Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Paid in Gold and Blood Chapters 11 & 12

(Two chapters are posted every Sunday and Wednesday. Links to the other chapters can be found HERE)
Chapter Eleven

Cork led him down the right side path and to an otherwise empty tavern where a single man stood behind a bar made of drift wood and more stone.  Huge shells were hung from nets along the walls, and a stuffed shark stood sentinel over the bar.  Strange place, Katashan thought.

He wanted to go back to the temple and pray.  Or maybe not.  He hadn't been to a temple to pray since he put aside his robes to go to war.  This was not his god. . . .

Or maybe it was.

He looked back at Cork, finally.  "It's quiet here," he said, because anything else seemed fraught with too much else.

"It's too early for the usual crowd," Cork answered as they settled at a wooden table in the shadowy corner of the room.  "This is the favorite spot for the fleet captains and their men, but they'll not be back until nearly sunset.  Two ciders, if you would, Sarton." 

The order won an odd look from the proprietor who must usually provide Cork with something a bit stronger.  Cork had been wise though; today they both needed clear heads to face any trouble Lord Arpan might create.  Katashan waited silently at the table, looking down at the surface; it had been worn and nicked in places by careless knives, and some not so careless with pictures and names.  Sarton brought the drinks in plain clay mugs, took coin from Cork, and retreated back to where he had been wiping out other mugs.  Katashan traced out a few crude letters with his finger as he sipped the cider.

"Sir," Cork said. Then he stopped and shook his head.  He sipped more cider.  Then he started to shake his head, and drank more.

"You'll never get drunk enough on this stuff, Cork," Katashan said.

"Ah, too true, sir."  He put aside his already nearly empty cup, placed both hands on the table, and looked Katashan straight in the face.  "I would like you to tell me that it was a joke, sir.  A very bad joke."

"I'd like to think it is," Katashan said.  He sipped the sweet cider.

"But it isn't.  Gods all," Cork said.  He picked up his empty cup and sat it down again with a frown.

"Finish mine. Then we'll have another round on me."

"Very kind of you, sir."  He took the cup and sipped.  Katashan could see calculation in those dark blue eyes and he wondered what the guardsman intended to do next.

"You can still walk away, Cork."

"Can I, sir?  And how far do I have to walk, do you suppose, to be free of this mess?"

"From what I can guess about this trouble, and those involved. . . ."  He glanced out at the street, thinking about the temple, the Gods, Sherina and magic.  "I would suggest you go to Kirin, the capital of Taris.  I can give you names and assure you of a good reception."

Cork started to laugh and cut himself off abruptly.  "You're dead serious, aren't you sir?"

"Very much so."

"Kind of you to offer -- but this is my home. And I have -- Maylee!"

Cork abruptly pushed himself up from the table and quickly crossed to the doorway.  A slight girl with light hair and flushed face stood there, breathless as she let Cork take hold of her.  He started to pull her to the table, but she shook her head and pushed him away -- though not far.

"No -- time," she said, still gasping.  "His Lordship -- he came back early.  He wants the foreigner."  She glanced at Katashan, and took a deeper breath before she continued.  "Begging your pardon, sir.  Not finding you at the fortress he ordered a full call of guards.  Serrano said Cork, went to the city to get supplies for his lordship's lunch.  No matter.  His Lordship -- going to start flogging guardsmen until the foreigner is found.  Disband the troops, strip Captain --"

"We must get back." Katashan stood and headed for the door.

"Sir, I've no idea why he wants you so badly," Cork said, his face pale in contrast to Maylee's blush.  "I don't like it --"

"Neither do I, but I won't allow men to be flogged, or the Captain stripped of rank, on my account.  Get me back in.  I'll take my chances with Arpan later.  I'm not helpless.  Let's go!"

"Get back before you're missed, love.  We'll be there shortly. What should I bring for his bastard lordship's meal?"

