In which Dodger reunites more than his friends
Al was correct about the passage emptying near another series of cells. Dodger crept out of the tunnel making sure to keep close to the now surefooted Al. Earlier the old man could barely cross a room, now the old man all but oozed from shadow to shadow. Dodger thought perhaps the excitement of the breakout had the fellow’s blood pumping in all of the right directions. Whatever the cause for the change, Dodger was pleased to follow in his mentor’s footsteps. Literally.
The pair of them stuck to the pools of darkness that dotted the long hallway of cells. They paused outside of each cage, just to make sure it didn’t hold the party they sought. It wasn’t until they almost reached the end of the line that they heard the telltale snore of Sir Rodger drifting down the hallway. Al stopped Dodger in his tracks, then motioned toward the cell containing the others. Dodger nodded his understanding. He looked carefully around the narrow hallway, making sure there were no sentries keeping watch. Once he was certain there were no guards to worry about, Dodger stepped out of the darkness and into the low light of a weak torch.
He stared into the cage, taking count of those present. Sir Rodger—sporting one heck of a left black eye—was piled up against the cell door, snoring loudly as he slept. Boon sat leaning against the far wall with Lelanea’s head in his lap, both of them either asleep or close to it from the pattern of their steady breathing. Sarah lay curled up against Lelanea’s body, her face buried in the wolf’s soft fur. The little Prince was nowhere in sight.
“Sir Rodger,” Dodger whispered.
The man shifted in his rest, but didn’t answer.
“Sir Rodger,” Dodger whispered again.
No answer. Just more ridiculous snoring.
“Trust you to fall asleep at a time like this,” Dodger said.
“I’m not sleeping,” Sir Rodger said softly between fake snores. “I’m ignoring you.”
“What’s with the black eye?”
“I got it holding up my code. Unlike you.”
“Ah. Do you mind getting you and your code up from the door so I can-”
“Go away. I don’t talk to traitors.”
With a muted grunt, Dodger ran his hand down the length of his tired face, trying his best to hold his tongue. Now wasn’t the time for arguments. They could beat that dead horse much later, when everyone was freed. Dodger yanked the shackle out of his shirt and set to working on the hinges without the knight’s help.
“What are you doing?” Sir Rodger asked in a whisper as he scrambled away from the door.
“Setting you free,” Dodger said. Dodger smacked the bottom hinge as hard as he could. Somehow, Boon and the kids managed to sleep on through the banging.
Lelanea, on the other hand, raised her head to watch the proceedings.
“Why are you doing that?” Sir Rodger asked.
“Because we can’t finish this dream with you all locked up in that cell.”
“I think he means to ask,” Lelanea said, “what you are doing here, when you supposedly turned on us.” She shifted out from under her sleeping friends and padded across the cell toward Dodger. “It’s good to see you again. I worried you were lost to us in that pit.”
Dodger nodded to her before he returned to his work. “You ain’t sore at me?”
“Should I be?”
“How can you not be mad at him?” Sir Rodger said. “He warned the enemy of our intent. Outlined our approach. They ambushed us before we even reached the foot of the mountain. We never had a chance to rescue the Prince.”
“You look like you handled yourself well enough,” Dodger said, touching his finger under his own left eye.
“No thanks to you,” Sir Rodger said. He turned away from Dodger and began pacing the cell.
“Come now,” Lelanea said. “I’m sure Dodger has a perfectly good reason for his despicable actions.” Lelanea stared quietly at Dodger, as if waiting for just that very thing.
Dodger lowered his voice as he whispered to Lelanea, “You know I had nothing to do with it. Don’t you?”
“I know,” she whispered. “Your subconscious chose to play this part, but now you are presented with the opportunity to play it the way you wish. Not the way your guilty conscience demands of you.”
Dodger grinned at her through the bars.
“Well?” Sir Rodger asked. “Do you have an explanation or not?”
“Sure,” Dodger said between knocks at the pins.
