I go through the motions of helping Sixte: cleaning up camp, feeding and grooming the horses and cleaning the weapons. I decide not to talk to Blaise again until Sorrel’s return. When sunset falls I’m left completely alone for the first time in months to keep watch through the night. Ever since I joined the Murmation Sorrel has stayed up with me when I am asked to keep watch and recently when Sorrel has been away doing research Alain has kept me company. Spending time with just Alain was very strange at first and it took me more than a few days to adjust to talking to him about subjects unrelated to criminals and the safety of the land however as soon as I overcame the initial awkwardness I quickly found spending time with him is very pleasant.
Blaise is chained up on the other side of the campfire and my eyes naturally focus on the dainty drops of molten ash as they float out of the dying fire rather than meet his gaze. My thoughts wander to Élodie because, although she’s never interrogated someone, her instinct about people seems amazingly accurate sometimes. For a second I think I hear the crack of tree branches in the next clearing but I’ve kept watch more than enough times to know when my mind is playing tricks on me.
Suddenly I feel cold sharp steel at my throat. A few drops of blood fall soundlessly to the mossy floor. Unable to scream I kick hard behind me. I just manage to push the attacker over and I feel them staggering back. I hear a dull thud as fortunately I’ve made him lose his balance and trip over a stray branch behind him. I don’t hesitate I wrench the sword out of his claw like hand press my dagger against his neck and call loudly for Sixte. I instinctively know that my attacker was Blaise but I look down staring into his dun eyes just wishing that my gaze could penetrate further and explore what was going on in his head.
Sixte comes to my aid bringing strong rope to replace the bonds that Blaise cut. How Blaise concealed a dagger is a complete mystery to me. The obvious solution is that he had an accomplice but surely an accomplice wouldn’t leave him to be tied up.
Finally, after a frosty sleepless trial, grey light struggles through the trees. Even though I refused Sixte’s offer of helping me keep watch my muscles are stiff from inaction. Kindling the fire I hear the unmistakable sound of a galloping horse and just as Sixte and I sit down to eat the remainder of yesterday’s bread Sorrel bursts into camp; her face a grim mask of determination.
I rush over to her and she barley stops her horse before grabbing my outstretched hand, nimbly unmourning and dragging me out of earshot leaving Sixte to look after her panting horse.
“Blaise is much more dangerous than we’d anticipated. We assumed that we were just dealing with a standard prison escape but Blaise is an assassin he’s subtle and utterly deadly. Carina I don’t know what we’re dealing with here but it goes much beyond simply escaping from prison and the fact that all this has happened just as the council members are returning to the Citadel feels like more than a coincidence”.
Once again we’re caught in endless mind games trying desperately to piece together a few stray threads in order to see the big picture. We desperately need back up. However much my weaponry skills have improved I’m no match for an assassin, Sixte might manage to stay alive for a few minutes however he’s never actually fought anyone except other members of the team so he couldn’t possibly cope with the pressure Sorrel’s archery skills are no use at close range. Blaise’s information means that killing him is out of the question.
“We need to get a message to the Alain and Allaura,” Sorrel says absently mindedly running her delicate fingers through her hair. She takes ink, quill and parchment from her saddle bag and within moments the page is covered in neat flowing lines of script concisely documenting recent events. She hands the message to Sixte and he gallops off.
There isn’t enough time for me to make Blaise tell us his information so Sorrel readies the horses and I take the chisel from our tool chest and drive it into Blaise’s lower leg. At the unmistakable sound of shattering bone Blaise’s malevolent eyes go still. I haul him onto my horse and Sorrel and I head for the Citadel.
My arms round the waist of a deadly assassin who had already made an attempt on my life, attacked by biting winds so cold it felt like my throat was being strangled at first simply getting from one conifer to the next seemed like a challenge. However gradually the winds sub subsided until lush fields flew past and Sorrel and I were able to formulate a basic plan. Now, five sunrises later, I’ve just caught sight of the looming towers of the Citadel.
As we ride though the towering stone gate the walls themselves are bathed in hush. Usually the market place would be bursting with the raucous cries of commerce however the only living thing is the burning sun.
Walking through the streets is disturbing. For the first time in the Citadel’s history the dust on the cobblestones has settled. Sorrel and I tried calling to people to ask what was going on however all we got in response was a terrified silence. Occasionally the air is suddenly pierced by a baby’s cry and it feels as though the city is pulsing with an undercurrent of tense whispers and terrified breathing.
A kaleidoscope of bizarre and terrifying explanations rushes through my mind and my faith in the safety of the council members has never been more shaken yet I am sure that there are figures coming towards us but the horizon is hazy, the image distorted by the sun’s rays. I see the glint of silver. Before I have time to alert Sorrel they are upon us; a swam of filthy, ragged, blood smeared children. They are armed with rattles, kitchen pots, pans and knives and they pelt me with sharp stones. The already uneasy horses are spooked instantly and start to rear up. With one hand holding my sword I lose my grip on the horse and tumble falling on a tangle of bony limbs. The other children surround me pinching, spitting, kicking and cursing, with no consideration for the children that are suffocating underneath me, my ribcage is their main target and as soon as I am pushed to the cobbles they start to clambour onto me and jump their wild eyes blazing, some of the others trample my hand and pull trying to wrench the sword from my grip.