Chapter 16: A Desperate Flight
Colin and Balaam burst past the dark creatures, knocking them over and raced back down the lane. The serpents coiled and chased after them.
“They’re following us!” Colin yelled as Balaam veered down a narrow alley of gravestones. The black creatures flung themselves around the tombs and closed in to pinch off Colin’s escape.
“They’re cutting us off! We’re dead!” Colin shrieked as he kicked at Balaam’s sides frantically.
“Yes, wonderful! Keep saying such helpful things!” Balaam yelled back and veered again, running up the sagging side of a crumbling tomb to its roof and hopping to the next one and the next, like they were stones on the water. The serpents hissed and raced forward at the bases of the tombs, slithering parallel to the donkey’s course.
Colin clutched Balaam’s mane as he stared, wide-eyed, ahead. They were charging towards the cemetery’s wall, several inches higher than the tombs themselves.
“Wall! Wall! Wall!” Colin screamed and pulled back on Balaam’s mane.
“Let’s see them try this!” Balaam yelled back as he ran across the last roof and with a mighty jump, hurled them into the air, barely missing the wall’s ledge and crashing into a thatch cart on the other side. Colin held tight as they smashed through the cart and out onto the street. Guards nearby ran forward brandishing spears. “Halt!”
“New problem!” Colin yelled as Balaam darted past the guards, knocking them over in his wake.
“Always!” Balaam snorted as he careened down an alley and onto another street, then veered again onto the King’s Way leading to the royal courtyard.
“Okay, slow down!” Colin called. “We lost them.”
Balaam slowed his pace as they entered the great market. Stands, overhangs, and shops were littered with random goods. Crowds of people moved about and merchants carried baskets of wares. “Let me have control here. Subtlety is key,” Colin whispered to the donkey.
A platoon of guards on horseback turned onto the street in front of them. The captain’s face went sour. “You! Boy! Halt!”
“Oh shit,” Colin moaned.
“Wonderful leadership, very subtle,” Balaam said and rushed to the right, knocking over a cart and sending pottery flying.
“After them!” yelled the captain and his men followed.
Colin spun his head around. The guards rushed closer and closer. One soldier, grimly eyed Colin as he pushed his mount ahead to match Balaam’s speed. He thrust his spear at Colin and Colin grabbed it. The two struggled with it as they hurtled down the lane, their mounts neck and neck. The onlookers screamed and ran as the two riders knocked over merchant carts and crates stationed between them.
Without warning, a merchant pushed a cart out from a side alley in front of Colin’s opponent. Both man and horse collided into it and fell away. Two other guards replaced him within seconds.
“Go faster!” Colin yelled as he kicked Balaam’s side.
“I’m a donkey! Not a racehorse!” Balaam called back.
The lane split to the left and the right, “Pick one, great leader!” Balaam demanded.
“Uh, right! No, left!” Colin screamed.
Balaam dashed ahead, down the left lane, and right into a caravan of garments.
Reams of fabric went flying, covering both Colin and the donkey.
“I can’t see!” Balaam screamed.
Colin’s face was covered by an unending ream of silk. As he fumbled with it, he could hear the guards’ horses behind. “Just keep going!”
Balaam flew forward past scattering crowds, past the screaming merchants and right through a thatched wall.
“Yes, M’lady. Of course, I can take you to the courtyard, but if what you say is true, then we must do so as the quietest of mice,” Avery said and handed Alexandra his burning wick. Helen’s husband was stout with square shoulders and a ruddy complexion. His blue eyes twinkled like a child’s when he glanced at Helen, at odds with the years of worry lines on his face, and the gray hairs sprinkled throughout his beard. “I can give you my hat, you’ll appear as my assistant.” Avery placed his over-sized leather hat on her head.
“Hardly a fit, Avery, but I thank you. Discretion is vital,” Alexandra said.
Colin and Balaam burst through the thatch wall behind them, covered in fabrics.
“You?” Alexandra’s mouth dropped. The boy was barely recognizable in the tangles of linen.
Colin pushed the last of the ream from his face. “Alex, we don’t have time!” He grabbed her arm and Balaam stumbled a little.
“What are you doing?” Alexandra started and pushed back until the city guards bolted around a nearby corner behind them.
“Get on!” Colin screamed and Alexandra hoisted herself up on Balaam’s back, behind Colin.
“Yah!” Colin yelled and kicked Balaam forward.
“You’ve gained weight!” Balaam yelled back as he ran, the fabrics still covering most of his head. “Would it please someone to get this damn thing off of me?” Balaam shook his mane furiously but the fabrics still covered his face and tangled about his neck.
One of the guardsmen rode alongside and swung his mace at them.
“Right, Balaam!” Alexandra screamed.
The donkey veered to the right, and the mace just missed Colin’s head and collided with Alexandra’s still burning wick. Another horseman raced to their right. The rider drew a bow, already notched with an arrow.
“Left!” Alexandra screamed.
Balaam veered to the left and the arrow flew mere inches from Alexandra’s face.
“This is insufferable!” Balaam yelled.
“Take the high road to the courtyard, we can lose them in the alleys!” Alexandra yelled.
The road again forked the left route curving, the other climbing.
“Right!” Colin yelled and kicked
“No, you fool, left!” Alexandra yelled louder.
“Which way?” Balaam cried out.
A spear went flying overhead, as more and more horsemen raced in behind them.
“Right!” Colin screamed. Balaam turned down the right path and into the courtyard of the great temple.
“Oh! Okay, maybe left,” Colin called sheepishly.
Balaam raced forward up the white steps of the city’s central shrine, a structure that Alexandra thought rivaled the size of any small village. Priests, dancers, and merchants screamed as the trio sprinted into the inner building. Alexandra’s wick caught itself on a tapestry, depicting serpents and pagan rituals. The flame leaped from the stick and danced up the banner, devouring the cloth like a starving wolf. Balaam sped them forward to a ramped altar and a twenty-foot-high statue of a many-armed god with a smug face.
“Dead end!” Colin yelled.
“I can jump it!” Balaam yelled back.
“No! No! You can’t!” Alexandra screamed.
The donkey rushed them forward up the ramp as Colin pulled the last of the fabric from Balaam’s eyes.
“No! No, I can’t!” Balaam screamed in surprise but his momentum could not be stopped, and the three went flying into the marble deity, knocking it over. The trio collapsed to the ground. Fire arched overhead as the flames jumped to each Amorite banner in a feeding frenzy, before spitting their ashes and rods to the ground.
Covered in soot and debris Balaam shook himself and slowly stood. Colin felt the hands of the guards lift him and then push him to his knees. Alex was thrown down next to him. Colin’s eyes cleared as he looked up and saw a woman in regal purple robes stand over him, but her gaze was on the princess.
“The gods are kind indeed,” the woman said as she leaned down and lifted Alexandra’s face up with her hand. “Two spies in one night.”
Alexandra spit in her face.
Mariselle wiped the saliva from her eye and smiled. “Charming. As always.” She turned to the guards. “Send them to the dungeon, a public trial should be fine entertainment tomorrow. You can toss them into Korah’s Maw afterward.”