Lords of Freedom is an exciting new novel including adventure, realistic action, surprising insights, and a touch of romance. Enjoy a new chapter every week. Prior chapters can be found here.
Lords of Freedom—Chapter 23—Prison
A bank of clouds moved in the sky above, obscuring the moon and blotting out the stars. There was a rustling breeze in the air and birds of prey on the hunt, swooping low in the nearby field as nocturnal rodents met their doom.
Xan and Sheba led the way toward the prison, with Charley and the two rangers following. When the dark outline of the prison came into view, Sheba loped out ahead to scout. Xan led the others off the road and on through the brush. When they drew near enough to see a wall of hefty logs, he stopped and motioned Charley forward.
“What is the best way in for us?”
“This is a stockade; in the midst of it, beyond the wall lays the prison itself. We’ll have to scale the wall, to avoid detection, and this is as good a place as any. The prison itself has double walls, and its few windows are securely barred, so we’ll have to use a door.”
They moved closer until they could peer into the stockade through gaps between the logs. The place was shrouded in darkness, the only light coming from the uppermost window of the prison and from bobbing lanterns carried by patrolling guards.
Charley motioned upwards. “That window there is where the warden’s quarters are, connected by a short passage to his office.”
Xan nodded, as Sheba rejoined them.
Charley started with a gasp then whispered sheepishly, “Sorry; she moves like a wisp of smoke.”
The two rangers had their hands on their swords, trying to look nonchalant, but it was evident the cat had startled them too.
Charley explained, “There are two guards at the gate with crossbows and swords. Two more with like weapons patrol the inside perimeter; these have a large, well-trained, vicious dog.”
Xan met Charley’s eye. “Sheba will make short work of the dog. What is the ratio, guard to prisoner?”
“Six to one, more or less; the last count I made there were two hundred prisoners, and there are usually sixteen guards. Some of the prisoners though are exactly where they belong.”
Xan shook his head. “We’re not going to free that type. Are the wings categorized?”
Charley nodded, sarcastic with his reply: “Rabble rousers and traitors are on the second level.”
Xan flashed a smile. “Those are the ones we’re after.”
Watching for a clear chance, when the area beyond the wall was free of patrols, Xan signaled the two rangers and Charley. Each of them tossed a grappling hook that anchored atop the wall. As they began climbing, Sheba paced off, hurtled forward, and leaped, clearing the wall with graceful ease. Xan hurried up one of the ropes.
By the time the first man hit the ground on the inside the dog was barking from the front of the prison. As the guards and dog were loudly coming around one side of the building to investigate, the two rangers ran around the other side. Sheba, who was crouched next to the back wall of the building when the huge dog hit the corner, jumped out, chomped into its neck, and with a deft shake tossed the carcass aside in time to swipe extended claws at a charging guard. He fell, gasping and choking, blood spilling out from his throat.
The other guard fired an arrow, perplexed when it dropped to the ground in midair, as though striking a solid wall. Sheba’s armor, Xan thought, readying his staff. Good thing Sekhmet got through to her about that.
As the guard drew his sword, though that wouldn’t fare any better against Sheba’s armor, Xan sprinted in and cracked his head with the staff.
The two rangers stopped at the front corner of the building, put arrows into the guards at the gate, and ran toward the door in the middle of the prison. By that time Sheba was already there with Xan closing fast. The guards inside came charging out to see what was happening and each ranger leveled one with his sword as Sheba and Xan took out the other two. The rangers were left to guard the gate and the door as Xan, Sheba, and Charley advanced into the prison.
Following Charley’s lead, they rounded a corner and were met by three inner guards, who were quickly dispatched. Two more guards were taken out at the next door.
Charley led the way through a narrow corridor and up a stairway to the second level. A stir kicked up, as some of the prisoners saw Xan, Charley, and Sheba stride into view. Explaining as quickly and concisely as possible, Charley began looking for keys. Sheba moved on ahead, testing the air.
At the last cell, Xan pulled up short. “Sergio?”
The man grasped the bars of his cell. “Juel? Is that you—back from beyond?”
Xan smiled and reached to clasp hands through the bars. “Hon is safe and you will soon join her.”
Sergio backed up, toppling onto the bench. “Thank goodness. Loris and I were beside ourselves.”
“Where is Loris, still in jail or back at home?” Xan asked.
Sergio leaped to his feet again, as Charley went to work on his lock. “They brought both of us here, a few days after they took Honbria. Earlier tonight some guards separated us, said the warden wanted a few words with her. You’ve got to help her; the warden is an evil man, and I think he intends more than talking.”
“We’ll find her. In fact, the warden’s quarters are our next stop,” Xan said grimly. Charley pointed them toward the warden’s door. From within a woman screamed. Sheba leaped at the door splintering it inward.
Loris lay cowering in one corner, her clothes askew, with a bleeding lip. The warden stood over her with a knife in his hand but whirled at the crash.
Sheba surged into the room snarling, with Xan close behind. The warden drew back, eyes wide with fear, and started to stretch his knife toward Loris just as Sheba tore his neck open with one lighting swipe. Knowing the huge black tiger had saved her, Loris adjusted her clothes, stepped over the warden’s body, and fearlessly threw her arms around Sheba’s neck. Sheba blinked and purred softly as her heart swelled.
“Juel?” Loris exclaimed, even as she hung onto Sheba.
He flashed a smile, in spite of the circumstances, and said, “You and your husband are safe now.”
Soon Sergio and Loris were hugging each other crying tears of relief when Loris suddenly turned to Xan in anguish, “Hon has been taken; we know not where.”
Xan smiled again. “We rescued her two days ago; she is unharmed and safe.” The couples’ amazement and gratitude knew no bounds.
Using keys Charley had taken from dead guards they all began releasing prisoners. Dozens of hands thrust through the bars and voices were raised in gratitude. Fulfillment surged through Xan as all the prisoners on the second floor were set free.
However, as Xan tried to give them instructions they were not listening and some even started to leave. All of a sudden Sergio’s voice rang out and everyone turned to listen. Leaning down he armed himself with a bow and explained that they were not truly free yet because the duke’s guards would just hunt them down.
As he spoke, Xan and Sheba moved behind him and Xan whispered, “Tell them to follow you quietly to the armory and we will help them protect themselves, their families, and their freedom.”
As they all followed Sergio downstairs into the main holding area they were confronted by the last of the guards, who had just come out from hiding. They were all clasping weapons and one of them was holding his sword near a woman’s throat threatening to kill her if they did not surrender to him.
Once again Xan thought about such cowardly murderous threats and said, “Do you think we are fools? Your only chance to live is to drop the sword now.”
The guard hesitated as a whir sounded in the air; then he collapsed with a grunt. All looked over, past Xan, to see Sergio, just lowering a bow. The other guards dropped their weapons.
In the third watch of the night, all surviving guards were locked in cells, and more than a hundred people filed through the stockade gate, headed for the armory. At one point two guards stepped in front of them, but they were no match for the rangers.
Xan and Sheba stayed at the rear of the group and soon realized they were being followed. Sheba crept into the shadows and waited as Xan moved on with the rest.
Momentarily shouts and clangs rang out; then silence filled the night again. Sheba padded back into step beside Xan. A squad of guards is no longer following us.
© Copyright 2017-2023 Gene Van Shaar