a good place to hide

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Aithne had taken them on foot to the birch grove because she had wanted to give Duncan time to trace the path with his feet, to feel each step as they approached his past.

Now they took the horses and rode across country, even as the world around them sank into darkness. Aithne and Maniu had been Shayn-bred; the darkness posed no hindrance to them.

When they stopped to rest the horses, Duncan said, "What is the shipment?"

Aithne looked over at Maniu, who was pulling some cloth-wrapped cured meat from the saddlebags. "One of the generals of the Samiochi resistance, cousin of the king-that-was, and several of his followers, were sailing to Ilores seeking a treaty of assistance. They were intercepted by a People war-boat, captured, and brought to Kain Aelas."

"The Caelines have tried and found them guilty of treason--no surprise," said Maniu, tearing a strip off the cured meat and handing it to Duncan. "Of course, they'll be executed in the presence of the Prince, and we've had word they're being put on a ship tomorrow night that will take them down the coast and along the Telear to High Rock."

"The Caeline temple is too well-guarded to penetrate without more men," said Aithne, "but when they are moved we have an opportunity to free them if we are clever about it."

Maniu, fixing his saddle straps, leaned over to Duncan.

"Aithne says you escaped from Enrico of Castilsur," he said.

"I did," said Duncan. "He drugged me so I couldn't use my knack. I had help."

"You're lucky. I've heard some bad stories about that one."

"Oh really?" Duncan stilled. "Like what?"

"They say he murdered his father," said Maniu with a shrug. "And then discovered his father's will named his sister and her husband as heirs, so tried to murder them too. The Castilsur tenants backed the sister, and Enrico was banished from their lands. He's been a mercenary ever since, looking for a new holding to take. Once he has you, he doesn't usually let go."

"Oh," said Duncan. But Clara was safe at High Rock, and had her family to protect her.

They reached Kain Aelas in the afternoon: exhausted, filthy and hungry. With scarce time to lay down their packs, Aithne was calling together a group of halfbloods in the safehouse, unknown to Duncan save for Maniu. Those he had known were gone on to Samioch already.

"Duncan, can you watch the Temple?" said Aithne. She was leaning over a table with a crude map of the streets between Temple and dock sketched out.

Duncan nodded.

"Just until you see some movement, then rejoin us. We'll be here." She pointed at a place where the main thoroughfare turned and narrowed as it approached the dockside. The street there was lined with sturdy-built stone warehouses and stalls trading in exotic goods from across the seas: a pleasant, well-kept high street for nobles and merchants travelling between their ships and houses.

Aithne's map told a different story. In between these stone and glass tributes to mercantile respectability, alleyways splayed out from the road.

They had turned down one of those alleys to reach the safehouse, which sat between the dockyards and a down-at-heel artisans' quarter where craft shops were giving way to brothels and smugglers' hides.

"The Web," said Aithne, giving the cluster of narrow streets and rotting wooden hovels pressed up against the stone perimeter of the high street its colloquial name. "What a good place to hide a nest of spiders."

"Why send Duncan?" said Maniu. "Surely the lad would be safer with others."

Aware all eyes were on him, Duncan nodded. "I'll be all right," he said. "No-one will see me."

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