‘We need a way to get aboard a fast ship bound for Vardenais without being seen,’ Sparhawk told Voren. ‘Can you come up with something?’
‘Quite easily,’ Voren replied. ‘Every so often the true identity of one of our brothers is exposed. We’ve devised a way to get them out of Rendor safely’ He smiled ironically ‘It was the first thing I did when I got to Jiroch, actually I was fairly sure I was going to need it for myself almost immediately I have a wharf down in the harbour. There’s a waterfront inn not far away It’s run by one of our brothers, and it has all the things an inn usually has – taproom, stables, sleeping rooms upstairs, and the like. It’s also got a cellar, and there’s a passageway running from that one to the cellar of my main warehouse. At low tide you can board a ship directly from that cellar without being seen by anyone on shore’
‘Would that fool the Damork, Sephrenia?’ Sparhawk asked her
She glared at him for a moment, then relented. She touched the fingertips of one hand lightly to her temple. Sparhawk noted that there was more silver there now. ‘I think it would,’ she replied. ‘We don’t even know that the Damork is here, Martel could actually have been telling us the truth.’
‘I wouldn’t count on it,’ Kurik grunted.
‘Even so,’ she continued, ‘the Damork probably couldn’t begin to grasp the concept of a cellar– much less underground passageways.’
‘What’s a Damork?’ Voren asked.
Sparhawk told him and described what had happened to Captain Mabin’s ship in the Arcian Strait just out from Madel.
Voren rose and began to pace up and down. ‘That’s not the sort of thing our escape route was designed to cope with,’ he admitted. ‘I think I’d better take some additional precautions. I’ve got six ships in port just now. Why don’t I just send them all out at the same time? If you sail out in the middle of a flotilla, it might add a bit more confusion.’
‘Isn’t that a bit elaborate?’ Sparhawk asked him.
‘Sparhawk, I know how modest you are, but you’re probably the most important man in the world just now – at least you are until you get to Cimmura and make your report to Vanion. I’m not going to take any chances with you if I can help it.’ He went to the garden wall and squinted at the setting sun. ‘We’re going to have to hurry,’ he told them. ‘Low tide this evening comes just after dusk, and I’ll want you in the cellar when the ship’s rail drops below the edge of the wharf. I’ll go with you to make sure you get on board safely.’
They all rode out together towards the waterfront. Their route took them through the familiar quarter where Sparhawk had maintained his shop during the years he had been hidden there. The buildings on either side of the street were almost like old friends, and he thought he recognized a few of the people hurrying home through the narrow streets as the sun sank towards the western horizon.
‘Brute” The voice from behind them probably carried halfway across the Arcian Strait, and it was painfully familiar ‘Assassin!’
‘Oh, no!’ Sparhawk groaned, reining Faran in. ‘And we were so close.’ He looked longingly at the waterfront inn to which Voren was leading them and which was but one street away
‘Monster!’ the voice went on in a strident tone
‘Uh Sparhawk,’ Kurik said mildly, ‘is it my imagination, or is that lady trying to get your attention?’
‘Just let it lie, Kurik.’
‘Anything you say, my Lord.’
‘Assassin! Brute! Monster! Deserter!’
There was a brief pause ‘Murderer!’ the woman added.
‘I never did that,’ Sparhawk murmured. He sighed and turned Faran around. ‘Hello, Lillias,’ he said to the robed and veiled woman who had been shouting at him. He spoke in as mild and inoffensive a tone as he could manage
‘Hello, Lillias?’ she shrieked. ‘Hello, Lillias! Is that all you have to say for yourself, brigand?’
Sparhawk tried very hard not to smile In a peculiar way, he loved Lillias and he was pleased to see her enjoying herself so much. ‘You’re looking well, Lillias,’ he said conversationally, knowing that a comment like that would spur her to new heights.
‘Well? Well? When you have murdered me? When you have cut my heart out? When you have sunk me in the mire of deepest despair?’ She leaned back in a tragic posture, head up and arms thrown wide. ‘Hardly a morsel of food has passed my lips since that hateful day when you abandoned me penniless in the gutter.’
‘I left you the shop, Lillias,’ he protested. ‘It fed us both before I left. Surely it still feeds you.’
‘Shop! What do I care about the shop? It is my heart that you have broken, Mahkra!’ She thrust back her hood and ripped off her veil. ‘Assassin!’ she cried. ‘Look at your handiwork!’ She began to tear at her long, glossy black hair and to gouge at her dark, full-lipped face with her fingernails.
‘Lillias!’ Sparhawk barked in the tone he had only had to use a few times during their years together. ‘Stop that! You’ll hurt yourself.’
But Lillias was in full voice now, and there was no stopping her. ‘Hurt?’ she cried tragically ‘What do I care about hurt? How can you hurt a dead woman? You want to see hurt, Mahkra? Look at my heart!’ She ripped open the front of her robe It was not her heart, however, that she revealed.
‘Oh, my goodness,’ Kurik said in an awed voice, staring at the woman’s suddenly revealed attributes. Voren turned his head aside, concealing a smile. Sephrenia, however, looked at Sparhawk with a slightly different expression.
‘Oh, God,’ Sparhawk groaned. He swung down from his saddle ‘Lillias!’ he muttered sharply to her ‘Cover yourself! Think of the neighbours – and all the children watching.’
‘What do I care about the neighbours? Let them look!’
She thrust out her full br**sts. ‘What does shame mean to a woman whose heart is dead?’
Grimly, Sparhawk advanced on her. When he got close enough, he spoke quietly to her from between clenched teeth. ‘They’re very nice, Lillias,’ he said, ‘but I don’t really think they’re much of a surprise to any man within six streets in any direction. Do you really want to go on with this?’
She suddenly looked a little less certain, but she did not close the front of her robe.