We are running (well, fast walking, and even that hurts) through the streets of the city, and I realize which way we’re going. I come to a stop. “We need to turn around, Mia. This is taking us away from the palace.”
Mia has two facial expressions when she’s talking to me: loving and determined. I see the latter now. She says, “No, this is the right way. For all we know, the palace guard has also been instructed to apprehend you. I need to get you somewhere safe. Now, move it!”
Can’t gainsay Mia. Even if I could, it would do no use. I don’t have my walking stick anymore. Mia broke it beating down the third of Haulloran’s men. So I am walking with a limp that is rapidly getting worse.
I don’t even recognize the part of the city we’re in. It’s way off the main roads. Mia takes me down a few narrow alleys. And then she stops at a door, and raps loudly on it with what I presume is a specific pattern of knocks.
The door opens just a bit. A dark, curly-haired man looks out. Mia steps up, sticks her foot in the door, and then says something in a low voice I can’t quite catch. The man’s eyes go wide, he opens up the door, and we scoot in. He closes it behind him.
He turns to Mia. “Are you being actively pursued?”
Mia shakes her head. “Back at the Great Market. Shook them.”
The man looks uneasily at me. He turns again to Mia. “I have a room upstairs.”
Mia smiles. “Fourth floor. You will need to help me with my master. His left leg is injured.”
I start to object, but Mia switches to “determined look” again and says to me, “If you do not willingly accept our help, I will force you to do so, master.”
What can I say?
We climb, which is to say the man and Mia bear most of my weight while I gingerly try not to use my left leg on the stairs. We make it up two flights to the third floor, which looks like the attic. And then the man pulls down a set of stairs, steeper than any of the others, and we climb up into the actual attic of this building, a well-furnished room with a bed, a library, and a pantry. There’s even a skylight.
The man says, “He’ll be safe here for a while. Name? Who’s after him?”
Mia jumps right in before I can say anything. “Tollon, apprentice to Court Magician Sarton. The Earl of Haulloran sent men to bring him in for interrogation. We don’t know exactly why.”
“And you were wise enough not to stick around and ask.” The man looks grim. “You have a plan?”
“Keep him here,” Mia gestures toward me. “I will contact his master, who will decide what to do next. You will be directly compensated.”
“Good to know, considering the risks I’m taking,” the man says, with an unfavorable glance at me. He heads down the stair.
Once he’s out of earshot, Mia says to me, “Just stay here, master. Don’t ask the man any questions about himself. He’ll take care of you. I will inform Sarton what has happened.”
Mia turns to go, but I grab her by the shoulder. Despite what I fear, she does not stop me, but turns back and gives me her usual loving gaze. “Yes, master?”
“How do you know about this place? Why is this man willing to do what you ask?”
Mia replies, “Is it not the job of every slave to protect their master? I would be a bad slave if I did not have the means to do so. Now, you must let me go, master. The sooner I leave, the sooner I can bring rescue.”
I let go. Mia turns, goes down the stairs, and then the stairs rise up and close off the passage in the floor. I try stepping on this door in the floor. It does not yield. There is no obvious way to unlatch it. I’m stuck here.