Before daybreak, in the early morning, the dry, cold wind chilled him to the bone. Rustiver pulled his tunic tight to himself and swore under his breath. The faster they rode the colder he felt but he couldn’t risk slowing his escape. Though the road leading west from Mhavo wouldn’t be guarded, he couldn’t shake the feeling that his departure had been too easy.
Grophen had said very little when he had divulged his intention to leave. Rustiver had learned a great deal in the years they had spent together but the recent developments had put a strain on event the most devout. Benitum’s orders at Mhavo were the ravings of a lunatic, a man gone mad with power and obsession, and Rustiver could no longer tolerate being a tool of oppression.
The grave resignation on the dwarf’s faced hung in his mind. Rustiver extracted his flask and took a deep pull from it. The intoxicant sent the familiar warm sensations through his increasingly numb body. Not as potent a feeling as it usually was, he took another swallow to compensate.
Stars were already fading from the sky as the cursory rays of light poked up from the horizon. Judging his distance traveled he estimated he was a few leagues from the accursed city. The chaos caused by Benitum’s mandates would provide enough cover for him to disappear completely, he thought to himself. Perhaps he’d open a tavern or apprentice as a smith, even selling goods was a possibility. No more suffering, sacrifice, or pain in his life sounded increasingly promising the more he thought of it.
Distracted with his thoughts, Rustiver paid very little attention to the treeline beside the road. The chill of the wind racing past him had drained him and he held the reigns loosely in his hands. Likewise, the horse’s gait had also slowed considerably and had his attention not been elsewhere the former Eston adjudicator would have roused the creature back to a swift gallop. Yet, he didn’t and the horse loped slowly.
The forceful hit came at once and cleanly extruded him from the saddle. He fell to the ground immediately and slammed against the cold, hard earth. Instinctively he raced to his feet but another blow knocked him back down. His eyes opened and with one last look at his horse, continuing to canter down the road, the boots and legs swarmed him; then, total blindness.