Seymour de Winter was soaked in sweat. It had begun to melt away the layer of fake skin on his face, and it had dissolved the glue securing his wig to his temples. He must have looked a dreadful sight, what with the patches of goop cracking apart and sliding down his face, and the crop of short black hair sticking out from beneath the long, grey wig. But that didn’t matter at the moment. What mattered was to outrun their pursuers, and the only hope for that involved somehow fitting all three of them—Seymour, Simon and Seoc—onto one horse.
Wyrinther was a big mare, tall and brawny, with a pure white coat and a lovely, flowing mane. She blinked as Seymour stumbled into sight, her peace untroubled by the appearance of this unsightly, cross-dressing newcomer with one unconscious man slung over his shoulder and another one handing off his arm. She scarcely even shifted her weight when he lifted up Simon and deposited him in her saddle, nor when the Aechyed put his foot in the stirrup and swung himself up behind the human while still carrying Seoc over his shoulder. Their combined weight may have been more than she was accustomed to, but it would be no trouble. Wyrinther was a mage’s horse, wise beyond the normal bounds of her species—but she was also a lord’s horse, bred with all the qualities a nobleman might desire. Strength. Speed. Endurance. Elegance.
“Thatta girl,” Seymour praised her, unnecessarily. “Now, let’s put some distance between ourselves and that awful city.”
Wyrinther did not need telling twice. In a flash, she was at a full gallop, her enormous hooves pounding the soft forest floor mercilessly. With agility belying her size, she darted through the trees in the style of an animal well accustomed to the woods. Occasionally, Seymour would catch a brief glimpse of the Waelyngar River to his left, or a snatch of evening sky above, but mostly he saw an endless blur of tree trunks and branches and autumn leaves.
It wasn’t long before he could no longer hear the guards pursuing them.
He had done it. He’d broken them out.
He knew he should have felt exhilarated, celebratory even, but all he only felt exhausted and ill. His body was weak from overexertion and lack of adequate nutrition. He was probably dehydrated, too; although, water was low on the list of drinks he was craving at present.
Nothing he could do about that now.
He took the opportunity to start freeing himself from his disguise. He couldn’t take off the dress at this moment, not on horseback, nor with one unconscious body draped over his shoulder and another one slumped against his chest, but he could manage the other elements. Sliding his claws along his hairline, he broke the seal in the few places that it hadn’t dissolved, allowing himself to pull off the wig. Then he sat in momentary ecstasy, relishing the feeling of the cool breeze in his sweat-sodden hair. He hadn’t realized how stiflingly hot the wig had been until he had removed it from his head.
The fake skin peeled off easily, like bark from a birch tree. In the places where it hadn’t been too badly warped by his perspiration, it kept its shape quite nicely, forming an almost-perfect mask and set of gloves. He pondered this for a moment before reaching back and tucking the fake skin and wig into the saddlebag. Perhaps they would come in handy again someday.
He had scarcely completed this task when Wyrinther came into view of the other horse and danced to a halt without instruction to do so. She seemed to know the plan as well as Seymour did, if not better.
“Thank you,” he muttered, and dismounted.
Elêganor was not nearly as trusting of him as Wyrinther had been. He was smaller and younger than his mate, dappled grey and a bit on the chubby side, and he backed nervously away as Seymour approached him, ears turning this way and that.
“There, there,” Seymour coaxed him, holding out a hand for the stallion to inspect, then turning his palm to pat him gently on the cheek. “I won’t hurt you, I promise.”
Once Elêganor had calmed, Seymour set Seoc on the ground and transferred Simon from the mare to the stallion. The boy was still unconscious, so he strapped his feet to the stirrups and used the reins to secure his limp body to Elêganor’s neck so that he wouldn’t fall off. Using a length of rope that he found in one of the saddlebags, he then fastened a lead between the stallion’s bridle and the mare’s saddle, hoping that Elêganor wasn’t stupid enough to get them caught up around a tree.
They might have lost their pursuit for the moment, but there was no time for dallying. They were only a mile in yet, and close to the river as well. It wouldn’t be long until they were overtaken if they stayed here.
Scooping Seoc up in his arms, Seymour clambered up onto Wyrinther’s back once more, and they continued south at a swift trot.