The wooden door creaked open. Ned heard footsteps moving toward him. Krea sped around the oak upright and stood by the light of the fire. She was pale and had clammy skin.
“They’re coming for you.” Her voice was shaking.
Ned’s heart froze.
“We don’t have much time. The big soldier who brought you here…”
“I… I overheard him saying he wants you found. He said…” Her eyes filled with tears. “He said he was going to kill you…”
Ned’s heart leapt. His mind was in a blur. Krea stared into the darkness and bit her lower lip. She moved forward and held his shirt sleeve.
“You’ve got to get away. I have an idea… get ready to go.”
She hurried away. From the corner of his eye, Ned looked at where he had hidden the instrument and map. He parted the hay and carefully took them out. Still wrapped in cloth, he placed the instrument before the fire. Unfolding its parts, he clipped the lenses into place. Pulling his boots on, he crept outside and lined it up against the full moon. A long trail of men, horses and carts snaked across the swamp away from Malaxia. Looking at the near-side of the illuminated path, two guards remained. He saw Krea hurrying back and she rushed into his quarters with a bag packed full.
“Here, take this. It’s got some stuff for you.” Her voice cracked with emotion.
“B… but I don’t want to go,” he stuttered, digging his heels in. His eyes were watery.
“I want you to stay as well, but the soldiers will be here soon. And then…” she paused. “Be careful. Stepping away from the path means death. Y… you will forever be in my heart.”