"What do you mean Dead!" Senior Priest Kenneth Sears strode up. "Priest Initiate Sutter, pull yourself together and report."
The Imperial Captain arrived in haste, and nodded.
Stanley gulped and slid off the horse. "There are witches here. We didn't even realize it. I think they put a spell of lust on us all or something. I was the only one that escaped, and their dogs chased me all night long.
"But the God!"
"Dead. I found the beheaded body. Twenty troops and the three other initiates had been killed as well, possibly by the god when one of the witches' Masters struck the High Priest."
"I need, someone needs, to get back through the Gate and warn the Army."
The Captain nodded his head. "Yes. They'll be watching their Gates. We can lay low, watch for a few days and still be in time to warn the general."
Dwarf Two had spent very little time in the wilds, and never alone. He'd never hunted, never fished, never picked berries.
That last he could have managed, had he happened to trip over any berry vines. Even he knew better than to eat the mushrooms.
Running away to get lost in the mountains wasn't nearly as good an idea as it had sounded like, three days ago. He'd filled his aching belly with grass just to shut it up. Drunk water. Barfed. The diarrhea seemed to be about over.
On top of it all, he'd walked in a circle. There was that Death Trap Inn.
He could smell food. He could sneak down, grab something and run.
Of course any two year old could outrun him, but he rather thought he could manage a spell of invisibility, the kind that warped light, not the kind that made people think you belonged there. He needed to hold the magic close, because, for better or worse that Damned Stanley had survived. Pity he'd chickened out about strangling him too.
"I killed the High Priest." He said it out loud, just to hear the words. "I killed the High Priest. And I ran away. Only stopped once, to rape a woman." He swaggered with braggadocio. Even thought the order was wrong. "I raped a woman. Then I ran away. Then I found the High Priest and killed him, dead, dead, dead. Then I ran away some more."
He eyed the Inn carefully. Because he was still leaving out the part about the dogs that chased him and the Sergeant. That ate the Sergeant. Then they'd played with him, like he was a big toy. They'd knocked that woman down the hill, and he'd seen Death coming and run down the hill himself. Maybe Death had killed the dogs. Anyway, he'd half run and mostly fallen down the hill, and landed on the woman. He wasn't about to pass up an opportunity like that, but just as he came, something had crackled in the underbrush, and he'd run. The God of Death was lethal at a hundred feet. He'd run south, even though that took him closer to the Inn. Because Death was north. And he'd just started to relax when he spotted the body. The High Priest. Still breathing, but completely unconscious. "I killed a High Priest!" he danced a little jig, remembering. Initiate Stanley had also been unconscious, part way up the slope, and he had tried, but just couldn't make himself make skin contact with the man who held his leash. He'd run instead. In a circle. And now he was climbing back up that ravine. He thought out the light warping spell, added gestures and shoved against the inhibiting spells still on him. The Chain had disintegrated, some time during that confusing night. He ought to be able to get around the old spells they'd placed on him before the Chain. When they were training him.
It was early morning. The boy was taking the muck cart out to dump somewhere, so the back stable yard would be empty.
He stood up and walked quickly across the street and into the stable yard. Empty. Over to the back door . . . the kitchen door was ajar a few inches, letting out the heat of the ovens. He peeked in. No one in sight. He stepped through the door as quietly as possible. Grabbed a fresh hot roll and stuffed it into his mouth. Circled the room, grabbed a cloth to wrap up food in, and discovered it was a bag and grabbed another, he loaded them with a small cheese, a salami hanging from a hook, a half a bottle of wine, no, take both the bottles. Put them in separate bags so they didn't clink. More rolls. Grab the big carving knife, the cute little paring knife, a fruit pastry and out the door, home free.
Except the muck cart was coming back. What if he wasn't really invisible? He shuffled quickly across to the barn, and ducked behind a stack of bulging sacks of grain. A few thumps and jingles signaled the unhitching and unharnessing of the horse.
