On His Majesty's Secret Service: Part Five
Tailing Marcel through the innards of the castle proved difficult work, especially as the group had to remain in the shadows to avoid the regular patrols by the castle guards. It wasn’t long before they had lost his trail completely. Thankfully, the shadow Draik had let slip his destination, and it wasn’t taxing to follow the staircases down until they reached a level so dark and ill-kept that it could only be the dungeons.
The darkness of the hallways was almost complete, with not even burning torches to light the way. A few slits had been carved into the rock to let in what little moonlight there was from outside. Etched out in the twilight in front of them, Fredrick could make out the figure of the Draik.
“I’m sorry for having you housed down here, Robert,” Marcel was saying. “Most of the rooms in the castle have been taken up with His Lordship’s forces.”
He opened a door which creaked loudly. From within, the voice of Agent Dunlop spoke up.
“No, no, I quite understand,” the Bruce replied. “Believe me; compared to the Darigan Citadel, even this cell is a palace.”
“The situation has escalated somewhat,” Marcel continued. “His Lordship wishes to move forward with his plans as soon as possible. He requests your report immediately.”
“Of course!” Dunlop replied, stepping out into the hallway. “Lead the way, dear chap.”
Fredrick panicked as the two began to head back down the corridor towards them. Together with the other Agents, he darted into the nearest room, and closed the door silently behind them. Fredrick watched through the bars as Marcel and Dunlop passed them.
“We could have taken them!” Jasmine hissed. “There are four of us and two of them!”
“And we’re in the dungeons,” Fredrick replied coldly. “If one of them shouted, there’d be half an army baring down on us and no way out.”
Behind them, Hewlett lit a match, “Never known a dungeon so dark.”
He sat down on a nearby barrel.
“Hewlett... put out the match,” Quentin, the Zafara instructed.
“What’s the matter? They’re gone,” the Quiggle questioned.
Quentin gestured to the barrel the Quiggle was perched atop. The letters ‘TNT’ could be clearly read even in the match’s light. Hewlett glanced over his shoulder momentarily to take in the rest of the room, which he found to his surprise to be filled with identical barrels. A moment later, he blew out the match with all the sudden force of a hurricane.
“Ah,” he said in the darkness.
“They’re not just planning to usurp the throne from Skarl,” Fredrick pointed out. “There’s enough dynamite in here to level Meridell Castle. They want to start the kingdom anew.”
“Well, that’s why there are no burning torches down here, at least,” Jasmine observed. “But what are we going to do?”
“Simple,” Fredrick replied. “We knocked out guards on the way here with the sleeping potion; we just have to impersonate them, trick Dunlop out of the castle, bundle him into the nearest carriage, and get him as far as Meridell Castle. Once he spills his story, King Skarl will bring the whole Meridell Army to Lord Merchant’s door.”
“Four of us will be able to do that?” Hewlett asked.
“No, three,” Fredrick replied. “You’re staying here, with a match. If we fail, you have enough dynamite in this room to bring this whole rebellion to a very quick end. The rest of us, I have a couple of morphing potions left over. Let’s go.”
Dunlop retired to one of Lord Merchant’s many libraries after delivering his report. It wasn’t a particularly helpful one; Dunlop’s work on the Citadel had been largely negated by Lord Merchant’s decision to move up the plans to march on Meridell Castle. Dunlop’s part in the rebellion was well and truly done. He picked a book off the bookshelf and began to read leisurely as the sounds of armour continued to clank in the corridors beyond.
Eventually, the door opened, and two soldiers marched in.
“Mr. Dunlop, your carriage is waiting,” one of them, a Krawk, announced.
“Carriage?” Dunlop questioned.
“Lord Merchant has instructed you are to be placed on a carriage to Brightvale, sir, to keep you away from the fighting until Meridell Castle is taken,” the Krawk guard added.
“I haven’t been briefed on this,” Dunlop observed with suspicion.
“The plan has been advanced, sir, we’re having to do a lot of things ahead of schedule without briefings,” the guard replied confidently. “If you’d like to follow me, we do not have long before you’ll miss your window into Brightvale.”
Dunlop sighed. “No rest for the wicked, I suppose... Brightvale will be a nice change, at least.”
He returned to the bookshelf and deposited his book while the two guards exchanged a meaningful glance. They then escorted Dunlop out of the room and down through the corridors of the castle. It was surprisingly easy; everyone else was preoccupied with their own preparations that they paid no attention to the three figures.
Outside, there was a carriage waiting, a third guard sat atop with the reins. The Krawk opened the door for Dunlop, and found an antique crossbow pointed squarely in his face.
“I’m sorry,” Marcel sneered from the trigger end. “This one’s taken.”
Guards were on them before they knew what was happening, and all three were forced to the floor.
The morphing potions wore off not long afterwards, but by then they were imprisoned in one of the higher level rooms. Marcel had evidently taken the decision that putting them near a room full of explosives was not a wise idea.
