Rogue and Rover: Part Four
Thankfully, the meal was almost over, and Kanrik was starting to think that he and Hannah might actually survive this. Hannah had taken care of the talking – and since she'd claimed that they were both from Krawk Island, she was able to regale their audience with a few sea shanties, and a few of the older knights of Whitestones were now leading some of the old mountain folk songs. Through it all, Kanrik hadn't had to say a single word. He'd just gotten to watch her weave a spell without any magic whatsoever.
It was beautiful, and he never tired of watching it – how, as gracefully as a dancer, as whole-heartedly as a child, she managed to weave a world so wondrous, so magnetic, that onlookers begged to be involved in it. Kanrik could tell tales, but he was a liar, not a story-weaver. His fictions were practical, all for a purpose. And while Hannah's tales did serve a purpose this snowy evening, she did this same thing around the fire at the Guild's inn, and even the most hardened and cynical thieves waited with bated breath to see where she'd lead them. He set his hand over hers on the table and smiled at her, and she grinned back, eyes sparkling.
And that was when the main doors to the great hall were thrown open.
Noni and Rahm, the two sentries, both stood there panting. Noni said, "Rahm thought he recognized you, Kells – he'd seen you in a picture that went with a story about the Ice Caves war!"
Rahm cut off the girl before she could finish the revelation. "You're Kanrik, the Master Thief!"
Before Noni had even finished the word "recognized," Kanrik knew the game was up. He flung himself to his feet and ran straight for the door – as Rahm finished speaking, Hannah was behind him, and only a second had passed before Kanrik barreled into Noni and knocked her aside, stealing her sword as he did so. He had his dagger at his belt, but in case they weren't able to get back to their packs he wanted an extra weapon.
They were already down the hall as the uproar started behind them. Kanrik said, "We can't leave the castle, not in a whiteout – we need to get our packs and find someplace to lie low!"
Hannah asked as she sprinted alongside him, tail straight out behind her like a flag, "Are you going to say 'I told you so'?"
"Will I be able to point out that it still worked out for the best?"
"If it does work out for the best, will I be able to stop you?"
"Of course not."
After that exchange, they saved their breath for running.
Hannah had left their packs out in the main room of the travelers' sanctuary – Kanrik threw on his coat and slung his hood and cloak over his shoulders in a practiced movement. If he'd been revealed as the leader of the Thieves' Guild, it would now help him most to look the part. He took up his own sword and passed Noni's smaller, lighter one to Hannah, and then the two of them were off again. They could hear shouting in the distance, bent around several corridors – they were well ahead of their pursuers. Kanrik said, "Look for any stairwell down. They'll expect us to try and stay close to the exits, not go deeper into the castle."
Hannah nodded. "Secret passages would be good too, if we can find one – they might not expect us to take the time to look for them."
Kanrik finished, "We'll lie low until the small hours of the night, when they'll be too tired to keep searching – as we wait, we can puzzle out more of the route on your parchment to make sure it'll help shake off the angry knights on our tails." He was already looking up at the tapestries, looking for ones that were hung sturdily enough that they wouldn't fall to the floor if they were shoved aside. An old warren like Castle Karrost would be chock-full of secret passages. He knew all the signs of one just as well as Hannah did – he'd robbed a few castles in his day, and they were invaluable to a thief who needed to go to ground.
There! There was a big wall hanging with two knights facing down a Snowbeast. Most of the others in this hall were hung with hooks, but this one was on a rail. And behind it was a plain wooden door. Hannah grinned fiercely at him, and opened the door as Kanrik drew the tapestry back into place to hide the fact that they'd been there.
Another stroke of luck – it was a stairwell, going down. Hannah said quietly, "We are amazing."
Kanrik took the small lantern out of his pack – it was almost pitch-black in the passage. "As much as I admire your enthusiasm, I would prefer to save the self-congratulation until after we've gotten away from this Fyora-forsaken place."
Hannah murmured under her breath, "Always carry flint and steel." She struck sparks, and the lamp lit, giving them a faint but even light with which to see. She handed it to him – he led the way with it in one hand and his dagger in the other. His sword was a good one, but he'd used that dagger since he was little more than a boy, and in these close quarters it would serve him just as well. He'd prefer to leave Castle Whitestones without any violence, but if violence occurred anyway he fully intended to win.
He and Hannah walked quickly but quietly, and stuck close together as they went down a few more dark hallways and ended up in a storeroom full of boxes and sacks. Hannah looked around. "If we use the bedrolls as a tent and get behind some of these stacks of boxes, we could have our lantern lit, even, and no one who didn't fall right over us would know we were here."
