We’d been in the prison over a half hour, and we needed to get out quickly before the change of the guard. Six criminals had taken the chance to swear their lives to the Galhirim, falling in behind the twenty-two men from Gillenwater. As Tarr had intended the soldiers’ confinement to be temporary, their wounds from the fight at the river and their subsequent flogging had been treated. I hoped this mercy would be enough. My hood was up again as we approached the barred doors. The unconscious guards were still slumped where we’d left them. We exited the prison and moved through the halls of the garrison with me in the lead. Quill stayed close at my back, acting as a shield and also giving me subtle cues for each turn. We wanted it to look as if I knew the way—I sort of did since he’d told me the way—but with Quill’s nudges I definitely did.
The hallways closest to the prison didn’t have much, just meeting rooms, and some closets. We headed generally back toward the training yard, and cut through the sleeping quarters toward the middle of the garrison where the armory was.
“Changing of the guard soon,” Quill’s voice in my ear made me jump.
I nodded. We might meet men on their way to and from their bunks. I quickened my pace down the long hall of closed doors. There was no point in listening for movement, it would all be drowned by the breathing of the twenty-nine men behind me. I reached the end of the hall and turned left, just then I heard swearing and a scuffle behind me. I spun in time to see three of the soldiers lowering a body to the ground in front of an open door.
“Drag him inside,” I hissed, and didn’t stay to see if it was done. We needed to hurry. Two turns and another scuffle later we were almost at the armory. Quill’s hand on my cloak kept me from making the last turn toward it. He jerked his head to the men behind. I took his meaning and motioned to the men to wait. Then I turned back and walked out with Quill at my side as we had done at the prison. I told myself we belonged here, and we moved purposefully, as if we had a destination beyond the big iron girt doors. We got fairly close to the two guards before one of them said, “What’s your business?”
“Just passing through.” I tried to sound like a man.
“You…What?” The man looked astonished. I guess I hadn’t succeeded.
Quill struck like a snake. One guard was falling and the other’s cry of alarm died in a gasp as I planted a kick in his center. He stumbled back, reaching for his sword but I followed and clubbed him with Shiharr’s pommel. Quill was already fishing around for keys and stepping to unlock the double doors.
I trotted back up the hallway to the corner and motioned for the men to come ahead. By the time the men and I got back to the armory Quill had the heavy door swung wide open. We gathered in a circular entryway, surrounded by tidy rows of weapons and supplies. “Get cloaks,” I ordered, “and your weapon of choice. Don’t be greedy. We don’t have time for that.”
The men scattered like ducks before a hound. Quill and I dragged the inert guards inside and took their posts outside the door. The seconds stretched excruciatingly long, and I was just going to go round up the men when they began gathering at the door. Each now cloaked in the dark blue of Dalyn. As soon as they were all present, including my six criminals, we locked the door and left. The men put their hoods up without needing to be told, and fell into an orderly column behind us as we walked. It was a thin ruse, but if someone only saw us from a distance they would assume we were a squad of soldiers, rather than escaped prisoners.
We’d almost gotten to the training yard when I heard the clanging of a bell.
“Prison bell,” grunted Quill.
I glanced at him and picked up a jog. We entered the empty expanse of the training yard and cut across it diagonally at a brisk pace. Commotion was building in the garrison, and I wanted to run faster. It was alright if they found the prison, it was the armory we needed a longer lead on. Finally, we reached the shadow of the wall. The men behind us were panting—of course, their last several weeks hadn’t exactly been spent eating well and practicing. Suddenly I wasn’t sure this next part would work.
Beside me, Quill shrugged a coil of rope off his torso and started to spin the glinting grappling hook on the end. I held my breath as he stepped back from the wall and threw the hook. It snagged and he tugged on it. When it held, he handed the rope to me with a nod. Briefly, I wondered if sneaking out of his own garrison and fighting soldiers of Dalyn was odd for Quill. Though, I supposed he’d spent his entire career viewing the garrison as disloyal. Pushing those thoughts aside, I gave my weight to the rope and flipped my feet onto the wall. The hook didn’t budge, so I started to climb the wall. It was taller than Gillenwater’s wall, probably twenty feet instead of ten. I thought of the circus acrobats as I walked up the wall, then, reaching the lip, rather ungracefully hauled myself into a sitting position at the peak.
