Why did a widow weep? Because her husband died
Why did the hangman weep? Because the hanged man lived
Robert wakes up, gets up from the floor with a quick movement.
Wow! What a nightmare. That was so real, I can feel the rope on my neck, the hangman kicked the stool, I slid down, but not hanged, but all the way down to the hole. That was... strange.
Then suddenly Robert realizes something.
Eh? I feel so much refreshed today. The Enfeeblement Powder must’ve worn out by now, and my wounds are almost healed completely! Thank Vadis he placed Zach here. He really worked to give me a way out from this crisis.
Robert looks around and finds Zach still sleeping in a very odd position, drooling like a baby. Rob decides not to wake him up. He moves Zach into a more comfortable sleeping position and covers him with a ragged blanket – the only thing that keeps Zach warm during his three years behind bars.
After that, Robert continues to delve within his thoughts, planning how he’s going to break free from this dungeon with his strength restored. With Algaban’s help? No, the innocents will die. The Arcadian jailers may not be evil – they are just justice-upholders, so Robert must take care not to kill any of them. He must use his own strength only, plus supporting Zach who must be weakened from the meager food and unhealthy condition here. And first, he will attempt to break the cuff-and-chain binding his foot.
As Robert makes up his mind, suddenly he hears heavy, quick footsteps and the cell door opens. Three jailers come into the dungeon cell, grab Zachary violently and slap him with force to make him wake up.
‘Ouch! What’s this all about?’ Zach protests.
The warden comes in, takes out a letter and reads it aloud.
‘Zachary alias Nightshade or Zach, convicted for espionage, your sentence has been altered by the Supreme Court of Arcadia from life to death by hanging. The execution will take place today at eight o’ clock in the morning in public, in Vochaux City Square.’
‘B-but why?’ replies Zachary in protest. ‘I was only sentenced for life according to law and you know all laws are final!’
‘Not this one. There’s a new law passed, directly from the Emperor himself yesterday. An amendment for the old law concerning espionage, that whoever proved guilty of espionage and high treason is condemned to death by hanging or decapitation without chances for amnesty or lighter sentence.’
‘Ah, how misfortunate,’ says Zachary to Robert. ‘I guess this means goodbye, Robert. I didn’t know the law changes so often here – and in a coincidental timing too, when I really, really having a good time with you. Is this Vadis’ will too, perchance?’
‘Vadis’ will lies in the final outcome, so we better pray and keep our fingers crossed,’ says Robert.
‘Wait, guards. Let this old man pass his last words to his friend here:’
The future is vague
And destiny is mystery
But if we walk the Right Way
We’ll always be in peace
As Zachary finishes his words, which sound like a death poem, the jailers drag him forcefully out from the cell. Zach’s face becomes quite calm now. His fate is not really determined – yet. Robert watches Zach’s departure with unexpressed sadness.
One hour later, Robert is alone in the solitary cell with a chain of thoughts. He thinks of how Vadis alter the fate of humankind by timely coincidences.
Then he hears commotions and noises from outside. It’s not a fight, but sounds more like people falling down. And then, within a few minutes Robert hears someone unlocking his cell door. A jailer comes in; the blank expression on his face shows obviously that he is hypnotized.
Then a familiar voice follows. It’s Sheena’s. She enters the cell with Baxter and Ellephar, all wearing black suits, concealed their faces so no one can recognize them – like ninjas from Shima*) Empire.
(* Shima Empire = Middle Age Japan in our world, one of the most powerful Far-East Nations beside Wushu (China in our world) and Ashura (India in our world).
‘That’s all. We’ll take over from here. Sleep tight!’ She hits the jailer’s nape of neck, rendering him unconscious. And then she cuts the chain on Robert’s foot with her Dancing Scimitar.
‘Sheena?! What are you doing here?’ asks Robert, puzzled.
‘Quick, Robert, come with me! Let’s get the hell outta here!’
Robert gets up and follows Sheena out from the cell. He sees the inmates chained in the dungeon walls there – all asleep – and ignores them. He tries to catch up with Sheena, Baxter and Ellephar. All the way along the hallways of the fortress-like jailhouse there are jailers everywhere lying scattered on the floor, dead, asleep or unconscious.
‘HALT! You are going nowhere!’ says a gruff voice from Robert’s back. Robert ignores the voice and keeps running. And then he hears heavy, quick paces, looks back and sees about ten jailers chasing them.
‘Yo, Rob,’ says Sheena, still running. Robert looks at Sheena as response. ‘Here, take your sword back. We’re going to need extra hands here.’
Sheena throws Grimlock to Robert. Robert catches it with gratitude and fastens the scabbard on his back quickly. Soon enough, they find that Sheena’s fears are all too true. A larger group of jailers and sentinels are waiting in front of them near the exit. Now the black-suited people and Robert are trapped on both sides of the main hallway. There’s no way out but fight and break the ranks.
