The girl had yet to speak. The bird that fluttered from shoulder to shoulder gave voice for both of them. It had announced, upon their entering the hovel where the Minotaur had spent the last days of his journey, that he was to come with them. The Minotaur had stood up and allowed his hand to be taken by the girl. There seemed no point in asking questions or demanding explanations. He was at the mercy of this girl and her bird, until they reached the end of their portion of his journey.
Such had been his fate for these last months, since he had begun this ordeal, broken and fleeing into the night. He had been forced to endure much and had to learn to trust in those he did not know and could not see. Would they betray him to those who were looking for him? He would not know until it was too late.
The fact it was a girl, hardly more than ten years old to judge by the size of her hand and his sense of her height—he was becoming quite adept at judging a person’s size by the feel of their movement—was somewhat reassuring. Though he knew it should not be. Girls, whatever their age, could be bought. Everyone had a price, as he knew too well.
In spite of all he had lost, in spite of the meanness of this existence—going from one safe house to another, never having a home, indebted to strangers he could never repay—he never thought of stopping or slipping into despair. There was no use for self-pity. This was what fate had chosen for him, and he would continue to wander for as long as fate allowed. He expected it would not be long.
“How much farther?” he asked, when he could stand the silence no longer.
The girl shrugged and the bird said, “It will take us the evening to get to the river.”
What river they were heading for, and what happened once they reached it, was left unstated. Most likely, the girl and the bird did not know. How many others had they conducted along this trail in the dead of the night?
After some time the bird spoke again. “You needn’t worry. We meet our bargains.”
The Minotaur did not reply. Words mattered little, as they all knew. It was actions that counted.
They walked the rest of the night, stopping only once to rest, and then only briefly. To the Minotaur’s relief, the trail they were on was well-trodden and the terrain it wandered over was relatively gentle. With his sight taken from him, to say nothing of the other grievous injuries he had suffered, such small mercies were welcome.
The limp in his right leg, a result of a broken hip that had healed improperly, grew more pronounced as the morning approached. It was always this way and he offered no complaint. The bird and girl would not care to hear it. It was an injury from another lifetime, a life taken from him, a constant reminder of that loss. Only in his exhaustion did the memories, that he kept so carefully at bay, return. He was helpless to stop them.
Morning was nearing when they halted again. The Minotaur could sense dawn’s arrival by the change in the air around him. The bird cooed softly into the darkness, a song that the Minotaur was certain was not his. After a time, someone whistled in response, some distance away, and girl began to lead the Minotaur forward.
He stiffened, he could not help himself. Here was potential for danger. The girl and the bird had not betrayed him yet, but if they were planning to, now would be when he found out. Someday it would happen, it was inevitable, he could only hope he would be spared one more night.
The trail led down into the river valley, leaves brushing against his face and shoulders as they went. The ground was uneven and he had some difficulty keeping his feet under him and had to lean on the girl. She took his weight without issue, surprising him. As they descended, the sound of the river came to him, a hushed murmur that gradually became louder.
They halted again and the Minotaur could hear the bird fly from the girl’s shoulder. He could hear it whisper a greeting and receive one in return. The man who replied had a strangled voice, that sounded to the Minotaur as though it could not rise much above a whisper. He was very near.
“This is your passage,” the bird said, loud enough for the Minotaur to hear.
The man grunted and the girl’s small hand was replaced by his hard, callused one. The Minotaur was led into the river, the water cold on his ankles, and the man helped him into the front of a small boat. The man pushed the vessel off from the shore, grunting under his breath, before climbing in behind the Minotaur.
The Minotaur did not speak and the man seemed disinclined to as well, busy working at the paddles, dragging the boat across the current. The night that was left to them seemed still and silent, only the water beneath them disturbing the peace. The Minotaur listened to it, letting the sound lull him, as the boat went to the river’s far side, taking him to what awaited him there.
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