A long time goes by before Stellia dares to speak.
“Where are we?”
There are many secrets in the Sundrance of Silence,” Brother Frithil whispers. “Some even the Guardian’s closest servants know nothing about.”
“A hidden passage,” Nevynne says. “How come you know of it?”
“An old floor plan I came across. One of the advantages of being an archivist.”
And you’re sure it’s not known to anyone else? The Abbot, for instance?”
Possible, but unlikely. I did not announce my discovery to anyone at the time.”
“But where does it lead?” Stellia asks. “Are we trapped here, or is there another way out?”
“The passage leads to a small postern door facing the outer wall that encloses the Sundrance,” Frithil says. “When I first discovered it, I brought with me several old keys I knew to fit no lock in this building. None of them would open it, however. I fear the proper key was lost long ago, or remains hidden in some place no one remembers.”
“I thought Garroth taught you to pick locks,” Nevynne says.
“I saw no reason to go bother with that. After all, it’s no mystery what lies beyond the door. I had but to walk around the building to reach the spot.”
Nevynne exhales noisily in the darkness. “Trapped, then.”
“Not so loud,” Frithil hisses. “This wall is thick, but we must take no risks. We must stay here, and keep quiet until the soldiers stop looking for us.”
“And then what? We can’t show ourselves in the Sundrance again. You’re a traitor now, my good friar, and Stellia and I your accomplices. The Abbot is not likely to just let us walk out the front gate, soldiers or none. We must try that postern door of yours.”
“And soon,” Stellia says. “Hayrolf has what he came for. Why would he waste time searching for us? I’m sure he’ll want to bring Sedwin to the Guardian at once.”
“But why Sedwin?” Nevynne asks. “And why did he bow to him, and apologize, and call him My Lord?”
“Because Sedwin is the Prince,” Stellia says.
Both Frithil and Stellia hiss at Nevynne to keep her voice down. In urgent whispers, they explain to her what they heard Hayrolf say, when he ordered his soldiers to seize Sedwin. “You were stunned from the blow he dealt you, and didn’t hear.”
“You’re putting me on.”
“We are not,” Frithil says. “The one you know as Sedwin is in truth our Lord, Ansil of Vulth, who went into hiding after his father’s death. It is Garroth, not he, who was the Emperor’s spymaster.”
“And you knew this, friar? All along?” Nevynne whistles through her teeth. “You mean all this time we were traveling with the heir to the throne of Hestia? What a tale they told us!”
“The name he gave you was not utterly false, in its way,” Frithil says. “Sedwin is the nickname given to Prince Ansil by his father. Evening’s friend, it means, for his habit of sitting under a tree by Lake Amm Borod, outside the Imperial Palace, reading books in the late afternoon. I suppose in his exile he wished to hold on to at least one token of who he truly is.”
“But how did Hayrolf know we would come here?” Stellia asks. “And why didn’t his men seize us right away, the night we arrived?”
“I don’t know for sure,” Frithil says. “I can only imagine that somehow Lord Osdath realized he was being followed. Whether he learned the identity of his pursuers by some means or merely guessed at it, I cannot say. But I think he, or perhaps the Guardian, must have suspected that Master Garroth was among them. That’s why they set their trap with caution, and did not simply lodge the soldiers here at the Sundrance. Garroth would have found out. He has eyes and ears in many places.”
“I hope he managed to cut down the fiend with the red belt,” Nevynne says. “But whatever happened, we must help the Prince! I’m more certain than ever that Sedwin had good reasons for wanting to stay away from the Guardian. We can’t let Hayrolf take him to her!”
“Help him how?” Stellia says. “We are no match for soldiers. We won’t even be able to follow them, without horses.”
She thinks of Phylia, no doubt under guard by Hayrolf’s soldiers in the Sundrance’s stables. Her heart aches at the thought of having to leave the animal—her father’s beloved mare—behind in this place.
“We have to do something,” Nevynne says. “Do you want to sit here and die, or wait until the Abbot at last discovers this place? I for one will not give up. We owe it to Prince Ansil, to Garroth who fought so we could escape, and to your brother! Have you forgotten about him?”
“Of course not,” Stellia snaps, ashamed for having given in to despair so quickly.
“She’s right,” Frithil says. “We must try to follow the soldiers. If we can do so without their knowledge, we may have the advantage. I think it would be wiser for us to remain here until nightfall, when we can leave under cover of darkness.”
“Nightfall? The soldiers will be long gone by then!”
“I doubt that. Wherever they lay waiting for news of your arrival, it was not near here. Their horses dripped lather as they rode into the courtyard. They will need rest, at least until daybreak. Even if we wait for nighttime, we will have a significant head start.”
“Well, nightfall is three hours away at least,” Nevynne says. “Let’s make use of the time, and see if we can open the postern door you spoke of.”
“If only we had a torch,” Stellia says. “I’m beginning to see lights that aren’t there. Would it be too risky to sneak out into the hallway and take one?”
“Too risky by far,” Frithil says. “If the soldiers aren’t still looking for us, the Abbot may have tasked the friars with the search. We’ve no choice but to get used to the dark.”
“Darkness it is then,” Nevynne says. “The Shaper alone knows how we are to unlock your door, with our bare hands and without light to see by. But the sooner we start trying, the better.”
“Persistence will be our tool.” Frithil sounds unfazed by the daunting odds. “Best let me lead.”
When the friar next speaks, his voice sounds farther away.
“It will be slow going,” he whispers. “Watch your heads. And your feet.”
NEXT: Among Rats and Spiders