Raised voices crackled through the air. From the courtyard. Yhoshi started to crawl up the embankment toward them. He motioned me to follow.
“It’s the soldiers,” he whispered. “We need to know what they know.” We crept into a shadowy break between two buildings and peered into the courtyard.
A squadron was arrayed behind Holgg, its captain, imposing though shorter than any of his men. All wore tunics and jodhpurs, masks over their eyes and peaked caps over shaved heads. Only an orange crest on each left arm and a light flour-coating of dust softened the unremitting black of their uniform. In front of Holgg stood Crozon, stooped to appear shorter than his inquisitor.
“Two traitors have passed this way. Young men. Traveling together.” His eyes swept the courtyard, settling for a moment on the spot where we hid. I clutched Yhoshi’s arm so tightly he gasped. “Have you seen them?”
I released Yhoshi’s arm and began to edge back toward the river then stopped, my curiosity greater than my fear.
“I’m not saying as they have. I’m not saying as they haven’t,” Crozon wheedled. He drew closer to Holgg. “Would there be a reward for my coo-per-ayshun?”
Holgg recoiled, wrinkling his nose. “What’s your name, innkeeper?”
“Crozon, your majesty sire. Crozon at your service. Always at your service. Ever at your service.”
“Well, Crozon,” Holgg began in a friendly tone that deepened into an angry roar, “this is my reward...if there’s no coo-per-ayshun!” A barely perceptible jerk of Holgg’s head signaled two men to grab hold of the innkeeper and press knife points against Crozon’s bloated belly.
“Have you seen them? Yes or no?”
“P-please, your holiness, sire. There ’uz two fellas all right, but they came apart-like.”
“And? You try my patience, innkeeper.”
“One with two horses, a-sopping wet they was, though we’d had no rain here since midday last. Right queer it was. And then this other, dressed like a prince, but with no horses, no coach, no nothing. We found him on the roof. Right queer, I tell you.”
“You’re drunk,” Holgg spat. “You,” he ordered Kor, the nearest soldier, “smell his breath.” Half-holding his breath, Kor put his nose to Crozon’s matted, food-spattered beard.
“Ale,” he coughed, “and rotten teeth.”
“Rotten, indeed,” Holgg muttered. “Anything else before I have you sliced into a thousand pieces?” He nodded and Kor delivered a sharp, fierce blow to Crozon’s stomach then drew his saber. “Where are they now?”
“In there,” he gasped, pointing to the window. “They came separate-like, but they ate together.”
“Show me.” Kor prodded Crozon with the point of his curved blade. Holgg strode toward the door and kicked it in. Then he spun around. “Prak,” he barked to his lieutenant, “check the stable. Keep two in the yard. The rest with us.” He stepped into the gloom and merged with the dark.
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