Urgent pounding shook the door. Hethera jolted up in bed, heart thudding in her chest. It was still dark. Acen stumbled into her room, rubbing his eyes. She rose from the bed and motioned for him to remain in the room as she stepped out into the hall. The door gave a quiet click behind her.
Creeping down the hall, she took in deep breaths, trying to calm her thundering heart. She tiptoed down the stairs, cringing as one of the steps let off a horrendous creak. Ianen was at the door. He motioned for her to remain where she was as he drew his weapon. He motioned to someone off to the side that Hethera couldn’t see.
Hethera watched him open the door. Little sound reached her ears over the pounding in them. Her chest tightened. From where she stood on the wooden steps, prepared to run and grab Acen and flee, she saw a small form in the doorway. She narrowed her eyes at the object pressed up against the woman’s chest. Her breath caught in her throat. By the moon light streaming in through the doorway, she could see the woman held a baby. She raced toward the door and beckoned the woman inside.
Ianen frowned at her but sheathed his sword. Once the door closed behind her, he remained near it with his hand on the hilt of his sword. Every once in a while, he’d peer outside through the small window on the door as if expecting trouble. He met Hethera’s eyes and gave her a slight nod, telling her it was time.
Hethera turned her attention to the woman, hoping he wasn’t right. “Please, sit down.”
The woman shook her head. Graying brown hair fell down around her angular face. “We don’t have time for that. We have to leave before sunrise. If we don’t, we face execution.” Tears glistened in the woman’s kind, gray eyes.
“Execution?” Hethera breathed out, sinking into a nearby chair. She sat there in silence for several moments. A deep frown furrowed her brow. When she closed her eyes, tears slid down her cheeks.
“What’s happened?” Ianen asked. His voice was stern. His eyes didn’t leave the front of the house.
The woman fought back tears by giving a few rapid blinks. “This is King Zavad’s daughter. Her name is Caraya, and she is a wytch.” She sobbed before gaining control again. “She was born with power. More power than I’ve ever witnessed. As she was born, a golden light surrounded her. It’s faded, but her skin remains a golden color, as does her eyes. Her birth killed the queen.
“King Zavad has ordered us to leave Yul. He told me to take you with me as you knew what would happen to his wife and refused to tell him. We are no longer welcome in his kingdom. If anyone should find us while still in Yul, his soldiers have orders to kill us on sight. No questions.” She sucked in a deep breath. “We must leave now, Lady Hethera. If we’re not outside of the city before sunrise, he’ll kill us. Grief has maddened him.”
Hethera thinned her lips. It was curious why she hadn’t seen this coming. For the last two nights, she hadn’t had a vision. It had come as a blessing. These unwanted insights plagued her during waking and sleeping hours. Now, she wanted them back. She needed to know the future to protect everyone.
“Let me speak with King Zavad. He must see reason. I didn’t kill anyone.” She took the woman’s hand into hers and gave it a gentle squeeze. “He’s always seen it before.”
The woman gave a bitter laugh. Ianen’s eyes moved to her for a moment. “You don’t understand, Lady Hethera. You weren’t there. He will kill his own daughter. He views Caraya as a murderer and refused to even touch her. He’s not the same man you knew.”
Hethera knew the woman spoke the truth. The fear in her light gray eyes said it all. Hethera looked toward Ianen who still wore a grim face. His eyes met hers for the briefest of moments before returning to the small window in the door. His hand never left the hilt of his sword. Ianen had known this was coming. He had warned her. She had readied herself to leave, but she had never really thought it would happen.
“It’s in our best interest to leave now, Lady Hethera,” Ianen said, stepping away from the door. “There are no signs of the king’s guards yet, but that can change at any moment. I don’t trust him. You mustn’t let him kill you or his child.”
Hethera didn’t answer. This was her home. This was where Acen was born. This was where Ogden would come looking for her. The war was over and he was on his way. She longed to wrap her arms around him and know that he had survived.
Closing her eyes, she allowed a few tears to stream down her face. She would have to trust in the Gods to tell Ogden where to find her and Acen. It was far too risky to leave a clue. Besides, she had no idea where they would go. She didn’t know much about the other kingdoms.
“I know you planned for this, Ianen,” she said in a soft voice. She turned to meet his serious eyes. “I don’t expect you to come with me. You’re a soldier to Yul. You owe me nothing. Please don’t risk your life for me.”
Ianen shook his head at her. Hethera furrowed her brow. “I’m not going anywhere. You’re an important lady and the king’s not himself. I cannot serve such a man who is willing to kill his own daughter. My loyalties have been sworn to you, for quite some time now. Lady Hethera, you’re a special woman. Although your visions have been quiet for a few nights now, I cannot abandon you. I don’t think the Gods would look upon me with any sort of kindness if I were to abandon you now.”
“I’ll get Acen and our things.” Hethera rose, looking about her home again. Tears sat in her eyes. She and her husband had discussed leaving, but she had never imagined it like this. Her hand brushed the banister of the stairs with regret.
“Do you have any idea where we’ll go, my lady?” the woman asked.
Hethera turned toward her, watching the woman hold Caraya close. Though the child slept, the midwife rocked back and forth. Hethera guessed it was more of a comfort to her than for the baby.
“No.” She met Ianen’s steady eyes.
“Let’s worry about getting out of the city first,” he answered.