I opened my eyes. The golden afternoon light streamed through the barred window and for a while I was content just watching the dust particles dance. Then my eyelids became heavy and all went dark again.
Slowly I became aware of my body. Someone was shaking me by the shoulder and calling my name. I forced my eyes open.
Merran was at my side, watching me anxiously. "Wake up," he said. "We need to get going."
"I'll tell you. Now get up and get ready. We need to get out of here."
"Alright," I mumbled, sitting up and rubbing my face. "How long have I been asleep?"
"For about two days."
I groaned. "I need to pee."
He sighed and helped me up.
He briefed me while I washed and got dressed. Lowanda had left, appointing Raynor as her successor. Raynor would be leaving for Heartstone the next day, leaving one of the older men who had been at the meeting in charge. Jarvik had gone back to his prison and I would be joining him there.
Merran looked at me apologetically. "It really is for the best," he said. "Jarvik is a good man and you'll be safe there."
Safe, I thought. There was that word again. I wondered whether I would ever be safe again.
I was escorted to the western gate by Merran and two guards, my hands tied in front of me. I felt strangely invisible with people moving out of my way without showing any sign of noticing me. At one time I nearly bumped in to a woman carrying a large basket of fruit. When I apologised she just averted her eyes and hurried on. I wondered why a captive man in black herded along by three of his peers didn't seem to attract any attention. Maybe the sight wasn't that uncommon. There was a lot about this place that I didn't know.
They had put me on a horse, my hands tied to the saddle. One of the guards was riding in front. Then followed Merran, leading my horse by the reins. The other guard rode in the back. The horses seemed restless, and I noticed both Merran and the guard continually scanning the landscape around us for signs of danger.
We left the main road and, passing the inn, began our ascent up the mountain path. In the distance I could hear the brook. I could hear the wind in the trees. I could hear nothing else. No birds. No small animals scurrying about.
Time stood still. I had never seen such bright colours before, and I seemed to register every little detail all at once with total and utter clarity. The front guard toppling off his horse, an arrow sticking out from his throat. Merran, halting his horse and looking about in confusion. The rear guard shouting at us to keep moving and get the hell out of there. Men in mud-coloured clothes and with dust-smeared faces coming at us from all sides. Merran, still looking from left to right not knowing what to do. The shouts behind us smothered into a terrible gurgle. A panicked horse racing past us dragging the bloodied body of its rider, foot caught in the stirrup, up the mountain path. My own voice, shouting Merran's name. Merran, sword-arm raised, trying to fend off the attackers on foot who surrounded him. Losing my balance. Falling. Darkness and the taste of blood on my tongue.
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