The sun was ascending from the edge of the horizon, whilst rain drizzled down and made patches of greygrass appear like silver water. Willow made sure that the letter remained safe and dry in the compartment of his satchel as he journeyed warily down the northern trail into the freelands. He could see the dark shapes of distant colonies between the hills and the sparse settlements of traders who did business with the wardens. He had managed to cross the border undetected, passing through the sensors like he was sliding face-first through saltwater. It was always said that though the East seemed quiet and barren, somebody was always watching, but it still unnerved him, especially when the amount of wardens was supposed to double during Qirïdun. Those near-sixty days of darkness and frost meant convicts could offend and slip away into the long nights without detection. Tradition said that the days before Yulen should be spent in the home with family rather than outside in travel and activity. It was a tradition lost in the East.
A couple of times, he had stopped to turn around and see Vincula grow smaller and smaller behind him. To stray so far was acting in a way he would never have before, too frightened of being capture and reprimand. But the allure of the kind of magi he had read about in proscribed storybooks and the force they called magick was too strong. He was drawn out of himself towards them.
A mile down the trail, he finally caught sight of it through the rain, which had quickly turned to icy sheets beating down on him. The inn was set back into a corn field, a long narrow path through the stalks leading into a bare circle where tarpaulin-covered handcarts were parked. Above the entrance, a sign creaked on its hooks, the light glistening on the scales of an impaled, convulsing cod and the name: THE FISH AND SPEAR.