Chapter 14: A Close Encounter
“My lord!” the guard charged in. Taren’s sword was already drawn by the time the guard staggered to a halt. “My lord, the prisoner … Queen Guinira … she is …” he fell to his knees trying to catch his breath. Taren knelt down beside him and helped him up.
“It is alright, lad. Take a deep breath.” The young man, more boy than soldier, thought Taren, relaxed slightly. “Now, what has happened to Guinira?”
“My lord, she is gone.”
Taren maintained his appearance of shock and outrage all the way down to the room Guinira had occupied. He had to keep himself from laughing out loud when he saw that the room was really empty. “I want everyone except Makret out of this room, NOW.” No one wasted time obeying the order. Once everyone was gone, Taren and Makret both fell against the wall laughing. “She really did it Makret.”
“I didn’t think she could, either, Taren.”
“The question is now, what do we do. It’s obvious that Guinira will go north, as much to escape the mother she believes is coming as to try to confuse us. She thinks that we will search southward first, since that is the direction the few who are still loyal to her are. She has no idea how close we actually are to Rista.”
“I can call out the Mordak Riders to ‘search’ southward” said Makret, laughing again.
“Yes, you had better make sure they do a thorough search. We wouldn’t want to disappoint her.”
“I know we wanted her to escape,” said Makret after the two had grown more serious, “but I still don’t know why.”
“Guinira will run to one or the other of her remaining two countries, most likely Rista, because that seems like the less obvious destination for someone in her position. I want her to escape because an escaped captive will give me reason to march in force on Armanda because it makes sense that I would think she has gone that way. Send out your swiftest Mordak Riders to ‘search’ southwards, Makret. And then, marshal the Brotherhood. I’ve tolerated Armanda long enough.”
Twelve days after her escape, Guinira sat huddled behind two barrels that stood at the end of a small alley in a small town she had found earlier that day. She would have bypassed the town entirely, but she had been running for a week and she had no supplies left, nor any other way to get them. She would not be there now, either, if she had not almost been seen by two town guards standing watch and talking not ten feet from her. Suddenly, a member of the Brotherhood rode through the town, pulling his massive mount to a stop just a few feet from her hiding place.
“Hail, Rider. What news?”
“King Taren has called out the Brotherhood,” replied the Rider, dismounting stiffly. “Something about an escaped criminal or a rogue army. Maybe he has just had enough of tolerating Armandans crossing his borders.”
“We’ve known for a while that Armanda exists at Taren’s pleasure. But why marshal the Brotherhood this far north?”
“This far north” Guinira repeated under her breath. So, she had been right about not being in Alquendiro, but she had no idea where she was.
“I can’t speak for General Druoth, but I think that by marshalling the Brotherhood in Morieden, they hope to avoid notice from Armanda, or even Anarian spies.”
“Morieden?” Guinira was beginning to piece her captivity together. If she had been held in Morieden City, it meant that she had escaped either from Morieden Castle or from Valok-Shein. Though she wanted to believe it was Valok-Shein, just because of the alleged impossibility of escaping from the ancient prison, she knew that it had been too easy.
“And what will happen to all of us, when the armies have all killed each other, and the Deshika return?”
“You’re too superstitious, old man.” But the Rider’s voice faltered as he spoke. He was about to speak again when his Mordak started sniffing towards the barrels that Guinira was hiding behind. They would know an Armandan the second she stood up to run, and there was no way she could crawl fast enough to escape the Mordak. Chanting as quickly and quietly as she could, she blurred her image. If anyone looked at her now, they would see a thin and graceful Dothrin woman, as brown hair was much closer to her flaming red than the dark black of the Drogs of Morieden Province. Her brown eyes did not change easily to green, but they faded to a light hazel colour without too much difficulty. If anyone looked closely, though, they would see the slight smoky haze that was used to distort her appearance. That was why the power was known as Twisting Smoke. Maybe, since she appeared to be Dothrin, the Rider might mistake it for that people’s equivalent power, Veil of Leaves. And since they Brotherhood was commanded to search southward for her, they would not be looking for an Armandan this far north. She was going to be found anyway, so she stood and walked out of the alley, nearly running into the Rider that had been walking toward the barrels she had hidden behind.
His hand went to his sword hilt. “Who are you and what is your business here?”
“My name is my own, Mordak Rider.” He shifted, ready to draw his sword. “As for my business, I am a Dothrin courier carrying a message of importance from his majesty, King Taren Garrenin, to Morschcoda Marrdin Redernin of Rista. And-” the Rider cut her off.
“King Taren uses Dragon Riders as messengers now that he has taken Meclarya. You are no messenger.”
Guinira had to think quickly. She dared not reveal her power, not even in this seemingly remote village. “King Taren deemed it wise not to use a Dragon Rider to deliver this message, as that might make it seem like an attack was coming. Dothrin couriers are well known for our speed, which can rival a Mordak, at our fastest. Question me if you must but do not question our King.” She struggled to remain in control of her features as she said our king. Taren was not her king, but if it was ever proved that she had said those words, she could be forced to bow to Taren. Her words though, seem to have forced him to acknowledge her as a real courier, but he was still hesitant. “Where is your horse?”
“It was stolen two days ago. I would be well north of here if not for that.”
He turned to the guards, she thought to have her arrested, but all he said was, “give her a horse and enough provisions to last her to Agrista.” With that he turned, mounted his Mordak, followed the street south and rode away.
One of the guards tapped her arm as she stared after the Rider. “This way, messenger.”