The wall was over a foot a thick, and the top was spiked with jagged bits of stone. I moved very gingerly as I eyed the drop on the far side. There were no sentries in sight at the moment, so I unslung the rope I was carrying and did my best to secure the grapple among the wall’s teeth. I tossed the rope to the ground and scrambled down the same way I’d climbed up. I gave a soft whistle to let Quill know it was clear, then I waited. There was a wide paved street, and then the stone walls of a fine house. A short distance to the right was the alley that cut behind the house, used mostly for deliveries and the servants. To the left was another wide street, with more fine houses past it. I suspected that the houses on the garrison side of the palace were lesser nobles—doomed to live close to the sounds of sword practice and scent of the stables—but next to the palace nonetheless. The streets were quiet, and still bathed in the silver light of the moon, though the shadows were finally getting longer.
I heard scrambling and a curse as the first of the soldiers encountered the spikes at the peak. In a moment, the man was standing next to me rubbing his hands and hissing. It was the first man I’d woken, and the first to pledge his allegiance after his captain. I smiled at him from under my hood. “It’s not supposed to be easy.”
“No, your Highness,” he replied, straightening his shoulders to military attention. “What are your orders?”
Orders. Right. Even during the siege, I was more accustomed to watching orders given than giving them myself. “You keep an eye to the right,” I said, gesturing. “I’ll watch the left. If necessary, we fight as quietly as possible.”
He nodded and turned to keep watch.
The next man I sent across the street to stand in the shadow of the alley. We had three more waiting in the alley and another on the wall when a sentry marched into view and stopped in surprise
He gave a shout and I whipped out Shiharr and Azzad, charging forward. He leapt sideways, reaching for his sword. If he got his sword out, this would take far too long. I drove after him, striking at his reaching arm to make him pull back. He shouted again and I cursed, “None of that!” and with a reckless leap I caught his sword arm with one dagger and stabbed him with other. He cried out and fell back, just as my soldier reached us and dealt a killing blow with his sword.
“Thank you.” My words were automatic, my mind had already moved on to the next danger. It wouldn’t be long before other guards responded to this sentry’s shouts. “Stay here, I’ll send someone to join you.” I headed back to the rope, wiping my daggers clean and putting them away just as another soldier arrived. I sent him to guard the other direction. The next two men also went to guard duty, then I started sending them across to the alley again. Two more men had made it to the alley when I heard another shout and scuffle from the other direction. I turned in time to see my soldiers fell another. The prison bell was still ringing and I shifted impatiently.
There were twenty men in the alley and two more standing guard before a group of soldiers rounded the wall and came face to face with our operation. It was a group of five, and the instant they saw us they started to shout. My three guards were outnumbered so I called to the others and ran to help. One of my men fell with a cry before we reached the fight. My knives spun as I ducked to the side and struck low: Aiming for any exposed limbs. The other three reached the fight and immediately the five guards started to withdraw. Two fell, one broke away and ran. Why hadn’t anyone grabbed a bow? I started after the fleeing soldier. If I could catch him, I could slow down our discovery. Probably.
Something grabbed my cloak and yanked me backwards. I stumbled, gasping. I tried to keep my feet under me but something heavy crashed on top of me. I fell to the cobbled street, barely keeping my head from smacking into the stones. I struggled to rise, landing my elbow in the man’s side. He grunted and suddenly his weight lifted off me. I scrambled, reaching for where my daggers had fallen, then pain seared into my side and I cried out. I rolled away from the blow and back up onto my feet. Sword against knives. His size, my speed. This was a familiar equation but I was feeling sluggish. Armor made things more difficult. The soldier followed me, sword raised for another strike. He brought the sword down and I leapt sideways, then dove for Shiharr and Azzad. I brought the daggers up, Shiharr blocking his next swing and Azzad driving into his leg. It was his turn to cry out as I spun to my feet and attacked again. My guard was sloppy, but so was his. His sword slid down my bracers as my knife slashed across the joint in his arm pieces. I continued past him, whipping around and striking at the seam of the breast plate. He dropped with a gasp.
I started to take a deep breath and nearly crumpled to the ground myself at the pain that shot through my side. I sheathed Azzad and grabbed my side, turning back toward the rope and the brawl. The fight had ended and two of my men had started toward me while the others appeared to be helping one another. I noticed a familiar form atop the wall coiling rope. Quill. That meant everyone was on this side.
My men reached me. “Your Highness.”
“To the alley.” I managed, before regretting the air spent.