At the end of the tunnel was a darkened shed, its door bolted from inside.
A storm was going on outside and rain was trying to batter through the roof. It lashed over the small structure in waves, driven by a gusting wind which smelled of the sea. The shed rocked under the assault, but held fast. This was no time to worry about the not-so-niceties of nature, though. I pushed all thoughts of staying warm and dry aside and steadied myself with a couple of deep breaths.
I was committed anyway. Once my disappearance was discovered, the Caul would know I’d worked things out. True, I could go back and pretend I’d been fooled – with the glowbe’s help, I’d found another mechanism to open the bookcase from this side – but my accommodation with its secret passage was probably temporary. They’d move me back to my original room now the riot at the gates was crushed.
No. This was my only chance. I had to take it now. And I had to do it without getting caught. No second chances. Capture would mean the end of me. Suppressing a new surge of panic, I peered through a small slit in the shed’s wooden door to check no one was around.
The problem was, only the criminal or insane would be up and about at this time of night in weather like this. So a bobbing lamp would be sure to attract attention. I didn’t know how to turn the glowbe off so there was nothing for it. Abandoning the device reluctantly, I steeled myself against the elements and slipped out.
The first gust hurled me backwards, snatched the shed door from my hands and slammed it back against its hinges. I raised my arm to ward off the hammering rain and leaned forward. With wind threatening to smother me, I fought the gale from one streaming porch to another. I hugged the walls, avoiding the dancing haloes cast by street glowbes jiggling on their poles. A torrent bubbled down the road, washing over my booted ankles and scouring the cobbles clean of accumulated filth. In spite of my efforts to stay under cover, I was soaked in moments.
Spotting a lean-to ahead, I crossed the street and darted inside, needing a respite from the assault, even if it was only for a minute. Dim light shone from the single lamp at the back of the shed. I took stock warily, shaking dripping hands and wringing water from my sleeves, then froze as I realised I wasn’t alone.
The animal was still saddled, tethered to a stone post to one side. It stood there dejectedly, looking bored, while its flanks steamed in the insipid lamplight. It looked like it had been out in the rain already – its coat was matted and a puddle had formed beneath its hooves. Perhaps its rider was a patrolling soldier on his tea-break? Apparently he wasn’t planning to be away long enough to warrant putting the unhappy-looking beast to bed for the night.
Until then, I’d been intent on escaping on foot, but seeing the horse standing there, begging for someone to ride it, well, how could I refuse?
The creature eyed me curiously when I slipped the halter off its head. Its whickering sounded uncomfortably like amusement as I hopped inelegantly beside it, trying to slot my too-big boot into a too-high stirrup. It shifted its weight with a long-suffering sigh as I finally dragged myself up and flopped clumsily onto its back.
And then it just stood there.
The problem was, aside from the quick and abortive lesson Jaren had given me, and the bit of practice between the temple and here, I couldn’t ride a horse. All I knew was to kick its sides to make it go, pull the reins to make it stop and steering was self-explanatory.
Fishing with my toes to find the stirrups, I shortened the reins, as I’d seen Yent do, shook them encouragingly and kicked. The creature laid its ears back as it eyed the rain outside and took one half-hearted step forward before halting again.
Voices sounded from beyond the door at the back, which presumably led into the adjoining building. Afraid the horse’s owner was returning, I kicked the animal harder, wincing when my heels thumped loudly against its sides.
The horse jolted forward and I had to duck before the low entrance took my head off. Icy water penetrated the fabric covering my back, soaking me anew. Gritting my teeth, I steered as best I could away from the Caul Residence.