"There will be supplies by the herbarium door, Cork," she said.  Her hand brushed lightly against his face.  "Just bring them up to the kitchen.  His guards are already there, waiting for you to show up."

"I will.  Go now.  Take care. And thank you."

She nodded, giving Katashan one last quick look that mingled relief with worry before she left again, running back along the path.  Katashan worried that others had seen her, and that it would bring her trouble and lead back to Cork still.

"Sir --"

"We go back.  You get me into the fortress and as close to my rooms as you can.  I'll play it from there."

"I don't like it."

"Neither do I but then there's not been a lot about this business I have liked.  Come on, man.   We don't have time to waste!"

Cork no longer made any sign of arguing.  He started out the door and Katashan looked back at the proprietor, worried.

"Not a problem, sir.   Maylee's uncle."

Katashan nodded with relief as they hurried out into the street and rushed back towards the fortress gate.  Katashan cast one worried look at the statue of Peralin and Night as they passed, wishing the god could help him -- and at the same time wishing he didn't find himself involved in something that might need a god or two to unravel.

  They passed only a few people along the way, and none of them took any real interest in the two.  Katashan almost thought they might have been warned to look the other way.  Lord Arpan wouldn't be popular with many of his people, seeing his tyrannical ways.  And Cork was liked, which might yet save him from the trouble that followed Katashan.

They finally rushed back through the garden gate, the bell ringing to announce entry this time.  The chickens ran up, got a sprinkling of crumbs from Cork even now, and disappeared again as the two men hurried through the garden.  They found the herbarium empty, but true to her word, three tiny leather bags sat by the door.  Cork grabbed them up, but he shook his head with sudden panic as he looked inside one.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know what this is. What if his Lordship asks?  How can I say I went for it, if I don't even know --"

"Saffron," Katashan said, looking into the first bag, and then the others.  "Cinnamon, red pepper."

"Bless you, sir."

"Let's go."

Cork swallowed nervously -- his first real sign of worry -- and opened the door. They slipped inside and started up the stairs, pausing to listen at the first landing.  The silence grew oppressive and it seemed better to move upward towards the danger than to wait like mice cowering in a hole.

They passed one opening, another; hurried down a quiet hall, and up another set of stairs.  At the next landing they could hear loud voices above them.  Cork shook his head and pushed Katashan back downward again.

"That's not good, sir.  We'll have to find you another way."

"Get me somewhere away from you, Cork. That's all we need worry about right now."

"No sir, that's not all.  I'd not be happy with myself if I didn't do my best."

"Cork --"

He plainly didn't intend to listen as he started down a hall for another set of stairs.  "This way, sir."

Katashan had no choice but to follow, unless he intended to go charging away on his own and straight into the hands of the enemy.  That seemed neither wise nor a good way to keep Cork safe if they found his friend in the same area. So he followed the guard back down into the hall to other stairs and up another flight.  Loud voices rose at the top of the next flight. They reached the opening and Cork looked out, and then back, shaking his head.

"His Lordship's guards are everywhere out there.  But I think we can get past this set of the bastards and up to the next level.  If we can get an old door open there, that'll take you far up into the tower, away from the paths that lead to the city. That's the best I can do, sir.  I don't know where you'll come out."

"I'll take it.  Let's go."

Cork pushed his hand through his curly hair and nodded, then sidled back up to the archway.  He held his hand out and Katashan readied himself, grateful he'd had a moment to catch his breath.

Cork signaled with a lift of his hand and quick wave.  Katashan hurried past his friend and to the next set of stairs with barely a glance at the line of dark jackets seen from the back, and the face of a couple servants who beyond a doubt saw him.  In fact, he had the distinct impression they got louder to keep Lord Arpan's guards watching them and so they didn't hear the people passing behind.

Cork crossed after him and smiled brightly with relief.  He patted Katashan on the shoulder, and squeezed past to lead the way once more.  They'd entered an area which obviously hadn't been used very often and found no torches beyond the first turn, leaving only a dark tunnel ahead.

