Rowan wanted to curl up under his blankets. He willed himself to remain awake as the shafts of light faded around the door jamb. Again, no one had come to check on him and his door wasn’t locked from the outside.
He wrapped his bread in a cloth, tied it with some cord from his saturated and tattered leather shoes and secured it to the side of his cloak. He would make less noise barefoot. He opened the door, leaving it ajar for a moment, and listened. He could only hear his breathing and feel the thump of his heartbeat. He opened it a fraction more, enough to squeeze out and closed it behind him, slowly, carefully replacing the latch.
Crouching against the wall of the beehive hut, he surveyed the route ahead, or what he could see of it. It was pitch black, and although this would help his escape, it would also make his path perilous; the faint white patches in the sandstone walls were his only way of distinguishing his surroundings. An erratic breeze, formed by the shelter of the bell-shaped huts, flitted in from the west, and continued to the mainland. This at least was something positive and filled him with renewed hope; the wind was with him tonight; it would make his journey easier. The flagstones were like blocks of ice, burning his bare soles and they forced him to begin his course.
He had run through his predetermined path in his mind a hundred times while he hunkered on his bed, waiting, and waiting. But when he placed his hand on the outer gate, he realised the sound of the iron hinges would wake the dead in the graveyard. He would have to climb over. On the monastery side, the wall was to his waist, but the outer face was close to twenty feet in some places. After checking for loose stones, he climbed up on all fours. He couldn’t see the ground below, but he knew from memory that there were patches of rock amongst the grass. Lying on his belly, he slid one leg over the side until his toes found a suitable foothold. He did the same with the other leg, while he clasped the top with numb hands. He looked back at the monastery to check if anyone had seen him. His eyes had adjusted to the inky night, but he could only make out the murky lumps of the beehive cells. He soon discovered that the wall was about ten feet high when his foot touched down on coarse wet grass, kept short by the grazing goats. He wasn’t halfway there yet but achieving this much was exhilarating. He could make the rest of the journey unseen and unheard from this point on.
Pools of water gathered on the stone stairs and slowed his progress. He needed to take his time on the remainder of the descent; the closer he got to the boats, the closer he got to freedom. His legs began to cramp, and shoulders ache from the measured and tedious effort of checking every step and handhold in the blinding darkness.
Suddenly, a deafening squawk blasted next to his ear. The fright stunned him, and he misjudged the next step. His foot slipped, and he slid down the wet stairs until he managed to find a handhold in a small fissure. He lay shivering, his eyes shut tight, afraid to move. He could easily have fallen over the edge. The seagull, nesting somewhere on the cliff above let out another squawk but less agitated.
He opened his eyes and stood up carefully, his legs wobbling like a beached jellyfish, and he continued.
Upon reaching the foot of the staircase, he peered back up to see if he was being followed, but the path was hidden by the black night. He felt his way around the boulder until he came to the shelf and tried to unravel the rope which secured the boats. He thought this would be the easy part, but it was proving to be the most difficult. The numbness in his fingers weakened his grip, and the hard rope, smoothly worn with salt and sand, was secured under huge rocks which must have been rolled into place by two or three men.
The idea of searching for a sharp piece of rock entered his head just before he heard the footsteps.