Even nobility, it seems, values the back door exit. Earl Haulloran informs me the tunnel leading out of his suite from a secret door was built by his great-grandfather for just such an occasion as this. It even has a chest of clothes in it, with a filled purse, for any earl or lady unlucky enough to be routed out of their beds. We pause while those two change into something more suitable for outdoors. Then we push on to the end. The earl smiles as we reach a door, push it open, and find ourselves down by the riverbank.
I look around. “Luckily the morning fog hasn’t burnt off.”
The Earl snickers. “Oh, my grandfather was more intelligent than that, Tollon. We’re below the top of the bank. We can’t be seen from the palace no matter what the weather.” His smile drops as he looks back up at the bank. “Still, no reason to assume they won’t figure out what’s happened sooner or later. We need to go upstream and catch a boat across the river as quickly as possible. Friends will help us to horses.”
As we walk upstream, I say to the earl, “I should leave you at the boat.”
Lady Gwella gives me a suspicious look. “You’re in this with us, Tollon. No backing out now.”
I shake my head. “I’m in it to see you to safety. Once you get across the river, you’ll be contacting your friends. The less I know about them, the less I can inform on you, if it comes to that.”
“If you come with us, that won’t be a worry,” Lady Gwella insists.
The earl gives me a thoughtful look before he speaks. And then he addresses his wife first. “Ah, but he might be worried how safe he’ll be in our hands. He might wonder if he will become, ah, expendable. I can’t blame him for that.” He turns back to me as we walk. “You have a way to hide? Perhaps your lethal little slave-friend?”
He means Mia. Oh, I wish. I shake my head. “She’s long gone. But I have allies in the city who will hide me. And from them I can learn what’s going on in the palace. Is there any way I can safely communicate with you once you’re back in Haulloran?”
The earl thinks. Before he can answer, Lady Gwella pulls a ring off one of her fingers and offers it to me. “You know how to do this?” she asks.
I nod and take the ring. Lady Gwella explains to her husband, “He can reach me with magic, but I can keep him from finding me. It’s safe.”
We continue wordlessly until we reach the Upper Wharf. The earl engages a boat. While he does so, Lady Gwella addresses me in an undertone. “I know there’s something you’re hiding, Tollon. What it is I can’t imagine. But play me false and I’ll be sure you’ll not survive the experience.”
I reply in a similar tone. “I’ve no intention of playing you false. And in truth, Lady Gwella, I can assure you without a doubt that you cannot imagine my reason why.”
Lady Gwella doesn’t take that well. But her husband calls. We go over to the boat, act as if this is a normal parting in from of the boatmen, and they are gone.
I get off the wharf and take the road back into the city. I don’t have the connections of the earl. Hiding in the countryside would not work for me. No, it’s back to disappear in the city, where the throngs of people will hide me.
I see some of the palace guard coming down the road toward me, and duck into a beer garden. The guards don’t even notice me. They just march on by. It appears the king has figured out that the earl has fled, and is trying to cut off any escape. He’s too late.
As soon as they’re gone, I get back on the road. Somehow, whether from the Haulloran’s porter at the palace, or the boatmen at the wharf, they’re going to figure out that I was with the earl and lady. Which means there’s a watchmaker I need to go see.