“And what is that reason?” Sir Rodger asked, glaring down his nose at Dodger crouched on the floor.
Dodger paused in his work to look up at the knight. “You wanted to walk in the front door. You did just that. Didn’t you?”
“You mean we were dragged through.”
“But you got inside?”
“And if you help me get this door off you’ll have free run of the place while your enemy assumes you’re still caged.”
Sir Rodger considered the excuse, rubbing his chin as he weighed Dodger’s words. “So, you mean to say that this was all a setup? A double, double cross?”
“Yeah, that sounds about right. I thought I’d get in good with Rex, learn his secrets and such, but he double crossed me, too.” Dodger dislodged the bottom pin with a final whack. The cell door slipped, but Dodger managed to catch it before it struck the stone floor.
Sir Rodger grabbed the bars, taking the weight from Dodger. “I could’ve told you he would do that.”
“I’m sure you could’ve.” Dodger nodded to the still sleeping form of Boon and the kid. “Lelanea, wake ‘em up. We need to get a move on.”
While the wolf woke the others, Dodger and Sir Rodger worked the top hinge of the cell free. They removed the door and where just setting it to the side when Boon and the girl came awake.
“Dodger!” Boon shouted, and leapt from his seat on the floor. The big guy ran across the cell, out of the open door and into the hallway. He tackled Dodger with a monstrous hug, pressing him against the cell across the hall and almost squeezing the life from him. “I was so worried I’d never see you again. I thought you were a goner for sure.”
“Naw,” Dodger said, “you know me better than that.”
Boon pulled away from Dodger to beam down at him with a broad grin. “I do. I sure do.”
“Put your hands in the air!” someone to their left shouted.
Down the hall, a few cells away, stood a sloppily dressed man with a gun trained on Boon. Boon backed off of Dodger and raised his hands. Dodger followed suit, lifting his hands but mad as hell at himself for letting the guard sneak up on him like that.
“That goes for all of you,” the man warned as he shifted the gun to the others still in the cell.
“Raise your hands, Sarah,” Lelanea said softly.
The bleary eyed child did as the wolf asked.
“You, too,” the gunman said, waving his piece at Sir Rodger. “Get ‘em up.”
“I, sir, am a Knight of the Royal Court,” Sir Rodger said as he lifted his chin in defiance. “I do not raise my hands for just anyone, and I certainly do not take commands from common thieves. I have no intention of getting them up, as you so crudely put it, now or ever.”
The guard wrinkled his nose as he thought hard about Sir Rodger’s refusal to comply. After a few seconds of this concentrated effort, he finally said, “Did you just cuss me? ‘Cause that sounded kinda like you cussed me.”
“I would rather die than stoop to cussing the likes of you.”
Dodger let out a sigh. That kind of clichéd offer always drew the same clichéd retort.
On cue, the gunman cocked the hammer on his pistol and said, “You’d rather die? Then allow me to oblige.”
The brave Sir Rodger never flinched at the threat. He stood stalwart, ready to die for his lousy ideals and ridiculous pride, or at the very least get himself a matching shiner. Dodger contemplated placing himself between the gunman and the knight, wondering if it was worth the pain of a bullet to keep the honorable man from getting his fool self shot for nothing, but in the end he didn’t have to intervene. Before the gunman could fire, Al pounced from the shadows and leapt onto the man’s back. The two struggled for a brief moment until the gunman went limp under Al and slumped to the floor.
“I never did like him,” Al said.
“Uncle Al?” Sarah asked.
The old man started at the sound of the child’s voice. “Sarah? That you?”
The two ran for one another, falling into each other’s arms in the hallway. Al lifted the child from her feet and swung her about the narrow passageway as best he could.
“Al!” Sarah cried. “Oh, Al, I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too, girly. You have no idea how much.” Al spied the knight across the cell. “Come on over here, Sir Rodger. It’s been too long, my friend.”
