The giant pig snorted and squealed as it ran past surprised servants and guards. The amulet hung from its mouth and sparkled as it dangled in the wind. Enzir ran after it and a breathless Lankko followed. A frightened servant let go of a cart loaded with vegetables and it turned to its side, spilling carrots and cabbages to the ground. The giant pig stopped and sniffed the spilled vegetables, but snorted and jumped over it when it heard Enzir running from behind. Enzir's feisty cook appeared out of her kitchen with hands on her waist, wondering what the commotion was all about when she saw the giant pig jumping over the pile of carrots and running past her towards the open gate.
"Close the gates!" shouted Enzir to the soldiers guarding the gate, but they were slow to react, shocked to see a giant pig running towards them. When the guards saw Enzir running after the pig, they started to close the gate, but were too late. The pig did not show any sign of slowing down and hurtle
A bright glow suddenly illuminated the green foliage surrounding a clearing in the forest near Alnoc. It started as a small ball of light, but grew into outlines of two people. In a moment, the two outlines grew sharper as the light faded, revealing a man and a woman.Wen gasped as they dropped a few inches from the ground. She expected it, having used the purple pulko stones a few times before, but the feeling of momentary weightlessness still surprised her. The man she held groaned and fluttered his eyelids. Wen gently lay his head on the ground and watched him. He seemed to be breathing normally, she observed.Standing up, Wen looked around her and realized that they were in a forest clearing. Just above the trees, she observed Alnoc Fortress on top of the hill. She sighed in relief as she saw how distant they were from the place where they came from. She wondered if they had really made a clean escape.A butterfly passed in front of Wen and perched on a tree
Wen led Eldion to a house not too far from the clearing where they appeared. It was a small house made of wood and bamboo with a thatch roof that effectively repelled rainwater while insulating the inside of the house from the heat of the sun. There was plenty of firewood stacked neatly at the side of the house, partly hidden by a small dugout canoe that had not been used for a long time. A wheelbarrow with a broken axle stood neglected along with some garden implements that had long rusted and decayed. There were flower pots that lined the small path to the house, but the flowering plants had been overgrown with weeds and failed to bloom with the season. Wen saw that the door was locked, but she only needed to lift the nearest flowerpot to obtain a rusty key from underneath.When they opened the door, they saw that the house was composed of just two rooms, typical of the houses in Alnoc. The main room that served as the living room was larger and could also serve as a dining
Mira slid the door open and came out to the living room. There, he saw a tall, stocky man wearing clothes made of dyed cotton and wool with a hat and belt made of leather. In his hand was a bamboo pole and he was using it to threaten Eldion. Mira recognized the pole as the one she used to prop the window open. On the floor were a few leather bags that Casser had dropped when he saw the stranger sleeping in his living room."Get out of my house!" Casser shouted as he threatened Eldion with the bamboo pole. Eldion stood speechless with his back against the wall."Casser!" Mira shouted. "Stop it! He's with me. We just needed a place to rest. You were not here so I just let ourselves in."Casser lowered the bamboo pole and stared at Mira. "Oh, it's you," he said, his face and posture relaxing as he looked at the flower in Mira's hair. "Sorry, Wen. I didn't know that you were visiting either."Mira realized that she still had the pink flower in her hair.
Mira's mind was abuzz with thoughts of how she and Eldion could escape. She knew they could not make a run for it without the Troupe catching up with them. She knew that she could defeat any of Thunka's three dancers in a fight, but to defeat all three would require all her strength plus a lot of luck. Besides, she did not know if Eldion had sufficiently recovered from his ordeal with Enzir."What do we do now?" Wen's voice was full of worry. "What if Thunka finds out that you have the pearl? What if she discovers who Eldion is?""Hush, Wen!" was all that Mira was able to say. She wanted to think clearly.Eldion looked at Mira, but realized that she was probably talking to Wen. Rentha heard Mira and glanced at her from behind. She smiled wickedly and walked on.Thunka's entertainment palace was a short distance from Alnoc's main square. There were few people on the streets and the palace itself looked deserted from the outside. It was a huge octagonal str
Thunka's eyes glistened in anticipation. "Give it to me. Quickly!" she commanded.Then, Mira took out a psylug and placed it on Thunka's palm. Thunka was confused and surprised."What is this? What are you…" The psylug immediately latched onto Thunka's palm and started to glow. Thunka stared at the glowing creature and dropped her knife. Then, she collapsed among the cushions with her eyes still wide open.Inside Mira's head, she heard Wen erupt with joy. Mira went about coolly, knowing that there are things she still needed to do. Looking at Thunka, she asked, "Where are the keys to the cabinet?" she asked.Thunka groaned and said, "Inside a box under my pillow." She remained motionless and only her mouth moved.Mira rummaged through the cushions until she found a metal box. She tried opening it and found it to be locked."Thunka, ever protective of her treasures." Mira mumbled to herself. She turned to Thunka and asked again. "Where
Mira hid her bag of diamonds among Casser's clothes. She did not have time to gather her things from Thunka's entertainment palace and she knew that getting them would only attract attention. Since she only kept a few items at Casser's house, the diamonds would come in handy to buy the things that she and Eldion would need for their long journey. Mira just hoped that they could still make it to the caravan. She was hoping that with the confusion of looking at so many travelling merchants and their goods, she and Eldion would have better chances of slipping through the gates unnoticed by the guards. There was just something that had been worrying her as she escaped with Eldion from Thunka. The three members of the troupe were not with the other dancers who were rehearsing. Mira remembered how strict Thunka was with the rehearsals, meting out punishments for dancers who were late or missing. Only dancers who were given permission to go with customers were allowed to miss rehearsals an
Mira revealed herself from behind the stall and Eldion stood behind her. "Rentha! Why am I not surprised? And you have your back-up dancers with you," Mira said."Thunka told us to follow you if we see you leaving the palace. It seems she could smell a deserter," said Rentha.""I saw you following us a long distance. Perhaps you need to practice your covert tailing skills some more," said Mira."Enough of this!" said Rentha, clicking her heels and revealing pointed nails attached to her shoes. "You will come with us and return to Thunka.""Or what?" asked Mira, taking a defensive stance. Casser, upon seeing Mira's pose, decided to follow her and stepped a foot forward while lifting his fists awkwardly. Eldion planted his feet firmly on the ground and waited."Maresha! Do it!" said Rentha and Maresha started swinging her ball of yarn."Watch out for her ball!" cried Mira, but was too late. Maresha released her ball and it hurtled through the
"This is hopeless!" remarked Wen, expressing her impatience as the carabao plodded on slowly. "We're never going to reach the north gate in time.""Don't speak that way at Noha. You'll hurt her feelings," said Casser, his own feelings hurt over Wen's nervous remark."We would have made it to the north gate already had we walked." Wen heard Mira's voice and Wen could only agree."Patience, Wen," said Eldion. "Noha's pulling a heavy load. She walks slow, but she's steady and dependable."Noha bawled as if in protest at Wen's impatient remarks. The carabao turned her head sideways as if to look at Wen and flicked her ears to drive off the flies.After what seemed to be an interminable wait for Wen, the north gate came into view. Like the south gate, it was heavily guarded and people who were on the way out of the city had lined up as the guards interviewed each person and examined their belongings. It was unusual that the queue of people and carts goi