Open Cell Doors

Sir Mathania carefully crept up the side of the hill, his sword at the ready. A dozen warriors followed him, alert and ready for battle.

He dropped to his knees and crawled the last few feet to the top of the hill. Slowly, he raised his head over the ridge to peer down into the valley below them.

Hills Encased in  Fog
The moon bathed the landscape below them in a silver light. Any other night, Sir Mathania would have found the night to be a beautiful one.
Yet, the ominous dark fortress that rose from the valley floor snuffed out the beauty of the night.

Sir Laez crept up next to Mathania. “So, what do you make of it?”
Mathania was silent for a moment, taking in the scene below.
“I count only six guards on duty, two at the gate, four in the towers.” Mathania observed. “We can take care of the two at the gate, but the towers...” His voice trailed off as he pondered their next move.

“There should be a stairway that leads to the gatehouse and from there to the towers.” Laez commented. “You take five men and get rid of the gate guards. From there, I’ll take five men and take care of the guards in the towers.”
Mathania pondered Laez’s plan. “It’s risky, but it is our best shot. After you have eliminated the tower guards, send two men to the stables and have them prepare two carts. We will use them for the prisoners. Once the rest of the garrison is alerted of our presence, we are going to have to ride hard.”
Laez nodded. “Sounds good. I’ll personally alert you when and if the garrison stirs from their barracks.”

Mathania turned and grasped his friend’s hand. “For the King’s glory!” He whispered passionately. “For the King’s glory!” came Laez’s reply.
The two warriors turned and motioned to their smaller divisions of five men. Mathania signaled the last warrior to remain with their horses. In the case of a full-out attack, having the horses ready would be imperative to the mission’s success.

The two warriors rose slowly and quietly began their descent down the hill, moving in tandem with the long grass that danced in the cool evening breeze. Upon their arrival at the bottom of the hill, the warriors paused and waited. Mathania looked towards the sky, patiently waiting for a cloud to obscure the light of the moon for the short jaunt across the valley to the gaping mouth of the fortress Egadnob. His patience was rewarded as a thick cloud veiled the moon’s light.
“Now!” He quietly ordered his warriors. With long, silent strides they made their way across the floor of the valley. The clank of their armor being deadened by the black strips of cloth wrapped around each warrior to prevent their armor from glinting in the moonlight.

Moon through Branches of Trees
As Mathania stepped into the shadow the fortress cast upon the valley, he couldn’t help the chill that ran through him. The fortress emanated with an evil that all its grandeur could not hide nor mask.
A few more long strides brought them to the guards. “Now!” Mathania commanded and his five warriors leapt into action. Mathania rushed at the guard on the left side of the gate, two of his warriors following him. The dark warrior’s face filled with wonder and surprise as out of the dead of night, three warriors dressed in black from head to toe rushed at him with drawn swords. With one swift blow, Mathania cut him down, his two warriors catching the dark warrior to prevent his armor from crashing upon the ground. Mathania turned to see the second dark warrior had been dispatched, just as silently.
He motioned with his sword and the two groups of warriors split for their assigned tasks. Laez took the wall and Mathania rushed toward the guardhouse that would take them down to the dungeons of the fortress Egadnob.

Mathania and his warriors burst through the door of the guardhouse to find four warriors standing about. Their shock at seeing six warriors burst in from the night was evident. Mathania and his men took advantage of the surprise and their numbers, making quick work of the dark warriors.

“This has been almost too easy.” Noituac mused as they stood in the conquered room. Mathania strode over to a nearby wall. “I suppose the commander here thinks no one would be foolish enough to storm a fortress garrisoned by nearly four-hundred dark warriors.”
“Still...” Noituac mused.
“Never mind that now.” Mathania commanded. “All of you, search for the keys to the cells.”

The six men quickly scoured the guardhouse, but to their dismay found not a single key.
“Odd.” Mathania commented. “Is it possible they keep the keys in the dungeon instead of here?” “Only one way to find out.” Noitca spoke as he opened the door leading down to the dungeon. Mathania nodded and the warriors cautiously worked their way down the flight of stairs.

