‘Right,’ Talen said, his eyes sparkling with excitement. He scurried off down the street.
‘Good lad there,’ Kalten said, ‘in spite of his bad habits.’ He frowned. ‘How do you know this inn has a back door?’ he asked.
‘Every inn has a back door, Kalten – in case of fire if nothing else.’
‘I guess I hadn’t thought of that.’
When Talen returned, he was running as hard as he could. There were about ten men chasing him; in the lead, roaring unintelligibly, was Adus.
‘Look out!’ Talen shouted as he ran past.
Sparhawk and Kalten whipped their swords out from under their cloaks and stepped slightly apart to meet the charge. The men following Adus were shabbily dressed and carried a variety of weapons, rusty swords, axes, and spiked maces. ‘Kill them!’ Adus bellowed, slowing slightly and waving his men on.
The fight was short. The men rushing up the narrow street appeared to be common waterfront roughnecks, and they were no match for the two trained knights. Four of them were down before the others realized that they had made a tactical blunder. Two more collapsed onto the bloody stones before the rest could turn to flee. Then Sparhawk leapt over the sprawled bodies and rushed at Adus. The brute parried the knight’s first stroke, then seized his sword hilt in both hands and flailed at Sparhawk with it. Sparhawk easily deflected those blows and countered deftly, inflicting painful cuts and bruises on his opponent’s mailed ribs and shoulders. After a moment, Adus fled, running hard and clutching at his side with a bloody hand.
‘Why didn’t you chase him?’ Kalten demanded, coming up puffing and with his blood-smeared sword still in his hand.
‘Because Adus can run faster than I can,’ Sparhawk shrugged. ‘I’ve known that for years.’
Talen came back down the street, breathing hard. He looked admiringly at the hacked and bleeding bodies sprawled on the cobblestones. ‘Well done, my Lords,’ he congratulated them.
‘What happened?’ Sparhawk asked.
‘I went on past the inn.’ Talen shrugged. ‘Then I went around the back. That big one who just got away was hiding in the alley with these others. He made a grab for me, but I dodged. Then I ran.’
‘Good thinking,’ Kalten said.
Sparhawk sheathed his sword. ‘Let’s get away from here,’ he said.
‘Why not follow Adus?’ Kalten asked.
‘Because they’re setting traps for us. Martel’s using Krager as bait to lead us around by the nose. That’s probably why we keep finding him so easily.’
‘Would that mean that they can recognize me as well?’ Talen sounded shocked.
‘Probably,’ Sparhawk said. ‘They found out that you were working for me in Cimmura, remember? Krager probably knew that you were following him around and gave your description to Adus. Adus may not have a brain, but his eyes are sharp.’ He muttered an oath. ‘Martel’s even more clever than I thought, and he’s starting to irritate me.’
‘It’s about time,’ Kalten murmured as they started back up the crooked street.
A purple twilight was settling in the narrow streets of Madel, and the stars were coming out. Sparhawk, Kalten, and Talen moved through the narrow, crooked streets, frequently turning corners and occasionally even doubling back to throw off anyone who might possibly be following them.
‘Aren’t we being just a little overcautious?’ Kalten said after about a half-hour.
‘Let’s not take any chances with Martel,’ Sparhawk replied. ‘He’s entirely capable of throwing a few people away just for the chance to hunt us down. I’d rather not wake up in the middle of the night to find Lycien’s house surrounded by mercenaries.’
‘You’ve got a point there, I suppose.’
They slipped out through the west gate of Madel as the light faded even more. ‘In here,’ Sparhawk said as they passed a thicket some distance up the road. ‘Let’s wait for a while and make sure that no one’s trying to follow us.’
They crouched down among the rustling saplings and peered back along the road leading down to the city. A sleepy bird somewhere in the thicket muttered complainingly, and then an ox cart with creaking wheels passed, rumbling slowly down the road towards Madel.
‘It’s not too likely that anybody’s going to leave town this close to nightfall, is it?’ Kalten asked quietly.
That’s what I’m counting on,’ Sparhawk told him. ‘Anybody who comes out now probably has serious business.’
‘And the business could be us, right?’
‘It’s altogether possible.’
A creaking sound came from the city, followed by a dull boom and the rattling of a heavy chain.
They’ve just closed the gate,’ Talen whispered.
‘That was what I was waiting for,’ Sparhawk said, rising to his feet. ‘Let’s go.’
They emerged from the thicket and continued on along the road. Stands of trees loomed up out of the darkness on either side, and clumps of shadowy bushes lined the edges of the fields stretching off into the night. Talen nervously stayed close to the two knights, his eyes darting this way and that.
‘What’s the matter, boy?’ Kalten asked him.
‘I’ve never been out in the countryside after dark before,’ Talen explained. ‘Is it always this black?’
The blond man shrugged. ‘That’s why they call it night.’
‘Why doesn’t somebody put up some torches?’ Talen complained.
‘What for’ So the rabbits can see where they’re going?’
Lycien’s house stood in the deep shadows of the surrounding evergreens with only a single torch at the gate. Talen was visibly relieved when they walked into the gravelled yard in front of the entrance.
‘Any luck?’ Tynian asked, emerging from the main entrance.
‘We ran into some trouble,’ Sparhawk replied. ‘Let’s go inside’
‘I told you that you should have let the rest of us come along,’ the bulky-shouldered Alcione said accusingly as they entered the building.
‘It wasn’t that much trouble,’ Kalten assured him.
The others were waiting in the large room to which Lycien had first led them. Sephrenia rose to her feet, looking closely at the blood spatters on the two Pandions’ cloaks. ‘Are you all right?’ she asked, her voice mirroring her concern.