Isiah had killed a man. That much was certain. He’d seen the blood, he’d been the one to push him. Twice he had pushed him and the first time guilt had flooded his veins. The second time had been worse. The second time he knew what he had done, knew that his Gods were angry with him.
He was a murderer. Princess Sharina could have held her own. She would have dealt with it without him. But for some reason he couldn’t explain, he’d rushed to her aid. And as a result, a man was dead because of him. He should have left her. She was the one with the sword.
He hadn’t expected the man to die when he’d pushed him. All Isiah had wanted to do was get him away from the Princess. But the man, already disoriented from Isiah’s early shove, slipped and smacked his head on the rocky floor. He hadn’t meant for it to happen, but it still had. He had killed someone.
As he followed Nerin down the suffocatingly thin tunnels, the thoughts repeated themselves over and over again. He didn’t know how far they walked, it was all he could do to stop himself from vomiting at the images of blood in his mind. He could just turn back and surrender himself, but he needed to get the Princess to safety. He had already killed for her, it only seemed right to keep going.
When they’d come out of the tunnels, it had been on the other side of the palace walls. They stood in the middle of someone’s basement, light and cold winter air streaming down towards them. Whoever owned the home wasn’t there and obviously didn’t know about the secret tunnel stuffed behind a decrepit bookshelf.
When they made to leave the home, Princess Sharina grabbed him by the wrist. “I can’t go out there,” she said. “I’m Askari.” Somehow, in all the drama and danger of the day, he had forgotten that she wasn’t like most people in Brenmar.
Without a word, he pulled his robes from his body and handed them to her. “There is a hood on the back to hide your face,” he said.
“Won’t you be cold?” she asked but he only shook his head. He had thin but tight black clothing underneath. He would probably freeze as soon as they left, but it was better than being discovered.
Nerin tapped his feet against the floor. “What about me?” he asked with a frown. “I’m the Crown Prince. I might not leave the palace much, but people would recognise my face.”
“How often do you go outside?” Princess Sharina asked.
“Not often. Once I found where this lead, I never came back,” Nerin answered. “It’s too dangerous for me to be out on my own. That was what Harudan told me, anyway.”
The Princess hissed and bit down on her lip. “We should be fine, but we’ll find something for you soon,” she said and pulled on Isiah’s robes. He didn’t need them anymore. He was a murderer after all. He couldn’t follow his religion if he was no longer a pacifist. “I’m assuming this means you don’t know a way out of the city?”
Nerin shook his head. “No, I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright, we’ll figure it out,” the Princess said as she pulled the hood over her head. “Come on, we’d better go before someone finds us.”
The streets were cramped and busy. The day was cold and grey but somehow all the people around them found a reason to smile and laugh. None of them took any notice of the robe-clad Princess or the nervous-looking Prince. In fact, Isiah was convinced that they were all looking at him, judging him for what he had done.
Most of the buildings were made of pale stone, topped with worn wooden roofs. Multicoloured awnings cast extra shade over the dusty roads. There weren’t any stalls set up outside the buildings like there had been when Isiah had arrived. In the distance were taller, nicer looking buildings, ones Isiah assumed were home to any nobles living in the city.
Isiah’s thoughts drifted away from Ishmar back to everything that had happened. He hadn’t even known the man’s name or if he had family or friends. Isiah didn’t know the life he had taken him from. All he knew was that he’d been trying to hurt them and he’d retaliated. He was meant to be a pacifist. The only person who was allowed to hurt others was the Beast that was Promised. And they weren’t in Vishera yet.
Although, after what he had just witnessed, he wouldn’t be surprised if they were. King Harudan had tried to kill the treaty party and for what? Isiah couldn’t see the point in it. All he could see was that he and Nerin had been right, that the Mother had been right to warn him.
He didn’t know what the treaty being ripped up meant for Vishera. Would there be war or would it be the same as it had been for the last ten years? He hoped for the latter, but there was a part of him that doubted it. The treaty had been an attempt on the Princess’s life. Never in the last ten years had either country been so bold. This was something new.
The best thing they could do was get out of the city as fast as possible. But Ishmar was big and they had no idea where they were. It didn’t help that they were walking around with the Crown Prince. No one had recognised him yet, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t. It was only a matter of time.
The trio walked the streets slowly. The castle was behind them, its walls towering over them. They were in the middle of the city. It would be a long walk before they could leave. “We will need to get you out of those robes soon, Princess Sharina,” Isiah said. Every street they passed, he would look down for guards, but couldn’t see anything through the crowds. “I’m sure the guards would be looking for people in my robes.”
“Then we need to buy supplies,” the Princess replied with a frown. “Please tell me one of you has money.” Isiah nodded. He’d grabbed the money purse the Mother had given him that morning. Something in his gut had told him he would need it.
Nerin cleared his throat. “I also think it is a better idea to call each other by our names from now on. Who knows who could be listening,” he suggested. The Princess looked unnerved by the idea but didn’t argue against it. She stopped to let Isiah pull the money purse from the pockets of his robes.
“We need food and clothes,” Sharina said, looking around the nearby stores. “We need to get them quickly. How far is it to the border?”
“The border?” Nerin repeated, far too loudly, but no one appeared to have heard. “Why are we going to the border?”
Sharina looked at him as if he’d said something stupid. “I need to get back to Minisia. My father needs to know what happened. Nerin, your brother will not get away with what he tried to do with me.”
Nerin said nothing, but he looked as though he was going to vomit. Isiah placed a tentative hand on his shoulder. Somehow, he’d forgotten that Nerin was King Harudan’s brother. He was royalty. What had happened in the throne room directly affected him. All three have them had seen and done things they had never wanted to.
