He had little left to lose beyond his own life and freedom, but he owed a debt to the man in the prison, a debt held in his dying child's ease of pain, and the additional draught prepared by the man he now sought.
The magician had pressed the bottle, wrapped in a length of silk, into hands unwilling to take them. "So much?" he had whispered.
"Only a spoonful. It will be enough. It is sweet and pleasant to the taste. But," he hesitated, his oddly bright eyes dimmed as he turned away. "You may need more, someday." He had known, somehow, looking at the woman waiting beside the door.
He owed this man.
The man whose hazel-gold eyes passed over his own without recognition and had flicked away even as the small silver knife carved another arc into his already-flayed flesh. Flesh that looked dead but still bled, could feel pain, as evidenced by the screams echoing down the corridor until growing rougher and finally silent, from where he remained with the other guard. Now the others lay stupefied with opium, illegal, of course, but what did their lives matter against the debt he owed? Allah had little patience with those who did not repay what was owed.
The cell was mercifully frigid, air rank and straw fouled from old blood and human excrement. He, the magician, lay naked and shackled in the corner, not even a bit of rag against the night air. Amir Khan wrapped the silk around his mouth and nostrils, and yes, heard the faint exhalation over the scurry of small creatures in the filthy straw. He lived. Tayr was saddled, the packs stuffed with food and medicines, clothing, water bags, and what money could be easily spared. The magician would be minimally supplied, if he escaped, if they both lived through this night of horrors.
The locks slipped off, half completed already, and Khan shook his head. No chain had yet held this man. The golden eyes were mere slits in the battered face, made more hideous by dried blood, and the thin lips tightened into a hiss of agony as Khan eased him against the wall.
"Can you rise?"
Swaying, he unfolded himself as Khan caught his arm, mere bones under the parchment skin, and torn flesh began to drip again. Dizzy from blood loss and pain, the magician hunched against the wall, working swollen and dislocated fingers straight, breathing shallow. Khan pulled the silk from around his mouth and wrapped the man's ribcage tightly, wishing he had another strip to bind the lacerated and purple genitals. No inch of flesh had been spared.
They stumbled past the dazed guards, leaving a trail of blood on the stone.
He pulled a flask from his bosom and handed it over. "Slowly. It is laced with..." but the magician had grimaced at the taste and in turn poured the remainder across several open wounds, sucking in air between his teeth at the sting of alcohol. Khan handed him the bundle of garments, sand-colored tunic and darker vest, a sash and leggings, then bent to pull sandals from another man's feet. He turned to see the magician stagger and lean against the wall.
"We have none! We must both go, or this night will be as if spent in a woman's arms!"
The thin lips twisted. "I would not know." He dragged a hand across a split and oozing lip, then bent, pulling a cord from about a guard's waist and testing it experimentally between his hands.
Khan toppled a table and with a kick, wrenched a leg loose. "Poor workmanship."
They were on the outer guards before either made a sound, the magician's garrote choking closed Daoud's airway even as the makeshift club impacted Nasir's skull. Khan shrugged; he had never liked either man or their needless cruelty.
Tayr shied sideways and tossed her head at the metallic tang of blood, but was far too well bred to make a single sound. Khan cupped his hands. "Can you mount?"
The magician gritted his teeth. "Yes" and stepping into the Chief of Security's hands flung himself up and into the saddle, leaning low over the horse's neck, patting the mare and whispering soothing words. Khan held up the club.
"You must strike me. Do a good job of it, but I would prefer not to awaken in Paradise. Or perhaps I would." He sighed. "Tomorrow will be unpleasant."
"At best." The golden eyes stared down. "Why."
"You know why."
"Allah yusallmak. God be with you. And go, quickly, Magician."
The golden eyes seared him. "My name is Erik. I will not forget this."
The horse spun, there was a blinding pain, and darkness.
Many miles away, in the shadows of a new moon, a silent figure led a horse to drink from a village trough, hooves muffled on the stone street. He had found amongst the provisions and supplies in the pack, a bottle well-wrapped, the smell sweet and soothing to his nostrils. Khan had provided him a sure way out, should there be no other option. He raised a hand in salute toward the south, leading the horse back to the outskirts of the sleeping village.
No, he would never forget. And perhaps, someday, there would be a way to repay the man.
Allah did not like debtors.
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