The newcomer ducked. The dagger in his attacker's fist whistled over his head. He twisted, trying to put himself in a position to throw the man off balance. Sensing his intention, his attacker turned with him, thrusting the short blade at his abdomen. Another turn, and a foot of steel tore open his shirt's midsection rather than his belly. He thrust upward with his knee, catching the dagger man in the side and doubling him over. He followed through, catching the man's arm as he fell and twisted. The man screamed, his dagger falling to the cobbles with a clang. A kick brought the newcomer down to the filthy ground beside him as he reached for his fallen blade. The newcomer grabbed the man by his long, oily hair and pulled hard, slamming his free hand into the back of the man's head as he stumbled to his feet. There was a crack, and blood spurted from the dagger man's nose. The newcomer kicked the blade away, towards the back of the alley.
There was the sound of heavy boots running on pavement. The dagger man's friends were coming. The newcomer clambered up the crates and barrels stacked at the end of the alley, grabbing for a ledge so he could hoist himself up. He hoped he could make it up to the rooftops before more of them came.
Four heavy-set figures rushed in from the street, clubs and knives in meaty fists. One knelt over the fallen dagger man and peered into the gloom of the alley, cursing. Above them, Jax pressed himself against the sloping tile roof of a tailor's shop, heart pounding like a Karamjan drum. He checked his jacket's inside pocket, feeling for the reassuring weight of what he'd been sent to deliver. He breathed a sigh of relief. At least the night's cuts and bruises had been worth it.
'My lord?' the guard said, stepping into the chamber. 'He is here.'
Sitting behind his desk, Lord Prysin nodded. 'Let him in. Inform Captain Rovin that I will require his presence within the hour.'
'Yes, my lord.'
The visitor stepped into Prysin's office, bowing smartly and taking a seat without waiting for an invitation. Prysin poured a drink. The visitor calmly unbuttoned his waistcoat. There was a pause.
Lord Prysin took a sip. 'Well?'
'It's true,' he said.
Prysin sighed. 'As we feared. And our allies?'
'Asgarnia's envoy arrived this morning. The king has called for a banquet tonight in honour of the alliance. You are invited.'
'No word as yet. With respect, they are in the middle of a civil war and can't be expected to commit. Your son...'
'I know.' Prysin turned to face the window, his eyes resting on the empty wall bracket beside it. Outside, the sun was setting over Varrock. 'How long has it been, Valkin? Two months?'
'Three months,' Valkin corrected him. 'Three months yesterday since Sir Prysin took up the sword and ventured north.'
'I fear for him,' Prysin admitted. 'Trouble stirs in the wildlands. Have you discovered what it is he's after?'
'Not yet,' Valkin said. 'Reldo has offered to help, but I doubt we will find answers for a while yet.'
He'd been attacked twice more during the day, once as he passed through a mining village east of Falador, and again as he crossed the river Lum. He was bleeding from several cuts, but he had dressed them as best he could. He would survive until he had carried out his duty.
He leaned against a tree, out of sight of the road, breathing hard. He took a sip from his waterskin, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He would have moved much faster on the road, but he knew that the shadows of the trees would shelter him from the treacherous moonlight. He did not want to be seen again, because he was not sure if he could survive another confrontation.
In the distance, he heard a faint snort, followed soon after by the sound of hooves. A rider, maybe more, galloping hard down the road. Looking for him, he knew. He groped his way through the trees as the land rose. It was hard going, and low branches scraped at him as he picked his way through the rocks and roots underfoot.
'No sign of him ahead,' he heard a voice call from above. One rider, then, at the crest of the hill. 'Find him,' cried another, further down. 'He's got to be around here somewhere.'
Jax pressed himself against the ground, crawling upward, trying to distance himself from the road. The object in his pocket jabbed into his ribs, but he kept going. It took twenty minutes, but he finally reached the top of the hill. He could hear more men below. They'd dismounted, and were looking for him in the trees. But he breathed more easily now. His destination was in sight.
A blur of light in the distance, the road arrow-straight towards it. Varrock.
'Thank Saradomin,' Jax breathed. He'd arrive there before the war did.