- Published: 28 September 2021
- ISBN: 9781760890476
- Imprint: Random House Australia Children's
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 272
- RRP: $18.99
Ranger's Apprentice The Royal Ranger 5: Escape from Falaise
‘Tie them up,’ Baron Lassigny ordered. ‘They’re under arrest.’
Maddie and Will stood silently while two of Lassigny’s men moved forward, plucked the Rangers’ saxe knives from their scabbards and tossed them to one side. Then they quickly bound Will’s and Maddie’s hands in front of them. Maddie tried to tense her wrists so that the bonds would loosen slightly when she relaxed them. But the soldier was awake to that trick. He slapped her wrists with the back of his hand.
‘That’s enough of that,’ he ordered roughly.
She shrugged and released her muscles, and he strained the cord tight, preventing any possible movement. Before long, she felt her hands growing numb from the restricted blood flow.
Lassigny gestured to Prince Giles, who was looking slightly dazed and confused by the rapid sequence of events. ‘Take him back to his room,’ he ordered.
A third man seized Giles’s forearm and led him away. The prince went without protest. Lassigny turned his attention back to Will and Maddie. ‘These two go to the dungeon,’ he said.
Will and Maddie exchanged a glance. Will shrugged. There was nothing they could do to resist. They were bound and unarmed. The men who had tied their hands now drew their daggers and stepped behind the two Rangers. Lassigny, seeing they were offering no resistance, sheathed his sword and pointed towards the stairs.
‘Get moving,’ he ordered.
Will hesitated for a second and felt the sharp point of a dagger pressing into his back. He took the hint and began to move towards the staircase, Maddie beside him and the two men at arms following close behind. Lassigny and the other three soldiers followed a few metres back.
They went down the stairs, passing the guardroom level with the castle’s battlements, where several yawning guards peered curiously at the little procession. Reaching ground level, they exited into the bailey. The prisoners hesitated, not sure which way they were meant to be heading. Another prod with the dagger directed them to the keep.
‘You could have just told me,’ Will protested mildly. The dagger was sharp and the prodding was none too gentle.
‘Shut up,’ he was told. He shrugged and moved towards the heavy door that led into the keep. This time, mindful of the need to avoid another jab with the dagger, he seized the iron ring of the door handle with his bound hands and opened the door, leading the way inside.
‘Which way now?’ he asked as they entered the keep.
‘Down,’ the guard told him, gesturing towards the stairs in the centre of the vast hall. Will headed towards them, but a word from Lassigny stopped him as he reached the head of the stairs.
‘Put them in the eastern cells,’ the Baron said. The guard acknowledged the order with a grunt, and Lassigny continued, speaking to Will and Maddie for the first time since they had started down from the tower.
‘We’ll talk in a few days,’ he said.
‘Do we have anything to talk about?’ Will asked.
Lassigny smiled – a smile totally devoid of humour. ‘Oh, I think we do,’ he said icily. ‘We’ll see how a few days in the cells will loosen your tongue. Perhaps you can sing for me again.’
He turned away and mounted the stairs that led to the higher levels of the keep, heading for his quarters. Will felt another jab in his back.
‘All right. All right,’ he said, and started down the stairs. His ever-present shadow went after him, with Maddie and her guard following. The other three men at arms continued with them, their boots clomping on the wooden stairs.
One level down, the stairs changed to rough stone and the air was noticeably cooler and damper. The stone stairs wound down for two more levels, then the two captives were guided to the right.
The walls down here were rough-hewn stone. Burning torches in wall sconces provided a dim light as they moved along a narrow, low-ceilinged passageway to where an iron gate was set in the wall.
‘Stop here,’ Will’s guide told him. Apparently, the dagger was only used for commands that involved going,
not stopping. Then he called out, his voice echoing along the stone-lined passageway.
‘Marius! Where are you?’
They heard a muttered exclamation from the darkness further along the passage, then a door creaked open on complaining hinges, allowing yellow lamplight to flood into the passage. A heavily built figure, stooping under the low headroom, shuffled out of the doorway and headed towards them.
‘Coming! Coming!’ he called, his voice rough and throaty. He shambled towards them, his gait a curious shuffling hop, and stopped to survey them. The light from the nearest torch showed a heavy-browed face, with shaggy eyebrows and a tangled, matted beard. The nose had been flattened at some stage, presumably by a heavy blow, and never reset properly, so that it spread across his face, angled slightly to one side. Beneath the brows, the eyes were black and pitiless.
