Chapter 13—Well Begun, Half Undone
“I’ve never been a monster, but I’ve had friends who were considered such. I don’t necessarily disagree with the assessment and nor would they, but I’ve always found that, in the body of every monster, there always beats a human heart.” – Seb of the Alerian Order
“All is prepared,” Prince Dolan said when he met Marta and Sela at the north gate of the city. Bonetapper rode serenely on Marta’s shoulder.
“All” appeared to be something of an understatement. There were two covered wagons packed to the brim, three horsemen aside from Prince Dolan himself, plus extra mounts and a pack train of four other horses led by another man.
“This seems a bit much,” Sela, now again dressed in her mailshirt and padded gambeson rather than court dress, said as she surveyed the caravan.
“Does it? Let me see…yes. As the escort is not at my discretion, that makes three armed men to equip and feed, plus the attendant to handle the pack horses who carry the extra fodder, plus our own supplies, plus a generous cargo of gifts for the monastery, as the monks are not likely to look kindly on our intrusion without the appropriate offerings—“
Sela held up her hand. “Enough. I see your point, Highness. I’m just used to traveling lighter.”
“For some journeys, ‘lighter’ does not mean ‘better.’ I judge this to be one such. If events prove me incorrect, please feel free to remind me of the fact.”
“I will take that under advisement,” Sela said, smiling.
“Lady Marta, I hate to ask, but I understand you can drive a wagon. Would you be willing to handle one of these? The escort and the mule train attendant will take turns manning the others.”
“Hmmm? Oh, certainly. I’d rather ride in the wagon anyway.”
“Pardon my saying, Lady, but you appear distracted this morning,” Prince Dolan said.
“Something’s on my mind,” Marta said. “But it won’t prevent me from keeping the wagon on the road.”
“Splendid. We’re ready then. Let’s get going.” Prince Dolan strode over to where one of the escorts held his mount and he climbed into the saddle.
“I’ll ride with you, Lady Marta. If you don’t mind. Never had the knack of horses,” Sela said.
“As you wish,” Marta said. “Though I’m sure Prince Dolan would be glad to instruct you.”
Sela blushed a little, and shook her head. “I do wish you wouldn’t do that.”
Marta frowned. “What did I do?”
Sela just sighed. “Never mind. Let’s be off.”
Marta climbed onto the wagon seat and took the reins as Sela followed her on the other side. The seat was cushioned, another reason Marta preferred the wagon to the saddle. With a slight flick of the reins she brought the wagon into line with Prince Dolan’s horse and the others slowly followed her example. The guards saluted as they passed through the gate and onto the open road leading north. The White Mountains were visible as a misty line in the distance.
“North of Amurlee is really the best place to enter the mountains from Conmyre,” Dolan said. “The entire range dips south here. Further west toward Borasur-Morushe it does the opposite. From here we’ve only got a few days travel to reach the foothills. Once we’re through the Snake Pass we turn west and then re-enter the mountains barely twenty leagues from the monastery.”
“You’ve been there before,” Sela said.
“Once or twice,” Dolan admitted. “Looking for the wrong thing, it appears.”
“Doesn’t crossing the mountains put us into Wylandia?” Marta asked.
“Yes, and it would be considered rude for one such as myself to visit King Garan’s domain unannounced.”
Marta smiled. “Where royals are concerned, for ‘rude’ shall I substitute ‘dangerous’?”
“If you wish, since the two terms in this context are not dissimilar in meaning. But we’re on good terms, relatively speaking, with Garan, and we’ll keep to the pilgrim trail. It’s considered neutral territory for the purpose of travel to the monastery, so no protocol violated.”
Dolan took the lead as the rest of the escort and wagons set off behind him. The Prince’s bodyguards quickly took up positions just off the road to the left and right. Marta turned to the raven on her shoulder.
“Fly ahead of us and take a look around.”
“Why? We’ll be in Conmyre still for a few more days. What do you expect to be lurking about?”
“Nothing at all, which is all the more reason to be cautious. Now go.”
Still grumbling, Bonetapper did as he was told. Sela watched him fade into the distant sky. “If I could fly, I don’t think I’d complain about it.”
“Complaining is one of Bonetapper’s few joys in life. I try not to spoil that, so long as he doesn’t get too annoying.”
They spent the first night camped in a meadow, and the second at an inn that catered to pilgrims, an inn located almost in the shadows of the White Mountains. By the following afternoon they had passed into the foothills and soon stood at the entrance to the Snake Pass.
“Why do they call it that?” Sela asked, and Prince Dolan smiled.
“Once we get inside, you’ll find out.”
((End Chapter 12, Part 1))
©2015 Richard Parks