Taking the knife along with him, John left the King’s chamber and turned his steps toward the Princess’s chamber once more. His approach, which he kept as silent as he could, nevertheless roused the two dark-skinned guards who had been sleeping on either side of the door. When he reached them, John stopped short and said “I must speak with your mistress.”
In response, the guards knocked softly on the door, spoke some words which John could not comprehend, paused as if waiting for an answer, and a moment later, pushed the door open to admit John. They made as if to follow him inside, but were stopped by the Princess, who spoke, again in words incomprehensible to John, appearing to order them to return to the hall, which they did, shutting the door softly as they left.
When the door was shut, the Princess turned to John, who was still standing near the door, fidgeting nervously, and demanded “And what would you want with me this time? Do you not already know everything which you could wish?”
As he replied, John looked around the room, observing that several more dark-skinned, turban-wearing guards were in attendance on the princess. “It is true. I know all I could wish of you. But do you know all that you could wish of me?”
“I do. I know that you are an emissary of King Valun, and that you have caused some trouble, of which I myself have been the central point. I do not wish to know anymore of you.”
“You are mistaken. You do wish to know more of me. You would be happy if you knew that I am a Prince, with an equal right to claim your hand, and if you knew the depth of my feelings for you.”
“You will be made to take back that rash statement someday, for I also know that you are a scoundrel who is not to be trusted, and I cannot understand why the king likes you so. Moreover, you should know that I am not the sort of empty-headed girl who can be convinced by any man who comes to me with expressions of longing, as you appear to believe.”
“The King no longer desires me to attend upon him. Also, I would be surprised if he actually entertains a semblance of my feelings toward you.”
“Do you expect me to believe that, simply because he is an honorable man, and as such, has gone out to act as he thinks proper, that he cannot care for me? All men desire sons to succeed them. He surely does, more than many of his subjects, being the King, and when he returns from the quest he is about, which is entirely due to his feelings toward his own father, I will be ready.”
Seeing that he could not succeed in convincing the Princess, John turned away to leave. As he made his way down the stairway which lead to the great hall, he began to hear a loud commotion coming from that room. “It is only those stupid guards, still carousing in their crude fashion.” He thought. “Why Valun did not appoint me to the position instead of Robert is something I will never understand.” By the time he had finished this self-centered thought, he was in the great hall. What he saw when he looked up was as far from his expectations as it could possibly have been.
Men were milling about in an utterly disorganized fashion, though most of them appeared to know what they were about. Some were shouting orders to the rest, while several more were hurrying to and fro carrying armloads of weapons and passing them around to the others. It was several minutes before anybody slowed down enough to allow John to catch their attention. When he finally succeeded, a huge guard with a thick beard answered him sharply, saying “You don’t know? Word was brought only ten minutes ago that an enemy force is approaching the city at high speed. Every man who can bear arms has been called to the wall. Order of the Captain, it is.” With that, the giant hefted the spear he was carrying and stomped away.
“Humph” thought John as the guard left “No one seems to care at all for the Princess, and if Robert sees me in the city, he will have me executed without further ceremony for breaching the prison. I must leave, and if I must, I will take the Princess along with me. She is not yet Valun’s Queen, so she could just as easily be mine. Now, how to draw her out…”
It seemed to John only moments later that he was in front of the Princess’s door once more. As soon as he had gained admittance, he began shouting “My Lady! We must flee! Enemies are approaching the city! We will die if we remain within these walls!”
“I have no need of you. My guards can get me out in safety.”
“Even so, you would be cut down and lost soon after you had emerged, for the enemy is approaching far faster than we would wish. If you permitted me to guide you and your guards, all of us would remain safe, so long as we leave soon enough that we are not surrounded by the foe.”
Moving to the window and looking out upon the approaching force, the Princess answered “Very well. If we must, we will follow you. Though I suspect that it is to save yourself from an execution, as much as you claim to wish to keep me safe.” Turning, she snapped an order at her guards in their native tongue. As one, they sprang up and hurried out the door. “It is your turn now.” She said to John, speaking the lingua franca of their lands once more. “I will follow when I am prepared.”
Understanding her meaning, John left the room, but remained in the corridor to wait.
Only twenty minutes later, though it had seemed an hour to John, the Princess reappeared, wearing a thick cloth riding cloak over a dress made of similar material. Noticing John’s look of surprise, she snapped “You didn’t think I was going to wear that thing while escaping into the country, did you?” Almost without pausing, she slipped into the language of her guards, appearing to shout at them too.
A moment later, two of her guards, having reentered her room promptly upon command, returned carrying a trunk. Lifting it above their heads, they continued on past the others and disappeared down the stairway. The Princess then ordered John to follow them, which he did, feeling strangely disappointed. The Princess and her remaining guards then started off only a few feet behind John, the guards carrying their cutlasses in their hands and walking on either side of her.
