Chapter 13, Part 3
“I’m thinking that we may not have a choice.”
When Prince Dolan returned, he confirmed both Bonetapper’s report and Marta’s own suspicions—the pass was simply too narrow where they were to turn the wagons around until they reached the way station. “It’s against my better judgment, but I think we have to go on, and assess the situation at that point,” Marta said. “Unless you think we can back the wagons all the way to the border?”
Dolan nodded. “Not really, so I’m inclined to agree. All my men know to stay alert regardless, but especially so now.”
When he had rested for a bit Marta sent Bonetapper back up the pass, with instructions to scout but otherwise keep below the level of the cliff, as he had also reported that there were many nesting birds of all sorts established there who did not take kindly to ravens in their territories and were more than willing to demonstrate that opinion en masse.
“They’d do the same thing to any raptor in the area, I’d wager,” Marta said. “Such things do sometimes curtail Bonetapper’s freedom of movement.”
“So a goshawk wouldn’t have been any more useful,” Sela said.
“Rather less, considering the goshawk,” Marta said dryly. “At least Bonetapper generally does as he’s told.”
“Good. It would pain me to think we could have actually made use of that strutting–“ Sela stopped. “I was going to say a word I heard my father use once about one of my potential swains, but I don’t want Longfeather in the same thought as my father.”
It occurred to Marta, perhaps not for the first time, that Sela showed a great deal of reverence to the memory of a man who had not considered her well-being or provided for her future as much as he might have. Then again, Master Solthyr would not have been the first man to consider himself immortal only to discover, too late, that this was not the case. Marta then considered her own mother, whose time had also ended with much left undone and unsaid, and she thought that, perhaps, she understood a little of what Sela felt.
The pass was slowly widening as they got closer to the way station. It was still too narrow to even attempt to turn the wagons if needed, but Marta estimated that it wouldn’t be too much longer before such a move might be possible. As they approached, they came to another of those fallen rocks that were wedged into sides of the canyon overhead. This one was more like a flat table of rock rather than a simple boulder, and much wider than any other she had seen. The pass was only about fifteen feet wide at the bottom there, but higher up the cliff faces were about thirty feet across. The overhang itself stretched at least forty feet along the pass itself, so as they passed under it Marta felt almost as if they were passing through a tunnel. When they emerged Marta looked up she could see the scar on the rockface over a hundred feet up where the overhang must have originated. Over the centuries the flat top of the overhang had apparently collected enough fallen dust and blown seeds to grow a small forest there above the pass.
“Odd place for trees,” Sela said.
Marta shrugged. “Life wants to happen, and plants grow where they can, though I imagine in another few centuries their roots will weaken the rock until it cracks and comes the rest of the way down.”
“More work for the stonecutters,” Prince Dolan said. “But, I sincerely hope, not today.”
The pass continued to widen and they reached the way station, still in sight of the forest growing from one cliff to the other. Though to call it any kind of proper way station was to exaggerate a little. In fact it wasn’t anything more than a temporary shelter cut into the rock of the north wall of the pass at a place where the pass finally widened far enough to allow the wagons to turn. The scout and Prince Dolan had dismounted, and they were both looking at something Marta couldn’t see. She rose, stretched and winced a bit as the reality of her time sitting on a jolting wagon seat asserted itself. She climbed down, closely followed by Sela.
“What are they looking at?” Sela asked.
“Let’s find out.”
Sela hopped down from the wagon seat and followed Marta toward the rock shelter where Prince Dolan and his bodyguard had gathered while the man leading the pack train stopped behind the wagons. A commotion overhead stopped all three where they stood. There was a harsh croaking sound followed by a man cursing.
In another moment the raven appeared out of the trees of the overhang behind them and swooped down toward the wagons.
The raven had no sooner raised the alarm than an arrow whistled down from the overhang and buried itself in the back of Marta’s wagon not more than a foot from the pack train leader, who dropped to the ground and frantically crawled under the wagon. The next arrow skipped off the side of the canyon wall and snagged in one of the escort soldiers hauberk. Marta judged the distance and sprinted for the rock shelter, Sela close behind. The third arrow missed clipping her heel by inches. Two of the escort rushed out of the shelter, shields raised to give them cover, then followed them inside.
Bonetapper landed on Marta’s shoulder. “I should have seen them when I passed over, but I swear no one was there!”
“They are now,” Prince Dolan said dryly. “How many?”
The raven turned toward the prince. “I counted four, but I might have missed one. I just happened to be returning from my loop around the pass or I wouldn’t have seen them at all.”
“Where did they come from?” Sela asked. “There’s no way to climb up or down there that I could tell.”
“There must be,” Marta said.
Dolan turned to the escort, two of whom were stringing bows. “We’ll need to return the attack enough to keep them busy, or their next step is to start killing the horses.”
“The angle favors them,” said the man Marta recognized as Kian, Dolan’s personal bodyguard. “We might get lucky, but at best we can make them keep their heads down.”
“That will have to do for now,” Dolan said.
((End Part 3))
©2015 Richard Parks