He smiled as he saw them, revealing that most of his teeth were missing.
‘Ah, our new guests have arrived, I see,’ he said. He laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant sound, and it caused the bunch of large keys hanging from his broad leather belt to jangle loudly.
The guard behind Will stirred slightly. Will sensed that he wasn’t altogether comfortable here, in the presence of the jailer.
‘Just open up and let them in,’ he said shortly.
‘All in good time, Ramon,’ the jailer replied in that same throaty whisper.
He took a large iron key from the bunch hanging at
his waist and opened the gate to allow them into the corridor beyond. ‘Let’s take a look at who we’ve got here,’ he said.
He stepped closer to Will, peering into his face. Close up, his body odour and sour breath were all too evident.
‘Why, if it isn’t our songbird,’ he mused. Then he moved on to study Maddie’s features as well. ‘And his lovely daughter.’ Maddie stood her ground as he crouched to place his ruined face close to hers. ‘Welcome to my lovely home,’ he told her, and laughed aloud again.
In spite of herself, Maddie flinched.
‘Open the cell,’ Ramon insisted. The corridor was lined with cells on either side, each enclosed by another barred gate.
The jailer stepped back away from Maddie. He inserted the same key in the lock of one of the gates. It squealed as he heaved it open. Then he gave a clumsy parody of a bow as he ushered the two prisoners into the cell.
‘Please, my dear guests, make yourself comfortable.’
‘Get inside,’ Ramon told them curtly. It was plain that he was eager to be out of this place and away from the jailer.
Will and Maddie needed no further urging. They stepped inside and Marius slammed the squealing gate shut behind them, rattling the key in its lock and testing that it was secure with several hearty tugs at the bars.
‘Hands,’ Ramon told them, gesturing at a horizontal gap in the bars. Realising what he meant, Will put his bound hands out through the gap and allowed Ramon to cut his bonds with the dagger. Maddie hurried to do the same, sighing with relief as the rough cord fell away from
her wrists and blood started to flow through her hands again.
‘Be careful with this one,’ Ramon whispered, nodding his head towards the huge, unkempt jailer. ‘He’ll kill you as soon as look at you.’
‘Thanks for the warning,’ Maddie said in a lowered voice, rubbing her wrists together and wincing at the pain of returning circulation.
Ramon glanced back at the hulking jailer behind him. ‘Take care of them,’ he warned Marius. ‘The Baron wants to talk to them in a couple of days. And he wants them able to answer.’
Marius made a pretence of bowing again, sweeping his hand down towards the stone floor.
‘Oh, I will, I will,’ he said. ‘I’ll have servants bring them hot food and drink and warm, soft bedding.’ He spoke with mock concern, then let out a bellow of laughter and turned away, heading back towards his own lair. ‘Hot food and warm bedding,’ he repeated, then laughed again.
But there was no food of any kind, and the bedding was a thin layer of filthy straw spread over the damp stone floor. The cell itself was lit by the torchlight from the passageway outside. Will and Maddie looked around, surveying their surroundings. In the dim light, there was little detail they could make out.
‘Welcome to our new home,’ Will said.
Maddie frowned. ‘It’s not exactly a palace, is it?’
Her mentor shrugged. ‘At least it’s warm and dry,’ he told her, but she snorted disdainfully.
‘It’s not warm and it’s certainly not dry,’ she said.
The room was cold, with that penetrating, bone-chilling cold that comes from being several floors underground and never having seen the light or warmth of the sun. The cold seemed to leach out of the stone walls. And the dim light showed several glistening black puddles of water on the floor.
Will sighed. ‘Well, you can’t have everything.’
The sickle moon had just slipped below the western horizon when the file of mounted men emerged from the trees.
‘The full moon rose over us,’ Layla sang, while she carefully joined two pieces of metal together in the broiling, cramped welding bay.
Mary Lawson was the first to die. Leaving Euston station shortly before 6.45 a.m, she made straight for her favourite breakfast stall.
The sun set at six minutes to four. Kay lay stretched out on the floor, reading the very small print on the back of the newspaper.