The heavy rainstorm that had broken yesterday had begun to slack off by mid-morning a day later, spending its fury as it moved inland. A gentle rain continued to fall, however, and Teran muttered irritably as droplets splattered his face. Rain was his least favorite of Mother Natures manifestations; sun was never a problem and snow was at least easy to deal with.
His horse, a large, heavyset bay, didn’t seem to have the same problems with the weather that his rider did. He walked with his head held high, delicately stepping over the mud puddles in the road and prancing impatiently every time Teran stopped to dismount.
Teran didn’t know why he bothered trying to find Eliowy’s trail anymore. Last night’s rain had probably obliterated any track, always providing that she hadn’t decided to take shelter along the way. If she had, he would have to go back along the road to Tench, find where Eliowy had taken refuge, and pick up her trail. Again.
Eliowy had proven to be very elusive quarry, the blond man admitted grudgingly. Not at all as easy to track and capture as he had assumed at the start of the chase. She had managed to put additional time between herself and her pursuer after disembarking from Dolphins Anchor by buying a horse. Teran took a certain grim pleasure in the knowledge that the price of the beast had probably shocked the girl into a near faint. He, himself, had choked when the dealer quoted his price.
Since leaving the coastal city of Foroni the chase had become almost a game; Eliowy trying to get lost enough that Teran couldn’t find her and Teran trying to get close enough to Eliowy to catch her.
Thus far, the ‘game’ had been a draw. Eliowy stayed just out of Teran’s reach, but couldn’t shake him off her tail. After well over six months of running after Eliowy, Teran had gained a great measure of respect f for the girl’s resourcefulness. She was using tactics that he hadn’t expected her to be able to come up with; like having someone leave a false trail for him while she left the city in another direction.
Teran scowled at the memory. He had nearly lost Eliowy completely that time. If she hadn’t gotten rid of her horse when she had…It was the one move that Teran thought was foolish on her part, although she’d probably sold the animal to pay the young man to leave her false trail. Teran thanked the gods that she hadn’t paid him enough.
The morning mist had cleared and the blonde man could see the battlements of a keep in the distance. Allowing his stallion to plod along without guidance, Teran pulled a carefully rolled map from one saddle bag. After a little searching, he was able to find Tench and from there he traced his path to the city he was headed for.
“Dargon,” said Teran wearily. “Well, I certainly hope that they have better accommodations than Tench.” He stowed the map away again and slapped the horse’s neck. “Let’s go,” and urged the animal into a cantor.
A short hour later Teran found himself on the main street into Dargon. Rain had washed the streets clean and had finally slackened to a barely noticeable drizzle. He glanced around as he rode into the city, noting the people hurrying about their morning business.
As was usual when presented with a new city to search, Teran was uncertain where to begin. Eliowy had become increasingly clever as to her hiding places and Teran knew he could no longer simply go to the most inexpensive inn around to get news of her. Finding an inn wouldn’t be such a bad idea however, his stomach pointed out. The search could begin and breakfast gotten in the bargain. Trail rations did not a meal make.
This decided, Teran started searching for a respectable inn.
Eliowy stared at the grey stone ceiling through slitted eyes and decided that this time she was in real trouble. Despite have a terrible headache, she still remembered being captured by the Lieutenant of the Guard and it didn’t take much to guess that she was now in a guardhouse. Voices in the room prevented Eliowy from making an immediate escape, so she simply lay still and listened to the conversation.
“I just don’t understand why you brought her here, Kalen,” a deep voice was saying tiredly.
“Her reaction was odd, Captain,” replied Kalen. Eliowy identified him as the guard she had literally run into earlier. “I didn’t say much of anything to her and she took off running; like I’d caught her stealing or something.”
“Stolen something. Like the sword? Or the harp?” queried Kalen’s captain.
“Well, yes,” said Kalen. “The thought had crossed my mind. I mean, the workmanship of the blade is excellent and the harp is nearly an antique. They’d be worth quite a bit on the black market.”
Eliowy tensed angrily, reminding herself that she was still supposed to be unconscious. The sword was one of her most treasured possessions; a gift from Teran when he finally decided that she had learned all he could teach her. And as for the harp, well. So far as Eliowy was concerned, the instrument was priceless, all that she had left of her mother.
