The magician awoke with a snort. He rubbed his open hand across his mouth and his glistening forehead, wiping the sweat from his eyes with his thumb. He sat up on the edge of his cot, blinking and waiting for his eyes to find the light. After a time the cold rays of the waning moon showed him enough of the room that he could stand and walk safely. He went quickly to the other cot and shook the sleeping figure.
“Get up, boy!” he said in a loud whisper. “We have to leave immediately. Get up!”
The bundled figure reacted violently, and the magician had to jerk his head to the side to avoid the arm flung at him. “Aithan, you must get up now!” he said, no longer pretending to whisper.
These words seemed to jolt the other person awake and he threw off his coverings and stood up. He was no boy at all, but a well-muscled young man who was nearly a head taller than the magician. “What is it, uncle Fri?” he asked. Concern filled his voice, and the remnants of sleep.
“We must go this very moment,” the magician answered as he rolled up his blanket and grabbed at his stick and his bag. “Do not ask questions, not now.”
The boy-man did as he was told, gathering up a large bundle from the corner of the room, and the magician opened the door. They descended the narrow stairs as quickly as the faint moon and dull fireplace embers would allow them, and were soon in the street. Aithan unlatched the stable door along the side of the inn, and entered. The stable boy scrambled up from his pile of hay, but when he saw the magician standing in the road watching him in the sickly moonlight, he stood still and uttered no sound, only making the sign of the cross repeatedly. As Aithan went past him and got the donkey and led it out, the magician held the stable boy in his gaze and put his finger to his lips. The magician reached into his money sack and pulled out a brass coin. After a moment he reached in again and withdrew a small silver coin. As Aithan began pushing the door closed the magician tossed the coin through the opening and smiled as the stable boy dove after it. Then all was quiet again. The magician held the donkey’s lead while Aithan wrapped its hooves in strips of cloth with practiced efficiency.
In the streets the faint moonlight on the glistening wet stones helped to light their way, and soon they passed through a small gate in the city wall and were on the southern road. Once they were out of hearing range of any guards on the walls, Aithan unwound the cloth strips from the animal’s hooves. He turned to the magician and asked “Uncle Fri, what is happening? Why are we leaving like this?” His voice remained anxious.
“I’ve had a sign. We must reach Eldonas and board a ship.”
“What was the sign, uncle?”
“Not now, boy. Trust me in this.”
Aithan, who had trusted the magician’s signs all his life, trusted this one with no more thought or effort than drawing breath. After a pause, he said “I’ve been having my nightmares again.”
The magician grunted and turned to reply, but then turned back without any answer. They continued along the road under the soft splintered light, walking as if not to disturb the looming trees. In the distance, from one direction, then another and another until the sound filled the darkness, steeple bells rang the call to matins.