116. Escape

One by one, they squeeze through the half-open door, out into the narrow space between the Sundrance and its outer wall.

The air is cold, but intoxicating, and though the waning moon casts no more than a mere hoarfrost of light over tree and leaf and stone, still the night feels radiant and boundless compared to the stifling confinement of the past hours.

Carefully, slowly, they push the ancient door shut. Stellia locks it, and slips the key into her pocket. Perhaps one day, it will be returned to its place behind the moving stone, though how and when that might be, she cannot imagine.

High above the door and the yews that conceal it, several windows send warm light streaming into the night. Hopefully, none of the friars behind them will decide that this is the time to open one for a breath of fresh air and a look down into the greenery.

“We must hurry,” Frithil admonishes them.

Needlessly. Nevynne has already begun to scale the wall. A short way up, she slips on one of the worn footholds and nearly falls. Only by clinging to the ivy does she manage to steady herself, but the plants tear loose from the masonry with a terribly loud noise, and on top of that, Nevynne lets out a cry of pain as for a moment, her bandaged arm has to support her entire weight.

Stellia glances up at the lit windows, expecting to hear one or more being unlatched and to see curious faces peering down. But the windows remain closed, and soon Nevynne straddles the wall, though still wincing in pain. A moment later, she vanishes, and Stellia hears only the faintest noise of her descent on the other side.

“You go next,” Frithil says.

The footholds are worn smooth by centuries of rain and snow and clinging ivy. As Stellia tries to scale the first one, she is not at all sure she can manage the ascent. But the only other choice is to remain in the Sundrance, and that thought alone helps her summon the courage and agility needed to climb the wall. At the top, she finds that it is crowned with fierce spikes of black iron she did not see from below, and though she feels terribly exposed at this high perch, she needs to take her time lest her garments—or worse, one of her limbs—get caught on them.

Balancing herself on that grim crest, she realizes how high the wall truly is. Worse, the ground on the outer side is even further down; five grown men standing on each other’s shoulders there could not reach the top. Dizziness seizes her, and she is afraid that she will fall. But a moment later, she has passed the iron spikes, and swiftly, too swiftly at times, she descends toward the ground where Nevynne is already waiting, still clutching her wounded arm.

At last Brother Frithil’s head appears above the wall. Stellia hears the sound of cloth ripping as he climbs down. But the friar does not hesitate in his descent, and aside from a long tear in his habit, he reaches the ground unharmed.

They stand in a forest of tall pines that stretch into the darkness in every direction, marching in steep processions up the mountainside. A sharp wind stirs the branches high above. Underneath the trees, no trail or track is to be seen. They need to move, to put distance between themselves and the Sundrance, and to find Ansil and Till. But right now, Stellia is not even sure which way she should direct her very next step.

She shivers, suddenly and painfully aware that none of them were able to bring their coats—to say nothing of the cozy bedrolls, their provisions, and of course the horses. Nevynne and Frithil, too, have wrapped their arms around themselves and shift from foot to foot. If they want to keep warm at all, they will have to start walking.

“We are free of the Sundrance’s walls,” Nevynne says. “Now show us the road to Fora Tanni, friar.”

NEXT: Despair


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