Ardrion sat pressed against the wall, paranoid his pounding heart was audible. He was getting dizzy from the pressure he forced against the wall and the way the ground went up and down to the uneven rhythm of his breathing. Behind him, the hallway emptied, but he couldn’t unstick himself from the wall. He squished his eyes shut, and held his breath. When his lungs asked for air he drank it slowly and exhaled similarly. If only the wall would move, I'd have no choice.
He stared down the dark hall in front of him. The door of the dungeon loomed in the darkness and he fingered the polished surface of the key. His life began to depend on him not staying where he was so he lunged with every ounce of power behind him.
He flew down the stairs taking corners too sharply and nearly slipping on the uneven floor. The fourth cell up the narrow hallway was silent. But he only let one thought run the track in his mind at a time. The keys in his hands slipped over his fingers as he fumbled for one that looked like it would open the lock.
Kaelyth lay on the floor, unmoving, though she wasn't where he had left her last. None of the first three keys worked and as he grabbed for the fourth, the ring slipped again. Nerves! Counter-productive! Frustrated, he just shoved a key into the lock. You're kidding. He almost laughed aloud when it turned and the lock popped open. Quickly, he glanced at the stairway behind him and then leaped for Kaelyth. She was breathing, albeit raggedly, and drifting in and out of consciousness. Hoping to buy time, he created a hidden Kaelyth-sized decoy with whatever he could find in the cell and threw a spare blanket over it.
The real Kaelyth was then gathered in another blanket, and he slid back out of the cell, her arms around his neck. He relocked the door, praying even harder that the ploy work to his advantage. Grabbing what he assumed was her pack of belongings as he went, he traversed the stairs as fast as he possibly could, feeling his knees strain. The stables were his last stop, but they weren't close.
When he swung the door open it was brighter in the castle than he had planned. The door gave a thud as he inspected each hallway leading to the dungeon and hung the keys where he had found them. Somehow his luck was holding as he ran for the stables. The sun was about to break the horizon and he knew that it wouldn't be long until the entire castle was awake. He ducked into the stables and leaned Kaelyth on a wall and searched for his horse. Just then, a stable boy opened the far door and gave Ardrion a confused look. He immediately stopped, and feigned an early morning stroll.
He gave a tight smile to the boy. “Couldn't sleep.” he said. The boy blinked, uninterested. He found his horse and glanced at the occupied boy. This would have to be quick. He fingered the latch planning out his exact movements from the stable to the field. With another glance at the boy, he unlatched the door and made quick work of the knotted bridle. While he dragged his horse toward Kaelyth, the boy spouted a terse “Hey!” Roszmirrh appeared in the door and bee lined for Ardrion. Time seemed to slow as Ardrion hoisted Kaelyth to the horse and used a slat on the wall to jump up and take off. Roszmirrh's eyes met Kaelyth's and he threw his knife in desperation. He grabbed the nearest horse and shouted at the stable boy to warn the guards. Ardrion took off with the wind to his back, while Kaelyth assumed a death grip on his shirt. Roszmirrh led a fairly large group of guardsmen after them, most likely without Valren's knowledge.
Ardrion's horse must have sensed the gravity of the situation, running as though from its own death. Roszmirrh and the men pursued them for a mile or two across the field. Looking back, Ardrion could see the frustration on the men's faces as their horses began to lose steam despite encouragement. He could only hope that his own horse would not show signs of slowing down for just a little longer. The men reached the top of a ridge and stopped the pursuit. From there, they just watched as Ardrion rode away. He turned toward the wood to his right. Hopefully it would obscure their view until he could make camp.
Under the canopy of the wood, the air seemed a lot heavier. There was no wind to release its stagnancy, though he could hear the thunderous rustle of all the leaves probably hundreds of feet above him in the canopy. It was a sunny day, but there was barely enough light that made it through the thick woven branches to see. There were rocks and leaves scattered everywhere obscuring the raised tree roots that made the terrain more dangerous for his horse. He had slowed to nearly a crawl as his horse lowered its head. The ground constantly moved as creatures skittered about knocking rocks down slopes and rustling leaves. If he made camp outside the woods, he could not risk a fire and if he wanted a fire, which he did, he would have to go deeper. He was satisfied that even Roszmirrh would not risk these woods.
He came across a small creek that trickled between smooth stones aligned in a winding crevasse. Rather than risk not finding more water, he stepped off his horse with Kaelyth still latched around his neck. He leaned Kaelyth, still drifting in and out of consciousness, against a tree, and led his horse to the creek. It seemed more able to hydrate by licking the moisture from the stones than sucking at the trickle.
Ardrion found a large flat leaf and folded it in Kaelyth’s hands, trying to rest them in a way that would maintain the grip. At the creek, he cupped his hands as best he could to collect the trickling water. It took a moment or two but they finally filled and he brought it to Kaelyth. After three or four trips he felt that he had done his best to help her. He considered looking for food, but couldn't make himself risk getting lost or hurt, despite his growing hunger. Next time there would be planning; a lot of planning.