Rogue and Rover: Part Five
Kanrik analyzed the situation as quickly as he could. Rahm was clearly intent on being a knight in shining armor, despite the fact that the little fire Korbat was small enough that Kanrik could beat him in a fight with one hand tied behind his back. Dea was too terrified to play any other role but that of the damsel in distress. Hannah was keeping quiet, waiting on his lead.
Hurting either Dea or Rahm wasn't an option – they were barely more than children, and they were trying to protect their family. Not that Whitestones needed the help – its people could probably hold their own against anything short of Sloth's entire invasion fleet, and even then Sloth would likely have the fight of his life on his hands. Kanrik was a rogue – a thief and a liar – but he was no brute. He'd have to try and talk his and Hannah's way out of this. He started, "Rahm, we mean you no harm. We'd just like to leave Whitestones with our skins intact."
Rahm challenged, "Well, if you mean us no harm, than why are you threatening Dea?"
Kanrik sighed again. "Because if you two start screaming, we'll have a large number of angry knights that mean us harm coming down on us like a ton of bricks."
Hannah said carefully, sheathing her knife and laying the sword on the ground, "You know, the best thing you could do for Whitestones would be to show us to the closest door out, especially if the blizzard's gone down. We'll be out of here – and I'll even check Kanrik's pockets for any silverware."
Kanrik scowled at her. "I didn't have time to grab the silverware."
Hannah continued calmly, "But, until we hash out the details, let's all put our weapons away, give each other some breathing space, and agree not to start screaming or attacking anyone else."
Rahm did sheath his sword, and in return Kanrik returned his own blades to their places, hoping that Hannah knew what she was doing. Then Rahm asked angrily, "But how do I know that a pair of thieves would keep their word? How do I know I'm not helping you hurt Whitestones?"
Hannah said, "I'm actually not a thief – I'm an adventurer. My name's Hannah, by the way."
Both the Korbat's and the Zafara's eyes widened. Dea asked, "Are you that Hannah? The one who saved the Bori on Terror Mountain?"
Hannah nodded with a modesty that Kanrik knew was entirely false. "Yes."
Dea asked, "But you're a hero. Why would you travel with a criminal like him?"
Kanrik cut in with a grin at Hannah, "I get things off tall shelves for her."
But Hannah said softly, seriously, "His heart may be crooked, but it's still good. He's saved my life more than once, and I'd trust him with it any day. On a journey to the edge of the Strait of Ice, there's no one else I'd rather have at my back." She smiled up at him, and Kanrik smiled back, laying a hand on her shoulder.
Dea continued, "And you really didn't want to rob Whitestones or hurt anyone here?"
Hannah said, "Exactly. We're both experienced travelers, but there's no rover alive who could survive a Terror Mountain whiteout without shelter. And Whitestones was the closest shelter to where we were when we realized we were in for a storm."
Rahm bit his lip, looking around at all three of them. Kanrik took the opportunity to pull out his pocketwatch. "Four in the morning. Is the search really still going on?"
Rahm said, "Somewhat. Most have gone to bed, but everyone knows you're a risk until you're caught."
Dea said, "But didn't he and Hannah just say that they aren't risks? They've both said that all they want to do is go on their way in peace."
Rahm rolled his eyes. He said, "Is there any way I could ever trust your word?"
Kanrik informed him, "When I give my word, I keep it. If I intend to lie to someone, I don't give my word in the first place." He tried to encourage his thieves to operate that way – as odd as it sounded, when the law didn't hold sway, a person's word still had to mean something. How else could they work together?
Dea said, "Please, Rahm? Please?"
Finally, Rahm took a deep breath. "Will you both give your word to follow Dea and I out, to leave Whitestones in peace, to take nothing with you that doesn't belong to you... and to tell no one we helped you, because you're not the only ones who would end up in deep trouble over this?"
It had worked. Somehow they'd actually talked these two into helping them instead of giving them away. It helped that little Dea apparently didn't have the sense of a stunned Snowbunny, but Kanrik could hardly blame her for it since it had been such an asset. "I will give my word."
Hannah nodded. "As do I. Here's your friend's sword back."
Rahm looked around. "Most of the focus is on the front gate – I'll take you out one of the back tunnels. It'll be a bit of a climb to get down to the paths again, though."
Kanrik said, "We've got the gear for it. Just show us to the gates and we'll be on our way."
But Rahm stopped. "One more condition."
Hannah asked, "What? And, by the way, it's sneaky to slip in extra conditions after we've already sworn our word."
Rahm shrugged his wings. "I just thought of it. Hannah, you said earlier that you were looking for treasure from the kingdom days. If you find anything with the seal of Castle Whitestones on it, find some way to return it to us."
