Berren stepped cautiously through the space where the panel had been into a long wide passage that ran along the back of the castle. Here and there glimmers of light crept through narrow slits of windows.
‘We used to call this the Long Gallery,’ whispered Syannis. ‘Go left. That way leads to the royal apartments. Meridian should be there. And Aimes.’
‘You’re never going to get him out. Not quietly enough. Not through all those doors and passages.’
‘What if he
On either side pictures hung on the walls; in alcoves busts stood on pedestals. There was too little light to make out the faces staring down out of the shadows, but their presence made Berren’s skin tingle. He felt himself being watched. Something didn’t feel right. He stopped. In the gloom Syannis almost walked into him.
‘Listen!’ Berren stood absolutely still and held his breath. Faint noises came from outside: the wind, the idle chatter of a pair of bored guards by the wall, even a distant hiss that might have been the sea. Within, everything was quiet.
‘I hear nothing. Come on!’ Syannis pushed passed him.
‘Yeh. Nothing.’ And that wasn’t right, was it? Anxiously, Berren followed. At the end of the gallery an archway led into darkness.
‘The king’s apartments. Aimes’ rooms will be here somewhere.’
Berren stopped again. The feeling in the pit of his stomach was getting worse. If these were the king’s apartments, then where were the king’s guard?
‘The sun-chapel is to the left. Through the arch.’ Syannis’s voice was barely audible now. ‘That’s how we get out. There’s another passage down to the caves. The rooms on the right will be the king’s. Go straight on.’
‘Where are the guards?’
‘Guards?’ Syannis snorted. ‘
The darkness was so complete that Berren had to hold his hands out in front of him not to walk into a wall. He took one careful step after another, dreading the moment he’d put a foot down and tread on a creaking board or a sleeping cat. But this was a castle, he told himself. The floors were made of stone; there wouldn’t be any animals roaming free at night, nor would there be plates, mugs, bowls or any of the other things his feet had found while creeping through people’s bedrooms.
He fumbled his way through the darkness and into another long hallway. There were more narrow windows here, letting in just enough starlight to see by.
‘The king will be at the far end,’ whispered Syannis. ‘The other rooms will be Meridian’s and the princess’s.’
‘Gelisya?’ The uncomfortable feeling turned sharp. He found himself thinking of Saffran Kuy. Saffran Kuy, who had his fingers all over Meridian’s little princess, whether Meridian knew it or not. ‘I’m telling you, this doesn’t feel right. It shouldn’t be so dark. If not guards then there should be pot boys. Maids. Night servants.
Syannis hissed between his teeth, ‘What do you suggest? We can hardly come back again another day, not
Time slowed. Berren lunged for Syannis, trying to pull him away, but his legs felt as though they were made of treacle. Syannis lifted the latch and pushed and then everything Berren had been afraid of began to happen.
‘He’s here!’ shouted a voice behind the door. ‘He’s here! To arms!’
Old memories filled Berren’s head of all the times he’d nearly been caught as a boy. When all you could do was run and dodge, dart down the narrowest, darkest, least used alleys. Some place narrow where big men would be slow, some place high where they couldn’t reach, then some place dark where they wouldn’t see you. You hid, and you prayed.
‘The sun-chapel!’ snapped Syannis. He lunged with his sword into the darkness and roared. There was a grunt and a crash. Berren fled back to the chapel, but the archway was filled with men coming the other way now. Real terror gripped him — more soldiers, and they’d been lying in wait! He must have walked right past them without knowing!
In the darkness he couldn’t see how many there were. He had no idea even where Syannis was. He staggered. A hand clutched at his arm. He wrenched himself away.
‘Run, boy!’ The thief-taker’s voice. He was already ahead. Berren bolted, bouncing off the walls as he ran. He caught a glimpse of the thief-taker in the shadows of the Long Gallery. Other dark shapes were running through the far end of the hall. More soldiers!
Syannis skidded through the hidden doorway into the armoury. Berren skittered after him. There were guards only seconds behind him, coming from both ends of the gallery, but they
He crashed into Syannis, who was fumbling at the guardroom door with a key. The thief-taker swore. Berren slammed the door into the Long Gallery shut behind him and put his shoulder to it. ‘For the love of the sun! Keep your exit open! First rule of thieving you daft bastard!’ The first soldiers crashed into the other side of the door and almost knocked Berren off his feet, forcing him slowly backwards. A sword stabbed through the gap, missing him by an inch.
‘Got it!’ Syannis had the other door open. Berren screwed up his eyes and leaped towards it. Soldiers sprawled into the armoury sending crossbows crashing all about. A hand caught his arm. The grip was strong, strong enough to spin him around before he broke free. He stumbled as he lurched out of the armoury.
‘Get him! Get him!’
Syannis was ahead, darting down the steps to the cellar. Berren flashed past the dead guards slumped at their table, soldiers pouring after him. He felt the air move as someone threw a spear and missed the back of his head by a hair’s breadth. He raced through the cellar, down the steps and round the corner towards the Pit. The soldiers’ armour and swords slowed them down. He was gaining on them.
He unbuckled his belt and threw it to the floor, sword and all, ready for the sump. With a bit of luck someone would trip over it. Syannis was right in front of him now, slowing him down. They reached the cave where Hain was waiting for them. Around the pit, Berren ran one way, Syannis the other. There must have been at least a dozen soldiers chasing him, but Berren felt like laughing again, because he knew they’d never catch him. He’d reach the sump and be in and they’d never-
Out of the darkness a figure stepped in front of him. Berren didn’t even have time to see who it was, but there was only one person it could be: Hain. They smashed into each other. Something hit Berren’s head. He stumbled a few steps, staggered into the low wall around the Pit, almost fell in, pushed himself away and then someone was on his back, bearing him down, pressing him into the ground with such force he could barely breathe. He thrashed and squirmed and watched, helpless, as Syannis reached the sump while more arms grabbed at his legs.
But the thief-taker didn’t dive into the water; he kept coming. The soldiers holding Berren down suddenly let go and scrabbled away, and then Syannis was among them, slashing and stabbing like a wild thing. They fell back from his assault and for a moment Berren was free. He didn’t pause. As soon as he was on his feet, he ran.
He didn’t have a sword any more, but even if he had there were too many guards. The last thing he saw before he hurled himself into the water was Syannis, backing after him, holding off half a dozen men, with more racing around the Pit to take him from behind.
The water was like ice. On the other side, he waited, dripping wet and freezing cold, but Syannis never came. Eventually, long after he knew there was no point in waiting any more, he left. The horses were exactly where Syannis had said they would be.
Hain. They’d all say it was Hain who’d betrayed Master Sy, who’d warned Meridian that the thief-taker was coming, the when and the how, but Berren wasn’t so sure. Just at the very end, he’d seen a face lying in the darkness. Hain’s dead eyes, open wide, staring at some unseen terror. And in that moment he thought he’d caught a smell of something that shouldn’t have been there. A whiff of rotting fish.