Sharru moved out of the moonlight. A few heartbeats later, the door opened again, silhouetting him against a dim light from outside. Estent followed, restraining the urge to ask a dozen questions at once.

 

They all vanished at the sight of a man sitting motionless against the stone wall, his clothes stained dark just below the heart. Instantly he remembered King Maritur slumped, clutching at the dagger embedded in his breast... the dagger Estent held...

 

Trying to put both sights out of his mind, he followed Sharru along the dank stone passage. Occasional torches showed closed doors on either side, but cast impenetrable shadows that had Estent jumping at every flicker. They climbed a flight of stairs, probably the ones he was brought down on the way to the cell.

 

As his rescuer – or captor – opened the door at the top, a voice challenged him sharply. “That Sharru? What are you doing?”

 

“Escorting the prisoner.” The reply was so casual and reasonable that Estent almost believed it. “Orders.”

 

“Whose orders?”

 

“Now, you know we don’t say who we’re working for, not in front of the prisoner. My orders come from the top.”

 

The pause that followed dragged forever before the guard’s surly voice said, “I presume the master can confirm that? I’m not letting you through without...”

 

He broke off with a gurgling gasp and pitched forward a little, as Sharru drew his hand back, holding a dark-stained dagger. For an instant, Estent thought the man was dead; then he staggered back, fumbling a pistol from his belt.

 

A flintlock cracked, its echoes booming off the stone walls. Estent froze in terror, till the guard crumpled and fell. Sharru stuck a pistol back into his belt, cursing fluently.

 

“Is... is he dead?” asked Estent.

 

“Of course he’s dead,” Sharru snapped. “And noisily too, so move, if you don’t want to be caught.”

 

Turning on his heel, he headed down a half-lit corridor. Estent tore his eyes away from the dead man and hurried after him. Voices sounded from somewhere in the house, and someone shouted. Estent’s heart thumped fit to burst out of his chest; but, after a couple of dozen paces, Sharru opened a door and pushed him into total darkness down a tiny staircase.

 

As he stumbled at the bottom, his hands met solid wood.

 

“Out of the way,” said Sharru in a low voice. A metallic scratching was followed by a click, and fetid air washed over Estent as the door swung open.

 

Trying to hold his breath for as long as possible, he followed the slight sounds Sharru made in the darkness, feeling his way along slimy stone walls. The passage ended at last with a ladder that emerged through a wooden hatch into an alley.

 

Standing in an overcast night under light drizzle, Estent slowly accepted that he was free again. A traitor and murderer, but free.