Authors: KateMarie Collins
At some point, Gwen handed him a plate with food on it. “Eat,” she commanded. “Emile’s going to move us fast for a few days. He’ll want to get us out of Lorien lands sooner rather than later.”
“Shouldn’t worry yourself too much about your lady friend, Alaric,” Trystian’s voice stayed low. “She’s a survivor. If she couldn’t handle her life, she would’ve been dead by now.” Alaric heard the scrape of a whetstone across the large man’s blade. “You did good, turning her down. She’d have sunk her claws in deep and had you leading a rebellion if you’d slept with her.”
“What is so important that Emile and Fin had to come back here?” Alaric asked, not really expecting an answer.
“Twenty years ago, he found Fin. In a sewer here in Lorien. She was really young, maybe five years old, and thought she could hide. Barely knew how to keep her eyes hidden. Before he took her out, he left a message down there. Promising to come back with her every ten years. So her family would know when they could find her again, or any other unchained Amari knew when help would be there.”
Alaric switched his chair around, facing Trystian. The other man sat calmly on a sofa, sharpening his blade with even strokes.
“Have her parents ever come? Or another Amari?”
Trystian shrugged, “No. I hadn’t been with them long when we came back the first time. Fin was still fairly young then. Hadn’t learned to guard her emotions like she can now. Tore her up to leave without anyone. Not even a sigil left behind saying her parents had even gone down there.”
“She changed not long after that,” Gwen spoke up. “Stopped hoping, began to see us as her family. If anyone was there tonight, I think she’d be cautious before accepting their word as truth. We’ve had too many close calls. She’s seen how easily other Amari fall prey to slavers who pretend to be something they’re not.”
The sound of the secret door opening up alerted them all. Trystian and Gwen took up a ready stance while Alaric grabbed at his bow. If he could string it fast enough, he might get a shot in.
A woman stepped into the room, her head lowered. Short brown hair and a slight frame. A thin band of metal encircled her wrist.
“Holly?” Alaric said, stunned.
She raised his head. “My mistress sends word. She has been summoned by His Majesty, to answer for her whereabouts earlier today. She regrets to inform you she may not be able to give you the full time promised.” Silently, Holly retreated back through the hidden passage.
Alaric looked at Trystian and Gwen. “Gwen, grab their packs. We’ll meet them at the exit,” Trystian’s beard shook as he spoke. “Alaric, keep that bow strung. We may need it yet.”
Within minutes, the trio had everything in hand. “There’s a back staircase. Emile used it to go out with Fin.” Gwen motioned to them from the connecting door. “We should be fine using it. He wouldn’t have taken her that way if it wasn’t safe.”
Alaric shrugged, adjusting his pack on his shoulders. “Go. I’ll take up the rear.” With Gwen leading the way, the three of them made their way down the staircase quickly.
Trystian moved to the front, easing the door to the alleyway open. Peering outside, he motioned for them to follow. Alaric glanced behind once, making sure no one followed them.
The passage was narrow and dark. Rats chittered amongst the trash as they passed through. “Gwen,” Trystian whispered, “we don’t have time to get the horses. Leave them. Head to the stables, grab the larger packs with the tents. Meet us at the exit.”
Gwen nodded once, then disappeared down a small passage. A sliver of a moon gave a little light as Alaric followed Trystian through a maze of back streets. He knew they were being hunted.
As they turned a corner, the castle on top of the city came into view. Alaric paused, his feet moving almost involuntarily toward the bright light burning from a single window of the complex. Erien was up there, with Kaerdan. And his brother most likely wasn’t being kind.
“Your friend’s either talking by now, or in a world of pain. She gave us the chance to escape. Honor her sacrifice by taking it.” Trystian’s gruff voice echoed in his ear.
Shaking off the feeling, Alaric turned his back on the path leading to the keep. In his heart, he closed the door that led to Erien at the same time.