Cork cursed.  "It's not safe to go on in the dark, sir.  There are twists and turns, and a few paths that we wouldn't want to take.  I'll go back a level or two and get a torch.  You wait here.  If they catch me I can say I was only coming up from the city."

"With a torch in hand," Katashan said, shaking his head.

"Making sure the others are lit, of course.  It's custom coming up the stairs this late in the day."

"Cork --"

"Just hold here.  I'll be back soon, sir."

"I could --"

"If you're thinking about using magic, may I suggest you don't?  Not unless you absolutely have to, sir.  Because magic draws magic, or so I've heard and I'm thinking that might be dangerous right now."

"True.  And I don't need to draw attention to myself."

Cork nodded and moved back down the stairwell.  Katashan waited, wondering what he'd do if his friend didn't return.  Get lost, probably, and end up where he shouldn't be.

Cork returned before he could even fully formulate a plan of action.  They started upwards again.  Cobwebs fizzled in the fire from the torch, and a rat squealed and rushed past them, winning a curse from Katashan's guide.  At the next landing Katashan found what Cork had been talking about -- three passages, all of them equally dark and uninviting.  Even Cork paused for a moment, and then turned to the left and started upward again on a narrow set of stairs. They continued upward past another three such spots and finally reached an old oak door at the end of the stairs.

"Ah, here we are, sir.  This is the door we want.  It's not been opened in decades, I fear."

"How the hell do you know your way around so well?"

"Ah.  Never occurred to me you wouldn't know.  My uncle on my mother's side was the fortress archivist, sir.  He had a fascination with these halls.  And the former Captain, he wanted to know every twist and turn and set my uncle to work mapping them.  Didn't trust them, not knowing where an enemy could be.  So my uncle and me mapped them out.  Well, most of them.  Some we just never bothered to put on the map for the good Captain Muden."

Katashan grinned, not at all surprised.  Cork shoved the torch into the dusty holder on the wall and took a look at the ancient oak door.  Katashan could see it had not been opened in a long time, but a slight pull on the handle got it to move.  Cork looked relieved.

"Cork, go on down and get yourself inside with the others," Katashan ordered.

"Sir --"

"Go." Katashan waved his hand back towards the shadowed steps leading downward, anxious to get Cork where he needed to be.  "I'll get the door open, but I'd like you to do something for me."  He drew the ritual blade up over this neck and dropped the small knife and chain into Cork's hand.  "Take this and put it somewhere safe.  I don't want it taken.  It'svery important to me.  If anything does happen to me, take the blade to Pater Matish.  He'll know what to do with it."

"Yes, sir.  I can do that," he said, looking as though he held a poisonous spider in the palm of his hand.

"Go on now."

"I --" He stopped, looked at the door, and then nodded.  "Yes, sir.  I'll see you inside."

"I'll see you there.  Be damned careful, Cork.  And remember, no matter what happens, throwing yourself in with me will not help."

Cork had taken one step away and now looked stubbornly at him.

"Think of Maylee, friend.  You have a future with her.  Don't throw it away."

Cork frowned, but he gave a little sigh.  The man plainly hated giving up what he considered his duty.

Cork put a hand on Katashan's shoulder.  "Don't antagonize him, sir.  I don't know it will help either way, mind you, but I do know you can make it worse."

"I'll keep that in mind.  Thank you."

Cork nodded and hurried away, soon lost in the darkness and the curve of the stairs.  Katashan couldn't hear him after the first half dozen steps.  He wished his friend well.

Katashan leaned against the wall and let his hand trace the edge of the door waiting until Cork had plenty of time to get away.  He counted to five hundred, and then counted again before he tried to pull the door open.

It came half a hand's breadth and stuck.

Katashan had to pull and grunt until he could see inside the dusty room with shuttered windows.  Mice scattered for the corners and he thought something larger flapped up near the ceiling, though he could see nothing when he looked.  The room had plainly not been used in years, and he'd leave tracks. 