“What now?” Quentin asked glumly.
“Well, the mortar in these walls doesn’t seem very good,” Fredrick commented from the window. “Given a week I could probably claw our way out.”
“Reassuring,” Jasmine scoffed. “It’s all up to Hewlett now; he knows what he needs to do.”
In the depths of the castle, a match was struck, illuminating the face of a Quiggle, and more than a dozen explosive barrels. Slowly, Hewlett lowered the match to the fuse.
“Suppose they catch him?” Quentin asked. “What will they do to us?”
“What do you think?” Jasmine retorted darkly.
Marcel saluted to the guard on the front door, who had just returned from his latest adventure into unconsciousness.
“I’ve been ordered to scout the surrounding area for the remaining spy,” he announced. “Make sure to let no one in or out while I’m gone.”
“Yes sir!” the Scorchio shouted back.
A low rumble filled the air in the room.
“Quentin, this is no time for hunger pangs,” Fredrick sniped.
The rumble continued.
“It’s not me!” Quentin shouted under the persistence of Fredrick’s glare.
“Jasmine?” Fredrick asked.
“How dare you! I’ll give you--”
What Jasmine would have given him was never quite understood, as at that precise moment, the entire back wall of the room was ripped outwards, and crumbled down into the countryside below.
The three exchanged glances as a small ladder was propped up against the outside wall. Fredrick peered over the edge with some trepidation.
Hewlett was standing at the bottom of the ladder, waving madly. In the distance, the Whinnies from several carriages were pulling what was left of the wall towards Brightvale.
“Come on, unless you want to get caught in the explosion!” Hewlett hissed up at them.
In the darkness of the dungeons, the fuse continued to burn, a single sparkling light following a line across the floor in the otherwise complete darkness.
Sudden banging at the door behind Fredrick brought the Ruki to his senses.
“What’s all that noise? What’s going on in there?”
Fredrick was already half way down the ladder, followed by Jasmine and Quentin. Hewlett kicked the ladder away as they reached the bottom, and the four wasted no time in running off into the undergrowth.
A dozen or more guards came galloping down the main staircase of the castle, but a single Scorchio guard barred the way.
“Let us through! The prisoners are escaping!”
“No,” the Scorchio replied plainly, “Sir Marcel gave me strict instructions. No one is allowed in or out. You could be collaborators. No one is going anywhere.”
The four spies watched from the hill that overlooked the castle. When it finally happened, it was a rather unimpressive explosion. The dungeons were seated deep in the natural rock outcrop that the castle was built atop, and it absorbed most of the fire. Instead, there was an almighty bang, and the castle seemed to just collapse in on itself in a cloud of masonry.
“What now?” Quentin asked. “Meridell Castle to inform the King?”
“No,” Fredrick told him. “We never worked for the King, remember? We turn up claiming to have stopped a rebellion, we might just end up implicating ourselves for the destruction of Merchant Castle.”
“So what then?”
“We leave Meridell, and go our separate ways, at least until all this has blown over,” Fredrick ordered, with one last look at the castle. “Spies were never meant to work together.”
A single candle was all that illuminated King Skarl’s face, flickering in the wind from the open window.
“It is done?” he asked with a hollow voice.
“Merchant Castle is destroyed, Lord Merchant is no more,” the shadow Draik replied. “His plan to overthrow you has failed.”
“Good,” Skarl said, a weak smile forcing its way across his face. “Then the last of the Lords that opposed military action against Darigan have been removed.”
“Yes, sir,” the shadow Draik agreed, his eyes darting over the monarch’s shoulder for a moment.
There seemed to be something there, something just out of eye line. It almost looked like three figures. The King himself had never looked worse, with sunken eyes and haphazard hair. In all his years of service, Marcel had never seen the King like this.
“What of Dunlop?” Skarl asked suddenly, as if someone has whispered the idea in his ear.
“Lord Merchant’s man was making progress with the Clawed Hand, if he had continued I’m sure he would have turned it from the anti-Meridell faction it is into something more reasonable,” Marcel reported. “As it stands, Dunlop’s removal should make the Clawed Hand more hard line, and push them closer towards conflict.”
Skarl paused, as if a different unheard voice was whispering to him.
“Yes,” he said at last. “That will hasten the hostilities. And the agents you used?”
“Gone, they have left Meridell and I doubt they will return. I saw no reason to pursue; they know nothing,” Marcel told the King. “No one knew I was really working for you.”
“Good,” Skarl said distantly. “There will be more tasks for you in the coming weeks, my loyal spy.”
“Thank you, Highness,” Marcel said, bowing low and making his way to the open window.
He turned back, and once again thought he saw three distinct figures behind the King. They almost looked like a Faerie, a Gelert, and a Skeith.
“No,” Skarl added. “Thank you, M.”