Pushing Aldray into the corner, Tanash stripped away his blades from their scabbards and threw the tattered blanket over his prone body. One dagger he slipped into his boot. The other, he palmed as he crept behind the open door to listen for the other guard. He would much prefer a sword, but his was hidden with his belongings outside Enthmore’s ramparts. Trying to move around the castle visibly brandishing a weapon—even on this day of celebration—would hinder his quest.
“Aren’t you done yet?”
Tanash pressed to the heavy wood, using the murk to his advantage, as the other guard plodded close. His great height put his gaze higher than the small window in the door, allowing him to track the guard’s progress. As the guard paused inside the threshold, Tanash shoved forward with all his might.
The edge of the door slammed into the guard’s side, knocking him to the ground. Before he could find his feet, Tanash was there, his arm around his throat, squeezing until the body went limp.
Though both guards were now incapacitated, Tanash worked swiftly, binding their wrists and ankles with strips torn from the blanket, gagging them with their socks. He left both men slumped in the corner when he locked the cell behind him, then tossed the keys into the cesspit under the stairs. While he wished he could take one of their uniforms to help blend into the population above, neither was remotely close to his size. He made do by peeling away the worst of the ragged clothing he’d stolen to feign poverty and left behind the dungeon he’d used as a foothold into the citadel.
The corridor was empty when he emerged from the dungeon. Most of the castle’s residents would be in the streets or at the arena, taking part in the dances and exhibitions that were a part of the kingdom’s annual festivities to mark their growing prosperity, a detail Tanash had planned on. He’d picked the fight with the soldier at the pub a week ago, specifically so he would be locked securely in the dungeon on this day. It was his single best opportunity to search the citadel and escape with his prize.
If he got caught, there would be no second chance. One look at him, and the king would know he was a knight of Tasora. Tanash would be executed before the sun fell.
He moved with the stealth of a man half his size. As he stole through the lower level to reach the center salon, each footfall was light and quick, unheard even by him. He’d never been inside this particular castle, but he’d seen others when he accompanied King Cersamor, enough to know that variances were slight.
And he was right. The stairs leading to more private chambers curved up into a balcony overlooking the salon. He took them three by three, then doubled over to keep from being spotted below.
Nobody was up here, either. He had the luxury of pausing at every closed door he found to listen for sounds within.
He stopped at the very last one. Closing his eyes, he blocked out the distant jubilee to focus on the hollow echoes at his ear.
Wood scraped across stone.
The rustle of silk.
A long, drawn out sigh.
As he hoped, the room was occupied. The only question remaining was whether its denizen was friend or foe.