The party descended the stairs with all possible speed, not pausing until they were in the center of the great hall. When they had arrived there, they found that it was completely empty. Starting again a moment later, the party reached the main gate in minutes. There, they found several of the turbaned black guards waiting silently, holding the camels which their party had arrived on. Once each of them had mounted, John called to the sentries guarding the gate. “Let us through. We must pass!”
Slowly, the great gates opened. Digging his heels into his camel’s side, John sped down the tunnel formed by the gateway, the Princess and her guards following closely behind him.
As soon as they had emerged from the castle, John turned his steed and began riding hard down the nearest street, narrowly avoiding riding down several soldiers who flattened themselves against the walls to avoid being trampled. It happened that the men were guards of the prison and recognized him as he rode away. They prepared to run after him, but were stopped by the party following him. By the time that these had gone past, John was too far ahead to chase after. “We must tell the Captain that he is fleeing, though. He may still be caught.”
As the people of the city were either remaining inside their homes or mustering near the front gates, John and the Gairbairns did not meet anyone else until they reached the smaller gates within the rear wall of the city. Once there, they met only two soldiers who had remained behind to guard these gates. The soldiers rose to block their exit, saying “The Captain has ordered that no one may pass.”
At this, John replied “Bah! I do not care for the Captain or any of his rules! I do not care for anything that obstructs our escape!” Drawing his sword, he knocked both of the guards over the head with the pommel. As they fell unconscious, he leapt down from the camel, still holding the reins, and sliced the bar in two with his sword. Leaping aboard the camel once more, he charged it at the gates. The gates remained shut, nearly causing him to fall off his steed.
He dismounted once more. Grunting in frustration, he found the hinges and began hacking at them. A minute later, the doors could no longer be opened without the danger that they would fall on the opener. Mounting his camel for the second time, he charged it at the gates once more. This time, he succeeded. The doors, having no support, fell into the passageway. In a short, everyone had passed over them.
A moment later they found themselves outside of the city. The first thing John did was to confirm that the enemy had not already circled the walls. Having done this, he turned to the others and said “We are yet safe. They have not yet surrounded the walls.”
In reply, the Princess said “We can see that well enough. Where do you mean to go now?”
Without turning, John replied “You shall know when I am ready to tell you, not before. Until then, we must ride hard to escape.” Falling silent, John turned his camel toward the north and urged it forward. The party rode in the shadow of the walls for as long as possible. When they had reached the extreme corner of the walls, they were spotted by troops of the enemy. Ignoring calls to halt, they urged their camels forward once more, faster than before. As the enemies attempted to ride after them, their horses grew frightened and tried to run away with them. This allowed John and the others ample time to escape.
Looking up at the sky, John remarked “There should be no rest until nightfall.”
“What if my guards choose to halt? You can not order them, not speaking their language.”
“It makes no difference to me. They may stop if they choose.”
“Very well. But what makes you think I will continue on without them?”
John could not admit that he had been hoping that she would do this, and cursed himself for being so foolish. “Well then, we will halt when you choose, as dangerous as it may be.”
“If you saw the horses, you know that our foes will never be able to follow us mounted. And if they attempt to follow on foot, they will never catch us. There is no danger.”
As neither party was content with the way their escape had gone, they remained for some time after their dialogue concerning any possible pursuit. After several hours of silent riding, when they had paused beside a small stream to replenish their own supply of water, John looked up from his position on the bank to inquire of the Princess “What do your guards say of stopping here?”
After consulting with the guards, the princess replied “They wish to continue. They want you to know that they can endure much more than you can, and would rather that you left us, but if we must follow you to avoid getting lost, they advise you to tread carefully.”
“If they will refrain from attacking me by night, as one of their companions did before I left your country, I will not lead you astray.” John replied angrily, feeling insulted. Rising, he left to mount his camel once more.
They rode steadily until the sun began to set, then halted by the side of a stream similar to the one at which they had replenished their water-skins earlier that day. John watched as the Princess’s guards set about erecting the small tent she had, to John’s surprise, managed to bring with her all the way across Gairbairia and Corridane without damage. Catching sight of him standing several yards off from the place where her guards had chosen to erect her tent, the Princess came to where he stood, saying “We have escaped our enemies, and we are on our way to safety. What more could you want that the lack of it causes such an expression as I see on your countenance?”
“Consider our speech of the past. Remember what I have said to you several times before this day. In fact, I spoke of it again back in the city, only this morning. Think back and decide what you shall say when next I mention the subject, for it is that which is causing my unhappiness.”
After a pause, the Princess replied “I understand what you speak of. I must have more time to consider such an action.”
“You have had ample time before this day to decide on the question. Will you or no?”
“You are a man of hasty action. If you wish to remain in my favor, and I warn you that my patience with you is growing dangerously thin, you will allow me all the time I require to make my decision. Having that hanging over your every action should restrain you from doing anything too rash.” Without waiting for an answer, the Princess retired inside the tent, which had by now been erected.
Thinking on her words, John left his position to find a suitable place in the open to pass the night. Deciding to sleep with the beasts for the night, he lay himself down in the center of the sleeping camels, still thinking over the Princess’s last response.