Part II - Our Common Grave :: 36
"Heald Ferweard is dead," Parton announced to the remaining Cyneweard and manipulators. The faces turned to Cyrus, shocked and sad expressions turning his stomach over.
"We have to get the Emperor and his family out of here," continued Parton, making eye contact with all five men standing across the table from him. "I have had a plan in place for a while now; a quick escape from the Palace grounds. On the northern edge of the wall is a loose grate. Remove that, we travel under the street, through a short tunnel, and emerge in a stable. Waiting for us there are two horses and a shipping cart, already loaded with bogus shipping supplies. Cyrus."
"Yes?" the young man responded, stepping forward.
"You will be the holder of our manifest." Parton handed him a thick, rolled parchment. "It's sealed by the Mercantile Guildmaster as a legitimate bill of sale. It'll grant us passage through the Capitol and towards Millewhist. Once far enough from the city, we will bounce from safehouse to safehouse until we reach a permanent safehouse near the Waring Woods."
"But we're in Imperial regalia," said one of the Cyneweard that Cyrus did not know. "Surely you can't expect us to make it very far in this attire."
"Precisely," Parton agreed, pointing to the man, then jabbing his finger at a wardrobe against the back wall. "And in there you will find your civilian clothes. The Emperor and his family will reach this room soon in their own supplied merchant attire. It's lucky that his wife and daughter have never been publicly seen before."
The Cyneweard exchanged looks. The same young man beside Cyrus raised his hand. "How is that possible? His wife is always by his side."
"Wrong," said a commanding, deep voice. The Emperor strode into the room dressed in a brown tunic, suspendered trousers, and a Merchant's slouchhat. "That is only for show. This is my actual wife."
Every man's jaws unhinged and dangled as a beautiful, tawny furred feline Animas walked in, her long brown hair flowing behind her as if it were a train. She was trying to tuck the long strands into the back of her coveralls. Their shock abated quickly as they all realized who had just entered. Each man dropped to a knee, lowered their heads, and bade their Emperor to use their life if necessary.
"Get up, all of you," said the Emperor, exasperation shadowing his words. "We don't have time for formalities. Parton, has the plan been communicated?"
"Yes your grace."
The Emperor grunted. "I am a mere merchant now. Refer to me as such."
Parton nodded. "And your daughter?"
"Brisa," called the Emperor's wife.
A hot chunk of guilt dropped into Cyrus' stomach as he stood with the other Cyneweard. Brisa entered wearing a white blouse and brow trousers, the Merchant Guild mark on the left breast.
He felt her eyes snap to his. She began to smile. He gave his head a small shake and the grin faded from her lips. She fell in line beside her mother.
"The Emperor and his family will drive the wagon. We will dress in our attire from the wardrobe and flank every side of the cart once on the street. If asked, we are the merchant's hired guards." He looked to the Emperor. "Sir, I will have to ask you to refrain from making too much eye contact. Please ensure that you use the cap to help obscure your face as we roll through the city."
The Emperor nodded, his eyes coming to rest on Cyrus.
Unnerved by the glare, Cyrus began moving towards the wardrobe, the other Cyneweard following his lead. They began removing their uniforms.
"Sir, do you have the necklaces?" Parton asked.
The Emperor and his wife both lifted the Imperial Seal from beneath their clothing. Parton nodded and joined the others at the wardrobe.
"You see," began the Emperor, "you gentlemen are witnessing the true cruelty of man today. We are being forced out of our home and rightful place by bloodthristy malcontents. The same people that would never allow their Emperor to marry an Animas or have a half-and-half progeny are the same people attacking us today. This is why I had to hide so much from everyone. Just know that I am allowing you this trust to save my family. I can only hope that every one of you will earn the right to this hastily given trust."
Cyrus felt Brisa's hungry glare on him. He hastened his dressing, throwing a gray shirt over his head and pulling up a pair of ill fitting khaki trousers.
Once dressed, Parton formed the group into a line that placed the Imperial family in the middle and Parton himself covering the rear. Cyrus was just behind the lead man. They all walked single file out of the Palace and onto the north lawn, towards the grate that Parton had spoken about.
The gate was loose but still required three men to lift and place to the side. Below the grate was a foul-smelling stone tunnelway, its walls spotted with green and black mold. Cyrus could hear someone gulping the entire time they walked below street level.
At the end of the tunnel was long iron ladder. They ascended one by one, ensuring the least amount of noise was made. The ladder led straight into a dark, moist basement that reeked of horse manure, wood lacquer, and moss. One of the Cyneweard light a match and looked for the exit.
"Are you ok," whispered Brisa. She had found Cyrus in the darkness.
"How?" he asked, voice barely audible.
"My nose," she said. He could tell by her tone that she was grinning.
"Let's focus on safety. Then questions later," he replied.
"Up here," called out the Cyneweard with the match. The group followed him up a very old set of stairs and into a large, hay filled barn. Parts for carriages were all over. Near the double doors sat a large merchant's cart filled with boxes, barrels, and crates. Cyrus had not examined the manifest yet but felt that everything looked convincing.
"Sir," Parton said, pointing at the Emperor. "You can drive a carraige, correct?"
The Emperor laughed, replied "Of course I can," and then jogged over to cart. He climbed onto the floating spring driver's bench and grabbed hold of a set of reigns. "Just need a horse," he called.
Parton nodded and pointed two of the five remaining Cyneweard to a stable nearby, two blond and brown horses huffing and kicking at the ground.
"And me?" asked Cyrus as Brisa and her mother walked past him.
"You and the rest get ready to flank the cart on its departure. There are sidearms in the barn's tool chest, just over there."
Cyrus nodded and did as he was bid, grabbing a handful of weapons and dolling them out to two of the four of his cohorts.
"Point and pull," he told them. "Anything red. Anything aggressive."
They both nodded.
"Horses hitched," called out a Cyneweard.
"Alright. Ladies, please sit in the back, bow your heads, and do not make noise. We need to make our escape from the city as quickly and quietly as possible."
"Directions?" asked the Emperor.
Parton walked over to him and handed over a small folded parchment. The Emperor read it, nodded, and then set it next down on the bench.
With a point at the two front Cyneweard, Parton silently asked for the doors to be opened. The front guards obliged and pushed the heavy doors open. Bright sunshine filled the large workshop. Cyrus squinted into it and had to determine that the cart was leaving by the sound of hooves clacking on cobble rather than seeing it pull away.
The route Parton had designed weaved and bobbed through the town. A main thoroughfare was a death sentence, as he had once taught Cyrus long ago.
"If you want to survive and you're surrounded by hidden enemies, make sure you make them work for the kill. It'll increase your chances every time."
In one particularly narrow breezeway, in the shadow of a large House of Humbolt, the cart stopped. Being on the right side and blocked by wall, Cyrus moved underneath the tall cart and over to the left side.
"What's going on?" he asked the Cyneweard there.
"Dunno. They just stopped."
"Find out. I'm going to alert Parton."
As he turned to tell Parton, who had been just behind the cart, making sure they weren't being followed, he heard a barrel crack. He saw no Parton.
"Parton?" he called. "Parton!"
The Master was gone. His heart fell to his navel.
An arrow whooshed by his head. A barrel exploded.
"Ambush," he heard one of the other Cyneweard cry out.
He turned and ran for the cart.