“Kalen, the instrument is too well cared for to have been stolen,” said the captain patiently. “It’s also not pretty enough to bring gold on the market. And as for the blade,” The silky sound of a sword being drawn from a sheath rang through the room. “It is very finely crafted, I grant you, but feel how lightweight it is,” Eliowy could invision her weapon being handed to Kalen. “It wouldn’t be of much use for either of us, but I’ll wager my next months bonus that it’s perfect for her. A smith would make something like this on commission because it’s useless except for the one that it was made for.”
“You’ve made your point, Captain,” sighed Kalen, sliding the blade back into it’s sheath. “She’s not a thief and it was a mistake to bring her in.”
“Your thinking was good–” began the captain, only to be interrupted by the clash of steel and excited young voices clamoring outside.
“What in the name of every god–” The captain swore, rushing out the door with Kalen hot on his heels.
As soon as she heard the man shouting in the courtyard, Eliowy rolled off the wooden bench and hurried to the table. She pulled the baldric over her head like a sash so that the sheathed sword hung down her back and pulled her backpack closer. One swift thrust and the harp was stuffed into the bottom of the bag. Another grab and the her clothes followed in an untidy mass.
She rushed the door without bothering to close the pack. And completely ignoring the silver piece laying in the middle of the table.
Outside, the captain had two young men by the collars and was shaking them both vigorously while an impassive Kalen looked on. His angry voice easily reached Eliowy by the door.
“You young fools can either explain to me why you drew steel on one another OR you can explain it to the Duke!” another vigorous shake punctuated his words. The threat had the desired effect as the two youths tried to talk over one another to make their case to the captain.
Stifling a smile, Eliowy slipped around the rear of the guardhouse and paused in its shadow to close her pack and to get her bearings. The rain had slacked enough so that she was no longer worried about getting soaked, although the constant drizzle was proving to be annoying. Through the dim haze of rain Eliowy could see a small group of carts being unloaded by what seemed to be the back entrance to the Keep. There was not, however, any sign of a rear gate.
The captain’s voice could no longer be heard shouting and Eliowy decided that, where ever she went, moving might be a very good idea.
“The fastest way out of here,” thought Eliowy, eyes scanning the courtyard, “would be to go around the castle and out the front gate or over the wall. But that’s the most obvious way too…” The sound of footsteps on the flagstones cut Eliowy’s contemplation short. Without pausing to make a conscious decision, she headed for the group of wagons by the servants entrance.
As she walked, Eliowy pulled her cloak and sword off of her back and arranged the cloth so that it hid both her weapons belt and the pack. Carrying the unwieldy mass like a box, held in front of her, the girl joined the end of the line of people entering the Keep.
“Is that the last of it?” someone demanded in Eliowy’s ear, the second she stepped through the doorway.
“Uh, yes, ma’am!” Eliowy looked up at the speaker, a tall woman in a grey apron that looked very official. “Last load.”
“Well, what is it?” The woman asked the woman impatiently.
“Take them up to the sewing room, then,” She looked over her shoulder at a pair of boys who were heading for a large cabinet by the fireplace. “And you two stay out of the pantry!”
While the woman was occupied, Eliowy headed for the door at the far end of the room.
Eliowy stopped dead in her tracks and turned slowly around, heart dropping to her boots.
“You’re new here?”
A gentler expression covered the woman’s tired face.
“Get those up to the sewing room, first door on the second floor up the back staircase, and then come down and get your breakfast.”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you!” Eliowy stifled her sigh of relief and hurried out of the kitchen.
Once clear of the people hurrying in and out of the kitchens entrance, Eliowy slung her sword back over her shoulder and put her cloak on over it, arranging the hilt so that it stuck out under the hood. Hoping that she looked more like she belonged here, Eliowy went up the nearest staircase, so as to avoid as many people as possible.
The second floor of the Keep was almost tomblike in it’s silence compared to the bustle of the lower floor, additional noise being kept out by a heavy wooden door at the bottom and the top of the stairs. A long hall stretched to the left, right, and straight ahead and was hung with tapestries. Rich carpet ran down the center of each of the corridors and light let in by long, narrow windows with carved wooden shutters. Doors lined the hall directly forward.
