For this week’s Flash Fiction Challenge over at Terribleminds, Picking Uncommon Apples, the random number gods bestowed upon me 28, 18, and 31. Here’s what came out of those choices!
Ravenna slipped through the opened grate with the sort of smooth ease that only comes from years of practice. She heard the soft splashing behind her and closed her eyes for a moment. After a quick check of her surroundings, she turned and knelt by the hole in the floor, reaching down to take the stretching hand. As soon as he could, Barnabus set his other hand on the side of the hole to pull himself up, though he still needed Ravenna’s help. She suspected that, unlike her, he had not spent his childhood running through the forest, climbing trees and rocks, and learning how to hide.
“My apologies,” Barnabus said quietly, trying to kick some of the moisture off of his boots. “I misjudged the height of the run-off tunnel.” The tall, gangly man looked somewhat uncomfortable in the trousers and vest, since Ravenna had insisted his normal attire, a colorful robe decorated with the moon and stars, would be impractical.
Ravenna held a gloved finger to her lips, then took another look around. Coming up in the castle’s dungeon was risky, given that it was patrolled by guards and could contain all sorts of means to betray their position and purpose. However, she had also chosen to come at night. There was soft snoring from a nearby cell, but otherwise no sound. The stone corridor was lit by a torch on either end, and to her left, she saw the stairs spiraling up.
“Come on,” she whispered, walking forward in a deliberately cautious fashion. She glanced over her shoulder as they approached the stairs. Barnabus, for his part, was trying to do the same, his dark eyes wide. He took a few steps closer to Ravenna, making full use of his long legs.
“Are we sure he wouldn’t be down here?”
Ravenna shook her head. “He would have been if that serpent hadn’t slowed us down. Lord Lamborne’s auction has already begun. He’ll be in the grand feasting hall.” Ravenna was going to say more, but she heard a scuff of boots on stone above them. She held up her hand towards Barnabus, then waved him towards the inner wall. The stairwell had no alcoves or decorations, no means to hide. Ravenna set her teeth and braced herself, crouching down even further.
As soon as the slick, polished boots of one of Lamborne’s guards came into view, Ravenna seized it with both hands and pulled as hard as she could. The man, already heading down the stairs, was taken completely by surprise by the loss of balance, and toppled past Ravenna and Barnabus. Both of the intruders looked down at the guard’s crumpled form, and after a moment of ensuring he was not rising to follow, returned to moving up the stairs. Ravenna reached for one of the daggers sheathed at the small of her back, and Barnabus reached up to grab her wrist.
“No killing,” he murmured. “The queen was quite clear.”
“Who said anything about killing?” Ravenna flashed Barnabus a dangerous grin and turned back to the opening into the hall ahead. The small dagger whispered free of its sheath. Another guard was walking on the opposite side of the hall, in their direction. Ravenna began to bounce a bit, timing the steps of the guard, and held out her free hand to Barnabus.
Barnabus nodded, folding himself into the wall as best he could. Ravenna sped from the opening to the stairwell, her braid of long red hair coming loose as her boots hit stone. With liquid grace, she seized the guard from behind, the dagger rising to his throat. After a brief moment, Ravenna released him, and then clubbed him with the hilt of the dagger. The guard slumped to the ground.
“The feasting hall has two guards at the door and two walking the perimeter,” she told Barnabus as she sheathed her weapon. “But nothing on the balcony level.”
“Perfect.” Barnabus rested his hands on the pouches hanging from the belt around his waist. “Can we still get there from the wall?”
“If we’re careful and quiet.” She looked at him. “You’re not as clumsy as I thought you’d be.”
He shrugged. “Unlike some others of my profession, I do like to get out and enjoy fresh air now and again.”
With a wry smile, Ravenna lead the way from the hall and along the wall that dominated the outer perimeter of the keep. The feasting hall was set near the southwest corner, and its interior was alight and full of noise. Ravenna and Barnabus avoided the guards on patrol and, with the help of Ravenna’s grappling hook and sturdy rope, scaled the wall to slip in through a window on the second story. The feasting hall’s interior had small balconies on the longer walls, and while there were stairs up at either end, all of the activity was on the floor below.
“There’s Crown Prince Rudolph,” Ravenna whispered, pointing towards the dias at the back of the hall where the high table was set. “Do you have your distraction ready?”
“Yes,” Barnabus told her, reaching into one of his pouches. He produced a small, mottled orb, gray with black spots. “Something strong, yet subtle.”
She blinked at it. “That tiny thing? I thought you were a wizard. You said you’d distract the crowd – can’t you do it with fire or thunder or something?”
Barnabus looked annoyed. “I can, but I’d rather not cook us along with our reward. This, on the other hand?”
He tossed the orb into the crowd. On impact, there was a burst of light and smoke, and out of the sudden fog flew a murder of crows, cawing and flapping at the startled nobles. They clamored and ran for the exits. Barnabus winked at Ravenna.
“The Crow Egg,” he told her. “A specialty of mine.”
“Okay, wizard,” she replied with a grin, “color me impressed. Now, let’s get the Crown Prince and get out of here.”