96. Succor

Till! That is all Stellia can think.

Gently, she urges Phylia on. Neither she nor the exhausted mare have the strength left for greater speed.

At last they come to a large gate, flanked on each side by the towers Stellia saw from afar. Two ruddy-cheeked friars in thick woolen coats greet them. They wear no mail and bear no arms. Garroth jumps out of his saddle, and his legs nearly buckle as he walks toward the men.

“Two of us are wounded by brigands.” He points at Sedwin, who looks like a dead man held upright on his horse by some necromantic spell. “If my companion does not receive aid, he will die on the spot.”

The friars eye Sedwin briefly, and nod. Garroth gestures for the others to follow as he leads his horse through the gate. Stellia stumbles after him. Bleary-eyed and half asleep on her feet, she catches glimpses of distant buildings, and of a statue of the Guardian made of pale stone.

They stop suddenly before a massive dark door. Stellia almost bumps into Garroth’s broad back. The building to which the door belongs is vast, and crowned by a gabled tower that seems to reach into the clouds. At its top, this steeple is obscured by a mist on high. Next to the door, a large iron cresset is mounted in the stone. Coals hiss and crackle as the wind fans the fire.

Did Till pass through this same door? The thought should cheer her, but there is no reason to believe that he is still here. If the Guardian wants her brother, then no doubt Lord Osdath is taking him to Fora Tanni, stopping in this place merely to rest before continuing the journey.

Rest!

How sweet a word! Sweeter almost, though it shames Stellia to admit it, than the prospect of finding out more about Till’s fate.

A dull noise rouses her from these thoughts.

Garroth raps on the great door. The sound his knuckles produce seems faint. Will anyone within hear it at all?

Apparently, Garroth has the same thought. He takes his sword and raps on the door with the pommel. Sedwin’s breathing suddenly grows harsh and fast. With a groan, he slips from the saddle. Garroth reaches the horse just in time to keep him from falling onto the cobblestones of the courtyard. Together, he and Stellia manage to keep Sedwin in an upright position. Nevynne still remains in her saddle, but her eyes are closed and she slouches forward. Not much longer, and she will fall as well.

“What if no one comes?”

“They will come,” Garroth says. “And they will help.”

“Will they not ask questions? How will we explain who we are?”

“The friars of the Sundrances often assist travelers in need. We won’t arouse suspicion.”

“Can you be sure?” Stellia lowers her voice to a whisper. “The men here are devoted to serving the Guardian. If they discover who you are—”

“The Guardian has her eyes and ears in the Realms,” Garroth says. “But so do Sedwin and I, quite unbeknownst to her servants.”

A sound of metal grinding against metal interrupts them. One leaf of the great door swings open. A white-haired old man appears behind it, bent by age and clad in a simple gray robe. Light streaming from torches set in the walls of a long corridor gilds the outline of his wizened frame. But the weariness of his posture belies the shrewd alertness of his gaze.

Once again, Garroth explains their distress, and the wounds his companions suffered at the hands of brigands. The old man listens, and bids them enter.

“Follow me,” he says in a voice like the creaking of trees in a storm. “I shall have quarters assigned to you, and I will alert the physician to tend to your friends.”

“We thank you.” Garroth nods toward Nevynne, who seems rooted to her saddle, oblivious to her surroundings. Stellia extricates herself from under Sedwin’s shoulder, and helps Nevynne dismount. The two of them together threaten to tumble to the ground. The old man waves, and two other robed men, both far younger and stouter than he, emerge from corners inside the gate where they stood unseen. One of them assists Stellia with Nevynne, the other helps Garroth support Sedwin. Slowly, they make their way down the long corridor together.

“A man I knew was once a friar here,” Stellia hears Garroth say. “He was a friend of mine many years ago. I have not seen nor spoken to him, nor had news of him, in a very long time. I wonder if he is still with you.”

“I can find out,” the old man creaks. “What was his name?”

“Frithil,” Garroth says. “Brother Frithil, that is.”

NEXT: On Till’s Trail

 

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