"You're crazy." Arkel said cheerfully, before he was pulled away and replaced by Toban's furious face.
"Hush up, the pair of you, or I'll knock your heads together. This is serious business and the two of you are sitting there clacking away like a pair of tea merchants."
He passed a sack with a tied mouth out through the door, “Here, take this.”
She almost dropped it, the weight was so unexpected, but saved herself by scooping her free hand underneath before the sack could fall to the ground. She hugged it to her chest, shifting the weight from arm to arm. Arkel reappeared, weighed down by a similar load.
“What’s IN here?” she asked.
With a darting glance over his shoulder in Toban’s direction, Arkel leant forward and whispered in her ear. “You’ll never guess. Rocks! Just black rocks, really dirty stuff too, look…” He held up a hand to show her the black dust smeared all over his skin. “Maybe it’s some new kind of dye.”
Irena opened her mouth to reply when Toban came back hefting a larger sack over his shoulder. He motioned for Arkel to pull the door closed behind him. Irena wondered how Gia was getting on. Something similar must have been on Toban’s mind, for he muttered something about the watchman taking a long time getting back.
The trio made their way slowly through the streets, going a different route from the one they had taken to get there. Irena’s arms ached from holding the heavy sack, but she didn’t dare stop to rest for fear that she’d lose sight of the boys and get lost. She had thought that she could simply put down her burden and slip quietly away, but she didn’t know where she was, and besides, every so often Arkel would look over his shoulder to check that she was still following. She wouldn’t have a chance to get away without him noticing, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to anyway.
They walked slowly in single file, feeling the way forward with their feet for cart ruts or rough patches of ground. Toban’s stride was longer, and he didn’t slow his pace for the younger two. Arkel’s skinny arms began to droop, and the sack in his grasp slipped lower and lower. Irena was now dragging hers behind her in short, jerky bursts of movement. It was an awkward way of doing things, but her arms trembled any time she tried to pick up the sack again.
Eventually Toban realised that the younger kids were struggling. He stopped, rested his sack on the ground and waited for them to catch up. He jabbed Arkel in the ribs. “Not going to impress your lady friend with those puny muscles, eh?”
Arkel dropped his sack to the ground and raised his fists, “Yeah? Why don’t you say that again?”