111. Into Darkness

The two soldiers shove Frithil aside and seize Sedwin.

Bellowing with rage, Garroth launches himself at them. Before he can get close, Hayrolf’s spear whistles through the air, intercepting his blade.

“Enough, spymaster. Put down your weapon, lest you die for nothing today.”

Garroth’s lips curl in a snarl. “It won’t be for nothing, if I make you pay for your betrayal first!”

Without further warning, Hayrolf charges, flourishing his spear. Garroth jumps backwards; even so, the spearhead misses his chest by a mere inch. He loses his balance and lets himself fall to the floor, evading the attack in a backwards roll. Before Hayrolf can close the distance between them, Garroth is back on his feet, blocking the spearhead with his blade. But as valiantly as he fights, he cannot disengage from Hayrolf’s assault to prevent the two soldiers from dragging Sedwin away down the hallway. The anguish in his eyes as he looks helplessly after his friend brings Stellia close to tears.

Sedwin calls something to Garroth that she cannot understand.

With a roar of frustration, Garroth launches himself once more at the red-belted giant. For a moment, he breaches the range of the slashing spear, and it seems that he is about to deal his opponent a decisive blow. But Hayrolf parries with his spear’s iron-plated shaft, repelling Garroth’s onslaught and driving him back again.

Stellia watches, stunned by the revelation she witnessed, and horrified by the prospect that at any moment, spear or sword might find its mark. The thought of Garroth being cut down in front of her eyes is too dreadful to imagine, but she has no wish to see Hayrolf die, either—defeated, yes, in some bloodless way, but not slain; the kind of hatred that demands death or suffering is alien to her.

As yet, the remaining soldiers remain at the far end of the hallway, awaiting their two comrades who lead Sedwin into captivity. They make no move to intervene in their master’s confrontation with Garroth.

“Stellia! Frithil!” Garroth shouts above the din of clashing steel. “You’re our last hope now! Go! Flee!”

Stellia feels the friar’s hand on her arm. “Come.”

Nevynne lurches to her feet, grimacing and groaning. She snatches her dagger from the floor and moves to assail Hayrolf again. But Frithil grabs her by the wrist and shakes his head.

“Go,” Garroth shouts. “They are coming.”

Indeed, a group of spearmen is jogging up the hallway now. Stellia can no longer see Sedwin and his two captors behind the men.

“Quickly,” Frithil says, and drags Stellia and Nevynne away.

They stumble around the corner into a stairwell. Stellia looks back one more time at the two combatants. Neither of them seems to have the advantage, but it is hard to tell, their battle is so swift and ferocious.

Just as they plunge down the stairs, she hears a cry. The voice is distorted by pain, and she cannot say to whom it belongs. Something clatters to the stone floor, a weapon no doubt; a heavier, duller impact follows.

It is all she can do not to run back to see who fell, to see if it was Garroth. But Frithil pulls her with him, and though the uncertainty is sheer agony, Stellia knows that it would be madness not to follow.

They reach the next floor down, and begin swiftly to move along another of the Sundrance’s endless hallways. Torches mounted on the walls fly past, one after the other. Stellia hears the soldiers running down the staircase; when she glances back, she can’t see their pursuers, but they’re bound to emerge into the hallway behind them any moment. She runs as fast as she can, and yet it is as though she is trudging through a thick morass, so terribly slow does her movement seem to her.

They turn another corner. Frithil brings her and Nevynne to a halt with such abruptness that they nearly trip and fall. With a grinding noise, a section of masonry moves backwards, revealing a dark opening about a span and a half wide. Frithil pushes Nevynne through, then Stellia.

She catches a glimpse of a narrow passage, then the secret door grinds back into place.

They are engulfed by utter blackness. Frithil hisses a whispered warning to stay quiet.

A multitude of footfalls flies by beyond the wall, distant and muffled.

Then the darkness and silence are near absolute, save for Stellia’s own frenzied heartbeat and the breathing of her two companions.

NEXT: Questions and Some Answers

 

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