The ring of eman vath, p.29
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       The Ring of Eman Vath, p.29

           Hal Emerson
 

  Chapter Twenty-three: Fort Turin

  Wren was starting to wish he’d stayed in prison. Bouncing up and down on a stolen horse, racing through the night after a girl who looked like a Sorev Ael but, now that he thought about it, couldn’t be a Sorev Ael because she was a girl, and running from who knew how many soldier-pirate-bastards intent on killing him or worse?

  Yes. Prison had been better.

  “Hurry up!” the girl snapped, throwing a glare over her shoulder at him, that thick brown braid of hers whipping as she turned her head.

  “I’m bloody going!” he retorted, desperately holding onto the horse with his knees. He had never been a good rider – he’d barely had any practice – and though he was fine on streets during the day, riding through an untamed forest at night was a whole different thing. In fact, he was quite certain that he was doing such a bad job of it that he might as well have sat backwards and tried to steer with his mind.

  “Hurry!” she snapped again.

  “Wha – crazy person, I’m trying!”

  “Shh! They’re following us, don’t be so loud!”

  “What – I’m not – you’re the one – !”

  “Shhh!”

  “Bloody hell, your braidness!”

  The light of torches behind them gave away the position of the men that were following them, though the clouds above had closed up and were darkening further. The rain had slackened and then cut off, but the air was heavy with moisture, and Wren was relatively certain that the deluge might start up again at any moment.

  The maybe-a-Sorev-Ael-maybe-just-crazy girl had whispered something that sounded like music to Wren’s ears and produced two flickering balls of light that flitted ahead of them and lit their way. They gave off just enough light to see by, and the horses, as eager as their riders to get as far away from the burning grove as possible, leapt rocks, trees, and forest debris with alacrity as they sought to follow the bouncing progress of the witchlights.

  The girl pulled up short out of nowhere, and Wren hauled back on the reins of his horse, trying to stop. The beast let out a snort of anger and nearly fell over backwards as it reared up in alarm.

  “Whoa! What are you doing?” the girl hissed. “Don’t pull so hard, it’s a horse not a cart!”

  Wren calmed the horse with a hasty petting and glared at the girl.

  “I dislike you,” he said.

  She ignored him and looked forward, whipping that braid of hers back around as she did. Wren looked over her shoulder and saw where and why they’d stopped: they were at the bottom of a short ravine, near a brook. Wren supposed it would have been a babbling one, like in the stories, if they weren’t running for their lives from soldier-pirate-bastards. And beyond that brook were two woodland trails that led off in two very different directions.

  “Which one do we take?” Wren asked quickly, looking up them both. They looked the same to him, but that was all right – the girl knew where they were going. He glanced at her to see which way she was looking, and then took in the confusion on her face. The bottom dropped out of his stomach.

  “Oh, by the – you don’t know which one?”

  “No – I do, it’s – it’s that – no, this – ”

  “Maybe if someone had kept her eyes on the trail instead of badgering me about my horse – ”

  “I’ll remember!”

  There were crashing sounds behind them, and they both spun to see the torch flames of their pursuers closing in as their horses kicked through the underbrush.

  “Pick a way, pick a way, pick a way!” Wren said.

  “I – but I don’t know – what if we pick wrong?!”

  “That’s it,” Wren said, “this one!”

  His sank his heels into the flanks of his horse, grabbed tightly the reins of Samson’s horse, and tried to ride forward. But before he got anywhere, the girl’s hand shot out and grabbed him, pulling him back. His horse whinnied in protest, and he was about to echo its sentiments, when the girl held up a hand.

  “Wait,” she said, her voice completely different now.

  “Wait?! Oh, of course. We’re on the run for our lives, but let’s just wait!”

  She ignored him. The look on her face deepened, almost as if she were listening for something. The thought that she might actually be insane crossed his mind then, and honestly he wouldn’t have been much surprised with the way his luck had been going. A girl out in the middle of the Wilds with nothing but a horse and a stick living in a grove of trees? If that wasn’t the very picture of insanity, then he was a stuck pig.

  “This way,” she said, and then continued up the way he’d already chosen.

  “What – that’s what – hey!”

  She ignored him, and there was nothing to do but hurry after her. They raced along the path and then down another, the girl seemingly more confident with each new turning. The sounds of pursuit were still behind them, though, and it was clear that should they stop again they would risk being overtaken.

  They burst through a final tree line and found themselves looking up at the Barrier Mountains and the Turin Pass, a huge cascade of frozen rocky waves ascending to the sky until they were lost in cloud. The rain that had been threatening to fall made good on its promise as thunder cracked and the skies broke open again. They hurried up the mountainside, fighting against the rushing wind that blew raindrops in their faces and forced them to narrow their eyes to slits.

  “There!”

  He followed the outstretched finger more than the word, which he barely heard before the wind tore it from her lips and tossed it away. They made for the pass, the wide stone mouth that was the only way into the land of Aeon from the Northern Wilds, and only there did they stop and look back.

  They saw a swarm of motion down below, just past the tree line, and Wren’s heart leapt into his mouth when he picked out a figure clothed in skeletal armor.

  A second sorcerer.

  This figure, eerily like the first, raised a finger at Wren, and he felt sweat break out all over his body even in the freezing cold night. The men surrounding the sorcerer heeled their horses up the slope, racing toward them.

  “Quick!” the girl shouted over the wind. “Into the pass!”

  Wren followed her.

  They out-raced the rain, that much was certain; for whatever reason, the clouds massed low over the Wilds could not make it over the Barrier itself, and so as they passed through steep slopes covered in blooming grass and flowers, and even through the higher, rocky switchback passes that still bore the evidence of winter snow, they found themselves moving from wet to dry.

  They raced on through the night, staying just ahead of their pursuit.

 
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