6. THE THIEVES' BACK PASSAGE

6. THE THIEVES' BACK PASSAGE

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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The three in the castle must escape by using a most unpleasant passage

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It wasn’t until the following morning that the trio were ready to set forth on their march to the North where the village belonging to Jackiss was situated and where, unknown to any one of them, the inhabitants were preparing for war and maybe even a siege.

Jackiss had been quite right in his assessment of the situation with the king, for when he suggested to King Jasper that a few strong men might accompany them on at least part of their march North he was greeted with news that a war was brewing and that men had been sent round the towns and villages, collecting taxes in order to finance what promised to be a long and bitter conflict. There was nobody spare, and would Jackiss consider taking up arms again?

“I would go myself, but I am needed in my tower, but if you take up arms you will be rewarded richly” added the king.

“Arm, you mean, sire,” replied Jackiss pointedly.

“There is to be an execution at noon,” the king added crisply, detecting implied criticism in his soldier’s tone of voice, “and two or three men are to be hanged in front of the castle as an example of what might happen if others fail to pay up or sign for death or glory!”

Jackiss got the point and went in search of his old friend, Mirelin. Wizard or no wizard, he knew that he needed a friend now.

Mirelin had packed away the strange assortment of materials he wanted to take with him ... flashing powders, spell-weeds, herbs that brought on sleep and herbs that brought on passion as well as anything else that came to mind … and his wizard’s staff which may or may not have been merely a length of gnarled timber with a knob on the end.

Queen Amyheart was with him, showing a great deal of curiosity at some of the strange ingredients that Mirelin said were essential if their journey was to be successful. He might have pointed out, but didn’t, that he hoped a liberal dose of his love tonic might help Jackiss see him as he once had back in their younger days when his heart had beat with that strange mixture of excitement and passion that is the joy of youth.

“Quick! We must depart sooner than tomorrow!” snapped Jackiss, “The king is rounding up taxes as well as men with arms! I am blowed if I’m going to sacrifice my one remaining arm in a war that is only to be fought in order to satisfy his vanity!”

“I’m not quite ready...” began Mirelin, deliberately petulantly.

“Then stay back!” grated his old friend, “and take up arms for your lord and see where that takes you! I’m off, to my gifted lands up North as swiftly as I can!”

“All right, darling, if you say so,” mumbled Mirelin, and he heaved his pack onto his back. “Come on then!”

“We must not be seen,” said Queen Amyheart, “for if we are I wouldn’t give a groat for our continued existence.”

“Not even half a groat,” agreed Jackiss, “but which is the safest way for us? North entrance, south entrance, east or west? They’re all guarded and there are some amongst the guards who resent the gift I received in return for sacrificing my right arm, and might not turn a blind eye should they notice us!”

“Those ways are no good,” murmured the Queen, who had now reduced her appearance to that of an ordinary widow woman with a long black smock and no circlet or crown on her head.

“If we are to depart like thieves then we must take the thieves’ back passage,” suggested Mirelin.

“You know of such a way?” asked Jackass.

“Darling, I have been wizard to the king this many years and know much about this castle that not even he can guess,” grinned Mirelin. “Sometimes my magic has the assistance of a little subterfuge,” he added, winking at the Queen.

“I suspected as much,” she smiled.

“And I have seen many things I maybe should not have seen,” he added. “I have been a foot from the grill that warms the king’s bedchamber in winter, and I have seen … well, it would be best if I didn’t say.”

“Oh!” gasped the Queen, “you have?”

“I will say no more for now,” he told her, “but I know for a certainty why no wife of his serene Majesty has produced an heir for him.”

The Queen smiled nervously at him. “And so do I,” she said, “but as you say, we will not talk of this now. Tell me, where is this thieves’ passage you mentioned?”

“If we need to escape without being seen by guards or any man then it is the only way,” he told her, “but be warned. It is treacherously dark, and though, with magic, I can create a little light, it will barely be enough for each of us to tell that the others are nearby.”

“Take us,” demanded Jackiss, “or I fear we will die waiting!”

“Yes,” agreed the Queen, nervously.

“Then we must keep together,” advised Mirelin, “and while we are still open to view we must behave normally. No clandestine lurking, no dithering to look round corners, just boldy walking as though we have no cares in the world. And you, your Majesty,” here he addressed tie queen directly, “you are in the garb of a widow, so it would be best if you behaved like one! Head bowed, eyes leaking, feet dragging.”

“I feel a bit like a widow, for my husband, a cruel king, is probably already seeking a princess to take my place in his cot,” she replied.

“Oh, he is that and you’re best without him,” smiled Mirelin, “now, if we are ready, I will lead the way. Your majesty, you move after me and darling Jackiss, you take the rear.”

“Don’t call me that,” growled the one-armed man.

“Of course not, sweetheart,” smiled Mirelin, enjoying his role of leader, “now best feet forwards, and come on!”

After several passages past hidden boudoirs and luxurious rest-rooms and circumnavigating the kitchens using paths that butchers took, the three eventually came, at the shadowed end of a dusty way, to a gnarled and wretched looking ancient wooden door with more knot-holes than timber, it seemed. There was a large bronze key sticking from a heavy and ancient looking lock, complete with a cobweb or two, a sign that it had not been turned for some long time.

Mirelin looked around them, but the way was clear. They had not passed another individual, neither guard nor servant, as they had walked along, as brazenly as they could muster when their hearts were filled with the fear of discovery.

Mirelin struggled to turn the key, but it seemed to be resisting his best efforts.

“I’ve opened it before,” he mumbled, and tried again.

“Here, let me!” snapped the one-armed Jackiss, and he grabbed the key in his left hand and fought against whatever it was that held it firmly. Then, suddenly, with a loud click that produced a bitter cloud of dust, it turned.

“That’s better,” approved Mirelin, and he pushed the door open.

The stench that came wafting from below was almost unbearable, but Mirelin stepped in and the others followed.

“What’s that stink?” asked Jackiss, wrinkling his nose.

“Have you ever wondered what becomes of the flesh and bones of the hanged men?” asked Mirelin.

“You mean...” The queen’s voice sounded as pale as her face would have looked had there been light enough to see it by.

“There are pits down here,” whispered Mirelin, “and sometimes, when they are dropped into them, the hanged men are not quite dead and they moan and groan until they are silent at last.

“It is an evil place,” sighed Jackiss.

“These are evil times,” acknowledged Mirelin, “now, if you please, don’t be alarmed...”

And suddenly the tip of his staff glowed with a dim eerie green light, one that seemed to cast more shadows than anything.

“Follow me,” hissed Mirelin, and he stepped forwards into the gloom.

Their journey North had begun by almost crawling south.

© Peter Rogerson, 21.11.18




© 2018 Peter Rogerson


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Added on November 21, 2018
Last Updated on November 21, 2018
Tags: king, war, taxation, executions, escape, widow, dark passage, disgusting smell


Author

Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom



About
I am 76 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..

Writing