Friday, January 18, 2013

Part 5

We stopped at midday in a small town, no more than a village, really. Caleb gave me a hooded cloak to help hid my face. I supposed the men wanted to take no chances with their mysterious pursuers.
     I had uneasily turned over the previous night's conversation in my mind as we rode all morning. Who would want me? It seemed there were more people looking for me than the three who'd captured me the previous night.
     We stopped at a small inn, cloaked despite the heat of the day. The smallest man ordered drinks for himself and the two others, and food four the four of us. Was this customary treatment of captives? I was again surprised by the unexpected care they took on my behalf.
     We ate quickly and without speaking much. I suspected that the men had plans to discuss, but did not want to speak in front of me, and within earshot of the others in the inn. When we had finished our food, the sandy-haired man dug out a few coins, while the other, who by now I figured to be the leader of the group, made his way to the opposite corner of the inn and sat across from a dark-haired man with a scar down his cheek.
     "Don't stare," Caleb whispered in my ear. "Dom's just getting our border passes." Despite his words, I could not help but look. The two talked quietly for a few moments, then the scarred man passed over several sheets of paper. He nodded across the inn at us, and our little band left the crowded room.
     We fetched our horses as quickly as we could without attracting attention, and we were soon out of sight of the town.
     "He says they've discovered her absence," said Dom. "We must ride hard."

I was an unskilled horsewoman, and after an hour or so, I felt ready to fall off the back of the horse, but Caleb held me steady and kept the horse at pace.
     We reached the border of Morden in the late afternoon. A wall more than twice my height marked the boundary of the nearest city, Aloren. My companions, however, seemed undaunted. They rode confidently up to the guard, and handed over the papers Dom had picked up at midday.
     The guard looked at us quizzically, and for a heart-stopping moment, I thought he would not let us through. Part of me marveled how quickly I'd grown attached to these men who had, after all, kidnapped me. But they'd shown me nothing but kindness, and I had a taste for adventure. Finally, the guard handed back the papers and waved us through.
     The streets of Aloren were narrow and winding, but Dom led us without once consulting a map. We rode to a small stable on the outskirts of town, where Dom paid a stablehand to put up the horses for the night. When I looked questioningly at Caleb, he explained,
     "The horses will be conspicuous where we're going. Better just to leave them here."
     As evening approached, we walked through the darkening city, turning through side-streets and alleys so often that I'd be lost in a moment should I try to find my way through town alone.
     At last we stopped in front of a dingy apartment. We climbed two flights of stairs, and Dom knocked three times on a worn wooden door. Footsteps and hushed voices approached the other side. Someone peered through the peephole at the four of us, slightly bedraggled from our previous night on the ground and our day of hard riding. The door opened, and a tall blond man opened his arms to us with a smile.
     "Dom, Caleb, Arthur! We weren't expecting you for another hour at least. Come in, quickly." He shooed us inside, and my companions greeted the group of men, whom they seemed to know well. The man turned to look at me. "And you must be Miss Lena. I am Jo, the leader of our company. Please set down your bags. You look exhausted. You are, after all, our guest."
     My head snapped up. "Guest, sir?"
     "We had to keep you in the dark until now. Had you been captured en route, we did not want you to be associated with us any more than you had to."
     "Pardon me, sir. Could you explain what's going on?"
     Jo looked around instinctively, then leaned closer. "We are revolutionaries. And you, my dear, are our secret weapon."

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