Kittyhawk got us into the city without much trouble – so little
trouble, I was surprised that she hadn’t had to kill anyone to secure the
route we used. Craig’Ian’s
execution was to be a public ceremony at Trycoss Citadel, Jude reminded me,
obviously understanding better than the others that everything was fuzzy.
I wondered how she understood.
A sluggish crowd was gathering before the citadel, waiting to witness the execution of the lord who dared to make war on the Dan’ling – never mind that the Dan’ling had started and perpetuated the fighting. None of that mattered to them. They were going to watch someone die. People make me shiver sometimes.
Kittyhawk’s voice broke in on my thoughts as I stared at the crowd and the citadel. “Stay low. I’ve taken care of the guards, but it’s up to you and the others to get to Craig’Ian before she kills him.”
I smiled tightly at her. “Thanks, Laina.”
“See that he lives, Shai. That’s all any of us can hope for. Good luck and Godspeed.” She gripped my shoulders kissed me on both cheeks before releasing me back into the crowds.
Using every trick I knew and inventing some I didn’t, I crept toward the steps to Trycoss Citadel, where the headman waited, sharpening his axe with a whetstone. Earth give me strength, wind give me speed, sun give me power, moon give me stealth. I wondered where that particular prayer came from for a moment, then ceased to question--despite how terrible everything seemed to be here, it was all so right in the end. Silently, I crept around a corner and slowly boosted myself up onto a ledge where I would not be seen by the headsman or whoever walked out of the keep, perhaps not even the people below. I was more than ready to drop on whomever I had to, do whatever I had to, to save Craig’Ian’s life.
Trumpets sounded, and I slowly readied my sword, sliding it silently out of its scabbard. I watched as three pairs of guards marched out of the Citadel, followed by Craig’Ian, his hands tied and staring straight ahead--he looked strangely unafraid--followed by another pair of guards and a woman in a stylish black dress and cloak. I waited until the count of four before dropping onto the woman – who I immediately recognized as looking exactly like Shannon Tyree. This had to be Sha’dan Tyree. I owe you for that world and this. No mercy.
I hit her square in the back, knocking her down, then rolled off and to my feet, already ready to face the two guards who had whirled. My sword flashed, twice, and suddenly both of them were dead at my feet. It was as if I was operating on some sort of strange autopilot, my moves deft and sure. Maybe fight practice with the Renaissance Festival had done me some good. I moved toward Craig’Ian, pulling the dagger from my belt and severing his bonds in one smooth motion. It took him only the barest instant to dive toward the bodies of one of the guards and take possession of the dead man’s sword. As for me, I continued forward, my sword slicing through the guards. The screams had begun when I dropped onto the woman, and now the frightened people were fleeing in droves from the square--perhaps fleeing from the wrath of their ruler, perhaps fleeing from me--I wasn’t sure.
“Shai! Behind you!” The shout was from the crowd below, and I whirled to see the headsman bearing down on me. Suddenly, he seemed to sprout a sword through his chest, the tip barely a handsbreadth away from me. I jumped back as the headsman slumped forward, revealing Craig’Ian’s pale and abused face. His hands hung limply at his sides as he moved toward me, his shoulders already sagging.
“Thank the stars,” he murmured before collapsing against me. The others--Lance, Mir, Jude, and Kittyhawk--were at my side in a heartbeat. Lance helped me shoulder Craig’Ian’s weight.
“We need to get out of here, and fast. Laina, did you arrange the horses?”
“They’re waiting. Come on, let’s move.” She darted off through the terrified crowds toward the city’s edge, down a back path that seemed to lead toward the ravine. Not a quarter mile outside of the city waited six horses. She motioned to them. “There they are. Let’s mount up and get out of here.”
I couldn’t have agreed more. All I wanted was to escape that awful, dismal place forever, if I could help it. We decided it would be best that someone rode with Craig’Ian, to make sure he didn’t fall, and it was also decided that I should be the one to ride with him. We were already a good three or five miles out of the city before he came around again, his head resting against my shoulder as he rode in front of me on the horse.
“Thank you, Shai,” he murmured. “Thank you for coming back to me. When you went away, when they sent you away...I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t think there was anything I could do, except pray...I prayed. Every day, I prayed...and now you’re here.” He closed his eyes, his voice a whisper, so soft that I could barely hear it over the thundering of the horses’ hooves. “I know that you’ve been away from this place, at least in your mind. I pray you never leave me again...never again...I thank you for coming home to me, beloved. I thank you...” His voice trailed away and he sighed, drifting back into unconsciousness.
It was then, as we rode back toward the safety of friendly borders, that I realized I had finally found the world that was my home--after a lifetime of searching elsewhere, I found that once place where I was needed, where I was loved. I found my home, the world that had truly given me life.
After that day, I never questioned my purpose ever again, and I never felt like I didn’t belong. Sometimes, though, I still wonder if the friends I’d known in that other world were truly real.
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