Fight or Flight
Chapter 21 of Uninvited Guests
Renaud directed the Lady
Richenda to open the door to his wife's cell. He was near staggering
by the weight of the unconscious body draped over his shoulder, yet he
dared not leave his former captor behind, after using his blocking
powers upon Aleksevich. Elise was pressed against the far wall -
evidently she had reason to be afraid of any visitors, he realized
with anger. But Elise gasped as she recognized him, and saw the
unconscious man carried over his shoulder.
"What. . .Who?" She started to ask, but Renaud quieted her, as he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. "No time! We've got to get somewhere safe, quickly. Somewhere where there won't be any guards. Then I can go into his mind to figure out where the portal is." They set off down the corridor, without even time to introduce his wife to the others. Renaud led, since he knew the path best, though less than he would have preferred. He had had little opportunity to learn his way about the fortress, having been restricted in his movements and always accompanied by less-than-patient guards. Richenda followed the Healer, while carrying Briony, and doing her best to reassure the girl and keep her quiet. Elise had quietly taken Crispan's hand, to lead him along the corridor. Rory followed behind, to guard their backs.
They turned down several corridors, all too well-used and well-lit for Renaud to feel it safe to stop, before stopping at a narrow stairwell leading up and down. As he hesitated, trying to decide which course would be safest, several of Aleksevich's men rounded the corner behind them. Renaud recognized the guards, particularly brutal men. The men had already drawn their swords, perhaps having been forewarned by the absence of the guard who should have been guarding the hostages' rooms. There was no way Renaud could bluff, when he carried their unconscious leader, and was accompanied by all the hostages. Besides, the men had guarded Renaud before and knew the Healer was not permitted about the fortress unescorted.
"Stand back or I'll kill him," he whispered. "I can stop his heart in an instant."
"Go ahead!" one of the men smirked. "We've been at this damned dungeon for months, with hardly any wine, and no women at all. We've had a bellyful of his lordship keeping all the women for himself and his little pet Healer."
"Looks like you made a mistake, little Healer," one of the other men agreed. He spat on the floor. "Looks like his lordship did too."
**Up!** Renaud sent urgently to the others. He ducked down, rolling Aleksevich's unconscious body over his shoulder to entangle the men's feet as best he could, then called a wall of flame across the entrance to the stairwell. Though it was a mere illusion, it should hold long enough to buy them time to escape. He scrambled up the stairs after the others, snatching Crispin in order to free Elise to climb faster. They fled along a confused tangle of corridors, some collapsed and open to the bitter wind outside. They heard other footfalls periodically as they ran, voices raised in angry curses, and the clash of weapons.
Finally they came to a stop at a blocked passage, filled with stone. Gasping for breath, Renaud held up a hand for them all to stop. He needed to rest, burdened with the increasingly heavy Crispal, and the women could hardly be in better shape. He let the boy down, and stared around the blocked passage. Crispal immediately buried his face in Elise's skirts, clinging against her.
"What next?" the Duchess asked Renaud. She had not released her daughter, but merely shifted her over to a hip. "I don't know! I'm ten kinds of a fool for leaving Aleksevich. I don't know how to find the portal without him! I don't know what we should do."
"We'll just have to keep going. We'll find the portal, or a way out eventually. We can't just wait here to be recaptured."
Elise spoke up hesitantly, one of her hands stroking Crispal's hair. "But we'll be even worse off if we run into some of the guards again. Maybe we should wait here while Renaud looks. He can come back once he's found a way out." The young boy muttered something against her skirts which Elise didn't catch. "What was that, sweetie?" She knelt down to reassure him. "We'll be alright. Renaud will find a way out."
"But I know a way." The boy knuckled some tears from his eye with a dirty fist.
Elise hugged the boy tightly. "I know you want to help, but this is very important, and you need to let Renaud handle it," she told him. "But I know how to get out! I've seen this room with these circles in it!" he wailed.
"What?" Renaud crouched down too so his eyes were level with the boy's. "Tell me about this room."
"There were these circles, sort of joined together, and they were all greeny-blue, and it felt kind of buzzy."
"Where is this room? How did you see it?"
"This man came to see me every night. He scareded me! He kept asking me who was my dadda."
"Do you know who this man was?" the Healer asked Rory. The prince shook his head. "There's been no one to see us but some guards to bring us food. He must have dreamed it."
"Did not!" Crispal protested. "I remember now, I waked up, and it was all dark and cold, but there was this fire, and this man with golden eyes, and he kept askin' me things, but I saw into his mind too. And then he took me to that room, with all the circles! And I saw it was a way out. An' the man said that if Zini....Zino... Zinovin was my dadda, I could go into the circles, and he wanted me to put my hand on them. But I could tell he was thinking they might hurt me! And I didn't wanta do it, an' then he grabbed me and he hurted me! He made my head burn, an' I started crying, an' it hurted! And then this man took me back, an' Rory wouldn't wake up, and I went to sleep an' then I couldn't 'member it! And I'm not lyin'!" The boy crossed his arms across his chest and stuck his lower lip out. Renaud put a hand on the boy's shoulder. "I know you're not lying, Crispal. I've seen that room. That's called a transfer portal, and we could use it to get out of here. Do you think you could find it?"
The boy's lips trembled. "I dunno...I don't like it there!"
"I know you don't like it there, Crispal," Richenda told him. "That man hurt you, didn't he? But if we can get to that portal, we can use it to get out of here, and then he can't hurt you ever again."
The boy sucked on one grubby fist while he thought about it, then nodded shyly, and buried his face against Elise's shoulder.
They had a chance now, Renaud thought. Some small hope of making it out of this entire mess alive. He only hoped no one else had realized the import of what the boy had said. Renaud had always known his captor as Aleksevich, during their too long acquaintance. But Prince Mahael had called him Zinovy. And it seemed that only Zinovy could disarm the portal. - or perhaps an innocent, untrained, and far too-young boy who might be his son. And the way might still be barred by who knew what other traps, or blocked by human guards, not yet drawn into the general madness which seemed to be filling the fortress, as Aleksevich's men rebelled again their harsh master and their harsher winter-bound captivity.
"Is everyone ready?" Kelson glanced around the circle of men, grouped around the stones that marked the portal in the Bishop of Dhassa's private chapel. There was a chorus of agreement, though Morgan only nodded grimly.
"Wait until I have disarmed the portal and come back," the Prince Azim ibn ar-Rafiq warned them. "Then we each can start bringing the men through." The nobles and warlike band in the room froze, waiting for the Prince to disappear as he stepped squarely onto the portal stone. Nothing happened for a moment, however, until Derry stepped up beside him. Sean Lord Derry's blade was in his right hand, and he held out his left wrist for the Deryni lord's firm grip. They had both vanished in the time it took Kelson to draw breath to question the Prince.