Escape from Del Goroth
Out of breath and glistening in sweat, Arista turned to Clovius with her eyes wide and her teeth clenched. She said, "How are we going to get out of this one?”
Clovius looked at her for a moment, but quickly glanced back over the ledge. He wasn’t quick enough, though, to keep his furrowed brows and quirky tight lips to himself. "Great,” she said, exasperated enough to scream. Balling her fists, she pounded the ground in frustration and kicked some dirt. Clovius gave her another quick look before he turned back with a sigh. Arista growled at him.
Right now she felt like leaving him. She could slip off easily and be out of this place easily before he noticed. A lone person could sneak around more safely than two anyway. It was the group that got caught in the first place. Scooting away from Clovius, she got to the steps leading down to the water and peeked over the edge. There were still plenty of people down by the boats, but there were also plenty of shadows. Crouching, leaning, she was ready to slip silently away. But when she turned and saw Clovius’ large silhouette watching back along the main path, waiting for any of the others that might have survived, she could not help but stay with him. She knew that waiting was probably the most foolish thing she had ever done, perhaps the last foolish thing she would ever do.
She crawled up to him and put her hand on his shoulder. "Clovy,” she said, "we have to go. No one else survived. They’d be out by now. We have to go before it’s too late. They have Bothin dogs, remember. If we don’t go, they will find us.”
Clovius’ big shoulders heaved. Sighing, he said, "You’re right.”
He turned to the stairs and led the way. Following behind, Arista marveled at the large man’s stealth. Clovius hardly made more noise than she, and the only worry she had was that his big size would give them away.
They stopped at the bottom of the steps. A boat sat only a few strides away, but there were also three men standing there, haggling over some goods. Clovius listened to them, but Arista couldn’t understand a word of it. She looked around, trying to decide what they should do next. They were in a large cavern below the castle, and this was obviously a passage to Lake Brechtor. There were six boats here, none more than large canoes. They could take one and slip away if there weren’t so many people around, but with more than a score of men they would have no chance to go unseen. Swimming was the only other option, one that did not bode well with Arista. Winter was near, and the water was cold.
Clovius turned to Arista and said, "Ulgan smugglers. They’re dealing slaves. They’re arguing too much over prices to give me much else information.”
Arista said, "I really don’t care what they’re talking about or who they are. I just want to get out of here.”
Shaking his head, Clovius said, "You are one difficult woman, you know. You’re surely the most damnedest cold woman to ever walk under the sun.”
"If I didn’t care about living another day, I’d call everyone’s attention to us right now just to see you chained, Clovius. Now take off your shoes and cloak. We’re going for a swim.”
"Do you know how cold it is?”
Removing her shoes, she gave him a hard stair and said, "Cold is better than captured.”
Clovius sighed and took off his shoes. He said, "We better hope this isn’t a long swim, or we might not make it anyway.”
The three nearest men walked to another group further away. They seemed to have settled their disagreement as they were now laughing. Clovius motioned to the boat, but Arista shook her head and quickly went to the water. Clovius followed immediately.
The water was cold. It was so cold that it felt like sharp crystals and shards of ice were biting into their flesh. But they swam on, quietly enduring the agony. When they got around the first bend they heard barking dogs from behind, and they quickened their pace, almost abandoning all attempts at stealth in their race. After another bend they saw light reflecting on the wall of yet another bend, and they hurried forward, thoroughly frigid and numb by now.
When they reached the exit they wasted no time getting to land. Pale and shivering, Clovius helped Arista from the frigid water. Without pause, Clovius said, "We must hurry to our boat.”
They ran along the shore towards their landing site. It was not far, and they were soon there. A figure was walking from the boat to a large white horse. Finding cover behind some shrubs, Clovius cursed, but Arista said, "That’s Maritus.” Squinting, Clovius nodded his head. Jumping up to greet her friend, Arista was shocked when Clovius immediately jerked her down. Angrily, she pulled Clovius off her arm. "What's wrong?”
"Stay here,” he said.
"What’s with you?”
His lips were tight, and Arista knew that this meant that something was amiss. He said, "Just stay here until I call for you.”
Although she trusted Clovius much of the time, there were times she wished she were large enough to throw him around some. She said, "You know, you’re not my lord.”
Without looking at her he said, "True, but I do pay you. Stay here.”
She bit her lip angrily and watched Clovius circle to the other side of the boat. When Maritus was mounted and preparing to ride off, Clovius approached him. Arista could not hear them from this distance, but she did notice Maritus’ surprise when he saw Clovius. Maritus did not seem excited. She grabbed her dagger.
Clovius said to his mounted fellow, "What’s going on?”
Maritus shifted in his saddle and said, "I was just preparing to leave.”
"To go where?”
Maritus paused too long before saying, "Back to Tethmar.”
Maritus backed up his mare. He said, "The boat has been sabotaged.”
"By whom,” growled Clovius.
"How should I know?”
"I don’t know, Maritus. How should you know?” Clovius didn’t hide the accusation in his voice. He said, "Where did you get that mount?”
"I found it.”
Maritus pulled his sword and spurred his horse forward. Instinctively, Clovius reached for his sword, but he grasped at air. He had lost his sword in the fray in the castle. When he looked up, he only had enough time to see white from the horse and a metal blade slice heavily into his chest and across his neck. He fell to the ground, choking for air. He saw grass covered in sprinkles of blood. He saw the boat and the water. Then he didn’t see at all.
Arista watched Maritus charge at Clovius and pull his sword. Shock gripped her, and she could not react. She couldn’t move or scream. Seeing the sword cut through Clovius, seeing him fall to the ground, kicking and then going still… she was overcome with weakness. Time stopped and she could feel blood rushing through her head.
Maritus circled Clovius’ body, then left. She wanted to run for her friend, but years of training kept her still. She watched Clovius ride off through blurring, burning eyes. The coldness didn’t seem to touch her now, and the distant howls and barks of the Bothin dogs made no impression on her ears. The moment had ceased to be real, and the cold was replaced with a surging warmth of vengeance.
Clovius was dead.
To be continued…