The steps took him up to a less well-populated level of the castle, but no suggestion of a means to leave. He was not averse to climbing, but the sheer walls without a rope presented a bit too much of a challenge. It took a while to make his way discreetly, avoiding contact with any members of the household, into the areas of the castle where servants and slaves mingled in the performance of the most necessary and basic tasks of living.
Here there were the slaves who swept the halls and changed the linen, who brought fresh matting and disposed of the old. A woman, naked to the waist, towering baskets of laundry held balancing easily on her head, a child running with a jar of scented unguent to the bath house. Here and there an overseer, shouting orders or beating an offender for some careless mistake or unintentional oversight.
He moved amongst them unchallenged, assumed to be there by right as he came from within the castle and not without. He made his way to the outer courtyard where the more hazardous necessities were attended to – the stone-built bake house and brewery with their great fires that needed to be kept apart from the rest of the household. Here the smell of grain, fresh bread and fermentation flooded the senses, reminding Avilon he had not eaten in a day.
He kept to the edges of the frenzied activity, careful not to seem uninvolved himself and started looking for what he needed. It took some time, during which he won the sympathy of one of the women working, red faced and sweating, in the over-hot bakery and was rewarded with a small loaf of rough-milled bread.
From there it was not so hard to attach himself to a group of delivery men who had brought in some goods from a trader in the city on a sledge and were now making their way out. The guard seemed less than interested in who was leaving, their attention being more focused on who was seeking admittance. Even chatting easily with one of the group about the harshness of the weather, Avilon made his way with them towards the open gates.
It was just sheer bad luck that Caer chose that precise moment to bring a patrol of cavalry in through the gate. Even then it should have been no problem if one guard on the gate had not decided that the passing presence of one of the Warlord’s commanders meant the need to be ultra-officious. He barked at the group to stop and wait, whilst he checked their names against the list of those who had been admitted earlier. The other men reeled off their names quickly and were dismissed. Avilon stood mute, hoping that by the time the guard got to him Caer and his men would be away.
“You. Name?” The soldier demanded and when Avilon said nothing: “Come here.”
Caer’s head swung round at the sound of a break from routine and his eyes brushed over Avilon, who was keeping his gaze very carefully lowered as would suit a servant or slave in the presence of the military, his gait was altered too, slower and more nervous, as if expecting a blow.
“I asked your name,” The soldier repeated.
Time had slowed down around Avilon. He took in the distance between himself and the open gate, where even now the rest of the group he had been walking with were making their way out. He took in the way the soldier in front of him stood, working out exactly where he would need to hit him to take him down fast. He took in the distance away from Caer, who was still mounted, a snap shot could hit the pony and buy another few moments, but Caer’s men were all mounted and some were closer to Avilon than Caer himself.
The real difficulty lay in what was beyond the gate. It did not open directly into the city but onto a trestle bridge. Anyone leaving would be exposed to the soldiers on the walls for a good thirty meters and even running flat out Avilon could not hope to cover it unscathed. He processed all the information instinctively, his eyes and brain calculating the odds and feeding his conscious mind with the information he needed to make an instant decision on how to act.
The heel of his hand was already moving at speed towards the thyroid cartilage of the man before him and to even those closest it must have looked as if the guard had simply stumbled forward into him slightly. Avilon muttered something in audible protest, using his own strength to keep the dying man in life-like verticality. Almost in a shuffling dance step, he eased the burden back against the wall, still apparently standing by virtue of the angle of its incline at that point. Nodding and scraping, as if just given permission to leave, Avilon turned and followed the rest of his chosen group out of the castle.