There were two ways to get out the city: the Farmer’s Gate and the Main Gate. At each exit a toll or a pass was needed to get out. But then there was also the Smuggler’s Gate; a hole in the wall that few knew of, which could be used to exit the city, no toll needed. This was the path that Regnus and his charge took.
As they crept behind down an alley behind the Temple of the High Spirit of Love, they said not a word to each other. As they slipped behind a rusty iron gate and into a small opening in the wall, still they said not a word. After several minutes of walking through a dark and musty tunnel, they emerged into the early dawn air.
You could see for miles and miles, the trees dotting the hills, and not too far from the Port City wall, a sparkling blue-green river wound by, dirt and shrubbery decorating its banks.
Reggie gazed in wonder at the green world he knew only from peering over the city walls. But then the silence was broken.
“Will we be crossing the river or going around it?” asked the Priestess
“Around,” he said simply. “I don’t have a boat and I’m not going to trust a ferryman.”
He said nothing, only shouldered his pack. “Let’s go Priestess.”
“I know you don’t carry any faith in the Spirits,” she said as they started to walk. “So you calling me ‘Priestess’ is just silly.”
“Well, what am I supposed to call you? Your Highness? Your Excellence?”
She laughed, “Lucy, will be fine. May I call you Regnus?”
“Uh…I guess so.”
Lucy seemed satisfied with his answer and started heading towards the river at a brisk pace and Reggie had no choice but to follow. He noticed that the Priestess had changed out of her heavy robes into more functional traveling clothes: breeches and a long shirt split at the sides. Both items were still marked with silver and black thread, making it clear of her position.
“Even if we’re not crossing the river, it would be best if we still followed it. That way, we won’t run out of water.”
In no time at all they had reached the edge of the river and continued walking down the banks, keeping an eye out for a bridge. By midday they had reached the widest part of it and Reggie knew the bridge to be not too far off.
“I’m surprised,” Reggie told Lucy as they stopped for a quick lunch. “I was expecting you to be huffing and puffing by now.”
“Well then I guess I’m not completely hopeless, am I?” she said, her teeth white against her dark skin. She couldn’t tell if her new bodyguard had smiled back or not, but she felt that he had. “I’ll refill the water skins.”
She headed towards the river and Reggie watched her go. He had just swung the packs onto his back when he saw them; two men floating down the river on a raft, dressed as fishermen, although they carried no gear. It was that that first gave Reggie reason to be suspicious, but it was the glances they kept throwing towards the shore and the Priestess that really set him on edge. Slowly, so as to be barely perceptible, their raft started to drift towards where Lucy was refilling the skins.
Reggie started running towards the river shouting Lucy’s name in warning. But unfortunately his warning came just a little too late. The larger of the two men grabbed the Priestess while the smaller one started directing the raft away from the shoreline. When Reggie reached the spot where Lucy had been standing the raft was only a short ways away. Weighed down with the packs, he jumped and, to his immense relief, landed safely on board.
Before either of the men had time to react, he pulled a knife out of his sleeve and slid it across the larger of the two men’s throats. For good measure he also aimed a second one at the man’s side, lodging it there. He didn’t take time to watch him fall, but he heard a satisfying splash as he turned, dodged a blow from the smaller man’s paddle and then stabbed him in the gut with a third knife.
The man dropped his oar, his hands going to his stomach. He looked up at Reggie, the vision of death in his black hood, before falling slowly backwards into the water.
Satisfied with his work but breathing hard, Reggie looked around the raft; Lucy wasn’t there. He looked at the ripples left by the larger man and swore: she had fallen into the water along with her attacker.
As quickly as he could, he shed his cloak and the bags and dove into the deep, cold river. Ignoring the stinging in his eyes, he followed the slowly disappearing stream of bubbles. He saw a flash of skin and turned. There, her eyes closed and floating against the dead man, was Lucy. He swam up and pulled on the arms that were around her neck and waist, but they were stuck in a death grip.
Working fast, Reggie pulled out the knife that was still stuck in the dead man’s throat and started hacking at his arms. Around him the water was starting to feel heavy, but he kept working until Lucy floated free.
Grabbing her and dropping the dagger, he kicked upwards as fast as he could. They surfaced next to the raft and Reggie heaved the Priestess up onto it. He clambered up after her before it could drift away.
Once safe, he started coughing up water just as Lucy opened her eyes. She found herself looking at a mop of wet, dark red hair. She realized, with some surprise, that the hair belonged to Regnus. Lucy had another surprise when she checked her neck and found not a single bruise, but when she looked at Regnus’ neck she saw a large purpling one.
“Regnus,” she started, thinking out loud, “Why… Why are you coughing up water and I’m not? And why do you have a bruise on your neck…” she stopped and frowned.
A long scar ran across his neck and, on either side of it, the skin was a different shade. She looked at his hands and saw that they too were different shades. She was about to ask why, when Reggie stopped coughing and turned his head ever so slightly.
“Curse Ten,” he said. “Curse him for making me a bodyguard for a bloody accident prone––”
Lucy put her hand on his chin and he stopped talking. Gently, she turned his face towards her. When she saw it, she gasped.