41. Unguarded Guard

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The night was silent over Luntberg Castle as it had not been in a long, long time. No unearthly racket pierced the darkness, no funeral oration was held in a circle of torches. It was simply dark and quiet.

In the dark and the quiet, a figure slipped from one of the soldier's barracks and moved stealthily towards the outer gate. It didn't go straight across the courtyard. No, instead, it slipped from shadow to shadow in the manner of someone who had a powerful need to be silent. Nevertheless, now and again, a clinking noise betrayed the fact that it was there, and that it was wearing pieces of armor.

In the shadows of one of the outer buildings, the figure hesitated, looking around. Nobody was there. The guards at the gate were missing, just as he had known they would be, and nobody else seemed to have noticed his approach either. He noticed that even the doors to the towers on both sides of the gate stood slightly ajar. Had someone simply left them open? They had really left in a hurry to be at the grave.

The figure nodded. This was going to be easier than he had thought.

With his eyes, he measured the distance between his hiding place and the gate. Maybe thirty-five feet? He would have to be very quick, and very silent, so the guards on the inner wall wouldn't notice him. It had been a piece of luck that he had been able to open the inner gate without anybody noticing. If he now managed to open the outer gate, too, all of this would be finally over. The Margrave would win the feud and he would have his reward.

For a moment, he hesitated. Then three faces appeared in front of his mind's eye, and his jaw set in determination. For them! He was doing this for them!

Suddenly decided, he dashed from the shadows and across the yard, onto the path and into the shadow of the gatehouse. So eager to reach the safe shadows was he, that he nearly slammed head on into the solid stone wall. Panting, he pressed himself against the stone and stared back up at the inner wall to see if any guard had noticed him down here.

But no. There was only one, and he was walking away to the west, his back turned towards him. As the man in the shadows saw that, his breathing became easier. Now for his final task. He steeled himself for what was to come. It had to be done.

Cautiously, he looked left and right to check one final time if there wasn't anybody else in the outer courtyard by chance who had noticed him. Nobody. The only movement came from the half-open door of the tower that moved a bit in the wind with creaking hinges. Reassured, he entered the gatehouse and stood before the giant wooden mechanism that was used to pull up the metal portcullis. Once it was up and the gates were open, the way would be free for the Margrave.

He gripped the first lever.

It was then that he realized something. The door of the tower had been swinging in the wind? But... there was no wind.

Heavy footsteps sounded behind him.

“You! Stop right there!”

He whirled around, but too late. The two guards were already on him and grabbed his arms. He struggled, kicking and snarling ferociously. If he didn't shout, if he overpowered them, he could still do it! He could still earn his reward!

Then two more guards appeared in the door of the gatehouse, both in full armor and wide awake, and he realized he would not be able to overcome them. These weren't just random men out for a late night walk. They had been waiting for him.

“No!”

One of the men strode forward, an expression on his face that was as dark as the devil's heart, and raised a fist.

It's over was the last thought the man had before the fist hit him in the head and he stopped struggling abruptly.

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