She smuggled him out of the house by way of the servants’ stair, exiting through the small back door and hurrying him along a narrow alleyway to escape onto the busy streets of Iliathor. Seoc did his best to resist her insistent tugging of his arm. He did not want to run. His sides ached and his head felt strange. But she was bigger and stronger than he was, so his protests did little to help his cause.
“Fiona,” he managed to pant. “Where are we goin’?”
“Somewhere where you’ll be safe,” she replied.
She dragged him downhill along Iliathor’s main thoroughfare, a perpetually curving avenue that wrapped around the sides of the city-mountain like a somewhat conical spiral staircase. Seoc could hardly think beyond the extent of his physical pain and exhaustion. His lungs felt as if something was tearing them from his chest cavity, and blackness was eating away at the corners of his vision. It was all he could do to manage to put one foot in front of the other without toppling over.
At great length, they arrived at a small park, a square of neatly-trimmed grass flanked by oak trees.
“Wait here,” she instructed him. “I’ll be right back.”
Seoc, confused but too winded to make inquiries, did as he was told, collapsing onto a wooden bench and leaning forward with his eyes closed. The sun was warm on his skin. It would burn him before long, but right now, he didn’t care. He breathed in, savoring the summery smell of the lawn, which was beginning to brown in patches for want of water. He could hear people passing nearby, but here, with his eyes shut, he was alone. Alone and—surprisingly—not scared. The sun was watching over him. He knew it would protect him.
The next thing he knew, he was somewhere dark that smelled of horses and straw, lying in a nest of warm blankets. Befuddled and quite alarmed, he opened his eyes and took in his surroundings in a whirl.
He was in the loft of a stable, moonlight trickling through the gaps in the siding. There were shadowy figures moving about in the darkness nearby, conversing in hushed tones. He could not determine their nature, and thus he was terrified.
“Fiona!” he sobbed desperately, without any hope that she was even there to hear his plea.
“Shh, Seocan,” she whispered from behind him. “I’m right here.”
Seoc located her and felt a rush of relief at the touch of her warm hand on his arm. “Where are we? How did we get here? Am I dreamin’?”
“No, no, Seoc, you are no’ dreamin’,” she assured him. “I left you in the park while I went ta ask aboot for someone who could tak’ you in. I was no’ gone more’n five minutes, but when I returned, you were fast asleep. With some help I was able ta carry you here. I did no’ want ta wake you.”
The shadowy figures drew nearer, and Seoc could see that there were two of them, one taller and one smaller, but both still distinctly boyish in frame. Seoc retreated slightly towards Fiona as they approached.
“It’s alright, Seocan,” said Fiona. “They will no’ hurt you. This is my…friend, Max, and his younger brother, Owen. They ha’e kindly agreed ta shelter you in their hayloft until such time as I can mak’ better arrangements for you.”
She kissed him on the forehead and stood up, her neck bent to accommodate the sloping roof of the stable.
“Dinna leave me, Fiona!” he begged.
“I’m sorry, Seocan,” she replied. “I really must. If I leave noo, I should be able ta slip in afore it’s noticed that I ha’e broken curfew. You’ll be fine here, I promise. I know it’s a difficult thing ta spend the night in the company o’ strangers, but you’ll be safer here than at home.”