The boy came in whistling happily. He opened a door to a room at the front of the barn and carried the jingling harness in. He walked out without it, and after some pumping and splashing sounds, his cheerful whistle retreated across the yard and Dwarf Two heard a door slam. He sighed happily. He was a successful thief and he was in a barn full of horses. Well, with four horses. He recognized the square spot between the nostrils of one of them. Initiate Sutter's mare. He'd petted that one, while he held her for their mutual Master. She was friendly. He'd never actually ridden, but how hard could it be? He'd watched; the rider just pulled a strap in the direction he wanted to go, and pulled back on both to stop. So, he needed a bridle and saddle. He stepped confidently into the tack room and stared. There were neatly hung leather things everywhere. Bundles of straps. With metal parts. How do you get a horse to open wide and put something like that into its mouth? After a long moment he walked out of the tack room, empty handed. He walked down to look longingly at the big mare. She had an arrangement of leather straps around her head. A halter. Nothing in her mouth, but if he had . . . reins? Yeah, reins, he could pulled her around. He trotted back to the tack room, and unbuckled reins from a bridle that looked vaguely familiar, and took them back the mare's stall. He buckled them on the bottom ring, and ran in to his first problem.
Horse are large animals. But there was a hay manger. All right, He needed to get organized. He fetched his two sacks from behind the grain sacks and tied them together and slung them over his shoulder. Left the stall door just a little ajar. Picked up the reins and led the mare to the manger. Climbed up. Hmm. It took a bit of doing, but he got one rein over the mare's neck, and then got the mare turned around. Took a deep breath for bravery . . . climbed a bit higher and slid very carefully onto her back. She stood there looking bored. His legs stuck out. He pulled the food bags off his shoulder and slung them across her back, right in front of him. He waggled his feet but she was unimpressed. He pulled one rein, and she took a step, adjusting her balance. He pulled the other rein. Maybe half a step. With determined patience, he worked her around until he could almost reach the stall door. He grabbed a hank of mane and leaned. It looked like a long way down. He wiggled and stretched out a leg, and managed to nudge the door, shoved it maybe half an inch. He scowled. There had to be a better way to do this. Another half inch.
The door slid all the way open suddenly, and he looked up into the eyes of . . . the muck cart horse. It waggled its ears curiously, then reached out and snuffled at him. He turned the mare, but the big dull colored thing was a bigger barrier than the stall door had been.
"Excuse me." He huffed. "But I'm trying to steal my Master's horse so he can't ever catch me again. Will you please get out of the way?"
It pricked its ears at him, and turned ponderously to walk out of the barn. The mare followed.
The mare followed the big moth-eaten son-of-an-elephant all day long, no matter how hard he pulled at either rein. He didn't jump off until he realized the big horse had led him roundabout to the edge of the Twin Columns canyon.
He wrapped himself in every unnoticeable spell he'd ever memorized, and warped the light around himself. His head started aching with the strain, and he crept to the edge of the canyon and looked down.
The priests were camped in luxury at the head of the canyon, the surviving soldiers down a bit from them. Then the rough corral for the horses. Then the two wagons, with his fellows chained to the sides. The stream flowed through the camp, with the priests getting the fresh water, the soldiers getting pretty fresh water, the horses having a bit of a pond dug out so they always had water, and the little gods got to drink the overflow, no doubt contaminated with horse piss.
He eyed the priests. I killed the High Priest. He'd like to kill them all. Instead, he needed to run away, far and fast. He edged away from the rim and looked back. The mare was standing there, one rein wrapped around a thin branch. He started to push himself to his feet and his gaze fell upon the cluster of mushrooms. I'm invisible.
He looked over the edge again, planning this time. The troops were looking around at the horses, that were stirring around uneasily. Squinting, Dwarf Two could just barely see the decrepit dun. How'd he get invisible? The dun was splitting the herd, cutting out all the geldings and intimidating them into staying on the side away from the water. The dun rolled something into the pond. Dwarf Two looked around indignantly and spotted the ripped remains of a sack. He stole my wine!He looked back over the edge.