Jo stared at her friends, void of emotion.
Stalker had started to breathe normally again, and the girls were no longer in any danger. Bearploltan had reassured Jo that the sedative would last a few days, and cause slight weakness.Provided nothing else happened.
Jo propped her head in her hands and closed her eyes. “Everything has gone wrong since that attack.My teacher and my close friends drugged…” Something suddenly made itself clear.“Watch Eye’s message! He must have been trying to warn me, and I couldn’t read Fher’denish!He threatened me, why warn me now?Why didn’t someone read it?Why, why, why?”
Helpless and heartsick, Jo did the most exhausting work: simply waiting. Unable to think, and unable to endure watching her friends lie there; she left for her own quarters.Glancing up at the sky, she could clearly see the stars shining indifferently on her.Jo remembered the times from her early childhood when she had played under the stars, sometimes with the Netherlands.
Her room echoed mournfully as she lit a lamp and crossed to the window to continue her upward thoughts, this time in prayer.
It took her a full minute before she understood someone had knocked, and she gave them leave to enter. She turned as a tall woman opened the carved door.
The woman was a stranger to Jo. She was dressed in a green, so dark it approached black.The headdress matched, with the ends of her blond hair coming from the top, vividly contrasting.Jo, who had become accustomed to strangely formed companions, was uneasy at how closely this woman resembled a snake.The skin was thick and hard, gleaming bright green under the lamps.The stranger spoke.
“Oh, Johanna, I should have been here as soon as I heard. I should have been here long ago.”
Jo was muddled; her mind had started shutting down from all the strain. “I…I’m sorry, but….do I…know you?”
The woman cocked her head in a way that reminded Jo of a bird. “I am Satara, Jo.”
The girl put a hand against the side of her head as if to support herself. “Satara?”
“Yes, I should have met you when you came, but you and Stalker got on so well, I didn’t think I needed to… I am so sorry Johanna.”
Jo made for the bed, and dropped onto it, feeling that her legs were giving way. Satara looked anxious.“Are you alright?I can come back tomorrow…”
“No, I’m okay.”
“Are you sure?”
Satara sat on the chair near the door. Again she cocked her head. “Am I right in supposing that you wish you knew more about my involvement?How I called you when there are no telephones? ”
Jo fidgeted. “Is it that obvious?”
“Yes, but you aren’t up to pretense at the moment. I shall tell you my story.Perhaps that will make your own clearer.”Satara leaned back, sighed and began.
“I was, as you see, born under the curse of this place. A king of ours left his legacy on our faces, instead of on our purpose. I am as human as you, but wear the guise of a monster.
“Many of us age much more slowly than those on your side of the door. You’ve already seen this fact, both in the chronicles and in Mordgorden itself.To you, I would be mid fifties, yet here; I’m near three hundred years old.
“No doubt what you already know of me is mostly from Peter’s writings in the book. I know you read that he stayed. We were married after the last battle that he wrote of.We never…had children.
“I have seen many come and many go, Johanna. You and your friends are only part of the very few that have looked at us as some sort of makeshift family.Peter was one of those.He died many years ago from...difficulties brought on by Watch Eye’s early rebellious behavior.That wasn’t long before he turned on Mordgorden.
“There is little else to tell, since Peter’s death I have lived and done my work.
“As for our technology, we could have whatever we choose, but find life better without. I called you using a crystal wall, much as ancient kings use crystal tablets to communicate.Nothing magical, though it takes a great deal of concentration to operate.”
Jo nodded; acting like this all made sense, but couldn’t see the point. She was, at that moment, sure nothing had point.Satara stayed and talked to Jo late into the night.The friendship was firmly melded, and before the woman left she handed Johanna and envelope and said; “You have friends here, and nothing will alter that, Johanna.You are accepted.”
The girl watched Satara walk through the door, thinking. Exhaustion was pulling her, but stronger was a revived sense of loyalty to her comrades in that place.
Jo sat on her bed facing the window. She had made up her mind, knowing that she was being a fool.At this point, she only wanted to find the man who had harmed her and her friends.
She was going through the envelope that Satara had left. Old letters, some directions, and a map from the reign of Borton. The letters seemed to be unimportant, so she set them aside.She glanced over the directions and map before copying them on separate pieces of parchment.They were old, valuable as well as still useable.She didn’t want them lost or destroyed. As an afterthought, she wrote something else, and then paid a quick visit to the infirmary.
Jo slipped the directions into her sturdy leather vest on her way to the kitchens. She glanced around to make sure that a cook wasn’t working before she went in.When she left, she had a large pack of travel food and a large water skin that held more than she had thought it would.
Walking quietly to the wall tops, she hunted until she found a long, knotted rope. The girl stilled until she was sure no one had heard her, readjusted her sword belt, and then dropped the rope over the side.Making a large loop over an iron stake that had been set there for chaining prisoners, she gripped the hemp in her hands, and slid over.
It was harder to get down than she had expected. Being afraid of heights and long falls, she was shaking and terrified by the time she reached the bottom.
After sucking in a few gasps of air, she remembered to flip the rope off of the stake. Rolling it up, she stashed it alongside the food.
In the trees on the South East side of the castle, she listened until she was sure no one had raised an alarm. If Thordvall came after her, she’d never get beyond the creek five miles away.
At last, certain no one had missed her, Jo stood up. She followed the edge of the forest to the demolished buildings of Village East, almost twenty-four miles away from Mordgorden.She pulled out the map, and checked her route to Village South.With a sigh, she began looking for a likely place to sleep.
Digging through charred and broken remains, she wondered what had happened to the people had once lived here. Had there been a fight?Had they left before it burned?
The only place she could find to stay was a hole in the ground with a large sheet of wood over it. Rain was starting when Jo finally curled up and went to sleep.