They heard shouting at the top of the stairs. Duncan went up. "I'm here," he called. "Hurry."
The door creaked open. The Steward stood on the other side. "Where's the injured man?" he said, thinning his lips with impatience.
"He's down below. We didn't want to move him until it was necessary."
The Steward pointed at two of the guards on the door. "You two--come with me."
Duncan turned aside as the guards filed down the stairs. "Go ahead, go ahead," snapped the Steward, who stayed to lock the door behind them. Duncan glimpsed the key again: big, black, iron.
They entered the chamber. "Where is--" was all the first one said before Salomao spun up from his chair and ended the man's life.
Another dangerous-looking Samiochi dealt with the second.
The Steward started back towards the door and stumbled right into Duncan, who dropped his seeming and put his knife at the Steward's back.
"What in the Prophets' names is this?" he demanded.
Duncan reached around the Steward's waist and unhooked the ring of keys from the belt, then stepped back, keeping his knife towards the Steward. "Step back to the chair," he said.
The Steward growled. Duncan made a lunge for him. The Steward went and threw himself down in the chair. "What kind of fool are you?" he said. "You may--I don't know how, but you have found your way into the dungeon and outsmarted me, but there are ten score princeguards and two gated walls between you and the city, let alone you and freedom. If you so deeply desire a traitor's death, I can oblige you now with no need for the fuss."
"Be quiet, little man," said Salomao. Then, to his comrade, "Get the others."
"Nameless, pathless halfblood," the Steward spat at Duncan.
Duncan tilted his head, rotated the point of the knife: aiming it at the Steward's heart, then his eye, then his throat. Watched the man's larynx bob.
Into the room came the Samiochis who had been hiding behind the door of their prison. Duncan saw a flash of blond-and-white. Fearghill was among them.
Duncan looked over his shoulder at Salomao.
"We will wait until you're clear," said the General.
His second-in-command stood beside and slightly behind him.
He was raising his sword.
"Sal--" Duncan began, swinging around. Salomao's eyes widened for a moment, before his comrade's sword swung down.
* * *
"Bring my things," said Clara, keeping her voice steady. "The Prince has sent me home. I wish to leave immediately."
"Where's your handmaid?" said the attendant.
"She's gone to send for my carriage. Hurry up."
This earned a barely-hidden sneer as the girl turned around. Clara trailed her up the stairs to her room. Aithne had packed their possessions into a chest that was far too large for them all, but at least made it seem as if Clara had come with clothes and possessions befitting her status.
The attendant sighed. "I'll send for a boy to carry these."
"Be quick about it," said Clara. "I want to be gone before the next bell."
"Yes, mistress." This time the girl turned away before Clara saw her expression.
She sat down on the bed and put her head in her hands, listening to her slowing breaths. Duncan, I hope you're ready, she thought.
* * *
Salomao's eyes dimmed and he crumpled to the ground as the butt of his second-in-command's sword slammed into the back of his head.
Duncan hunkered down, knife towards the man, who put his own sword up.
"Take the General with you," he said.
"What?" Duncan blinked.
"He would never have gone of his own accord," said the man, "but he's too important to take his chances with the rest of us. You have a plan to get out of here without a fight. You wanted to take the General with you. We want that too. Take him with you."
"He's unconscious," said Duncan. But he could feel his mind beginning to work. There was a way.
Someone spoke in Samiochi, and Duncan turned in time to catch the Steward lunging towards him. His knife slid smoothly into the flesh of the Steward's gut and when Duncan pulled it out, it brought with it a glop of blood.
The Steward's face pinched with pain and shock as he slid to the ground. Duncan crouched beside him. He looked around the chamber. The Samiochis stood around the edge of the chamber, silently watching them.
Duncan turned his attention back to the Steward, who had his hand over his gut wound. Blood oozed between his fingers.
"I am not nameless or pathless," he said. "I am named Duncan the Halfblood, and my path is to oppose the tyranny and cruelty of men like you, your prince, and your Prophets."
The Steward opened his mouth, croaked in pain, and shut it. His face went slack.
Over his shoulder he said, "Lord Fearghill, don a princeguard uniform. You and the boy carry Salomao between you."
Duncan stood. "You must trust me," he said to Fearghill and the boy. "I am going to give you the seeming of those dead princeguards."
"Seeming...?" said the general's second-in-command.
"Close your eyes," said Duncan. "Your eyes are what trick you."
As eyelids flickered down around the room, Duncan closed his own eyes too. He needed all his concentration for this. He had never tried to give a seeming to anyone except himself before.
He reached out wit his mind and found Fearghill and the boy, Salomao hanging between them.
Two bright minds and one dim with unconsciousness. He drew them close, and wrapped around them the illusion of the two guards who had died earlier, on either side of Maran. Felt the edges of his knack straining.
Keep their minds close.
Clothed himself in the seeming of the Steward. Expanded to fill the profile of the larger man.
Reached out to the Samiochis in the room. This is what you see. Gave the seeming from his mind to theirs.
His knack stretched a little further. He felt the beginnings of a headache between his temples.
Nothing more to do.
"Open your eyes," he said.
YOU ARE READING
The Forest's HeartFantasy
Vallebrion is one of the old places -- a forest where the old and new worlds lie side by side. Clara has grown up walking its shadowed paths and green glens, and one day the man she takes as husband will be Master of Vallebrion and the mysteries tha...