Kanrik was certain now that the biggest, shiniest, most valuable thing they found would have Castle Whitestones' crest on it. But Hannah nodded. "That's reasonable."
Rahm nodded. "Done, then. Let's go."
They began to follow the halls that they'd taken to get down to that storeroom – Rahm and Dia had lit the torches in the hallway. Hannah asked Kanrik, "What do we do if we come across anyone from the castle?"
Kanrik said, "What we did before – I'll say we're holding Dea hostage to make Rahm lead us out."
Dea complained, "I don't want to be a hostage again. It always sounds less scary in stories than it really is."
Kanrik rolled his eyes at Hannah, who merely shook her head and whispered, "So let's not get caught. And that starts with being quiet. Rahm, you know how to avoid sentries where you're leading us?"
He nodded. "Of course."
Even without Hannah's warning, Kanrik suspected that they would have fallen silent anyway. He knew well the peculiar thick silence of these early morning hours – there was always a sense that you were awake at a time when the world belonged to other things than mortals. He drew his cloak close against the chill, and kept his hand on the hilt of his dagger. Hannah stayed close beside him, and Dea stuck just as close to Rahm.
But though Kanrik was alert, wary, he wasn't afraid. This was the thief's time of night – even if they didn't rule it, they had their share in it, and they knew how to work it in their favor. The thought of running into some massive knight in full plate armor worried him more than the silence and the darkness that seemed to actively fight the torchlight.
Dea whispered, "There are stories about ghosts that haunt Whitestones."
Hannah said, "Of course. You don't get a place that's been lived in this long without a few haunts. I wouldn't worry. You rarely ever run into ghosts that have both the strength and the inclination to hurt anyone. In the Haunted Woods, ghosts are guardians more than anything else. I've been helped more than hurt by them. One time..."
As much as Kanrik would have liked to hear the story, now was not the time. "Hannah, later. Quiet, remember?"
She winced. "Sorry."
They continued on through the castle – Kanrik could tell from the plain stone walls and the lack of sconces for torches that Rahm was taking them through little-used areas of the old warren. Finally, they ascended several narrow, steep flights of stairs, slick with water that had leeched in during one of Howling Peak's few warmer days and then frozen solid into a thin, treacherous sheet of ice on this cold night. Kanrik walked slowly and carefully, watching where he put his feet. Lucky Rahm was able to take to the air, at least.
With a startled squeak, Dea slipped and fell backward, straight into Kanrik. He caught her and twisted so that they hit the wall – he was able to grab a stone and stop them instead of falling straight back down the stairway and breaking who knew what during the tumble.
It still hurt. He gritted his teeth but couldn't entirely stop a gasp of pain from escaping. Hannah stopped and extended a hand to Dea as Kanrik gingerly levered himself to his feet. "Are you both okay?"
Kanrik winced. "I think so. I'm going to have an impressive bruise in a day or so."
Dea said, "I'm fine." Then she turned to Kanrik and curtseyed. "Thank you, sir."
He was "sir" now? He was rarely called "sir" non-ironically by anyone who actually knew his real name. Hannah grinned at him. "Come on, knight in shining armor. Keep going, Rahm!"
At the top of the stair, Hannah buttoned her coat and Kanrik put on his gloves in front of a small door. They'd opened it briefly, and in the light of Rahm's lamp they'd seen that the snow had slowed – they'd be fine to travel. Rahm asked, "You remember our deal, then?"
Hannah nodded. "If we find anything that belongs to your kin by rights, we'll send it along. Expect an unmarked chest left by a messenger that won't stick around."
Dea curtseyed once more. "It was very nice meeting you both."
Hannah grinned. "Take care of yourself – watch your footing on those Fyora-forsaken steps!"
The two young folk retreated back into the keep, leaving Hannah and Kanrik on the dark slope. Hannah said, "See? We got out of Whitestones alive."
Kanrik pointed out, "We aren't out of it yet. I wouldn't put it past them to increase patrols, and if we're caught by a platoon we'll be in trouble."
Hannah took a coil of rope and some climbing spikes out of her back. "That's why we don't get caught."
He grinned. "I like that plan. Ready to see how far we can get by dawn?"
She nodded. "Ready."
They'd escaped Castle Whitestones, but the perils of the Strait of Ice and the old fortress of the Winter King were still ahead of them. Yet those were the dangers they'd expected, and as the clouds broke apart and the sun rose in a crystal-blue sky – one of Terror Mountain's rare fine mornings – Hannah broke into a cheery marching song, and Kanrik joined in as they followed their map down the southern shoulder of Howling Peak.
To be continued...