Yarrow felt wholly not herself as she walked with Lord Exsil Vis, his man, and Jules to the infiltration point. She felt as if she’d been made empty and turned into something else; as if her dream with Kore really had made her reborn. She walked hollowly; somehow went through the motions of being on Lord Exsil Vis’ side. She’d made eye contact with Captain Coalette as she left the camp and headed to the North Gate; the woman knew what to do. So did Jester – the night before Yarrow had given the girl further instructions.
She prayed the message to Ghia had gone through. Otherwise this venture, and the lives of her regiment, would all be over very quickly.
They walked along the outside of the wall that surrounded Atherton, heading west. Jules walked behind her; Lord Exsil Vis was to her right and his officer, Jason, walked behind him. It was the most mutually beneficial arrangement. It was a fairly short walk, so they had not taken their horses. That would have been more conspicuous to anyone who was watching from the castle, anyway, she and the lord of Voco had both agreed. Not that it really mattered, but she didn’t tell him that.
Presently they reached the point where the Blood River flowed under the wall and through the castle, before being rerouted to go underground until it reached the South Gate, where it flowed under bridges that led out of the city and turned into the Three Sisters, three rivers no longer the red colour of their mother. Not that those bridges existed anymore; Lord Exsil Vis had bragged very loudly that he’d destroyed the entire South Gate with his war machines. Metal that was capable of making things explode; bombs, he’d called them. Yarrow almost didn’t believe him, but she’d seen the destruction herself. The broken stone of the bridges and walls had fallen into the river and obstructed it partially, destroying how nicely the rivers had been spaced and set up. She was sure it’d had some effect on the river under the city and through the castle; now, as they got ready for the next part, she noticed the new turbulence of the waters.
They took off their boots, mail, and weapons to store in oilcloth that they then strapped to their backs. She hoped it would hold for the swim they had to make.
Down to leather and linen, Yarrow stepped into the water first. It was icy, as it would continue to be until the solstice. She bore it silently and went until she was treading water by the wall.
Lord Exsil Vis followed, then their secondary officers. Whispering, Yarrow explained what awaited them. The wall went three metres down into the water, and was two metres thick. There was a tunnel underneath the wall that they could fit through. They had to swim that, break water silently on the other side, and continue to swim through the river in the exposed East Gardens until they reached where the water flowed into the castle. There Jules and Jason would leave to go open the gates to the castle and let the troops in while Yarrow and Lord Exsil Vis continued alone, through another swim almost as bad as the first – two metres down and one across.
“I hope you have strong lungs, my lord,” Yarrow said. Her only reply was his smile.
Taking a deep breath, Yarrow dove. She swam as fast as possible in the turbulent waters, heading straight down as a queenfisher struck for its prey. Her lungs were starting to burn as she reached the bottom. Quickly she swam underneath, not letting herself bob against the stone, which could catch her clothing. Kicking as hard as she could she swam for the end; spots danced in front of her eyes. Soon she broke free of the wall and let herself float upwards, kicking her legs to help her flight.
She broke the water’s surface silently as possible and took deep breaths. I never want to do that again, she thought, and tried not to imagine the next swim. Soon Exsil Vis joined her, followed by their men. She signalled to be silent, and they followed her as she swam down the river till they reached the shadow of the castle. Here Jules and Jason left the water and quickly got dressed again; Yarrow nodded a farewell to her major-medic, sending a silent prayer to Bellona that he would not die by treachery.
She had no such hope for herself.
The next swim was easier, and they could break the water gasping. They were in the bowels of the castle; no one ever came down here, save to relight the torches that went out. There were yellow-orange pools of light on the water that moved with the ripples caused by their surfacing. She nodded in the direction they were to swim, where stairs came down into the water. Soon they reached them and got out; Yarrow was shivering, and she was sure not even the beastly man beside her was immune to the water’s cold. As quickly as their freezing bodies would allow, they dressed and put their weapons on again, and headed up the long, curving staircase that would lead them to the end of the dungeons. Through there, they would go on, to the banquet hall, and then the kitchens, and the Elevator.
She would have lied, to keep him from ever reaching Zardria and Caelum. But there was no point; Lord Exsil Vis knew the castle very well.
I’ll just have to be faster than he is.