Soldiers were beginning to search for them now. They kept to shadows and back alleys, moving in bursts of speed. Alaric’s mind filled with thoughts of Fin. He and Trystian had to get there unseen. If they didn’t, if they were followed…
“Keep your mind on the task at hand, Islander.” Trystian growled at him as his large arm flattened Alaric against a wall. “If it’s a choice between you and Fin, you know who I’ll save.”
A small patrol, maybe four or five troops, jogged past the alley where they hid. Alaric had almost stepped in front of them. Trystian was right. He shook his head, clearing away the worry and concern. Fin’s safety was what mattered, not what might happen to him. “Sorry,” he muttered.
After several blocks, they came to a dark courtyard. The paving stones beneath his feet became slick with muck. Three exposed pipes jutted out of walls, sewage and waste overtaking the bottom quarter of each tube. Trystian leaned against one wall and motioned Alaric to take up a position on the opposite side of the courtyard. Anyone coming out of those pipes would now either meet Trystian’s sword or Alaric’s bow.
He kept an eye on the alley they’d come down. It bent between the street and their location, so he didn’t have a clear light of sight. Instead, he willed his heart to slow down and listened for any sound beyond the rats running about.
A whistled note pierced the quiet. Trystian answered in kind. Alaric lowered his bow as Gwen emerged from the da
“Not out yet?” she whispered.
Trystian shook his head, then jutted his chin to the point on the wall he wanted her to take up. “It’s early yet. They don’t know what’s going on. We wait.”
For the next hour, they stood. Not speaking. Listening and waiting. Alaric’s legs didn’t bother him. Not yet. But he knew the muscles in his back weren’t going to be happy when they finally stopped running.
His body was still, but his mind raced. He knew he’d not hesitate to surrender himself if that’s what it took to get Fin out safely. Then again, he couldn’t trust any promise Kaerdan might make. The minute his brother knew about Fin, she would become a weapon to be used against Alaric. He’d need to make sure she got out of town first. If he was lucky, he’d be able to go with her.
“Stop that thought, Alaric.” Gwen’s voice drifted to him. “Only way we get out of here is if we all do.”
A rustling came from one of the pipes. Alaric’s hand flew to his quiver, drawing out an arrow. It was notched and ready to fly before Emile emerged.
“She’s right, Alaric. If we have to go, we all go,” the older man commented as he climbed free of the pipe. Gwen knelt down and reached her arm in, helping pull Fin free of the small space. “If you three are here, it means we leave tonight.” Emile didn’t even wait for an explanation. He went over to the pile of packs Gwen had deposited on the ground. Rummaging through the stack, he tossed one over to Fin. “We head north. Caerlynn’s got a new ruler. Rumor has it he’s allowing the Amari to live normal lives.”
“Met someone this time?” Trystian kept his voice low.
“No, but someone had left word.” Emile shouldered his pack and one of the tents. “There’s a way out of the city, but it’ll be tricky. Stay close.” He slid down the other alleyway, not looking back.
Alaric waited for the others to follow and took up the rear. Fin and Emile both were covered in sludge from the sewer, but moved quickly.
Emile led them through a few more side streets, deftly avoiding patrols and drunks. Finally, he stopped them at the back door of a house. Laughter, punctuated by screaming, poured from the open windows. His mind rebelled against what was probably going on inside.
“Gwen, Fin, keep your heads down. If anyone asks, you belong to us. Don’t speak, just point to one of us. Women aren’t expected to speak in this house unless given permission by whoever paid for them that night.” Emile looked at Alaric. “You’ll need to act like you own one of them. Don’t let what you’ll see get under your skin. If they even suspect you’re half Amari, they’ll put you under the same rules they would Fin or Gwen. We won’t be in here long. I hope.” He turned and knocked once.
The door opened. Bright candlelight made the person in the doorway barely recognizable. His bulk, however, wasn’t as easy to hide. “Full up tonight if you’re buying. Or are you selling?”