Cautiously Eliowy walked down the middle hall, knowing that it had to lead to the Keep’s main entrance. Even though it was unlikely, she still did not want to risk running unawares into any of Kalen’s soldiers. She stayed close to the wall, ready to dodge into a room, should the need arise.
She came to an intersection that had small tables at each of the walls corners, all with full vases on them. Sweet perfume filled the small area and Eliowy paused to inhale the fresh fragrance. The sound of laughing voices coming towards her from the direction she was heading in broke off her reverie.
Cursing herself for a fool, Eliowy ran down the left hand corridor looking for a place to hide.
The sound of the voices drew closer and, panicked, Eliowy began trying doors to see if any were unlocked. Her second frantic turn of a door handle proved to be the lucky one and she breathed a prayer of thanks to the gods as she ducked inside.
As quickly and as quietly as possible, she closed the door behind her and put her back to the door, only to nearly have a heart attack because the room she had chosen to hide in was occupied. She had interrupted someone in the middle of their breakfast.
The man stared at her, fork poised halfway to his mouth, surprised, but not alarmed, as if he had unknown people bursting into his room all the time.
Frantically, Eliowy put her finger to her lips and made shushing motions at the man as the voices she had heard out in the corridor sounded directly outside her chosen hiding place.
The voices in the hall weren’t clear enough for Eliowy to make out the conversation, but she kept one ear tuned to the murmuring outside and both both eyes fastened on the man at the table. He had finally put his fork down and was hiding a smile behind the act of wiping his mouth.
“I don’t think they’ll find you in here, girl,” the man said, finally able to keep a straight face, brown eyes sparkling with suppressed laughter. “I promise that I won’t give you away.”
Eliowy’s heart nearly stopped when the man spoke, but his last statement coupled the fact that he made no move to rise or shout, assured her that he would, indeed say nothing. In fact, she thought as the voices in the hall faded past her hearing, he seemed to be enjoying the entire episode immensely.
“Sorry to disturb your repast,” she said softly, deciding that the passage way had to be clear by now. She fumbled behind her for the door handle still keeping puzzled eyes on the man. She bobbed her head to him in thanks and slipped out the door.
Clifton Dargon, Lord of Dargon Keep, leaned back in his chair and laughed, a little ruefully, at the freedom of youth.
Eliowy hurried down the main staircase as fast as she could without attracting too much attention. She encountered no one on her way down but as she neared the bottom of the stairs, the everyday sounds of the Keep grew louder and people could be heard hurrying about their business.
Pausing at the bottom of the stairs and trying to be invisible, Eliowy waited until there was a break in the stream of people, before slipping across the main hallway and out the door into the main yard.
The wide, open courtyard spread out in front of the auburn haired girl, as she stepped out into the slowly clearing day. It was just as busy with hurrying people as the kitchen entrance and the main keep. From where she stood, Eliowy could see the main gates, heavy looking wood and iron affairs, wide open. A pair of guards stood at post, seeming to ignore the occasional cart that came through.
Taking a deep breath, Eliowy started out across the courtyard. None of the people she passed payed much attention to her and she made it to the gates with no difficulties.
“I’m going to make it,” she thought confidently. “Just walk past the guards and I’m free…just a few feet more…”
“Here, girl. Where do you think you’re going?”
Eliowy halted, heart pounding, and turned reluctantly to face the younger of the two gate guards.
“Cook needs some herbs from the market,” she lied hastily, trying to sound disgusted. “Decided, all of a sudden, to make something special for the evening meal.”
“But why are you leaving by the main gate?” pressed the guard, stepping closer. Eliowy thought frantically for a reply as the young man added, “The secondary gate is much close to the market.”
“I’m new here,” began Eliowy, looking up at him, amber eyes guileless and a little confused. “I get my bearings better from the main gate.”
“Let up, Jaron,” advised the other guard, coming to stand behind Eliowy. Let the poor girl get on with her errand so the cook doesn’t get angry with her. Someone can show her a faster route later.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Eliowy on the heels of his words. She ducked out of the main gate before any more protests could be raised, and ignored the younger man’s command to wait.
Teran leaned back in his seat and calmly surveyed the common room of Belisandra’s. Late morning breakfasters lingered comfortably around scarred wooden tables and sunlight, poking abound ragged clouds brightened the room. A stout woman stood behind the bar, carefully wiping glasses while chatting amiably with the serving girl.