The dungeon was dimly lit, torches being spaced out about every twenty feet. Two torches hung on the wall on either side of the stairs and Mathania wrested one from its socket, nodding to Noitca to do the same. With swords drawn, the two warriors led the way, the other four following, swords also at the ready.

Keeping their eyes on the walls, they worked their way down the long hall. “No keys here either.” Mathania muttered as they approached what seemed to be the first block of cells.
Noitca nodded. “Very strange.”

Mathania reached the first cell and held his torch up to see inside. What he saw nearly caused him to drop his torch in shock. “Noitca!” He whispered. “Take a look at this!”
Noitca quickly joined his commander. “What in the kingdom?!” He exclaimed.
“There’s no cell door!” Mathania spoke in disbelief.
“Perhaps, there is no prisoner inside?” Noitca said.
“Perhaps...” Mathania muttered as he held his torch up higher to see into the depths of the prison cell.

For a moment, it seemed this was indeed the case. Yet, as Mathania cautiously stepped inside the cell, he couldn’t believe his eyes. A prisoner lay curled up in a ball at the back right corner of the cell, his back to the entrance.
In total shock, Mathania turned toward Noitca. “Do you see?” He asked in bewilderment. Noitca nodded, bewilderment etched across his face as well.

Mathania made his way over to the prisoner and knelt down, handing his torch to Noitca, yet unwilling to relinquish the grip on his still drawn sword. Carefully, he shook the prisoner’s by his shoulder. The man groaned and turned his head to face Mathania. “What do you want with me now?” He groaned, his voice still thick with sleep. “Can’t a man ever be allowed to rest here?”

Mathania spoke. “Listen, my name is Mathania and I am a knight of the King. My warriors and I are here to free you from this dreadful place.”
“What?” The man said. “Free me, from this place? Why?”
Mathania was puzzled. This was not the response he was expecting from a prisoner in the fortress Egadnob. “You’re a prisoner.” Mathania responded. “We are here...” The man broke out laughing, cutting off Mathania‘s words. “Prisoner?” He scoffed. “A prisoner? What? Are you blind?” He motioned toward the cell door. “Do you see a locked door? Huh? I am free to leave whenever I wish. I simply have no desire to leave.”

Mathania’s jaw dropped. He could not even begin to comprehend why someone would remain in this place. “What, how, why would you stay here?” Mathania stumbled over his words.
The man looked at him as though he was a strange oddity. “Why would I want to leave?” He questioned, cocking his head.
“Why?” Mathania could hardly believe his ears. “Why? Because you are a prisoner, unable to see the light of the sun. Unable to move about freely, unable to live as the King has called you to, unable to...” The man held up his hand. “This is all I have ever known and I am content here.” He turned his face once more to the wall and slept.

Mathania felt frozen in place, unable to process what he just heard. He felt a gentle hand upon his shoulder and turned to see that Noituac had also made his way into the cell. “There is nothing else we can do for him, let’s check another cell.”
Mathania stood up and numbly followed Noituac out of the cell. His other warriors looked just as shocked as he felt. Taking his torch once more from Noitca, he led the warriors to the next cell.

Lit Torch
A young man sat in this cell, his head resting on his knees which were pulled up to his chest. Mathania cautiously entered and laid a gentle hand upon the young man’s shoulder.
The young man stirred and looked up into Mathania’s eyes, The young man’s face was filled with utter despair and hopelessness.
Mathania was silent for a moment, the hopelessness in the young man’s face shook him to his core. “My name is Mathania and I am a knight of the King. My warriors and I are here to free you from this dreadful place.” He stated, hoping for a different response than he had received from the first prisoner.

