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Moonless - Chapter 3
“Yes?” He glances over at me, his eyebrows furrowed in such a pantomime of confusion I have to struggle not to laugh. That’s one of the things that I love about Caleb. One look allows you to see straight through him – I can’t count the number of times I’ve caught him in a white lie. I know that he wouldn’t hide anything from me.
“Nothing.” I came out of that castle at full speed. I probably just managed to overlook the scattered bodies in the darkness.
We reach the edge of the forest and have to slow down to avoid making a racket. There is half a mile of trees between here and the small village in which we’re supposedly spending the night. Caleb and I had to slip out of a back window of its only inn.
We pass the brief walk in relative silence, broken only by the sound of footfalls on wet leaves and the occasional quiet swearing accompanying the snapping of a stick. The Lord will have sent soldiers out to search the wood, by they aren’t a problem. Much more troubling are the King’s Hunters, who are also roaming the forest tonight. They’re the ones we need to be wary of.
Caleb and I make it back to the town and into our beds relatively uneventfully. We’re rising early tomorrow morning, so we go straight to sleep.
My eyes open just as the sun is cresting the low hill outside my window. I slip into the other room and shake Caleb into consciousness. He lets out a small shout and reaches for his knife, but I manage to shush him before he can wake any of the other tenants.
We set out disguised as a poor farmer and his sister, walking briskly through the thin morning air. The Alliance easily could and would secure a pair of horses at the inn for us, but I decided they would be too ostentatious this close to the castle. Our mounts are waiting a day’s walk down the road.
Caleb is clearly on edge. He starts and looks around wildly at every minute sound. I’m just as uneasy, but I have the sense not to show it. Neither of us truly relaxes until we’re half a day’s journey from the castle. Surely Lord Raveynsheart wouldn’t have thrown his net of soldiers and Hunters this wide.
Of course, no sooner have I come to this conclusion than we round the bend and are confronted with a hastily erected barricade. I immediately relax my firm grip on my consciousness, allowing it to stream outward. It quickly contacts the three soldiers manning the barrier, but I disregard them. I find seven others lurking in the forest.
I hold up ten fingers behind my back, then slow to allow Caleb to pass me. A young woman leading a man would draw attention, and the last thing we need is to be noticed. The soldier in the center glances up and gives Caleb an appraising look. He doesn’t bother with me. Just as well. He might be slightly suspicious if he noticed any of the hidden weapons I have stashed all over my body.
Caleb steps up to address the soldier. “Please, sir. We’re just passing through, going to see our aunt. She’s sick.” he adds.
It’s too late by the time I notice the pair of seemingly inconsequential drawings lying by the roadside. They’re both rushed, but clearly drawn by a talented artist. In the first Caleb looks like he’s leaning back against some invisible wall. In the second I’m kneeling, back erect, eyes closed, face blank. My breath catches. Clearly someone was watching me last night when I was at my most vulnerable. Yet they waited for the guards and didn’t attack me when a properly aimed arrow would have been all that was necessary. This means that someone didn’t want me dead, at least not until I’d found the amulet. And, of more immediate importance, it means that we’re in danger here.
I glance over at Caleb. He’s not worried, confident in his disguise. The soldier seems to be buying our fictitious sob story.
We’re in little danger of being recognized because of Caleb. He doesn’t have a particularly distinctive appearance: brown eyes, average build. I, on the other hand, am more of a danger. My high cheek bones and dark hair are more common among nobles than peasants. They’re the only thing I’ve inherited from my father, Lord Ganrel. My brilliant green eyes, I’m told, came from my mother. I duck my head, allowing my hair to slip protectively in front of my face.
At that moment, the soldier flanking the right edge of the barricade happens to glance up. His eyes lock with mine. He’s a young man, more of a boy really. I watch him as he struggles to hold my gaze for a moment, then allows his eyes to flicker to the sketch lying by his foot. I know we’ve been discovered.
I whip out four daggers before the boy can draw breath to shout, flipping two to Caleb. He’s surprised, but catches them and whips into action. The soldier to my left blows hard on a whistle, and all seven reinforcements flood out of the forest. We’re surrounded on all four sides. One of the new men has a bow and I have to dodge arrows as I fight.
“Take them alive!” shouts the man who Caleb spoke with earlier, the captain.
Two men converge on me, grabbing lazily for my arms. I surprise the first one with a kick that sends him spinning, then use my momentum to swing my fist into the other one’s nose. I knee him in the stomach and he joins the first one on the ground. Before either can clamber to their feet, I sprint away to where Caleb is struggling with the other eight soldiers.
We fight for what feels like hours but is probably only a matter of moments. Caleb and I are quickly gaining the upper hand, despite being outnumbered and fighting on only a few hours of sleep. I’ve just disarmed my fourth opponent when the captain’s voice calls out again, loud and clear.
I spin. The captain has one thick arm wrapped around Caleb, the other holding a knife to his throat.
The soldiers that are still standing quickly regroup into a loose circle with me at its center. I brandish a dagger at the nearest man, causing him to flinch and step back.
“Drop your weapons.” The captain’s grip on Caleb tightens, and the skin surrounding his knife turns white. “Drop them. Now.”
I meet Caleb’s wide and frightened eyes. Then, even though it goes against all of my training, I release my fingers one by one until the knives fall from my grasp. I slowly rise from my fighting crouch.
The captain smiles.