They'd both had plenty of experience camping, and it was easy to use some crates and blankets to make a little room among the stores. Hannah lit her own lantern, and the twin lights helped to quickly make the little space comfortably warm and rather cheery. Kanrik took out his honing steel and his polishing cloth to check the edges of his dagger and sword as Hannah took out her journal again and whispered. "I want to write down some of the words to the songs they taught us before I forget. If I have the words, I'll remember the melody."
"If they catch us, they'll happily throw us in a crevasse, and you want to remember their songs?"
Hannah shrugged. "It's not the song's fault. Pirates sing sea shanties, but that doesn't mean that I shouldn't sing them."
Kanrik sat back against a box, and Hannah leaned against his shoulder as she wrote. He didn't bother to look over her shoulder – it always stunned him that someone who could read Old Bori glyphs could have such horrendous handwriting in Neopian Common. Instead he worked slowly, patiently, until his sword and dagger, Hannah's knife, Noni's stolen sword, and the various other blades in their packs were razor-sharp and gleamed like mirrors.
As he was still working, Hannah flipped open her journal to the back and pulled out the parchment and a map. "I've made a few notes already. It looks like we'll need to head south more, down almost to the edge of the Strait of Ice."
Kanrik nodded. "Makes sense that the old kingdom would have had a lookout there. But we'll have to move fast – the folk of Whitestones will know that territory well."
Hannah said, "We'll need the climbing gear once we get down there – will you check that over once more when you're done with the blades?"
Kanrik nodded. "Of course. Anything about this old fortress itself?"
Hannah said, "The entrance is at the top of a sheer cliff – it says there's a stair in the rock leading up to it, but if there's ice or if the stair's worn away we'll need to be ready to climb again. It's within the rock of the mountains, and there are a few different symbols we'll have to look for to get the door to open for us."
That also made sense – if the fortress had been placed as the first defense against invaders from the south, it would need to be secure. The folk of the old kingdoms had been no fools. Hannah looked back and forth from the map to the parchment, and started slowly marking out a route, tongue sticking out as she concentrated on doing it neatly. Kanrik looked at it. "Avoid Issen Cleft. That'd be a perfect place for an ambush. We have the climbing gear – we'll climb a lot more quickly than a bunch of armored knights, and we ought to take advantage of that."
Hannah marked out one line she'd made and took the route up farther instead.
After a while, Kanrik dozed off again – he'd learned early that thieving often happened at inconvenient hours, and that he ought to catch sleep when he could get it. And they'd have a long, hard slog through fresh snow before dawn and into the day, until Castle Whitestones was far enough behind them to risk stopping to rest. He woke quickly when someone set a hand on his shoulder. Hannah whispered, "Shh... someone's here."
He was glad she'd said something – she'd already snuffed the lanterns, and when he'd awoken in darkness his hand had gone straight for his dagger. He drew it and listened to the sound of someone outside in their storeroom.
Then the blanket was lifted, and Kanrik lunged before he'd even seen who it was, tackling the person and putting the blade to their throat. It was only after that that he realized in the dim light – the door to the hall was open, and a torch was lit outside – that it was the royal Zafara, Dea. She squeaked, "Don't hurt me, don't hurt me..."
Kanrik helped her to her feet, though he kept his dagger close. "Keep quiet, and I won't." He didn't intend to anyway – he'd done plenty of things he wasn't proud of, but he wasn't about to hurt a silly girl who'd clearly never done a day's fighting in her life.
They'd put everything back in their packs, and Hannah was already rewrapping their blankets into neat bedrolls. Dea whimpered – Kanrik sighed. He didn't like her feeling threatened, but if she didn't feel threatened she'd start screaming, and then he and Hannah would both be in serious trouble.
And then there was the flap of wings, and Rahm cried, "Get away from her!"
Hannah drew her knife and Noni's sword, leaving the packs on the ground. Rahm had just flown in the door, and Kanrik drew his own sword in his free hand. "Quiet!"
The Korbat landed warily. "You're Kanrik. The Master Thief. What are you doing at Whitestones?"
Kanrik said, "Believe it or not, merely taking shelter from the blizzard. I don't intend to take anything or hurt anybody – just to leave quietly and avoid this region for a while."
Rahm drew his own sword. "I'm afraid I can't let you do that."
Dea cried, "Rahm, no, don't fight him! You can't do it alone, and you said no one else wanted to come down here and look!"
Rahm put a hand to his face. "Dea, don't tell them that!"
Kanrik sighed – he wasn't that much older than these two, but thank Fyora he'd never been half as melodramatic. "Well, it appears we have a standoff, then."
To be continued...