The young man was silent and stared back at Mathania with his despair-filled gaze. Mathania opened his mouth to speak again, but the young man spoke. “It is hopeless, there is no way out of here. I am doomed to live here the rest of my life.” “No, you aren’t.” Mathania compassionately said. “The King gives freedom to all who cry out to Him. We can help you out of here.”
The young man shook his head. “No, it is impossible, this is my fate and I must accept it.”
Mathania felt a twinge of despair tug at his soul, but he pushed it away. “No, this doesn’t have to be your fate, there is freedom! All you have to do is walk into it!” He motioned toward the open cell door.

The young man looked at the open cell door for a moment and Mathania’s heart soared in hope.
Yet, the young man once again looked at the floor and shook his head. “No, it is hopeless, there is no way out.”
Mathania was flabbergasted. “How even...?” His mind raced in bewilderment and utter shock.
Noitca knelt down next to the young man and grasped his shoulder. “We are going to get you out of here. Quick, get on your feet.” The young man didn’t respond and Noitca began to pull him from the cell floor.

“No!” The strong voice of Noituac spoke out from behind them. “We can’t force anyone into the freedom of the King. They will always be prisoners unless they chose to step out on their own by the power of the King.”

Noitca loosened his grip and the young man slumped to his earlier position. Noitca stood and exited the cell in intense frustration. Mathania stayed by the side of the young man for a little longer, his heart in deep distress and pain for this prisoner before him.
He laid his hand once more on the young man’s shoulder. The young man looked up and their eyes met. “There is freedom in the King.” Mathania passionately whispered. “You can be free of this, all you have to do is step out of this cell. The King will give you strength.”

The young man looked into Mathania’s eyes a few seconds longer and then once more, lowered his eyes to the cell floor.
“Come Mathania.” Noituac spoke gently from the entrance of the cell.
Mathania slowly stood and made his way to the entrance of the cell. He paused and took one last look at the young man sitting in despair.

Noitca’s voice pulled his attention back to his warriors once more. “Well, what do we do commander?” Noitca’s voice was thick with frustration. “Apparently, we aren’t allowed to bring them out of their cells unless they are willing to come.” He glared at Noituac.
Noituac spoke. “I spoke those words because they are what the Scroll says. No one can choose the freedom of another for them. It is a personal, individual responsibility.”

Mathania nodded slowly. “Noituac is right.” He said sadly. “We can’t force anyone from these cells. They must choose.”
“So what are we supposed to do?” Noitca whispered fiercely. “Our time is running out! Any moment we could be discovered!”
Mathania thought for a moment. “Let’s spilt up into three groups. Cover as many of the cells as you can. When I whistle, make haste to the stairs, we must leave. If I whistle a second time, battle is joined and hasten there with swords at the ready. Now go!” The warriors dispersed, Noituac staying with Mathania.
Mathania sighed as he looked at his fellow warrior, then back to the long row of cells. “Well, let’s see if at least one will come with us.”

Twenty-five minutes later, Mathania exited his nineteenth cell, pressed his back up against the cold wall of the dungeon and slumped to the floor.
Noituac exited the cell from across the hall and paused, seeing his commander slumped over in defeat.

Noituac slowly walked across the hall and sat down opposite Mathania. Leaning against the wall, he looked over at Mathania. “Not what you expected, eh?”
Mathania shook his head. “Not at all.”
Noituac nodded. “I can understand that. It is truly shocking to see how many people willfully live under Egadnob when freedom can at anytime be theirs.”

Mathania was silent and Noituac waited patiently.
Mathania sighed and slowly began to speak. “I honestly didn’t expect this Noituac. I mean, how could anyone be so blind as to choose to stay here?” He motioned around to the bare stone walls of the dungeon.
Noituac looked around, pondering his response. “Mathania, you said it yourself. They are blind.”

Both men were silent, as they pondered this distressing truth.
“I want to take their blinders off.” Mathania whispered quietly.
“Alas, we cannot.” Noituac said. “Only the King can remove the blinders.”
“Then, why are we here?” Mathania whispered in despair, placing his head in his hands.
Noituac leaned across the narrow hallway and placed his hand on Mathania’s shoulder. “Because that is our call, my young warrior. To proclaim the truth, to be a light in the darkness, to salt the oats of these prisoners to make them thirst for the King.”

