Where are we going?” I asked as he helped me down the stairs.
“Stable. One chance of getting out is there--if we’re fast.”
Neither of us wasted any more breath. He had to look around constantly while bearing my weight. I concentrated on walking.
At the stable, servants were running back and forth on errands, but we made our way slowly along the wall of a long, low building toward a row of elegant town carriages.
I murmured, “Don’t tell me…I’m to steal one of these?”
Azmus gave a breathless laugh. “You’ll steal a ride--if we can get you in. Your best chance is the one that belongs to the Princess of Renselaeus--if we can, by some miracle, get near it. The guards will never stop it, even if the hue and cry is raised. And she doesn’t live within Athanarel, but at the family palace in the city.”
“Renselaeus…” I repeated, then grinned. The Princess was the mother of the Marquis. The Prince, her husband, who was rumored to have been badly wounded in the Pirate Wars, never left their land. I loved the idea of making my escape under the nose of Shevraeth’s mother. Next thing to snapping my fingers under his nose.
Suddenly there was an increase in noise from the direction of the palace. A young girl came running toward us, torch hissing and streaming in the rain. “Savona!” she yelled. “Savona!”
A carriage near the front of the line was maneuvered out, rolling out of the courtyard toward the distant great hall.
Keeping close to the walls, we moved along the line until we were near a handsome equipage that looked comfortable and well sprung, even in the dark and rain. All around it stood a cluster of servants dressed in sky blue, black, and white.
Two more names were called out by runners, and then came, “Renselaeus!”
But before the carriage could roll, the runner dashed up and said, “Wait! Wait! Get canopies! She won’t come out without canopies--says her gown will be ruined.”
One of the servants groaned; they all, except the driver, dashed inside the stable.
Next to me, Azmus drew in his breath in a sharp hiss. “Come,” he said. “This is it.”
And we crossed the few steps to the carriage. A quick look. Everyone else was seeing to their own horses, or wiping rain from windows, or trying to stay out of the worst of the wet. At the back of the coach was a long trunk; Azmus lifted the lid and helped me climb up and inside. “I do not know if I can get to the Renselaeus palace to aid you,” he warned as he lowered the lid.
“I’ll make it,” I promised. “Thanks. You’ll be remembered for this.”
“Down with Merindar,” he murmured. “Farewell, my lady.”
And the lid closed.
Lying flat was a relief, though the thick-woven hemp flooring scraped at my cheek. Around me muffled voices arrived. The carriage rocked as the foot servants grabbed hold. Then we moved, slowly, smoothly. Then stopped.
Faintly, beckoning and lovely, I heard two melodic lines traded back and forth between sweet wind instruments, and the thrumming of metallic harp strings.
A high, imperious voice drowned the music: “Come, come! Closer together! Step as one, now. I mustn’t ruin this gown…The King himself spoke in praise of it…I can only wear it again if it is not ruined…Step lively there, and have a care for puddles. There!”
I could envision a crowd of foot servants holding rain canopies over her head, like a moving tent, as the old lady bustled across the mud. She arrived safely in the carriage, and when she was closed in, once again we started to roll.
“Ware, gate!” the driver called presently. “Ware for Renselaeus!” The carriage scarcely slowed. I heard the creak of the great iron gates--the ones that were supposed to be sporting my head within a day. They swung shut with a graunching of protesting metal, and the carriage rolled out of Athanarel and into the city.