A faint smile flickered across Teran’s lips. He quietly enjoyed the wine and his few hours rest. Renewing his chase could come later, after his spirit had been refreshed. He drained his glass of its fruity wine and signalled the bar-maid for another.
The inn’s main door was pushed open with a breath of fresh, rain washed air and Teran’s eyes were automatically drawn to the intrusion, wariness not relaxed even in such a safe seeming environment. Seeing the person framed in the doorway, Teran was glad for his ever alert vigilance, even as surprise nearly made him drop his empty wine glass.
Eliowy’s eyes flickered over the room, noting, Teran assumed, how many people were present, wether or not any of them might be dangerous, and where the alternate exits were in the room. It was not a skill he had taught her, but he still felt a glow of pride that she had learned it.
Their eyes locked as Eliowy’s gaze slid to the corner Teran had seated himself in, and the wariness in Eliowy’s face melted into horror. She took a hesitant step backwards, shaking her head in denial.
Teran rose slowly as she took another backwards step.
“Eliowy,” he said softly, all plans of grabbing her and telling her that she hadn’t a chance of escaping him, fading away at the pained look in her face.
The fear in Eliowy’s amber eyes hardened to defiance. Her third backwards step was confidently taken and she was out the door and running, even as Teran shouted for her to wait.
Eliowy ran straight down the street, trying to lose herself in the crowd, not bothering to use the dark, inviting recesses of nearby alleys to secret herself in. Lythly she dodged around people and horses and listened intently for the sounds of pursuit. Teran’s pleas for her to wait faded in the distance as the voices of the people drowned him out.
Certain, now, that she would again lose him, Eliowy ducked into the nearest open shop, to put herself completely out of Teran’s sight.
The smell of dye and cloth surrounded her and the three men in front of the counter turned from their observation of a bolt of cloth held by a fourth man to stare at Eliowy as she stood in the portal.
“Well,” said the dark haired man at the center of the group. Sharp brown eyes studied the girl in the doorway. “It appears that you have another customer, Kelmin. Perhaps you should see to her needs first.”
“No need,” said Eliowy hastily, as the slender man behind the counter set down the bolt of cloth and started to move out towards her. “I, uh, just stepped into the wrong shop.” She glanced over her shoulder. No sign of Teran. She hadn’t heard his shout going by so he either took another path or…
“Are you having difficulties, my dear?” inquired the dark haired man, leaning casually against the counter. The taller of the two men at his side jerked in surprise.
“I’ll be glad to help you out of your trouble,” the man continued, before she could come up with a plausible lie. “Mentis,” The fourth man stepped forward briskly. “Why don’t you take the young lady to my office so that we can discuss her problems at our leisure in a little more private surroundings.”
“Of course, my lord.” He gave Eliowy the slightest of bows. “Lady, this way.” He grasped her upper arm and led her outside. Completely at a loss, Eliowy didn’t even thing to struggle or protest.
As they disappeared down the street, the brown haired man chuckled deep in his throat.
“You’re going to use her to replace Kera, aren’t you, Lord Liriss,” said the tall man matter of factly.
“Yes,” The smile deepened around the corners of Liriss’s lips. “She’ll do nicely, don’t you think, Kesrin?”
“I think you’re moving prematurely,” retorted Kesrin. “Cril might just manage to bring Kera back. And,” he added quickly, before Liriss could comment on that. “You caught the girl by surprise. She might not want to cooperate. She might not even have any skills worth utilizing.”
“Every woman has skills, Kesrin. And if she doesn’t accept my extremely generous offer, I’ll kill her, just as I plan to kill that bitch Kera if Cril manages to bring her back to me alive. What’s Dargon with one less street urchin? No one will even notice that she’s gone.”
“Except whoever she’s running from,” muttered Kesrin too softly to be heard while Liriss ordered a new summer cloak from the rich red material he had been fingering.
“What was that, Kesrin?”
“Nothing, my lord. Shall we go talk to your new recruit?”
“By all means, let’s.”
Liriss’s laughter was drowned out by the crowd as he followed the path his bodyguard and most recent captive had taken.
Less than twenty feet away, a tall, blond man desperately questioned passersby as to whether or not they had seen a young red haired girl come running this way.