Better With Age (Part 1 )
December 7, 2016
Blast from the Past (Better With Age part 3)
December 21, 2016

Jack rode from sun up to well after sundown, alternating between the two horses to prevent exhausting them and just barely managing to do so. The same could not be said for himself. He stood in the saddle to ease the pain in his lower back until his hips ached and forced him to sit. It was only a matter of time until his back began hurting, forcing him to stand once more. Liberal application of liniment soothed his sore muscles and chewing a constant supply of willow bark helped ease the deeper aches and pains. Old age did not compliment the physical requirements of being an assassin.

It took days of hard riding before Jack gazed upon the bleak grey walls and imposing turrets of Forlorn Prison. It was where the worst criminals in the kingdom bided their time, waiting for death that could not come soon enough. Men walked atop the outer walls and stood sentry within the inner courtyard and atop the corner towers. Breaking someone out of this bastion would have been a remarkable feat even in his prime. Now, it was certainly folly.

Jack spent the rest of the day and much of the night watching the guards’ routines, identifying patterns in their patrols and checks, and noting them down in his pocket ledger. He continued his observations through the following day, not moving on the prison until after nightfall. Only after darkness obscured the land and thick clouds shrouded the half-moon did Jack break his vigil.

The prison was located high in the hills, dozens of miles from the nearest town. Braziers burned atop the wall in in the courtyard, serving as a means to ward off the chill as well as provide illumination. Jack chose a spot halfway between two fires where the two light sources did not quite meet. He climbed hand over hand up the wall, heaving himself over the ledge and onto the rampart. He silently berated himself over the time it took to crest the wall and cursed out loud when one of the guards turned, having reached the end of his patrol, and began walking toward him.

Jack braced his hands against a crenulation and stared out into the darkness. If one could not achieve invisibility, then they must appear as though they belonged. It was an old trick but often successful. If he tried to disappear over the other side of the wall and the guard saw him, his jail break was going to suffer an early failure. No longer able to rely on swift reflexes, Jack chose to stay put with his back to the approaching guard.

“Hell of a night,” the man said as he walked up. “Gonna be a bad winter with it being so cold this early in the year.”

“Yep. Gonna be bad. Gonna be a lot worse for some,” Jack replied.

“What do you mean by that?” The soldier squinted and leaned over the crenulation to get a better look under Jack’s hood. His hand went for the sword hanging on his hip. “Hey, you’re—!”

Jack’s gladius took the man in the gut, shredding his diaphragm so his lungs could not draw breath and sound an alarm. The assassin pitched the guard over the wall with an easy shove. The body hit the ground next to the wall with a dull thud, invisible in the deep shadows. The old man waved to the only other guard on this section of the wall when he turned and held his post until the man began walking away once more.

The assassin hooked his roped onto the inner side of the wall and slid down. A few flicks of the wrist shook his grappling hook loose, which he caught in his hand before it hit the ground. The impact set his arthritis to stinging, but he flexed his old fingers and pushed the discomfort to the back of his mind.

This section of the wall ran closest to the short, square tower constituting the prison’s primary structure. It took less than a dozen long strides to reach the tower’s near-vertical stone exterior. Jack secured a pair of throwing knives to his bracers so that they stuck out about three inches beyond his closed fists. He pulled out two more and slid them into the holders built into the soles of his boots and used them like crampons, wedging the blades into the crumbling mortar between the building’s stones.

The climb was exhausting. In his youth, he could have ascended the wall with just a pair of daggers gripped in his hands in half the time. Now, it took nearly an hour to reach the barred window six stories above the ground with half of that time spent clinging to the wall like an insect while he rested. Finally reaching the narrow window, Jack tied himself to one of the bars, used a knife to carve a shallow trough at each one’s base, and dribbled potent acid onto them. The acid created a caustic pall of smoke that made Jack’s eyes water as it ate away at the metal.

The window, and actual glass and pane portal, opened up from the inside. “You’re creating an awful stink out here, and I know something about bad smells.”

Jack peered through watery eyes and took in the broad, smiling face framed by stone. “Hey, Otis. Think you can bend these bars up enough for me to come inside?”

“Sure thing, Jack.”

Large hands gripped the iron just above the acid-eroded base. The left hand was missing the two smallest fingers and the right was bereft of its pinky. Otis heaved on the bars and bent them inward, pushing them up until they almost touched the inside wall.

“Hold on,” he said and disappeared deeper into his cell.

Otis returned with a pitcher of water and washed away the acid still pooled in the divots Jack had created before reaching out and pulling him through the window. It was a bit of a struggle for Jack to worm his way through the opening, but he made it. He looked at his old friend, little more than a silhouette in the darkness as he clapped him on his broad shoulders.

“Otis, how does a man in prison get so fat?” Jack asked.

Otis lit a lantern resting atop a desk. “A perk of being something of a celebrity here.”

Jack looked around the cell that was more like a decent room at a respectable inn. “You live better than I do.”

Otis grinned. “Another perk. I possess a valuable skill, a talent for making things people are willing to pay for. The guards let me conduct my business for a cut of the profits. In exchange, they put me in the royal suite and feed me properly.”

“A cut is it?”

“Well, not so much a cut as the entirety. It’s not as if I have anything to spend it on, so I don’t complain. What brings you by? You know, if you wanted to visit you could have just used the stairs like everyone else.”

“I need you to make me some special packages, and to do that, I have to break you out,” Jack said.

Otis looked around his posh cell. “I don’t know. I’m pretty comfortable here.”

Jack laid a spotted hand on the big man’s shoulder. “You can stay in your nice room and eat good food, or you can come with me, ride through the cold and rain, eat trail rations, and help me topple a couple of kingdoms by committing multiple acts of regicide.”

Otis sighed. “I do miss the regicide.”

Brock Deskins
Brock Deskins
Soldier, storyteller, animal lover. I write, hike, and play video games.

1 Comment

  1. Susan Buchanan says:

    Loved the ending in particular – will definitely be reading the next instalment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe for a free eBook or click the background to dismiss this.