Dwyn didn’t ask Ari how she avoided being seen by the guards. He had a feeling she wouldn’t have told him had he asked. Instead he focused on her news regarding where the centaurs were being held.

The plan they agreed upon was somewhat risky and hinged on the fact that people tended to look toward bright lights, especially in the dark. Dwyn stayed with Artesius while he prepared the distraction. Gwilym, the faun and Ari were to go in and rescue the centaurs. There were risks for both parties. If those guarding the stronghold decided to attack the cause of the distraction, Artesius and Dwyn would be sitting ducks as neither was a combatant. If not all the defenders was distracted, an alarm might be raised by someone and the others could be captured or worse.

A flickering light near the servant’s entrance told Dwyn that the others were in position and he nodded at Artesius. The centaur grinned and set off small fireworks he’d had in a pack across his back. They were small but bright and loud. In the dim light from the fortress, Dwyn could see crowds gathering on the wall facing them to watch the display. He listened as they oohed and aahed at the bright lights and sounds. He could ony hope the others fared as well.

**
Ari led the others to the servant’s entrance. A moment after the signal was given, fireworks began going off on the hillside where the boy and centaur waited. The distraction served two purposes. The first was obvious, to draw attention away from the captive centaurs. The second was less so, the sound of the serial explosions worked well to cover the thundering of the centaurs’ hooves as they made their escape.

“They’re in the barn,” she whispered. After giving the humans a moment to go watch the display on the hill, they ducked into the fortress. They had to avoid those milling around in the courtyard but it wasn’t long before they reached the barn.

Gwilym paused at the door, holding the padlock in his hands as if waiting for something. He chose his moment as a particularly loud explosion rippled through the night and smashed the lock with the butt of his sword. Once the lock was taken care of, the trio opened the door.

About a score of centaurs, all male, some rather young stared at them through sleepy eyes. Ari realized with a start why Artesius had been reluctant to wait until nightfall. Centaurs were by-and-large diurnal beings. They had poor night vision and a tendency to fall asleep as soon as it was dark, unless their stellar observations were enough of a distraction to keep them awake.

“We have to go,” whispered the faun.

There was a soft rustle of hay as the centaurs began standing and moving toward the small party. “We don’t know where Marius is. They took him away almost as soon as we got here,” one older stallion said. “The wind says he’s not even here anymore.”

“This is the majority of you though,” Ari confirmed. There were nods and murmurs of ascension throughout the crowd and she waved them back the way the trio had come. “We’ll have to look elsewhere,” she said.

“The stars say you won’t find him but he’ll be well,” one colt said as he paused to look up. “He’s going to make a new life away from the herd. It happens sometimes.”

“Any ideas where he is?” Gwilym asked.

“No, but he’s well and he’ll be happy soon enough,” the colt replied before trotting off to join the others.

Ari shrugged and motioned for the human to precede her. Centaurs were uncanny sometimes but they always knew what they were talking about.

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