"Wait," Max said. "Ehren? Our Ehren?"
Before he had finished the sentence, Tavi had already leapt down from the wagon and unhooked one of the horses from its harness a heartbeat later. As he did, Kitai freed the other horse in the team. Tavi grasped the mane of the first horse and leapt up to its bare back, pulling hard against the weight of his armor with his arms as he did. Kitai flicked the long reins of the second horse at Max, then took Tavi's outstretched hand and mounted behind him.
"Our Ehren," Max said, heavily. "Right." The big Antillan shook his head as he clambered down from the wagon, then hauled himself up onto the draft horse, who snorted and shook his head. "Stop complaining," Max told him, and nodded at Tavi.
Tavi grinned and kicked his mount into a heavy-footed run. He could feel one of Kitai's slender, fever-hot arms wrap around his waist. Tavi held on to the horse's mane carefully. He had learned a good deal of riding in the capital, but very little of it had been done bareback, and he knew his limits. "Which gate was he at?" he asked Kitai.
"North side of the river, west side of the city," Kitai called back.
Beside them, Max rode with the casual skill with which he did almost everything. Max, Tavi knew, had been riding since he could walk. "Did he know he was followed?"
"Ehren knew," Tavi said firmly.
"So I'm Ehren," Max said, "with an unknown number of unknowns following me. Where do I go?" Max frowned. "Wait. What the crows am I doing all the way out here in the first place? I thought Ehren got sent to Phrygia."
"Did you notice that he packed those peppermints he kept around?" Tavi asked.
"Yes. I thought he liked peppermints."
"No. He gets seasick."
Max frowned. "But Phrygia's thousands of miles from the sea and-oh."
Tavi nodded. "I assume he was under orders to keep it secret, but I suspect he was sent out to the islands."
Max grunted. "So, I'm Ehren, who is a sneaky little git like Tavi, in from the islands, followed by bad men who want to do bad things. Where do I go?"
"Somewhere that presents you more options," Tavi called back. "Where you can deal with them appropriately and as discreetly as possible." He paused for a moment, then he and Max said together, "The docks."
They pressed on, Tavi in the lead. Dry red lightning lit their way in flickers of dim fire that only made the shadows deeper and more treacherous. Tavi could navigate by the furylights in the town and upon the Elinarch, but he could barely see what was five feet in front of him. Haste was necessary, but they would do Ehren no good if they all brained themselves on low branches or broke the legs of their mounts in potholes in the trail, and Tavi began to slow the pace.
"No," Kitai said in his ear. The arm around his waist shifted, and she clasped the hand in which Tavi held the reins. She pulled his hand to the right, and the horse altered course, Max's mount following suit. Lightning flashed, and Tavi saw the black maw of a sharp-edged pothole flash by, narrowly avoided.
Kitai leaned forward, and he felt her cheek against his as she smiled. "I will be your eyes, blind Aleran."
Tavi felt his own mouth stretch into a grin to match hers, and he shouted to his mount, coaxing all the speed he could from the draft horse.
They entered the town through the eastern gate, shouting passwords to the legionares on duty there, thundering over the stone streets, the heavy steel-shod hooves of their horses striking sparks from the stone. The western gate of the town had been left unguarded and slightly ajar. As they approached, Max crafted a miniature cyclone that hammered it the rest of the way open, and they swept through, altering course to follow the city's wall down to the riverside.
The town of Elinarch had been founded as little more than a standard Legion camp anchoring either end of the bridge. In the century since, its rising population had spread beyond the original walls, building homes and business around the wall's outskirts and, especially, constructing extensive docking facilities for the river traffic that supported the town. The wooden wharves and piers had spread hundreds of yards upon either side of the original town's boundaries on both banks of the river.
Piers brought ships and boats, which brought a steady and large number of sailing men, which gave birth to an inevitable, if modest, industry of graft and vice. Wine clubs, gambling halls, and pleasure houses were built upon both the wharves and permanently anchored barges. There was a paucity of furylamps throughout the docks-partly because no one wanted even a tiny fire fury that close to so much aged wood, and partly because the darkness suited the clandestine nature of the businesses there.
Tavi swung down from the horse and flicked the reins around the nearest wooden post. "Knowing Ehren, where do we look?"
"Little guy liked to plan ahead," Max said. "Be early for lecture. Set aside time to study."
Tavi nodded. "He'd have prepared a spot in case he had to run or fight. A distraction, to keep people from noticing while he slipped away." Tavi nodded toward a number of large, roomy buildings built directly beneath the soaring stone Elinarch. "Warehouses."
The three of them started out at a hard pace, and though Tavi's leg ached from the effort, it supported his weight easily enough. The first warehouse was open and lit as Legion teamsters unloaded the wagons of foodstuffs the Subtribunes Logistica had scrounged-like the one they'd left back on the road. Haradae, the seniormost Subtribune Logistica, a watery-eyed young man from Rhodes, looked up from a ledger book and frowned at Tavi. "Scipio? Where is your wagon?"
"On the way," Tavi called back, slowing. "Have you seen any of Erasmus's eighth spear out tonight?"
"Just went by, not five minutes ago, chasing some thief," he said, hooking a thumb. "But I thought they were on gate duty, not night watch."
"Erasmus thought that, too," Tavi improvised. "No one's at the gate."
Haradae shook his head and checked his list. "Here. Bandages. I'll have some set out for Erasmus after he's done lashing them."
Max growled under his breath, "Think he has any coffins?"
"Come on," Tavi said, and picked up the pace again.
They found the body in the shadows beside the fifth warehouse in the row, and Tavi's heart leapt into his throat as he peered at the empty black shape in the darkness. "Is it...?"
"No," Kitai said. "A legionare. He is older than Ehren and has a beard." She bent and casually tugged at the corpse. Light gleamed on steel for a second. "Knife in the neck. Well thrown."
"Shhhh," Tavi said, and held up a hand. They were quiet for a moment. The lazy river whispered now and then beneath them. The wooden wharves creaked and groaned. Tavi heard a pair of men arguing in tight, tense voices meant not to carry. Then there was a heavy thud.
Tavi drew his sword as silently as he could and nodded to Max. The pair of them started down the walkway in a hurried prowl. They were able to slip up behind a group of seven legionares. One of them held a single, dim furylamp while two others spoke and the rest stood in a loose half circle around a weather-beaten wooden storage shed, perhaps five feet high and wide and ten deep. One of the men held a wounded arm in close to his body, a kerchief wrapped around his hand in a crude bandage.
Max narrowed his eyes and crouched, but Tavi lifted a hand, silently signaling him to halt. A second gesture told Max to follow his lead, and Tavi walked boldly into the dim light of the lamp.
"And just what the crows do you men think you're doing?" he demanded.
The legionares whirled to face him. The two men arguing froze, startled expressions of guilt on their faces. Tavi recognized them, though he did not know them by name-apart from the wounded man. It was Nonus, the legionare who had given Tavi trouble his first day in the camp. His companion Bortus stood uneasily beside him. Though no one had ever commented on it, Tavi suspected that a quiet word from Max had convinced Valiar Marcus to transfer them to Erasmus's century-a less-senior century within his cohort, which had doubtless resulted in a reduction in pay.
"Well?" Tavi demanded. "Who is the file leader of this sorry bunch?"
"Sir," mumbled one of two debaters. He wore his helmet sloppily unfastened, cheek flaps loose. His voice had a Kalaran accent. "I am, Subtribune Scipio."
Tavi tilted his head and kept his face fixed in a steadily darkening scowl. "Name, soldier?"
The man glanced about uneasily. "Yanar, sir."