She limped inside like a bird with broken wings. The look on her face made the room feel colder.
“They killed him, Rodrik. I saw them hang him. It’s only a matter of time before they get us,” she said.
Rodrik brushed his bowl of hot soup aside and wiped his mouth. He knew of the execution, but chose not to go see it.
“We had nothing to do with what your brother did,” his voice was low and hesitant, as if a lump was stuck in his throat. He took a deep breath, “I think we’ll be safe, Mira,” he said louder than he thought his confidence allowed for.
Mira walked closer to her husband, but didn’t take a seat. She searched for something in his eyes, but didn’t find it. There was no fear in them. Still, she pleaded.
“We need to leave this city, Rodrik. Will they come tomorrow? Ten days from now? Do you want to hear a knock at the door at night that could only mean our end at the gallows?”
Rodrik propped his head on his hand, all the while looking at Mira.
“Look, Mira. It’s been a terrible day. I want to comfort you, but I can’t just leave everything we’ve built here. We’ve got nothing to do with the rebels. Your brother did. He was a good man, but he got involved with the wrong crowd,”
“That ‘wrong’ crowd just wants our city back!” she yelled.
Rodrik was taken aback.
“The Tyrians won’t do us any harm. They’re just paranoid of an uprising,” he said.
“Don’t you dare defend them.”
Rodrik shook his head.
“I’m not. Everything’s going to be all right,” he said.
Mira frowned. She walked into the bedroom and searched under the mattress. Her hand emerged with a small but hefty bag that jangled a satisfying tune. By the sound of it, there must have been over a fifty iron squares in it, enough to buy a room and food for a quarter-season. When Rodrik came to the bedroom, he saw that she was already stuffing her clothes into a travel sack.
“What are you doing?” he asked, knowing the answer already.
“If you don’t want to leave, I’m at least going to have our things packed so we can leave quickly if we need to.”
Rodrik looked puzzled. “Were you involved with anything your brother did? You sound a lot more on edge today.”
She threw him an angry stare.
“Don’t you understand that the Tyrians killed him today? They’re not our friends, and they’re not going to be benevolent in their occupation. I don’t want to be here when their reign of terror starts in earnest,” Mira said.
“Look, I don’t like the Tyrians, but they won’t harm us if—“
There were several heavy knocks at the door, forceful enough that it felt as if the walls shook a little with each thump. Rodrik darted to the other room and carefully peaked through a window, and saw six men outside their door. They were wearing Tyrian Crown colors on their light leather armor. Two of them had short bows, and the others had short swords at their hips. They were equipped for chasing, not fighting. Several more thumps followed.
“Citizens, open the door!” one of them shouted.
Rodrik put his hand to his mouth, his eyes raced to look around the house. Mira was behind him, travel sack in hand, but dared not to come anywhere near the door or the window. She anxiously tapped him on the shoulder, but he seemed to be lost in thought somewhere.
“No no no. They weren’t supposed to come,” he mumbled.
“Talk to me, Rodrik. What do we do?” Mira said.
Rodrik ignored her. “It’s not part of the deal. Why are they here?”
“What are you talking about?” Mira grew concerned.
The guards banged the door harder than before. “Last warning before we break the door.”
Rodrik snapped out of it and yelled, “I’m just putting my clothes on, give me a moment.” He held Mira by the hand and went to another room. There, he kicked over a rug on the floor and opened a small square door to the cellar. Mira shook her head, and pointed to a larger window at the end of the room. Rodrik glanced back at the door where the guards were waiting. He took several deep breaths, and beads of sweat started to form on his forehead.
Mira didn’t hesitate. She quietly walked over to the window, and started to remove the panel. Carefully, she set the panel against the wall, looked at Rodrik and nudged her head, signalling that they hadn’t much time. He nodded, but also held up a finger and glanced at the bedroom. Forgot something. Quickly, he went back and retrieved the sack of coins and their identity papers.
“We don’t have all day, citizen! We’re opening this door, now!” then came the heavy slam of a shoulder against wood. The door held, but it couldn’t for long.
The couple climbed out the window, first Mira and then Rodrik, and left their home as if running away from a nightmare. The last thing they heard was the door breaking and slamming against the floor, along with the furious shouts from the guards.
As they kept running, through alleyways and markets and busy streets, Mira slowed down.
“Where are we going? There won’t be a safe place anywhere in the city for us by the day’s end.”
Rodrik stopped. “I know someone who can get us to Inoria.”
Mira snorted. “Inoria? No, even if we get there without getting caught, we’ll never get past the gate. It’s called the “Closed City” for a reason, Rodrik. It’s a terrible idea,” Mira said, and shook her head.
“That’s exactly why we’re going. The Tyrians will never conquer Inoria. I can’t say the same about the rest of the continent, not even the Ersidoni Empire, though I’m sure they’ll let us through. But if we go east to Ersidon, all the cities and roads on the way are controlled by the Tyrians. We’ll never make it. If we go south to Inoria, we’ll be there in two or three days, depending on the weather.”
“I’m not convinced,” said Mira.
“You don’t have to be. We don’t have a choice now.”
The two kept walking until they arrived at a smaller bazaar in the north end of the city. There, they found a man selling cheap gadgets and trinkets that looked strange and foreign. Salt lights and water-finders were mixed in with useless things such wooden puzzles and aromatic wax. His wares certainly looked different from what the merchants around him were selling: clothing of all types and silly hats mostly. The man smiled once he saw Rodrik.
“Hello my friend. Which of my Inorran goods are you interested in today?”
Rodrik shook the coin sack, and came to a distance where he could whisper to the man.
“Pero, my friend. My wife and I need to get out of the city discreetly. We’ll give you twenty iron squares if you can get us to Inoria.”
Pero raised his eyebrows, and his eyes widened.
“Twenty irons?” he paused, and thought for a moment, “I can do this, but I hope you’re not expecting an imperial travel wagon for so many irons. I can’t get you inside of Inoria, they’re very strict as you know. They do a full search of my cart when I go in and out. If they find you, I’m afraid my trading career will be over. But I can get you to the gate.”
Rodrik was silent.
“Ok, since I can’t get you through, I’ll take half. Ten iron squares,” said Pero.
Rodrik looked back and saw Mira was unhappy. He didn’t know what to say.
“Is Inoria really the best option for us?” she said at last.
“Yes,” Rodrik said without thinking.
“When will we get there?” she asked Pero in a lowly voice. “I want to get out of the city, but I have a bad feeling about Inoria,” she whispered to Rodrik.
“I have our identity papers, we will get through the gate. You’re under my name, and my name is clean,” he whispered back.
Pero grabbed a weather cube from one of his shelves. With only a quick glance, he had formed an answer.
“We’ll be there in two days. No rain expected in the next five days.”
Mira looked at Rodrik, then down to the ground.
“So, we’re set?” Rodrik asked.
“Fine. I just hope it works,” Mira replied.
Pero clapped Rodrik’s shoulder. Rodrik took out ten iron squares and they clanked one by one as they fell onto Pero’s hand. In the distance, several groups of City Guards marched down the streets. The couple inched closer into Pero’s tent to avoid being seen.
“I don’t know why you need to leave, and I won’t ask. You know what I say about such things, “the less I know, the better I sleep”. Come back at sunset, I’ll let you two sleep in my wagon. We’ll head out at dawn.”