me with icy moisture. The ground of the castle is quickly transforming into a muddy trap. I survey everything I can as fast as possible. The area looks deserted with collapsed hovels and piles of rubble where buildings once stood. The base of the keep lies directly ahead. Behind it, what looks like a gigantic overgrown hedge maze takes up the rest of the castle’s free space. The sounds of branches breaking echoes off the stone from within. Something big is approaching.
I approach the hedge maze slowly when a flash from above draws my attention. A single candle burns within the highest window of the tower. The Baron at last. I cross the muck to reach the stone steps leading up to the small wooden door into the keep. The sounds in the hedge maze grow louder as I get nearer. As I ascend to the landing and reach for the handle, I pause to survey the area from my elevated vantage point.
At eye level with the top of the hedge maze, I sweep my gaze over everything in sight. The fading light makes seeing anything significant tough. The stone wall rises in the distance behind the greenery. A shiver runs through me as the rain soaks through my cloak. Then a part of the hedge maze seems to move closer. Whatever the Baron keeps inside is massive. I waste no more time and push the door in front of me open.
To Be Continue in Part 4 – where we meet the Baron.