Quinn would later wonder how long he might have stood, staring up at the lighted window, had not Oren slapped him on the back.
Quinn would later wonder how long he might have stared. Oren slapped him.
The Hunter had one good arm and he used it. Quinn’s flesh, wet beneath the tunic, stung.
“Too late to turn back,” Oren barked. “Besides, it’s pouring rain.”
“No, that wasn’t —” Quinn started, then stopped. The rain made it hard to hear and besides, he’d been woolgathering in the midst of a storm that had literally rocked Castle Ursaulis. Hardly an accomplishment.
Quinn had no idea where they were going; he simply followed Oren. He thought they were going in circles, but he wasn’t about to say so. Perhaps this was a tracking method known only to the Pentacacaus.
Finally, Oren stopped. ‘Would you happen to know of a tavern called The Fish Belly?”
Of course, he did. It was an inn of extravagant vice. Plus, he’d heard rumors of an enormous man who watched everyone who darkened the door. All the acolytes had dared one another to enter, but none had.
” It’s down Market Way, just on the corner of a section called Old Town.”
“Care to lead?”
The Hunter’s voice was mild, he might have been in a ballroom, asking a lady to dance.
“Of course,” Quinn replied. “We could be there in minutes if it weren’t for this rain.”
“Or my broken bones,” added Oren. “Elymas will pay for this.”
Of that Quinn had no doubt, but he didn’t voice his agreement. He was busy leading Oren down the cobbled streets, careful not to take him though a patch where he might stumble. If the Hunter fell, it would be hard, if not impossible, to get him on his feet again. His breathing was labored.
As they walked, the rain lightened and the moon came out, though feebly. On they went and just as Quinn had convinced himself he’d taken a wrong turn, he saw the sign. An extravagantly colored sign depicting a man in the enormous belly of a fish. Even at this distance, Quinn could see the smile the artist had drawn on the whale.
“There,” he said.
Oren stopped. The moon struggled free of a pestering cloud and Quinn could clearly see Oren’s face, pinched with pain. There was also relief.
“It’s not the inn I seek, but this,” and then he put his fingers to his teeth and gave a sharp whistle, followed by a higher, shorter sound.
Soon, they heard an whinny and then the sound of horse’s hooves on the cobbled street.
Before it seemed possible, a huge black horse stood before them. “I knew they couldn’t hold you, Pace!” Oren said, latching his good arm over the horse’s neck and pulling himself astride. Oren looked down from the great height of the destrier. “Up,” he said to Quinn. “No time to waste.”
Even with broken bones, Oren had been able to mount. Quinn, a farm boy who always walked or occasionally ridden a mule, found the task impossible.
He thought of every possible excuse but when faced with Oren’s scowl, he blurted, “I’ll walk.”
“Walk?” Oren’s voice resonated and not with pain. “Have you lost your wits? You’ll be dead before daybreak.”
Quinn shrugged again, this time with defiance. Dead before daybreak? He could last longer than that.
Oren spoke again, as if from a list. “Let’s see, the sky has blown open, the castle could fall before morning, the Earth Skyll will track you and that’s only the start. Spirits, demons, maybe even lamias, walk the streets tonight.”
“What’s a lamia?”
“A female bloodsucker who kills every child in sight.”
“I don’t know how to mount.”
“Walk with me then.”
They’d gone a short way when Oren stopped and pointed to a pile of junk against a building. “There, in the middle,” he said, “A crate. Use it as a mounting block.”
Quinn dug it out and placed it gently on the cobbles next to the horse. He knew, without being told, that both horse and rider were being patient. Without too much effort, he found himself on the giant horse behind Oren’s broad back. The horse started forward, ready to gallop, but Oren pulled him back.
A wagon was coming down the street behind them.
The driver was whipping them forward but the team, of its own accord, made a wide berth around the destrier and its riders. The last bit of lightening lit up the sky and both riders were amazed at what was passing them.
It was a gypsy wagon, lurid in its colors, yet with a heavily chained door. The man driving it wore a turban slipped over one ear and his mouth was open with a cry eaten by the sound of the horses’ hooves. Only his gold tooth shone.
Oren was puzzled. There was something unnatural about the wagon and its chained doors. Gypsies were known to smuggle human cargo. A part of him wanted to investigate but time was running out, he’d been badly beaten, and the wagon was going north.
North to the Nevers.
They were going west to the Pentacacaus camp. He dug in his heels, turning the great horse, Pace, around.