Keela came just as she promised and this time she brought backup. He was a huge man with biceps the size of my thighs. I came to my feet when I heard the key in the lock. Keela stepped over the unconscious guard at the door and came to unlock my shackles. We moved out of the way as the big guy dragged in two guards at a time, dumped them unceremoniously in a pile and went back for the third.
“Dead?” I asked. I hoped not. I didn’t need any more collateral damage to answer for.
“Drugged,” Keela said. “In the mid-day meal that came from the main kitchen in the palace. Everyone has access. Anyone could have done it,” she said with satisfaction.
“Good job,” I said with a smile.
“This way,” Keela said as she took a torch off the wall. The larger moon eclipse was just starting. We had nine minutes and thirty-two seconds to make our escape - just like I planned from the beginning except that I would be the only one running.
“I can’t,” I said as I looked at the huge dresarge before me. I conquered the dark time by running here with Keela and her servant. They were fearless in the total blackness. Either the followers of Parnac didn’t haunt this city or it was all superstition as I originally believed. However, I just couldn’t see me on one of those dresarge by myself. “Really, I can’t,” I repeated with emphasis.
“She is very gentle,” Keela assured me as she stood by the beast stroking its long golden fur.
“I’m sorry. I really appreciate the offer, but I think I’ll walk.”
“And you won’t get two miles before father’s people overtake you and bring you back. Do you think he will believe you when you tell him you escaped on your own? He won’t,” Keela stated with conviction. “He’ll see a traitor in his midst and he will torture you this time. And when you succumb and tell him it was me…What do you think he will do to a disobedient child?”
I had no idea, but I knew I didn’t want anything to happen to Keela on my account. I approached the dresarge slowly.
It did seem to be of a different temperament then the ones I came in contact with earlier. When I tentatively reached out my hand she sniffed it. The sniff was followed by an exploring lick of her rough tongue. The one head moved aside so the other could have a taste too. I hoped they were not sizing me up for an afternoon snack. When the beast started to rumble I hesitantly moved back a step.
Keela caught my arm. “No, it is not a growl. It is a purr. She likes you. Come. Come,” she coaxed. “You must have come on a dresarge if you made your way from Kadear to here.”
“I did, but it wasn’t near as big.” This thing wasn’t any taller than Aldobi-rand’s giant, but it was rotund. I could have set on its back cross legged.
“Yes, she is pretty big,” Keela admitted. “She’s pregnant. She will birth sometime next month. Climb up here,” Keela indicated and tapped the rails of the fence separating the stalls in the barn.
I climbed up and on over to the back of the beast.
“Her name is Tarrazu and she is my favorite,” Keela confessed. “She will get you safely back to Kadear. When you get to the outskirts of the city just get off and she will come home.”
Keela walked out of the barn and into the last of the eclipse. She and her man did not seem to have any fear of the eclipse or Parnac.
Tarrazu followed her voluntarily. The big guy was standing watch outside. He handed me two skins of water on a long thong. I swung them in front of me over the shoulders of the beast.
“One for you. One for Tarrazu,” he said in a deep baritone as if he thought I wouldn’t share unless I was told to.
“You will be back to Kadear by this time tomorrow,” Keela whispered. “See that dimple in Gresee’ cheek?” she asked as she pointed to a crater on the smallest moon. It was just becoming visible as the sun began to work its way out from behind the furthest large moon. “Kadear is right under that dimple. You ride toward that. You must stay off the main road,” she cautioned.
The big guy handed me another bundle. I imagined it was food wrapped in a blanket.
“When you want Tarrazu to turn left or right just touch either shoulder. To stop, tug on the ruff at the back of her neck. To get her to move forward you must only touch her flank,” Keela instructed. “If you stop for any reason be sure to tell Tarrazu to sit or she will leave you and come home,” Keela advised.
She took one of the beast’s heads between her hands and held it by the scruff of its fluffy side whiskers. “You be good,” she admonished. “Run well and come back soon.”
The dresarge purred as though it understood. Keela stood aside and I was on my way just as the eclipse began to uncover.
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