With another grunt, he pushed the door wide enough to slip inside, and then fought it back closed again.  He almost sneezed at the dust raised by his entry and did his best to keep to the edges of the wall, moving past piles of old rugs and boxes of things long since forgotten.  He wanted to stop and see if he could find treasures, like a child playing in a forgotten store room, pretending to be a pirate.  He wanted to stay --

Katashan knew remaining hidden here would not help anyone, including himself.  He also knew he would regret going willingly to Lord Arpan.  The man was not reasonable.  But he went anyway, because he had always been appalled at the idea of letting the unreasonable ones win, or letting others suffer for his sake. 

Katashan slipped out of the room by another old oak door that creaked loud enough to wake the -- no, best not to even think that one.

The hall, though clean, didn't appear to be used as often as others he had traversed since his unfortunate arrival.  Katashan found a stairwell at the farthest end of the silent corridor, and headed down to another hall. He saw no one there, crossed it, and headed down again, zigzagging through two more levels before three of Lord Arpan's guards stepped out of a room and almost ran into him.

Damn.  He had hoped to fall into Captain Serrano's hands or at least get picked up by one of the local guards.  He didn't put up any sort of disagreement when the men captured him, feigning surprise to learn anyone had been looking, but that didn't help.  Katashan still arrived bruised and bloody by the time they dragged him into the main hall.

Lord Arpan sat in his chair at the end of the room, glowering over something the others were saying.  Captain Serrano and Cork glanced up at the entrance, and both looked away again, anger in their eyes.  Damn.  He had hoped at least Cork wouldn't be here.  He feared the guard had an impulsive streak that could get him into trouble.  He saw Serrano give a warning shake of his head, a danger in itself, if Arpan saw but right now His Lordship's full attention had turned to the captive.  Katashan wanted to remind them to be discreet and careful but he dared not even look their way.

"So you send a guard to do servants work?" Lord Arpan said to Serrano, though his eyes kept going back to Katashan with a hint of pleasure, and maybe a little relief.

"Only for the very important work," Serrano said.  "I wanted to make certain the items were well selected, my Lord."

"Thank you for the kind words, Captain," Cork answered, his voice quiet and tight with control, though Arpan would likely not realize the difference.  "And here's the coin back that I didn't spend.  The saffron was slightly less expensive than we thought, sir."

That exchange of coin seemed to do the trick.  His Lordship saw Cork hand over a few coins, and lost interest in the man.  Good.  Now if Serrano would just dismiss Cork and get him out of the room --

By then Katashan had been dragged fully across the room and settled on his knees before Lord Arpan's chair.  When Arpan finally looked down, Katashan saw anticipation in his face.

"You were not in your room, foreigner."

"No, sir, I wasn't.  I stepped out for a little while.  I do not like to be confined."

"Where were you?"

"Walking the halls."

A movement of his hand -- someone kicked Katashan hard in the lower back.  He tumbled forward.

"Tie his hands," Arpan said, leaning back in his chair.

"Your Lordship, I must protest!" Serrano said as he came forward half a dozen steps, as though to get between the guards and Katashan.  Hell.  He'd expected something from Cork, but had hoped the Captain had better control.  "As far as we know, this man has done nothing more than taken a walk from his room and he had not even been told to stay there.  It is hardly cause for this treatment."

Katashan had gotten back to his knees, silently cursing Serrano's folly, especially since he didn't think annoying the good Lord of the land would help.  Lord Arpan did little more than glance at the captain, though.  Katashan had all his attention.  Just as well.

"Where were you?"

"I walked," Katashan said, not bothering to fight as the guards yanked his arms back and tightly bound the wrists.  Afterwards, though, he fought back an unexpected surge of panic: the last time he'd been bound with his hands behind his back he had gone into slavery.  Not this time.  This time, if he didn't get free, he was going to his death . . . and he couldn't say that would be worse.

