Rory’s Story Cubes, where a rogue runs out of options.
Once upon a time…
Haakon spat on the ground, then wiped the back of his hand across his jagged lips. He stared through his brows at the heavily-armoured figures standing astride the bridge. He was never pleased with toll guards. But the ravine was too steep, the waters churned too rough, for him to find any other convenient way around. Otherwise his delivery could be weeks late. Not a pleasant thought.
“There’s one last thing I ought to try,” he muttered to himself. Still crouched in the underbrush and hidden within the fragrant pines, Haakon gently patted the thick coil of rope lashed to his back. He then crept forward a few small steps. Soon Haakon was close enough to the edge of the crevasse to smell the vapours from the frothing rapids below.
Unslinging the rope from his shoulder harness, Haakon sized-up the distance as best he could. Lashing the spring-loaded grappling hook to one end with a pair of sailor’s knots, he crouched again, stock-still, to guage the distance…Easily three-score hand-spans. Not easy. But still doable.
He stood slowly, the grappling hook now depending perhaps half and arms’ length from the loose coil in his hand. After a few test swings, he whirled it in earnest, his left hand above and straining at the wrist; his right, softly cradling the remainder of the rope. With Haakon’s great exhalation, the grappling hook coursed through the air, the arc of the rope graceful and perfect behind it.
With a snapping of branches and a great rustling of leafy boughs, the hook’s flight ended. A sidelong glance to the bridge let Haakon know that he still had a precious moment or two before the guards were on to him. He hastily gathered up the rope and bound it to the tree behind him.
At the point where Haakon began shimmying across the divide via his rope, a staccato tromp-tromp-tromp of heavy boots through greenery could be heard nearby. Had he been back in one of the grand cities, his customary bravado would have forced a taunt or two at his attackers. But he spared his breath this time, deciding to use it as fuel for his hand-over-hand clasping of the rope. Haakon began to hear louder shouts now, these being in the indecipherable native tongue of the guards.
Without warning, a round – yet relatively soft – object pelted Haakon in the rump. Nearly loosing his crossed legs in shock, Haakon glanced back at the nearer edge of the ravine. He stifled a laugh: the guards had resorted to throwing apples at him.
Haakon continued his rope-crossing. The apples still occasionally found their way to him but otherwise meant him no harm. The further edge soon became not so far. At once, the apples stopped; thinking his pursuers had for some reason given up the chase, Haakon’s scarred visage finally split into a smile.
It was too short-lived, unfortunately; one of the guards had cut through or otherwise loosed the rope from the tree Haakon had recently lashed it. Haakon realized that he was now falling. Technically, he was swinging towards the further end of the ravbine, but with one look back at the fang-like rocks of the ravine wal, he felt that perhaps a drop in the drink would have been preferable at that moment.
The impact was as if Haakon had rammed his shoulder directly into the granite walls of the impenetrable Fort Bluespire. His vision darkened, and the shock-waves sent tremors through his arms and a hoarse shout from his throat. Somehow he continued to hang on. When his vision cleared, he could see his hands, both mangled in crimson-stained twists of rope: the only things keeping him from falling to a watery death below.
With a violent lurch, Haakon began rising. Someone was reeling him in, perhaps half a dozen hands’-breadths at a time. Though his throbbing pulse still roared in his ears, though every tug on the rope battered and scored him against the ragged sandstone of the ravine’s edge, Haakon could still detect the voices of the bridge guards, ever louder.
“…All this, just to be spared a toll,” thought Haakon, as he drifted to the bosom of unconsciousness.
* * *
“Look…He’s finally awakened.” Although thick with the Talissian accent, Haakon was still somewhat comforted when greeted in his mother tongue. The comfort ended there.
“Yes, we know you’re of the Empire’s blood,” spoke the exotic voice once again. “We know of your ties to the Amber Talon (only then had Haakon realized that he had been stripped naked, exposing the curved brands festooning his shoulder blades), and we know we’ve caught a thief.” The speaker paused for a moment before continuing; Haakon could feel the icy trickle of his own blood sliding down the side of his face and neck. “The only interesting question that remains is: what will you tell us to spare your life?”
Haakon knew not the identity of this interrogator, though it didn’t matter anyway. He chose, without reservation, the decision to abort. His was a lost cause. The Amber Talon would soon learn of his fate, and send another operative. His next step was to commit his own murder.
Haakon struggled to speak clearly. “May I…warm myself by the fire a moment?” he asked.
“But of course,” replied his interrogator, in a genial and patronizing tone.
The warmth of the cobblestones beneath his broken fingers helped in guiding him to the fireside, as his eyes were nearly swollen shut. With effort, Haakon raised his head to view the source of the flames. It was a stone fireplace with a metal grille covering its front. “Splendid,” though Haakon to himself.
Without further thought beyond a greeting to the gods, his mangled hands wrenched the grille open and he thrust himself, head-first, into the flames.