The Mother’s warning came back to him. There was a place he could go to get away from Harudan and the guards that were after them. Up west in the mountains was a safe place. No one knew about it. He could go on his own. If Sharina wanted to go to the border she could. She was able to look after herself. Nerin could stay in Ishmar or go with either one of them.
It wasn’t until Sharina was leading them towards a clothing store that Nerin finally spoke. “We can’t go to the border,” he whispered, barely audible in the busy streets.
Sharina froze in the doorway and glared at Nerin. “What?” she said, her voice like ice. “Why not?”
Isiah bit down hard on his lip as people passed them by and eyed them warily. It took Nerin a moment to answer, wringing his hands together as he thought. “Because that is exactly what Harudan would expect you to do,” he said and ran a hand through his hair. “If he can’t find us in the city, then he would expect us to head straight for the border. They’d catch us in an instant.”
Once again, Isiah was surprised by just how smart the boy was. He’d been the one to get them out of the palace after all. He was probably smarter than him, smarter than anyone else he had ever met except the Mother.
Sharina’s face scrunched in frustration and she let out a near-hysterical groan. “We’ll talk about this later. Somewhere quieter. Supplies are more important right now,” she said and finally pushed the door to the shop open.
Inside, the shelves were filled to the brim with winter clothing. People mulled about, staring at the clothes and keeping to themselves. At the counter, a bored-looking man watched them walk in, but didn’t react at the strangeness of the group, not even the blue hue of the Princess’s skin.
Isiah, money purse in hand, moved Sharina and Nerin to the edge of the room. “Buy what fits you, give it to me and I will pay,” he told them. “Buy enough for a couple of days. I should have enough money.”
“And if you don’t?” Sharina asked.
“Then we buy enough for one day,” he said and wished that he had his robes on to hide in. “And no dresses. We’ll find a mask or something for Nerin.”
Clothes for him were easy to find. He’d never worn anything except for robes and the tight black clothing underneath, but he knew his size. He grabbed the cheapest shirts and trousers he could find and a couple of thick overcoats. His boots would be fine for where he would be walking to.
It wasn’t at all what he had thought his pilgrimage would be like. He’d expected to do quiet work in the castle before leaving and working in the farms around Brenmar. He had never expected murder and violence and being on the run from the King’s Guard. He’d never expected to kill someone.
Could he even go back to the Sanctum now that he was a murderer? He doubted it. To be a follower of the Old Gods mean to never hurt anyone. He’d killed someone, the worst crime someone like him could commit. He wouldn’t convert. He couldn’t, he didn’t believe in the New Gods. But he’d never be seen as a real follower anymore.
Even so, he would still go west. It would be the safest place for him. The question was, could he bring Sharina and Nerin with him? Nerin might follow him, but Sharina seemed desperate to go back to Minisia. He could understand why, but the Prince had been right, it was far too dangerous for them.
Nerin wandered up to him not long after, a mask resembling a drake covering his red eyes. He had a bundle of clothes in his arms and a frown on his lips. “How’s this?” he asked. He sounded tired, sad, a whole combination of things a boy his age should not be.
He held out a wad of clothing, just enough for a few days. “Yeah, that’s good. Give me the mask so I can pay for it,” Isiah replied and frowned at the boy. “Nerin, are you alright?”
A single tear fell from beneath the mask. “No,” Nerin whimpered and wiped at his face. “I barely understand anything that’s happened. All I know is that we have to get you and Sharina out of Ishmar and that I don’t want to stay here.”
Tentatively, Isiah placed a hand on his shoulder and rubbed little circles with his thumb. “I can’t say it will be okay, but you are more than welcome to come with me. I have a place we can go to. I just need to tell Sharina,” he said.
“And if she won’t come?”
“Then she won’t. It’s up to her.”
“What’s up to me?” Sharina asked, her hands full of the same kind of clothing Isiah held.
Isiah grabbed them from her. “There’s a place we can go. The Mother told me about it. We can talk about it later,” he explained. The old man at the counter barely spared them a glance as they handed over the money. It took almost half of what the Mother had given him, but they needed it.
The trio froze when they left the stores, arms full with brown paper bags. A group of guards prowled the streets, looking at the faces of every single person they passed. Under the awning of the store, the three of them were hidden, but they wouldn’t be for long. They were still too close to the castle, too easy to find.
The Princess let out a gasp and pulled both boys to the side. Isiah let out a grunt as they turned into a thin and empty alleyway. He never once tore his eyes away from the guards. There were four of them, too many for Sharina to take out, especially in the middle of a busy street.
But the guards passed their alleyway without so much as a glance. All three of them breathed out sighs of relief. “We need to be further away from the castle,” Princess Sharina said as she tucked her long hair further under the hood. “Where did you say this place was, Isiah?”
“West, in the mountains,” he answered. Between the two tallest, if he remembered correctly. “It’s a religious place. The Mother told me about it.”
The Princess breathed out an exhausted sigh. “West. That’s the opposite of where I need to go.”
“Then maybe it would be better to go that way,” Nerin supplied, the smallest of smiles on his face. “They’d never expect it. We don’t have to be there for long, just enough time for the guards and Harudan to lose track of us.”
“How far are the mountains?”
Both boys looked at each other and shrugged. “No idea,” Nerin replied. “A few days, hopefully not much more than a week.”
The Princess took a moment to think. There was a frown on her face and her eyes were fixated on the ground. For a second, Isiah was sure she would decline, but to his surprise, she nodded. “Alright, west it is,” she muttered and turned away from them. “Come on, we need to get food and find a place to change. Then we get out of this city as soon as we can.”