"Where were you?"

"Down the hall," he said.  When the soldier him kicked, he couldn't stop the fall this time, though he did have sense enough to turn his head so he didn't break his nose.

"Where were you?  What are you involved in?"  Lord Arpan demanded.  He came down from the chair and caught Katashan by the hair, jerking him back up.  "You will tell me," he said.  "You will tell me everything I want to know."

Whether it was the truth or not, Katashan thought though he didn't say so aloud.  Ah, but it did, finally, give him a thought on how to end this part of the fiasco quickly.  Looking directly into Lord Arpan's face, he showed a little worry for the first time and then lowered his eyes.  The bait worked.  Lord Arpan leaned closer.

"I followed a woman," he said, softly. "I thought she was a dream at first, she looked so like the poor dead woman I brought here.  She came to me and asked me to go with her.  She said -- she wanted me.  A beautiful woman, with golden hair and bright eyes -"

"Who was she?" he said, letting go of Katashan's hair at last.  He barely kept from falling again.  "What was her name?"

"A lovely lady," Katashan said, letting his accent sound richer, his voice steady.  He stared up at Lord Arpan as the man straightened and stepped back.  "She said she was Sherina."

His Lordship's face went white and he stepped back, nearly falling.  Then he growled a curse and kicked, catching Katashan in mid-chest.  He feared bones cracked at the impact and he tumbled backward onto his arms, the pain excruciating.

"You will not say such a thing again.  Do you understand me, bastard foreigner?  You will not say it again!"

Katashan barely managed a nod.  He could see fear, anger and despair in the man's face.

But there was no sign disbelief.

And he did not ask where Katashan had been again.


Chapter Twelve

Lord Arpan and his people left that afternoon with Katashan bound and gagged, and a rope tying him His Lordship's horse so he had to walk behind him.  Serrano protested but Arpan still ignored him, having become so clearly fixated on Katashan that even his men looked unsettled.

Katashan appreciated Captain Serrano at least trying, though.  They all knew that no matter what Lord Arpan said, he did not intend for the prisoner to arrive alive in the capital city.  Justice had not been a word mentioned at all.

They brought the body along as well, reminding Katashan of the other problem he faced.  This family, living and dead, appeared to have fixed on him as the enemy, and he knew he wouldn't survive it.  He may not have really seen Sherina in the halls earlier but he'd seen her often enough since her death, anyway.

He considered putting up a fight and forcing -- or encouraging -- Lord Arpan to kill him and forgo what was bound to be an unpleasant day on the trail.  He had no illusions about the future and a hope for survival --

He had braced his legs and lifted his head --

"Sir, Tarin is missing," someone said.  "Parino and Matili, too."

"Are they, by damn! I'll have them hanged for deserting their posts!"

"Yes sir.  A servant girl said she saw the three going off with some lady --"

Breath caught.  "Damn them," Arpan said more softly this time.

"We'll need replacements, sir.  It's not safe to travel these trails with so few men."

"I don't trust Serrano or his men."

"Surely they're more loyal to you than to a Captain."

Odd.  Very odd.  Katashan had the feeling his Lordship's man tried to push him into taking others along -- and yet the glare he gave Katashan showed no hope.  Lord Arpan had apparently arrived with only a handful of men, and with three missing, he wouldn't feel safe enough to leave.  Lord Arpan obviously had few friends among his own people.  For a moment Katashan thought he might even have a reprieve.

And a heartbeat later he felt something that sent a chill up his spine.  Magic.  Magic used --

He looked back over his shoulder and found Pater Matish, standing at the edge of the shadows, his hands moving, his lips forming words he could not hear at this distance. The priest knew Katashan had looked his way and gave a little nod of his head.  And then he looked away toward Lord Arpan and his hand rose a little more.  Katashan could feel the magic in the air, like warmth on a cold day.