“Neither. I need to see Paul.” Emile spoke.
The doorman squinted, trying to make them out. “No one sees Paul unless he knows they’re coming. And he didn’t tell me you were expected.”
Emile rummaged about in his tunic, pulling a small item out of a hidden pocket. Alaric couldn’t tell what it was. “Give him this,” he put it in the bouncer’s hand. “If he still won’t see us, I’ll be surprised.”
The large man stared at the item in his hand. “I know what it is. He’ll want to see you.” He pointed at Gwen and Fin. “Keep the wenches under control. If they’re mistaken for workers, we aren’t held responsible for damages.” He turned around and gestured at them to follow him.
The main room was filled with men and a few women. Most of the women wore little except for the metal band around their necks. A few of the men were in the same condition. For a pleasure house, it was relatively clean. From the screams coming from above them, that’s where most of the business was conducted.
Their guide stopped on the other side of the room before an iron bound door. “Wait here,” he intoned, then lifted the bar and went inside.
“How come they’re hiding the red-haired one?” A drunk voice
bellowed from across the
Alaric moved between the man staggering toward Fin. “Because she’s already paid for.”
The man swayed on his feet, inches away from Alaric’s face. Sweat poured down his ruddy cheeks, the odor combining with the ale to make him truly reek. “Ain’t no Amari whore that can’t be paid for more than once. What’s your price?”
Without thinking, Alaric drew his dagger and put it under the drunk’s chin. “She’s no Amari, you fool. No chain on her, no gold eyes. And I paid dearly for first rights. You won’t see enough coin in your entire life to come close to having enough.” He shoved the drunk away from them.
He lost his footing, falling flat on the floor. The man’s eyes narrowed, “Watch what you do, boy. I ain’t afraid of you. If I want something, I get it. You can get some coin out of it, or not.”
Another man stepped in front of Alaric, a quarterstaff at the ready. “Not in my house, Damien. This man’s paid for her, she’s his. Get your drunk ass out of here. And take your crew with you. Not taking your money tonight.”
The other man rose, shooting a hate-filled glance at Alaric. He pulled two other men away from the women they were fondling and headed to the exit.
“Sorry, Emile. Sometimes Damien forgets his manners around here.” He pointed his staff towards the open door. “This way. Let’s get you on the road before anyone else gets stupid.”
Alaric followed down a passageway. The bouncer nodded once when he passed through the open door, then closed it behind him. He heard the heavy bar being placed back over the door.
“I don’t like coming here, Paul. But the need was urgent tonight.”
“I understand, my friend. Rumor runs rampant. Half my clientele for the night went in search of your archer friend there. And the unchained Amari.” The man with the quarterstaff responded. “I owe you quite a bit. I daresay we might be even after tonight.”
Emile chuckled, “Oh, probably. That drunk’s not going to cause you problems later on, is he?”
“Damien? Nah. He and his crew like to pretend they can spot an Amari by sight. They’re wrong more than they’re right.
Militia knows that. Even
if he went to them right now and said he knew where your group was at, they wouldn’t believe him.” Paul stopped under a torch, giving Alaric his first real look at the man.
Slightly built and closely cropped blonde hair, he was fairly unremarkable. But his hands grasped the weapon in such a way that Alaric knew he’d be dangerous in a fight.
“You know the way from here, right?” Paul asked Emile. “I need to get back. Need to keep things moving smoothly.”
Emile nodded. “Thanks, my friend. I won’t be back this way again.”
Paul brushed past the group and headed back toward the common area.
Emile worked aside one brick in the wall, revealing a small opening. He reached inside. The wall in front of them began to move, a small shower of dirt falling as it shifted.
“We go out this way,” Emile stated as he lifted the torch out of the ring on the wall. “Keep close. The ground’s uneven. When we get the door closed, we’ll find another torch to give us a little more light.”
“How far is it?” Fin asked.