Cresten and Sonora had
been riding hard for hours and their horses were drawing breath in
short pants, their salmon-pink flecked nostrils flaring with every
stride. Behind them, a tiny speck in the distance silhouetted by the
rising sun was the city of Tarabarck.
Pulling up his straining horse to a dignified trot Cresten finally dared to look at Sonora for the first time since their escape.
Her loose hair now tumbled over her shoulders in heaps of curls as her headdress had come loose and been lost in the pell-mell gallop away from the palace. Her pale skin flushed with the exhilaration of the hard ride and Cresten was sure that there was just the slightest curve of a triumphant smile playing on her lips as she to realized that they had, for the moment at least, effectively escaped.
Trotting on down the
dry road both riders strained their eyes to see what was ahead,
checking for the possibility of shelter. A few hectares on the
reassuring glow of firelight told them that a dwelling of sorts was
before them. Spurring their horses forwards to canter once more they
swallowed up the ground under their thundering hooves, breaking the
quiet dawn air with noise.
Before they had even drawn to a total stop or had time to holler a small, homely looking women had peered at them from the door way.
Strangers were rare in these unsettled times when the 'wolf-hairs' which is what the desolate bands of Roux's returning men who pillaged and raped at will were known as, dominated the land. She frowned still more as her eyes fell on the pretty little waif of a girl-woman that rode on the horse next to a strikingly handsome man.
The way he looked suggested that he was a noble man of good breeding, but that wouldn't make sense as nobles never traveled at night and even during the day they were escorted by their lancers usually in the household livery of the family or Roux's own.
The woman took all this in in
one quick glance and decided that, given the circumstances she would
keep her mouth shut. She had learnt, from bitter experience that it
was best to know nothing about anything outside her family. That way
you couldn't be accused of treachery or anything else.
Smiling wanly her strong country voice echoed up to the two people on their horses.
"What can I do you for friends?"
Cresten was relieved that the woman wasn't even questioning them on their appearance before offering her hospitality. Dismounting from his horse and then lifting Sonora down from her slightly smaller, finer mount he tethered both horses reins to a leaning tree that was struggling to grow next to the house.
"Mistress, we would be most glad of any food that you could offer us. Also some water heated so that we may wash and water for our mounts?"
the woman could complain or refuse this request Cresten stepped
towards her, pressing a large flat golden coin into her hand. She
stared down at it in the poor light and took in its golden sheen,
although its weight was what convinced her.
Without comment she ushered both her guests into the house whilst shouting to rouse her family. A large truckle bed, which was pulled out from one wall, was filled almost to bursting it seemed, with sleepy half naked grubby bodies.
The smell of so many people in such a confined space was also less than pleasant, and this mixed with the fact that the urinary pot was just outside the back door and almost full to the top with slop caused Sonora to wrinkle up her nose in displeasure. Glancing at Cresten she exaggerated breathing through her mouth.
He smiled back at her but also gave her a look suggesting that she behave with a little more courtesy so as not to incense their hostess.
Suddenly a loud clanging filled the small house as every body in the bed came to life, sitting up and covering their ears as their mother hit the iron cooking pot with a metal ladle.
"Jimaniar, get your bony little behind out here and dressed in less than no time!" Mistress Porter, for that was her name was shouting in an authorative voice to when of her many children.
The little boy scurried like a mole rat out of his bed and slipped his fat into patched and holey brown boots that were far too large for him. Other than that he was already fully dressed, as was the way of the poorer people.
Within minutes a hunk
of good solid country cheese and a loaf of thick crusty brown bread
were being wrapped in a slightly less than clean Hessian cloth and
tied securely. Sonora and Cresten had also both washed their hands
and faces in water heated in an earthenware pot on the family's
large open fire and were feeling better for it.
The whole encounter had taken less than an hour judging by how far the sun had risen in the sky, but Cresten was already itching to be on his way again.
Bowing to Mistress Porter he smiled charmingly, causing the plump friendly woman to blush fiercely.
"May I thank you Mistress for your kindness, we are much indebted to you, however, may I ask one more thing of you?" Crestens request was met with much flustered smiling and curtseying as he continued "Mistress, it is of great importance that a letter be delivered to someone in the Tarabarck palace with instructions. It is sealed and must be handed to no-one but the man that I name to you. Send Jimaniar off with it immediately do you hear? He is to speak to no-one!" His orders given Cresten bowed once more smiling again.
"Well mistress, we take our leave of you" He threw Sonora up into her saddle and her Arab refreshed from its rest sidled. He smiled up at her reassuringly and then mounted his own larger horse, his calm face not betraying the turmoil that was within him about the letter that was of utmost importance.
Zaire was digging
surreptitiously near the palace fountain where Cresten had instructed
him the money for his escape was situated.
Having borrowed a barrow from a garden boy and wearing a plain brown hose and shirt he looked like any one of the palace gardeners, although of course, anyone who knew anything about the palace gardens would know that there was no need to be digging near the fountain. No need at all.
Luckily for Zaire it was still far to early for many
people to be up other than the house servants and no-one who was up
cared enough to as why he was digging up one of the neatly planted
Even as he was thinking about nothing in particular Zaire was still overcome with a slightly sweaty sheen of fear, aware that later tonight he would be undertaking possibly the most dangerous and foolish thing he had ever undertaken all for the love of a girl he had known for less than a moon cycle! Half a moon cycle even. What was he thinking?
Digging feverishly the corner of his spade suddenly caught on something rough and made of material. Smiling Zaire bent down and pulled at the corner. As he had thought it was a thick brown leather bag. A few more moments of digging and the bag was free. Slinging it over his shoulder Zaire glanced around him.
No one had seen him and so he walked off far more slowly than he would have liked to hide his coins without drawing any attention from anyone.