"Serrano!" Arpan suddenly yelled, startling everyone including Katashan.  "I want two of your men.  Your best men.  That one you sent to market -- you seem to be able to do without him.  And another."

"Sir --"

"Don't argue with me.  I've not hanged you, but I haven't left yet."

"Epas, get Cork and Ona.  Tell them to grab their kits."


Cork.  Katashan lowered his head once more, wondering how -- and why -- this had all been arranged.  He would have at least one ally on this journey.  He decided immediate death was not the best answer.  A little hope would see him through for a while.

The two guards arrived at a run and Cork didn't look his way at all. Good.  Moments later Arpan yelled and they were on their way.  Katashan jogged behind Lord Arpan's horse and knew, at least, that the man would not go charging off away from his guards who were mostly on foot.

The path out of Salbay wound up through the hill country, over narrow trails and through rocky defiles, always with the sea not far to the left.  In some ways the terrain helped Katashan.  The horses had started out at a canter that he, bruised and bound, had a hard time holding.  Before long, however, they'd left the scattered buildings behind and the trail began to twist and climb, forcing the horses to slow.  Katashan limped along, his ankle already twisted and his mouth dry around the gag.

The guards traded off point duty during the long day.  When his turn came, Cork went past without a sign, but later Ona glared.  He didn't need another enemy in this group, but at the same time it seemed like a wise choice.  If Ona showed outward hostility, then his Lordship might not look too closely at Cork.

The soldiers traded off carrying Sherina's body which now rested in a simple casket.  None of them looked happy.

Even though the pace remained slow, by the time they made camp the first night Katashan had fallen a number of times.  He felt bruised, scraped, battered and very nearly senseless.  The guards tied him with his back to a tree, his arms still behind him, and left him there with the gag in his mouth.

His Lordship had a tent set up on the headland overlooking the sea and straight in front of Katashan.  The man shouted for his food, bullied his men, and finally retreated with only a final glare at Katashan. 

A thick, grey fog began to roll up over the cliffs as the sun went down.  Katashan watched it, vaguely aware that she would come soon.  He didn't care.

He did note when the missing soldiers showed up, though.  Terin, Parina and Matilli won shouts all around from their companions, and a roar of anger from Lord Arpan.  They went into his tentand they came out sometime later, quietly and heads bowed.  But he had heard Sherina's name spoken loudly by her father.  He didn't know what the three told him, but Katashan suspected there had been magic involved anyway -- though from Pater Matish, rather than Sherina.  He wondered if the men would survive much longer than he did.

If those three had been wise, they would have headed up into the mountains, rather than come back to Lord Arpan.  However, they survived the meeting.  Maybe his Lordship had few men he could trust.

The night grew quiet as the guards settled by their fires to the right and left of his Lordship's tent.  The fog brought damp cold and he could hear the men muttering over their cooking pots.  He ignored the scent of food.  He'd learned to do that as a slave.  He had even learned to ignore pain and privation during that time.  He hadn't thought he'd have reason to pull those controls back again.

A guard stood at the tent entrance, and as the darkness drew in the others huddled around campfires, curling up into blankets.

Katashan wondered where they had put the body.

A hand touched his shoulder.  If he hadn't been gagged he would have given a yelp of surprise.

"Calm, sir," Cork said softly from behind the tree.  "Calm and quiet.  I'm going to untie you now.  No, don't shake your head.  You'll only draw the bastard guards' attention. There.  That's done."

The rope that had been wound too tightly around his chest loosened.  He almost fell forward, but Cork caught his shoulder in time.  No one saw, which was Lord Arpan's fault for being so cruel and leaving him without a fire on such a cold, damp night.  No one could see Cork in the shadow of the tree, and the rising fog only added to their cover.