“Well, I expected a prison break.” Mathania mumbled.
“And perhaps the King will grant a mass one someday in this fortress.” Noituac said. “But until then and even if that day never comes, we must continue to be His messengers.”
Mathania slowly rose to his feet. “I know Noituac, truly I do. This is simply the part of being a warrior of the King that hurts me most. I can’t stand knowing that even one person is held captive in this horrid place. And there are so many...” His voice trailed off.

Noituac stood and nodded. “I know Mathania. And that is what makes you a mighty warrior of the King. You boldly fight His battles in His strength, but you never forget those captive here and it breaks your tender heart. A heart that aches for all to know the King as you do.”

Mathania turned away, tears blurring his vision. “I am unworthy of such words Noituac. Yet truly, I do ache for all to know the freedom of the King as I do.”
“Then don’t give up!” Noituac urged, tightening his grip on Mathania’s shoulder. “Keep pressing on!” He motioned toward the next cell.

Mathania drew a deep breath. He locked eyes with his fellow warrior and nodded. He stepped toward the cell as Noituac stepped towards the one on the opposite side of the hall.

Mathania entered the cell, pausing at the doorway. He peered into the darkness, letting his eyes adjust to the dim interior of the cell. A young woman sat with her back to the wall, her gaze fixed straight ahead of her as she gazed into nothingness.
Mathania once again, felt the fire of righteous fury in his soul. As a warrior, he doubly hated the captivity inflicted upon the women and children of the kingdom. He took a deep breath, letting his righteous fury subside. Then he spoke, “Hello, my name is Mathania and I am a knight of the King. My warriors and I are here to free you from this dreadful place.”

The young woman looked up, meeting Mathania’s gaze. To Mathania’s surprise there was an undeniable spark of fire in her eyes. It was a fire Mathania had not seen in any of the other captives. Yet even now, the fear and oppression of the fortress had all but snuffed out this spark.
“There’s no escape from here.” She said soberly. “This is my lot and I must accept it.” Mathania’s spirits fell once more. Her reply sounded so much like the response of the young man earlier.

Yet, there was still that spark of fire in her eyes that caused Mathania to linger and try one more time.
“No, there is a way out.” He pointed to the open cell door. “All you have to do is step out and my warriors and I will make sure you are protected from there.”

The young women looked at the door, seemingly lost in thought. “No, I cannot leave.” She stated, looking down to the floor of the cell.
Mathania heard a sound behind him and turned to see Noituac motioning for him to move on.
Mathania turned back, still unwilling to accept no for an answer.
“No one is forced to stay in these cells.” Mathania spoke. “They choose to stay here.”
The young woman locked eyes with him once more and Mathania continued. “Freedom IS available to all who take that first step.”

The young woman looked away. “Mathania,” Noituac gently called. “We have to keep moving.”
Mathania ignored his companion. “There is something different in your eyes. Something that I haven’t seen in any other of the prisoners here today.” The young woman glanced at him briefly before glancing away again. Mathania continued, “I can see you know the truth and you desire to be free. Don’t let your fear hold you back.”
“Mathania!” Noituac called once more. Mathania stood and walked to the entrance of the cell. He paused at the doorway and turned back once more. “Please, come.” He held out his hand.

The young woman looked towards him, seeming to ponder a response. Yet, she once again turned her head away.
Mathania sighed and walked out of the cell. He paused after a few steps and turned back to the cell once more. “Listen,” he said softly, “When you take that first step, send a message to Sir Mathania of Forwae. My warriors and I will come to your aid and guard you from any harm.”
The young woman said nothing and Sir Mathania turned and slowly walked away.

