Soldiers were running everywhere. Silencing protesting villagers; yelling orders; ferrying messages. Emparigus was lying on the floor outside the front door of the tavern, his forehead swollen in a bloody lump. He was not unconscious, and his eyes were wandering across all three faces.
Evan picked up Emparigus’ helmet and put it on his head. It fit him well considering how fatter Evan’s head was. He also stole his sword and shield, his mail, and his blue jerkin. When he had donned them all he looked incredibly like an Ildarine soldier and Emparigus looked like a rich beggar in his embroidered white tunic and his breeches. He struggled, but Delwind put Forze’s sword to his neck. Emparigus’ eyes widened in surprise.
‘That’s Forze’s –’
Emparigus tried to get to his feet, but Amaria hit him in the head with her bow and he was knocked out.
‘Why did you do that?’ she cursed, as Delwind hastily put the sword away. ‘Now he’s going to know why they haven’t turned up!’
Delwind knew already how rashly he had just acted. Evan had a dark look on his face.
Soldiers had seen them. Immediately Delwind grabbed Amaria’s arm and they started hurrying away from the soldiers. Evan remained behind to hold them off, using Emparigus’ sword. It was a thin alley, and Evan was at the top of a set of steps – his supple wrists and keen eye (one was gummed up with blood) kept the soldiers at bay, while Delwind and Amaria hurried for the south gate.
There was a battalion of ten soldiers on guard, far too many for them to pass. Delwind and Amaria hid in the shadows, until Evan turned up, panting and wiping his sweaty brow.
‘Piece of cake,’ he gasped. ‘Got all of the nasty little things. They fight as if their arms are made of lead. Right, follow me and follow my lead.’
Evan strode confidently towards the soldiers, his new jerkin glistening in the moonlight. Delwind and Amaria followed him towards the gate.
‘Evening, gentlemen,’ said Evan in a genial voice. ‘I must pass with these two younglings, if you don’t mind.’
‘On what business are you?’ growled a heavyset man with narrowed eyes.
‘I’m taking them back to our camp,’ said Evan assertively. ‘There is someone there who wants to talk to them.’
‘Funny,’ muttered the man suspiciously. ‘I don’t remember you in our camp. There is also no-one who would want an audience with two scrawny little Chaleans like these.’
‘There is another encampment south of here,’ said Evan in that same, self-assured voice. ‘Forze and Endelash may not have communicated to you their arrangements, but –’
‘Alright, whatever, pass if you so wish!’ yelled the man in frustration, and the men parted to allow them to leave the town. Trying not to look guilty, Delwind and Amaria followed Evan through the gate, and into the shadow of the Anuron Mountains.
* * *
‘You are a great liar, Evan,’ whispered Delwind as they continued down the hill, away from the town, which was now being lit with Ildar’s torches.
‘It’s the trick of the trade,’ said Evan, winking at him. ‘You have to lie through your teeth sometimes about meat – otherwise people just don’t buy it.’
‘But surely if it went bad –’
‘Oh, no, I wouldn’t ever tell a lie that would cause food poisoning,’ said Evan, chortling. ‘But some people like their meat to come from certain places, and as far as I’m concerned it don’t taste no different wherever it comes from.
‘Right, be gone with you,’ he said, waving them off down the path. ‘I’ve got to go back and help the villagers.’
And he left them alone on the dark path, and walked back to the torch-lit town.
‘Right – I suppose this is the start of our adventure then,’ said Delwind. ‘Where shall we go?’
‘I don’t know, but we need to stay away from Lionforge,’ said Amaria firmly. ‘My fa– Remember what you said, they’ll probably have people to stop us from getting there.’
‘But we need to let the King know what has happened,’ said Delwind. ‘No-one in the village can get out, but Evan’s dressed as a soldier so he might be able to do some spying – but either way, we need to let the King know.’
‘No!’ said Amaria loudly. ‘I’m not going to Lionforge!’
‘Why?’ said Delwind hotly. ‘I wouldn’t have thought you’d have had a problem with it.’
‘I just – don’t want to go there,’ she said assertively. ‘Let’s go to Rockhelm, like you suggested.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Of course I’m sure, it’s much closer to us where we are now and we’re in the shelter of the mountains. If we go to Lionforge, we’ll have to face the bandits on the plains and one of us will have to keep watch.’
‘Oh, alright,’ huffed Delwind, and they carried on in near silence.
Walking quietly they ascended the stony path that was winding up into the foothills of the Anuron mountains. A dreary façade of giant rock teeth capped with snow reared up above them, silhouetted by the moonlight. A small wood was on the right, hiding the view of the plain far below them. Nothing moved except their feet on the ground, and the night wind in the trees.
‘This is a bit awkward,’ said Delwind after a long silence.
‘Because I hardly know you. I only met you today. I don’t know where you’ve come from, why you came, what you want to do –’
‘There’s nothing to it really. I’ve already told you,’ said Amaria simply. ‘My house burned down, my parents died and I made for the nearest town I could find. I just want to find work and settle down again.’
‘You’ll not find no work in the mountains,’ said Delwind. ‘We’re all stonemasons and sculptors up here – except for us, of course, because I lived – live – on a farm. Anyway, those masons won’t let any women work for them. Don’t think they’ve got the eye, the talent or the strength for the work. The women stick to sewing, and cooking, and there ain’t no business up there for any of those, because most houses have got a woman to do those things for them anyway.’
‘Well, I know,’ she said, ‘but I didn’t know what direction I was going because I didn’t have a compass – didn’t know north from south. I didn’t mean to come in this direction.’
‘Surely you know that the sun rises in the east?’ said Delwind incredulously.
‘What?’ said Amaria, surprised. ‘Oh, I never knew that.’
Delwind turned away and rolled his eyes. This was going to be a long journey.
* * *
Meanwhile, King Gorodwain was sitting on his throne, lamenting the absence of his daughter. He knew not whether she had been kidnapped (surely that was impossible, Lionforge was impenetrable), and considering whether it was still wise to send off his advisors to parley with the Emperor.
But he convinced himself that it would help the situation, and decided to speak to Palidor in the morning.
* * *
But things were happening very fast in Thorsbridge, too. Soldiers were patrolling the streets like scurrying ants in a nest, blocking the gates and controlling rebellious villagers.
What was more, Emparigus had recovered. And he meant business.