A means of escape

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The palace grounds were extensive and elaborate, covering a third of the mesa's plateau, consisting of a lush mixture of mazes, fountains, artificial waterways, bandstands and amphitheatres and open spaces for official events. These latter areas were lined with and intersected by beautifully ornate flower arrangements, some climbing high over arches and twisting around summerhouses and benches.

Tranton walked between rows of red and orange and purple petals and leaves, alternating his gaze between the oddly clean and pure chalky gravel underfoot and the exquisitely carved topiary leading into a maze up ahead. In Hollanhead he'd purposefully bought a house with no garden, knowing that he would never spend time in it. Lani had cited that as a reason to leave him, in the end, of all things.

He could admire the technical craft and artistry of a place, much as he appreciated the effort and skill required in any endeavour. The sculpted, deliberate poise of the palace gardens was no different to watching a crew operate a schooner against rolling waves, or a carpenter carving a comfortable chair, or a blacksmith hammering out a blade. But unlike those, gardens served no functional purpose. Tranton received no benefit from them and sought pleasures elsewhere. He had always travelled so that he could discover people and places and the dirt they live in and leave behind; ornamental gardens were too pristine and designed to earn the satisfying, surprising unpredictability of a natural forest or meadow, or the chaotic patterns seen in the streets of a city or on the curl of ocean waves.

The gardens were emptied, save the carefully selected palace guards who walked at a cautious but respectable distance from him, primarily serving to keep him within sight rather than provide protection. They had arranged for him to be able to walk in the gardens unobserved, which meant he didn't need to wear a ridiculous disguise under the beating sun, which seemed to be increasing in intensity with each passing day. Tranton still didn't quite believe the warnings he'd received about how people would react to his appearance, but he would let them have their paranoia for a while yet. He was to have his first meeting with Kirya Tellador, the heir to the throne. He'd heard that she was eager to make his acquaintance, which was charmingly pathetic. She was in for quite a disappointment. The notion of meeting a princess was not one that filled Tranton with joy; his continued proximity to such powerful creatures unnerved him. He wanted to be back on the road, exploring and meeting whoever he chanced upon. He'd underestimated the difficulty of leaving the palace, only gradually realising that the mesas were not only defensively brilliant but were also designed to make it impossible to leave should you not have the king's explicit permission. That was all about to change, however: Tranton had a keen eye and had been piecing together a map of the grounds and the topography of the mesa, working it through in his head to identify a route. It was the same method that had navigated him through the Barrier Mountains, so getting off a rocky plateau would be simple compared to the featureless, slippery ice of the glaciers.

In his peripheral vision he was aware of the guards, weapons sheathed but present, walking at pace with him, triggering a memory of being stalked by wolves up on the peaks. The wolves, at least, he could kill; in this rediscovered valley he was trapped by etiquette and politeness and imposed responsibility - all the things he'd left Hollanhead specifically to avoid.

Walking in a clear line towards a long, rectangular waterway, he eyed the guards moving ahead and to the sides, covering his potential movements while attempting to look like he was free to move as he wished. At the last moment Tranton diverged from his route, increasing his pace, and instead darting into a maze. Immediately enveloped by six-foot high hedges, adorned with sculpted figures and patterns, he was momentarily out of sight. Moving to a slow jog, he pressed ahead through the maze, heading left, following the route he'd memorised from a previous, more leisurely and supervised expedition. He had no interest in reaching the centre of the maze, instead pursuing a route that would take him around the outer circumference. The leaves rushed by as he broke into a run, knowing that the guards would by now have entered the maze and would be fanning out to cover his potential movements. The puzzle's deceptive layout would be of no concern to the guards, who knew the garden's layout intimately.

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