Chapter 118 - Escape
Robert woke Alena and Rowan. He handed them the clothes they wore when they first entered Belvare’s lair while he wore the dark leather pants and vest, black linen shirt, soft leather cape, and leather gloves Belvare wore when he left on his journeys. The cowl would hide his face, and in their presence, Belvare’s guards would only sense their power, and attribute it to Robert.
“Be quick. They expect the hunt,” Robert ordered in a gruff tone of voice.
Alena glanced at Rowan, and Rowan allowed her to see the memory of earlier when she released the prisoners from the dungeon. Alena nodded her understanding.
They were halfway out of the caves when Rowan came to an abrupt halt and Alena with her. They shared a glance that lasted long enough for Robert to realize they were having a conversation that they didn’t want him to hear.
“They will not live long,” Robert guessed their thoughts, and it was suddenly an unwelcome thought to Alena and Rowan when they remember that neither would he.
“I won’t allow them to be a scourge upon the land,” Rowan countered with quiet determination.
“They are many, and we are few,” Robert tried to reason with Rowan, but he already sensed what they hesitated to admit.
“We are more than they can handle,” Alena said the words without the slightest doubt.
“My ladies,” Robert bowed to their combined will, and when his hands emerged from beneath the cloak, he held Rowan’s sword, the one Victor had fashioned for her and one almost identical to it.
“Then you might want these,” Robert announced, and he actually smiled.
“You took it?” Rowan asked with some catch of hidden emotion.
“Belvare did, because he still had this one, it belonged to...” Robert started to explain, but Rowan interrupted him with a sad smile.
“Amaria,” Rowan finished his sentence and accepted the swords from him. Robert nodded. Twin swords, one for each of Victor’s daughters. How did Victor make a replica of the original sword which belonged to their ancestor, and how did he know they would find each other?
Rowan handed Amaria’s weapon to Alena because Victor’s heir should have the original. Rowan released her sword with a flourish, and it sang in her hands. This bit of her former life felt familiar in a way that made her feel less distanced from the world.
Alena took the other blade with reverence. She noticed that someone had her name engraved on the scabbard beneath that of Amaria and also embossed Victor’s crest on the shaft below their family emblem.
Rowan noticed these marking when Alena ran her fingers over Victor’s crest and frowned when she saw that her sword looked different. Someone also had her name engraved on the hilt with an embossed relief of their family home in ruins. Her sword carried both family crests, that of Amaria and Victor. With this simple thing, Victor claimed Rowan for his own.
Alena and Rowan glanced at each other. Did this mean Rowan would bring their house down? Why then would Victor claim her as his?
“Before we take on the world, you need your strength back. Duncan, Arie?” Robert called, and the guards were quick to respond. He ordered them near, and the woman fell upon them without hesitation. They couldn’t afford to be picky, and these men were as good as dead already.
The guards never even got to make a sound, and their blood carried the familiar tang of Belvare’s taint, but it was human enough to turn the weakness in their veins to strength. Both of them had been close to death, and it would be a while before they would recover their health.
“Enough?” Robert asked, and Rowan nodded.
“Time to leave then,” Robert suggested, and when he moved off, they followed in his footsteps.
Alena and Rowan killed every creature they encountered, but they soon realized that Robert was right, there were more of them than Alena and Rowan dared guess. It took a while for the halflings to act against the trio and thus act against what they believed to be Belvare himself. Self-preservation trumped fear and instinct.
The three fought without restraint, now that they didn’t have to hide their power. They were a force of nature with no intention of stopping, but as time wore on, their strength petered out abruptly. They were still weak from almost dying, and Robert made them move in the entrance's direction, but then he veered off, and they pursued.
Alena and Rowan skidded to a halt when they realized that the cavern they just entered held twenty barrels of gunpowder. Robert grabbed a keg, pulled the stopper, and started lying down a trail. Rowan grabbed a torch from the wall, and together she and Alena allowed Robert to lay a path with the powder.
They were tired and worn out, but they did not slow down as they reached the tunnel near the entrance. The powder ran out, and Rowan ignited it.
The trio raced to the entrance and barreled around the corner. Rowan saw daylight, and Alena was right behind her. Rowan would have faltered, but Robert dove them off their feet.
They fell through the opening, and outside in the dirt, as the ground shook beneath them. Robert grabbed them and dragged them behind the rock that shielded the entrance as debris pinged against the other side, and fire belched from the entrance.