“Far too long,” Sir Rodger said as he joined the communal hug.
Dodger, Boon and Lelanea gathered to one side as the others reunited.
“You’ve been here the whole time?” Sarah asked.
“Yup,” Al said. “That wicked Rex attacked me at my summer home in the Blood Lands and dragged me up here and I’ve been here ever since.” Al pointed to Dodger. “Then this nice young man comes along and sets me free.”
“You mean Arnold?” Sir Rodger said.
“Is that his name?” Al asked. “Because I swear I just heard that blonde galoot call him-”
“Arnold Carpenter,” Dodger said. “That’s my name. The blonde galoot is Washington Boon, and the wolf is Lelanea Dittmeyer.”
“Nice to meet you,” Lelanea said.
“Wooo weee,” Al said. “A talkin’ dog. Ain’t I done seen it all?”
“She’s not a dog,” Boon snapped. “She’s a woman.”
“Calm down, son. My mistake. No harm meant, little lady.”
“None taken,” Lelanea said.
Boon pointed at the body on the floor. “Is he dead?”
“Naw,” Al said. “I just cut his air off for a bit. He should come around after a little nap.” Al giggled for a few seconds, then added, “Of course, he might have a whale of a headache, but he always was a headache to me, so now I reckon we are even.”
“Can you teach me to do that?” Boon asked.
“Sure. It’ll be a real pleasure.”
“Now that we are all friends,” Dodger said, “can we get on with this?”
“Certainly,” Sir Rodger said. “Baron Jackson, do you know where they are holding the Prince?”
“I heard tale that he’s held at some rally in the yard,” Al said. He lifted a gnarled finger to the far end of the hallway. “I think it’s that away.”
“I see. Miss Lelanea, will you please escort the Baron and the Princess out of this terrible place? And I ask Mr. Boon and Mr. Carpenter to accompany me to the yard.
“No can do,” Dodger said. “No one is going anywhere, and I think Sarah knows why.”
“What are you talking about?” Sir Rodger said. “The best course of action is to get the weakest out of here while the strongest of us handle the trouble.”
“It might be the best for you,” Lelanea said. “But it isn’t what Sarah needs.”
Dodger lowered himself to Sarah’s height to look her in the eye. “Do you want to leave, or do you want to help us finish this once and for all? It’s up to you.”
Sarah blinked a few times, surprised by the question. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Yes, you do. This is your choice. Do you want to face your fear and put an end to this madness? Or do you want to slink away and let someone else handle it for you?” Dodger hoped he wasn’t too direct with his words. He didn’t want to let her know she was dreaming just yet, but he didn’t want to let her walk away from the chance to crush Rex’s control of her mind.
Sarah looked up to Al. “What do you want me to do?”
“You don’t worry about what we want,” Al said. “This is about you. What do you want?”
“They are correct, Sarah,” Sir Rodger said. “This is your moment. Do you want to see this through? Tis a dangerous task that lays ahead, young lady. We can see it to the end, or I can take you home if you wish. It is your choice.”
“No,” Sarah said, her eyes welling with tears.
Dodger nodded. He didn’t blame her for wanting to turn tail and run, though he was a bit surprised that a student of Al’s backed down from a fight.
That was, until she wiped at her damp eyes and added, “I don’t want to go home. Yet.”
“That’s my girly,” Sir Rodger said. He held out his arms and she fell into a hug with the knight. “Let’s go get your brother.”
Dodger smirked as he realized that Sir Rodger was only partially the legend of Rodger Dodger. The imaginary man was a mashup of everyone the young Sarah had grown to idolize, including the famous assassin that used to be Al, and perhaps even the memory of her own mother. Now that two of those folks were dead and gone, this left just Dodger to take up the slack. It was a lot of responsibility, being someone’s idol, but doubly so considering that he was actually seeing himself on that pedestal in such disturbing detail.
He only hoped he could live up to the task, lest end up breaking a young girl’s heart.