Updated: May 24, 2020
She stayed up that night. Afraid of the dreams that might plague her and what that might do to her resolve once she saw Atal again. Nevan was up and had the horses watered, fed and readied before the stable boys had even woken. Caoinlin helped him, jittery despite her lack of sleep. The fog held off, but a resurgence of moisture in the air left the world blurry at the edges.
Caoinlin ate her porridge without tasting it. Though the last of night hadn’t broken from the horizon, the whole of the town was awake and roaming restlessly through the streets. A foursome of beefy horses was brought out. They pawed at the ground as they were hitched to the prisoners’ wagon.
The soldiers posted on the wall half-turned, watching the river with one eye and the preparations with the other. Carrigan oversaw the assemblage of the transport team with opaque silence. The wagon was just that, a wagon. The sideboards were not high and any one of the prisoners would be easily able to drop over the edge or be pulled over.
Finally, the ribbons of black faded to pink-tinged white in the sky, and the prisoners were brought out. The chains on their feet had been removed. Their hands were chained before them. They had been blindfolded and gagged. Each man was pushed up against the side of the wagon. Once inside, a guard climbed in and chained their feet once more. Atal was the third to come out and was pushed down at the end of the wagon.
“Sergeant Alleen.” Carrigan’s voice had taken on a subdued bluntness. He marched up behind Caoinlin followed by a stout young man who walked like he had a boulder tied to his back. “This is the Mhasc Caoin,” Carrigan said. “This is Sergeant Alleen. He will be in charge of the transport operation.”
Caoinlin nodded in greeting. Alleen’s rectangular face was unreadable. He nodded in return and then said in a confident, business-like tone, “You will escort abaft.”
“Abaft?” she repeated.
Carrigan sighed. “After, behind? It’s a sea-faring term. That’s what we are here on the coast, sea-farers. But perhaps your expertise is in destroying ships, not sailing them.”
“No,” Caoinlin replied. “My expertise lies mainly in the many varied and lesser known methods of killing a man. But I wouldn’t call myself an expert, it’s an ongoing education. I learn something new every time.”
Carrigan glowered. Alleen’s wide lips clamped down on a grin before Carrigan could notice. Alleen ducked his head and turned to give instructions to the other four soldiers accompanying them. Carrigan managed a stiff smile.
“Safe journeys, Masked Wolf,” Carrigan said blackly.
“May we both live to meet again.” She mounted her horse as Carrigan stalked away. She settled in the saddle and noticed Atal had his face turned in her direction. She looked over her shoulder as the Captain emerged, held a brief conference with Alleen before the sergeant mounted his own mottled rouncey.
Duff started toward her, but an angry shout echoed out from the crowd on the other side of the fort’s gate, stopping him. The townsfolk had gathered at the gate. Rage contorted their faces into ugly masks. In the shadows of the fortress, their eyes were black. The first outburst quickly swelled into a riotous clamor of vicious calls for blood and shouts for justice. The Captain gestured to his men. Obediently, the soldier filed past to muscle the townsfolk back and clear a path for the wagon.
The Captain strode over, his shoulders square, his hands clasped behind his back.
“You are too reckless. You will not survive Mhasc Caoin,” he told her emotionlessly. “There is no glory in this land for you.”
She tightened her grip on her reins. “Stay vigilant, Captain.”
Duff patted Flegel’s neck. “Heroes die every day.”
“Then it is a good thing I am no hero,” she replied stiffly, her breath misting before her in the fragile half-light of morning.
“I fear that all your noble words will prove worth no more than the air they’re spoken on,” he said. “But what I fear more, is that you will prove true to all your claims. And people will begin to drop their guard and we will be left more vulnerable than ever before.”
She wanted to argue with him but found no way to refute what he said. And then the wagon driver snapped his reins and the wagon lurched forward with a wooden creak and collective jangle of chains.
And they set out to deliver the Ulic to the King.