They could flee, but there was nowhere they could flee to. There was only the light at the end of the next snow-churned alley and the alley at the end of the next lonely street. If they ran much more, they’d die. If they walked, they’d be captured. If they hid, they’d freeze.
They had to get to the room. They had to get to Tollhaut.
“He won’,” gasped Bietter through his bandages. “believ’ uv.”
“He’ll have to. Look at your jaw. Look at my dress.”
“I also know he trusts us. He’ll trust that we need to go, tonight.”
Where was the damn sun? It was no use. Norr tried to bring up yesterday’s overlook of the city, see it like it was a painting. The hillside, sweeping down to the ocean…
“Uphill,” she said. “We go uphill.”
Bietter looked over his shoulder at the slope, leading back--toward the monastery. Norr squeezed his shoulder.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “He’ll wait for us.”
The grey evening gave way to rose dusk. Freezing winds raced the streets unthawed and unchallenged. Norr and Bietter were rats in the dirty snow, dark fog-coughing blotches against the last pale glow of the city.
She was growing numb. She need a fire, some new clothes. Why’d they throw away those monk robes?
Bietter pointed--there ahead was the balcony they’d seen those watchmen breakfast at. They were almost there.
“Wait behind that stoop for me,” said Norr. “I’ll be back.”
Past the snowy tracks, the inn lay just where she remembered it. There was the top room with its heavy shutters, and the thin candlelight glow in the slats chased the day’s horrors away.
“We’re coming, Tollhaut,” she whispered. As if in answer a black shape blocked the light, and it was a desperate effort of common sense not to race to him, throw open those doors, run up those stairs...
The light was crossed again, and then again from the other way.
She turned and found Bietter squatting and rubbing his shoulders. “Bietter. The room--there’s more than one person there.”
In the darkness she saw only the glints of his eyes, but she knew what he was thinking. They both knew Tollhaut like they knew themselves, like they knew each other. Tollhaut didn’t trust strangers. Tollhaut wouldn’t have guests.
They’d rented the room for a few nights. They’d been promised no room-mates. Tollhaut had won that right, at length, and argued for it at still greater length.
The back streets were narrow and the uphill climb, to the places behind the inn, was the last strain on their already sorely tried bodies. By the time they came to the narrow passage to the inn’s back door Norr felt as though she were going to collapse and freeze to death. Bietter climbed the narrow wooden stairs to the back while Norr sat on a pair of icy barrels, rubbing her arms and wishing she were anywhere else.
Bietter shook the door handle. He shook it harder, grabbed it with two hands, rattled the door like he wanted to break it apart.
“Don’t,” she said. “Someone will hear.”
Bietter sat down on the steps and buried his bloody face in his hands. Norr felt her own hands twitch. Well--how loud would it be? Was anyone coming up the...
“Bietter!” she cried, and she raced to the alley’s darkest stretch.
She’d run past it without a second thought--a churned stretch of the alley where the snow was thrown in every direction. She hadn’t thought much of it. But now that she was looking with the right eyes, she saw that the dark frozen chunks in the snow weren’t pieces of mud--they were crimson. A splash of blood. A scrape of boots. A body, rolling. A pair of knees. Dragging, dragging, up the hill...
Bietter grabbed her shoulder.
“I know,” she said, through her hands. “I know. He must be somewhere. We can go there. We can…”
Under an old torn hat--Tollhaut’s knife handle, sticking up from the frozen mud. The snow was shallow around it. Shallow, hand-marked, and soft. Norr knelt and scraped at the snow with shaking hands.
A G N ---