Sheena shouts, ‘Robert, Baxter! You two handle the back. I and Ellephar handle the front!’ Robert and Baxter turn back at once. Robert rushes towards the jailers, grabbing Grimlock firmly with both hands. Robert doesn’t want to kill his opponents, so he attacks only using the blunt side of his saber and basic swordplay. Even so, it’s enough to knock the jailers down one by one like falling timbers.
Baxter is ready with his bow and arrow, trying to find an opening for his shot. A thought comes in his head and he alters his aim to Robert’s back instead. Baxter intends to kill Robert! And now he releases the arrow! The arrow darts unavoidably, but it hits a sentinel’s hand instead – the one who’s attacking Robert from behind. Apparently, Baxter changed his aim again right on the last second. He puts the bow back on his back, unsheathes a pair of daggers and rushes to help Robert.
On the other hand, Sheena doesn’t care whether she kills or cripples her opponents, as long as she can do it quickly before more jailers fall in. Ellephar just presses on like a wild boar. Then a one-time Sandstorm Skirmish from Sheena finishes the job. Robert knocks his last opponent out and turns to follow Sheena, Ellephar and Baxter. Baxter and Ellephar also finished their opponents before Robert did.
‘C’mon, Rob! You’re lagging behind!’ Sheena shouts.
‘He was busy playing “humanitarian” just now, that’s why!’ says Baxter mockingly. Robert doesn’t respond to that. It’s no use and there’s no time lecturing them about saving lives and preserving own honor by choosing actions carefully. He just runs on to the outer gate. Sheena’s crews wait on the spot there, ready with their ropes and grappling hooks. It’s still night, it seems, and almost all jailers were defeated, so Sheena and the others don’t have too much trouble getting out of there (except for the weighty Ellephar, of course).
As soon as they are outside the jailhouse, they quickly move to a hidden spot in an alley. When they are sure it’s perfectly safe, Robert speaks up.
‘What did you do that for, Sheena? Getting me out of jail, spilling law-upholders’ blood and making more mayhem in process, ruining my honor even more severely! For your information, you only made ma a real crook, not clearing my name!’
‘Tut, tut, that’s just the point, dear Robbie,’ says Sheena. ‘You know, one of the essential qualifications of a pirate is to have a reputation so filthy that no society will take you in and hell is your final destiny. As you exceed both plus Grimlock and the Pope’s murder, now I hereby announce your new nickname: “Dread Pirate Rob”.’
‘What? Being a pirate all my life is no dream of mine!’
‘Well, the choice is yours to make. If you decline to join us, you’ll be a fugitive again and your next captors might not be as merciful as us. If you join us, you will acquire treasures, loots and riches beyond your wildest dreams!’
‘But you didn’t answer my question. What is your REAL motive for helping me out of jail?’
‘Let’s say that the deal went sour,’ answers Sheena dryly. ‘The scurvy dirtbags messed up, so I got even with them by getting you out of there and back into my hands again. I thought I might hand you to the Bishop of Redne or Freidle to get more bounty, but on the second thought, why don’t I make you a pirate instead? With you by my side, we will make many, many times more than the price on your head. So, what do you choose: freedom in open seas or death by the gallows?’
Robert takes a moment to think, relating all the events he experienced during his days in captivity. Then he tries to improvise to take a full benefit from this situation at hand and makes a decision out of it.
‘All right,’ says Robert. ‘I’ll join you, Sheena, but with two conditions.’
‘Hmph, you are not in a position to bargain, Robbie. Don’t push it,’ says Sheena.
‘Conditions apply, or I’d rather take the other option and it’ll be your loss.’
‘Grr.... go ahead, name it so we can consider.’
‘Good. The first is: our first trip will be to Lore. I need to meet Hulferd in Rand and Rael’charon in Alceste.’
‘Hmm... That’s your original plan, isn’t it? Going to Lore and seeking help from your friends in high places? Well, okay, but I must accompany you all along the way to make sure you don’t desert me.’
‘I gave you the word as Vadis’ servant that I won’t desert you,’ says Robert confidently. ‘And the second one is, help me rescue my jail mate Zachary. He will be hanged at eight o’clock in the City Square in front of public.’
‘What? Are you nuts? Why would we risk our necks to do that kind of stunt? He’s a condemned man! I don’t want to risk my life and my crew’s to help him, it’s useless.’
‘Then I’ll pick the second choice,’ says Robert, drawing Grimlock and points it to Sheena. ‘And I must shake you all off first!’
‘Wait, Robert, wait!’ says Sheena. ‘I said I don’t want to help him, but it didn’t mean I won’t do it!’
Robert doesn’t move at all, still in the same stance. He only says, ‘Talk on. I’m listening. Talk as if it’s your last lie in this world.’
‘All right, all right! I’ll do it! But you have to do something for me as well.’
‘Okay, what’s it?’ asks Robert, lowering his saber.
‘I’ll tell you later after we rescue this Zakharia.’