The Snowy Tower

The Snowy Tower by Belinda Murrell Read Free Book Online

Book: The Snowy Tower by Belinda Murrell Read Free Book Online
Authors: Belinda Murrell
us down enormously, and we simply don’t have time to hide our tracks.’
    ‘Good, we all agree then,’ Lily summarised. ‘Hopefully we completely lost Sniffer on the moors west of Tira, and we won’t need to worry about him for a while.’
    Two white-bobbed rabbits, startled by their passing, ran across the track in front of them. Aisha immediately gave chase, barking and racing, pretending not to hear Lily’s call to stop.

    Three hours to the south, Sniffer was galloping on one of King Radnor’s prized grey geldings, using a short whip. He was followed by a troop of ten mounted soldiers and a pack of spare horses. Sniffer intended to swap horses regularly so he could gain on his quarry. He had sent out scouts the night before to interrogate local villagers and farmers to gain clues to the direction the children were travelling.
    Threats, blows and enticements had been offered to peasants in a ten-kilometre radius of the city. A stocky farmer had finally succumbed and sulkily muttered that he had seen four children and a dog, riding on the road that led north towards Trowbridge.
    Sniffer had organised supplies, horses and soldiers to be readied while he waited for the intelligence reports. Once he knew the direction the children were travelling, he had wanted to set out at once. However, the Sedah groom had convinced him to wait until dawn, to minimise risk of injury to the horses. Sniffer had hardly slept all night and had woken the soldiers long before dawn.
    The guards on the city gates had to open up early to let the soldiers through. Sniffer had allowed the horses to walk while it was still dark, but as soon as it was half light they were galloping at full pace, laden with armoured soldiers and weapons.
    Later that morning, Sniffer spied a scuff in the mud on the bank to the right of the track. He leapt from his horse and investigated. As he had thought, the scuff mark was caused by a horse’s hoof sliding in the soft mud. The hoof prints led off the track to a small camp site. He found five flattened spaces in the grass and the blackened ash of a recent camp fire. He found plaited wisps of grass, matted with brown and black horse hair, and he found greenybrown piles of horse dung. He estimated that the freshest dung was only two or three hours old.
    In the roadway, the soldiers and horses were having a well-deserved rest – the horses lipping thegrass, the men sipping from water bottles and stretching their legs. The groom was taking small groups of horses down to the nearby stream to drink.
    ‘On your horses, men. We continue north,’ barked Sniffer.
    The groom cursed inwardly, worried for the horses in his care. ‘But Sniffer, the horses need to –’
    ‘I said we’re going, now,’ interrupted Sniffer, clambering up into his saddle. Every muscle ached. Sniffer was not a horseman, but he was determined to find Princess Roana and those pesky children this time. The other soldiers groaned but obeyed sullenly.

    Back in Tira, over breakfast, Captain Malish heard that Sniffer had set off before dawn with a troop of soldiers, on the trail of some children and a dog seen crossing the eastern bridge. He swore loudly. His ears were still ringing from the invective that had been shouted at him by Governor Lazlac yesterday afternoon. Apparently those children had not died at sea after all but were causing more trouble.
    Captain Malish thought of a plan that would earn him a lot of points from Governor Lazlac. He sent orders for Lord Mortimer to be fetched from his cell and brought to the stables at once. He would take Lord Mortimer with him to identify the princess. He wanted to be sure that there were no mistakes this time.
    So for the second time that day, a troop of heavily armed, mounted Sedah soldiers clattered over the eastern bridge, and took the northern road. Captain Malish travelled more slowly than Sniffer, pausing frequently to check they were taking the right path. In their midst rode an eager,

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