At the prison gate, Jarvik was waiting for me with one of the horses from his stable, telling me she was a calm and reliable animal who would carry me in safety. He didn't say goodbye, and he was gone before I could thank him.
Not much later we were on our way. Initially I found it difficult to stay in the saddle since I couldn't anticipate the horse's movements as it made its way down the path, and I had never been a good rider in the first place. As we rode on it became easier, and I became more aware of my surroundings.
The path was sloping downwards, and I could hear the sound of running water nearby. There was a slight chill in the air, and as we rode down the birds began their evening chorus. Rodan had told me we had an escort of four soldiers, two riding ahead of us and two in the rear, and I could hear the sound of their horses' hooves on the path. They didn't talk - according to Rodan they had been instructed not to talk to us and they seemed to be taking their orders seriously.
The sound of hooves splashing through water. The brook, I thought, and I said a silent prayer for Azeara's soul. Then I remembered Beron and his brother, and I prayed for them as well.
No more, I thought. Could it be true? Would there ever be an end to the bloodshed and the suffering?
"How are you doing?" Rodan asked me.
"I'm fine," I said. "Thanks."
"The Inn's not far from here."
I wondered what would happen when we reached the Inn. The young girl and her grandfather would probably recognise me, though I had never told them my name. I wondered whether they knew Merran, and I told myself there was nothing I could do about that now. If my secret was uncovered I would have to confess, take full responsibility for the deception and hope for the best. My prospects weren't too good anyway.
Our descent seemed to become less steep, and in stead of the sound of hooves scraping on bare rock I now heard the horses walking on a thin top layer of dirt. We had reached the main read, and the Inn wasn't far.
The birds' song had died down and now I could just hear the crickets chirping, and I began to shiver in the cool night air.
"We're almost there," Rodan said.
After a while we seemed to leave the main road, and shortly after that we stopped. We had arrived at the Inn's gate, and I could hear one of the soldiers dismount and move forward to knock on the door.
The hatch slid open. "Yes?" The voice was male and unfamiliar.
A short conversation followed, and then the Inn's gate opened. I heard the soldiers dismount and move in ahead of us.
Rodan helped me off my horse, but my legs wouldn't carry me and he couldn't keep me from falling. While I got up on my hands and knees I heard someone rush to our side. "Don't worry, I'll get him." The same male voice again. Hands grabbed me under my armpits and began to pull me up.
"Please, we'll manage," I heard Rodan say. There was movement all around me, and then something that sounded like a struggle.
"Rodan!" I called out, unable to get away from the stranger's grasp.
"It's alright," he called back. "Don't try to fight…"
I shouted his name again, struggling in a last effort to get away from my attacker. He easily restrained me just by standing behind me holding me around the chest, and the feebleness of my efforts brought tears of shame and frustration to my eyes. Then my legs began to collapse under me, and the world went away.
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