"There, now.  Let me undo your arms.  This is going to be hell, sir," Cork warned softly.  He felt one hand slip between him and the tree while the other still held tight to his shoulder.  Cork bent close to his ear, whispering words as he worked.  "I could see earlier that your hands were swollen, and from the falls you've taken I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of the shoulders isn't dislocated.  I'm leaving the gag in, sir, until I'm done."

Katashan took a deep breath and gave a little quick nod.  He tried to prepare himself with another ragged breath.  Even the little movement Cork made with his arms sent agony through his shoulders and neck.  He feared he would be in no shape to escape.  And worse, he couldn't stop Cork and tell him to go.  What Cork had done already would draw attention, and his friend would be one of the first suspects.  Katashan only feared Cork would have to carry him if he passed out and they wouldn't get far, fog and dark or not.

Magic would have helped, but he hadn't his ritual blade, and without it the ability to draw magic would be far too difficult in his current condition. So he sat still and tried only to take deep breaths, pushing down into his center, looking for the core of his power --

But the possibility of drawing on that power disappeared in a blaze of blinding pain as his arms finally came free of the rope.  He moaned despite himself, and loudly enough to draw the attention of the tent guard.  The man looked Katashan's way and laughed.  Cork held him in place and held his breath.

The guard never came any closer, standing with the flames between him and the prisoner, effectively blinding him at that distance. 

"Okay, sir.  We're almost there," Cork whispered again.  He sounded shaky now as well.  "I was going to leave the gag until we're away, but I think you'll need a drink of something with a little fire in it before you have the strength to go.  I'm taking the gag away now."

The filthy cloth pulled free, tearing at wounds around his mouth and leaving the coppery taste of blood behind.  For the first time Cork peered fully around the tree placing a small metal flask to Katashan's lips.  He sipped carefully so he didn't cough or sputter.

The liquid -- he couldn't name the liquor -- burnt the cuts on his lips, inside his mouth, and then drew fire all the way down his throat, chest, and into his stomach -- but it did help a little.

"More, sir?

"No, thank you.   Not if you really expect me to walk away."  His voice sounded weak, and Cork had to lean close to hear.

Even the movement of his lips hurt.  But the liquor had cleared his head somewhat.  Katashan carefully turned to take a look around the area.  He saw only shadows of other trees, barely outlined in the flickering light of the campfires.  The darkness, and the fog, conspired to help them tonight.

"Okay, then, sir, we're about ready.  We're lucky.  I'm a fisherman's son, remember.  I know this weather.  The fog will fall in thick around us soon, and that's our best chance to get away.  When it does, we'll have to move quickly lest someone gets smart enough to come close to watch over you.  I thought about trying to borrow a horse or two, but where we're heading we'd just have to abandon them anyway."

"Put the gag back until we're ready to go," Katashan said, shifting his shoulders a little, but keeping his hands down to the ground.  "They'll notice that missing before anything else."

"Yes, sir, that's true."  He put the foul cloth back in place and then gently patted Katashan's shoulder.  "Not much longer now."

Cork slid back behind the tree again and Katashan, though he kept hold of Katashan's shoulder so that he didn't fall.  Katashan spent the time carefully moving his hands and stifling the urge to moan at the pain.  His legs felt stiff and sore, the knees protesting even a little shift of movement.  He feared he would not be much help in this escape.  He forced himself to calm and ignore the pains as best he could.  Cork risked his life the moment he cut Katashan loose and he didn't want this to be on a useless gesture, aborted before he even tried.

Cork certainly did know the weather.  The fog rolled in off the ocean like smoke rising up the cliff side, swallowing up the edges of the camp, and finally obscuring the tent and the guard until they seemed little more than shapes of grey in white. 

Cork moved; time to go.  He quickly crawled around to the front of the tree and pulled the gag down again.  "Ready, sir?"

"Yes," Katashan said, which was mostly a lie, but they had no choice and they'd never have a better chance. 

As Cork helped lift him, agony swept through body.  Cork didn't ask any questions or wait for him to recover. He caught Katashan under the arms. . . .

No comments: