They approached the mountain entrance, a vast soaring arch that blocked what Eoin presumed to be the only road up through the pass. Torches burned as bonfires at the top of the parapets. The gates were comprised of a polished white and black stone, inlaid with turquoise and green tiles into complicated repeating designs, only interrupted with larger, more complex tiles of vegetation and animals. Two hawk-like reliefs pushed their way out of the gates to cast predatory gazes on those permitted to pass through.
Masud was stopped by the guards. He produced a scroll that he handed to them. Eoin stared at the guards, haunted, as they approached the cart and took in what was in the back. The guard sneered and waived Masud in to the city. Eoin dry swallowed as the cart clattered over cobbled roads and passed solid stone structures. Clothing was strung out on lines to dry. Greenery and flowers blossomed at doorsteps and women called to each other. The smell of roasting meats wafted down the pass, causing Eoin’s stomach to cramp.
The cart dragged them through the city, past row upon row of houses and markets. Where was Masud taking them? Surely they would turn soon and be deposited with someone. Then he’d be secure. Then his children would no longer be hunted. His heart beat hard and slow in his chest as tension mounted.
A new gate, more impressive then the last, loomed into view. Gold flake shimmered in triangles at the top of the ramparts. Soldiers in lavish uniforms stood at the gate and along the top of the wall. There Masud again stopped and presented his documents. This time though, he was made to wait.
A series of men and women emerged. Masud and the driver were ordered off of the cart and the men and women waited as Eoin and his small family dismounted the back. The people’s eyes held ill regard for the contents of the cart. Eoin’s heart sank. Had Masud…? Then with rough hands gasping his shroud, he was pushed in through the gate to be greeted by an immense and overwhelming courtyard filled with palm trees and fountains.
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