Jarrah walked briskly in the advancing darkness, casting his eyes about, missing nothing in the shadowed alleys he passed. He had an ominous feeling in the aftermath of his short audience with King Lathas. That woman was causing trouble. It infuriated him that she had the nerve to worm her way into the king’s counsel, and more so that he could not fathom her intentions. He knew enough to realize that those intentions were not friendly to him, and likely the kingdom; beyond that, he was in the dark.
This last observation was proving increasingly true in the literal sense; soon he would not be able to see possible threats as well as he would like. He placed a hand on the pommel of his sword and quickened his pace. He needed to get out of the open.
Fortunately, his destination was just around the corner. The zoo was nearby; even at this hour, the cries of the animals that preferred the dark could be heard periodically. Jarrah slipped into an alley that led away from the high fence surrounding the zoo and turned almost immediately down another. At the end of that short passage was a sturdy wooden door, on which the outline of a gnome could be faintly seen beneath the large wooden plank that read “CLOSED.” Disregarding the sign, Jarrah pushed open the door and entered the pub.
He was not the only one in the city with contempt for CLOSED signs. In one corner a candle burned, and several men sat hunched around a circular table, waited on by the bar’s owner, one Miss Cassie, who appeared to be actively engaged in the conversation. She looked up in alarm at the sound of the door opening, but relaxed upon seeing that her visitor was Jarrah. A member of the king’s personal guard at this hour would normally be an unwelcome sight, Jarrah mused. Strange times.
Cassie approached him with a smile. “About time you arrived,” she said. “We were getting worried. Though I won’t lie,” she said with a little laugh, “it was nice having something else to talk about for a change. The talk just goes in circles and it gets wearing after a while, you know?”
“You’ll be having a bit more to talk about very shortly,” Jarrah replied without a hint of a smile.
Cassie’s vanished. “We haven’t been discovered, have we?” she asked fearfully.
“Not yet,” said Jarrah. “But we are going to have to be ready for the day.” He brushed past her and approached the table where the men were gathered. They turned to look at him, and he saw the faces of the few knights of Ardougne that had wits enough to smell a rat. They also had wits enough to know that tonight, something was going to happen. The leader of their little band didn’t simply decide to take a stroll and get there when he got there. Tonight, they would be talking about more than vague suspicions and even vaguer plans of action.
“Let me begin with why I was late,” said Jarrah. “I was summoned to an audience with the king.”
“Was the witch there?” asked one of the younger knights, leaning forward with some intensity. Jarrah had always thought that Roshea was too young for the responsibility of a paladin of Ardougne. He found himself vindicated by the young man’s display of fascination with the woman he liked to call a witch.
“Yes, Roshea, Lady Ophelia was there,” Jarrah said tersely. Roshea leaned back in his chair with a satisfied expression. No doubt he was proud of his skills of inference. “The subject of the meeting—”
Jarrah was interrupted by a loud pounding on the door. Cassie, who had been bringing him a drink, dropped it with a gasp. Jarrah flinched inwardly; now the caller knew they were home. “Open up in there!” The voice resonated clearly, officiously, from the other side of the door. “By order of the king, you are to present yourself or selves for arrest!”
“I locked it behind you,” Cassie whispered in answer to Jarrah’s questioning look. He gave her an approving nod. It would buy them some time. Not much, but some. He turned back to his knights, all of whom were on their feet with weapons half-drawn.
“I suppose I don’t have to tell you now that they may suspect our activities,” he said dryly. “We make for the rally point we discussed. Out the back door. Go.”
Without a word of protest, the first of the men made his way around the bar and to the kitchen. The rest fell in behind him. Roshea gave Jarrah a look that he might have called insolent if he had the time to be analyzing the expressions of his allies. He turned back to Cassie. “You go too,” he ordered.
Before Cassie could reply, a second voice rang out from behind the door. “Sir Jarrah,” called the distinctively female voice. “Do come out, now. We have you surrounded.”
Jarrah did not stop to think about Ophelia’s voice. He dove over the bar and scrambled for the back entrance, where raised voices had become audible. He saw his men standing clustered near the door, heard a ring of steel on steel, and then was pushing through them, shouting all the while, “Go, go, break through and get out!” He drew his own weapon and met the first guard head on.
The fact that he was fighting his own subordinates did not for one second stay Jarrah’s hand. He delivered a single sweeping cut to the first guard before the man had time to even think of defending himself. The second man was faster. Jarrah’s first blow was parried, but clumsily; he broke the man’s guard and ran him through. He was vaguely aware of the flurry of motion around him that concealed his men in a mass of city guards, but did not concern himself with it. He would remain until every one of his men was clear.
The third ripped a hole in his sleeve and drew blood from a shallow cut; the fourth delivered a blow to his head with a gauntleted fist that sent him reeling. He staggered into a wall and lashed out blindly, sliding to the side to avoid any incoming attacks. A hand seized him roughly by the forearm. “Sir!”
Jarrah’s eyes slowly focused on the face of Roshea. His countenance was bloody, but so was his blade. “Sir Jarrah, you must flee! The rebellion cannot carry on without you.”
Rebellion. Had it truly come to that? Jarrah tried to speak. Roshea shoved him roughly. “Go!” he implored.
Jarrah knew good sense when he heard it. He bade Roshea cover him and turned, pounding down the alleyway. He heard Roshea shout and looked over his shoulder. The young man was struggling valiantly with the guard who had pinned his arms behind his back, shouting insults mixed with a continuous mantra of “Run, sir, run!”
More hands were on him, but they were friends, his men. Jarrah tore his eyes away from the captured knight and followed his band of rebels into the night.