Noituac waited patiently for Mathania at the entrance to the next hall of cells. “Well?” He asked. “There was something different about that one.” Mathania whispered, glancing back at the cell, lost in thought.
Noituac said nothing, waiting for his commander to explain. When there was no response, he placed his hand on his commander’s shoulder. “When the King grants her that first step, we will come back for her and any of them for that matter.” Mathania still made no response.
“Come.” Noituac gently prodded. “It is up to the King to work now.”
Mathania nodded slowly and followed Noituac into the next block of cells. He looked over his shoulder, carefully marking in his mind the location of the cell where the young woman was held prisoner.
“I will return if the King gives me strength.” He whispered. “I will.”

Another twenty minutes later and Mathania & Noituac found themselves back in the main hallway of the cells, their mission still unfruitful.

“Well?” Mathania questioned, frustrated at their lack of success.
Noituac looked Mathania straight in the eye. “We are the messengers, Mathania. The King is the heart transformer and the one who breaks the chains of slavery.”
Mathania sighed deeply. “Right.”

There was a clang as the sound of a door closing reverberated down the stairs of the dungeon. Laez appeared moments later, struggling to catch his breath.
“Garrison deployed...must leave now.” He gasped.

Dungeon Stone Stairway
Mathania wasted no time. Putting his fingers to his lips, he whistled sharply two times. A few moments later the other four warriors appeared, three prisoners with them. “Thank the King.” Mathania breathed. At least freedom would be brought to some today…if they could make it out alive.

“Lead the way Laez.” Mathania commanded. Laez nodded and rushed back up the stairs.
The warriors burst out of the guardhouse into the courtyard of the fortress. Mathania froze at the sight before him. A wave of dark warriors were rushing toward the gatehouse from the barracks, at least a hundred strong and more were spilling out of the barracks every moment.
“HURRY!” Mathania shouted, dashing toward the open gate, as the six warriors and three freed prisoners followed him.
“They are going to cut us off!” Noitca shouted, looking in the direction of the dark warriors. “They will reach the gate before us!”
“Not if my warriors have anything to say about it!” Laez shouted. He let out a shrill whistle. To their left, two horse drawn wagons rushed out of the shadows over by the stables.

The wagons galloped alongside the fleeing warriors and freed prisoners, who quickly jumped into the back of the open wagon beds.
“Hah!” The warriors driving called to the horses and the wagons picked up speed.

Four warriors appeared from the shadows of the gatehouse, swords at the ready.
“Don’t forget our other warriors!” Laez called to the drivers. Mathania turned and looked back toward the dark warriors rapidly rushing toward the gatehouse. “We won’t have time to stop for the other warriors if we want to get out of here alive.” He observed. He walked over to the side of the wagon. “Follow my lead!” He called to Laez, Noituac and Noitca.
He leaned over the side, reaching out his arm. The other three warriors followed his lead. “Grab on!” Mathania shouted to the four warriors as they rapidly approached the gatehouse. The warriors sheathed their swords and stretched out their arms. Mathania caught the arm of the first warrior and swung him up onto the wagon. He turned to see his other three warriors on the wagon as well.
“Good work men!” He called. “Now get us out of here!” He called to the drivers. He turned to Laez. “Since we only have three prisoners, I say let’s drop the wagons and use horses only.”
“Agreed.” Laez nodded and worked his way to the front of the wagon to communicate the directions to the drivers.

Mathania turned and looked back at Egadnob. The dark warriors were congregating out front, swinging into their saddles, preparing to give chase to the fleeing warriors.
He took in the towers, the battlements and the massive gates. He thought of the hundreds of people held captive there, who chose to remain behind bars instead of stepping into the light.

Noituac stepped up next to his commander, placing his hand on his shoulder. “When the King calls Mathania, I once again reaffirm we will return. We will return for all of them if need be.”
Mathania turned and smiled at his friend. “Thank you.”
“Don’t lose hope. The King is working.” Noituac said with a gentle smile.
“Yes.” Mathania said and looked back toward the fortress Egadnob. “Yes, He is working.”

He thought of the older man, content to stay where he was, the fear and despair of the younger man and lastly, the spark of fire in the young woman’s eyes.
“No,” He whispered. “This battle is far from over.”