Chapter 14 – The Pilgrim Trail
“To begin a thing at all is the hard part, no matter what it is. To keep going is not, no matter how hard the going might be. This is a truth difficult to believe and harder still to remember, but no less true for that. ” – Black Kath’s Tally Book
“Was that really the best course of action?” Kel asked.
“Silence,” was Dena’s answer, and Kel had to accept that until she chose to give another, if in fact she ever did so. They had both dismounted to examine the huge berm of stone and rubble that blocked the Snake Pass. Worse, Marta and her companions were on the other side.
“I didn’t want Marta harmed so long as she was leading me to the Fifth Law,” she finally said.
“And Marta could not have done what you did?”
“Of course. So why didn’t she?” Dena asked.
“Perhaps she had another plan,” Kel said.
“The next time we’re together for tea and cakes, you can ask her,” Dena snapped. “For now I need to know what they’re doing.”
They led their horses back down the pass until they could move behind a bend that kept them out of sight in case anyone climbed the rockfall. Then Dena made Kel transform into a gull and he flew back down the pass. Dena waited with whatever patience she could muster until he finally returned and perched unsteadily on her should on webbed feet.
“There is one servant remaining to guard their supplies. They went into this cave on the side of the cliff where the overhang had been but they haven’t come out yet. If I try to go in, they’ll see me.”
“You think she doesn’t know I’m here, now?” Dena asked.
“Well…no, now that you mention it. She certainly knows that someone is nearby, if she didn’t before, which was rather my point when I first asked about the landslide. Though, to be fair, if she doesn’t already know that she has a shadow, she’s not the witch you think she is.”
“I’m not afraid of her,” Dena said. “I will see this through no matter what.”
“To be honest, I’m not sure whether that fact would matter to her even if she did know.”
Dena ignored that and sent Kel scouting back toward Conmyre to confirm that there was no one approaching from that direction. “We’ll camp here for tonight. Once Marta and her party have moved on, I can reduce the blockage enough to get us through, but I don’t dare risk it until then.”
“As you wish, mistress.”
They found an overhang where the softer stone had crumbled away, and it didn’t take long to clear enough space for the bedding. Kel, now human again, built a small fire and prepared a meal of hard bread and broth, then checked their provisions. “We have enough for a few days yet,” he said. “We’ll be fine as long as we’re not delayed too long.”
“I want to know what Marta could possibly be thinking now, exploring a cave when she should be traveling to wherever she’s going.”
“How do you know it’s not the cave?” Kel asked.
“Would she let herself be ambushed and almost killed if she had known about it? I do not know where she’s going, but I do know that cave wasn’t her destination.”
“And yet it presents itself, so she’s pursuing it, whatever that distraction may or may not represent to her.”
“She needs focus,” Dena said, pausing to soften a bit of bread in the last of her broth. “This is a waste of time.”
“And yet we’re following her,” Kel said.
“Silence,” Dena said, and that was the answer to the question Kel had not asked.
“Longfeather, do I need to turn you into something innocuous?” Marta asked.
“You can do with me as you like,” Longfeather said. “You say I learned nothing, but I did learn that much.”
“It’s a shame you didn’t learn it before you betrayed her,” Sela said. Longfeather glared at her but held his tongue. Which, Marta thought, was probably a very good idea where Sela was concerned.
“Please recall that I let you out of the last cage you were in and I’m getting a little weary of the repetition, considering how quickly you managed to get yourself into this one. Tell me how you got here,” Marta said. “And do us both the courtesy of telling the truth, if you don’t want to stay in that cage forever.”
“Fine. I deemed it a good idea to leave Conmyre after…the way things turned out, shall we say, but less of a good idea to do it by way of Borasur-Morushe in case I ran into Duke Okandis again. So I went north just as, it seems, you have. I fell in with this lot at Goandel.”
Marta frowned. “Goandel?”
“It’s a small village along the pilgrim trail,” Prince Dolan said, “It serves as another way station, but I never knew it to be a haven for bandits.”
Longfeather shrugged. “Normally? No. These four were there for a specific reason. It seemed that a mountaineer from Goandel had discovered this valley, and he thought it might have gold in it. He bragged about his discovery to the wrong people, so they forced him to show them where it was, then killed him. There wasn’t any gold, of course, but they found that easy—and discreet—avenue for controlling the pass and had, in their leader’s words, ‘A better idea.’ They were recruiting and I didn’t have any other options at the time.”
“You mean you made the wrong choice, given a choice, as usual. So why did they put you here?”
Longfeather’s face turned a little red. “A little misunderstanding, that’s all.”
“What sort of misunderstanding?” Marta asked.
“A misunderstanding of who would make the best leader,” Longfeather said. “I was right, of course, but wasn’t able to convince those rustic thugs of that obvious fact. They left me by the pit to think about it.”
“Well, they won’t be returning,” Kian said.
“I did gather that, or you wouldn’t be here now,” Longfeather said. “Good riddance to them.”
Sela’s scowl could have curdled milk. “Now, if only we could say the same about you.”
((End Chapter 14, Part 1))
©2015 Richard Parks