Chapter 14, Part 2
Sela’s scowl could have curdled milk. “Now, if only we could say the same about you.”
Marta just shook her head. “Longfeather, I am going to do you one last favor—I am going to change you back into a goshawk until tomorrow morning. Use the time to travel to Goandel, and meet us there in about three days’ time. If you are not there I will assume that you have disobeyed me again and I will turn you into something that can’t cause trouble for anyone. Ever. Do I make myself clear?”
“Very clear,” Longfeather said. “But I thought you were already done with me.”
“I have thought of a use for you. It won’t change my decision, mind, but you are going to do something to repay at least a small amount of the harm you’ve caused, and what you would have caused by throwing your lot in with the people who put you in that cage.” Marta leaned close to the cage amd told Lonfeather what else was expected of him. He clearly was not happy about it, but Marta took no heed of that. “Now go.”
In a moment it was done. Longfeather hopped through the bars of the cage but instead of flying away immediately, he fluttered up to land on the top of the cage and turned to face Marta again.
“Before I go, I was entrusted with a message for you.”
“From whom?” Marta asked.
The goshawk that was Longfeather shrugged his wings. “I think ‘from what’ might be more accurate. She called herself Amaet, but I don’t think she was human. It was the way she appeared, glowing like a star, and then vanished that made me suspect.”
Marta held very still. “Oh? And what did Amaet say?”
“She said to tell you ‘I’m waiting.’ Those words exactly.”
“That was all?” Marta asked.
“Yes, mistress,” he said.
“Then away with you. And remember what I said.”
Longfeather launched himself from the top of the cage, circled overhead just one time and was soon out of sight to the north.
“Another likely bad choice, this time my own, but the bandits left us with some unfinished business, which Longfeather is going to assist us with.”
“What unfinished business? And what did that mean, ‘I’m waiting’?” Sela asked.
Marta sighed. “For the first, I’ll explain later. As for the latter—“ Marta just shrugged. “I haven’t the vaguest idea.”
The bandits clearly had not been in business for very long. When Prince Dolan’s guards located the robbers’ cache it amounted to little more than a few gold trinkets and jewelry. “What shall we do with it?” Kian asked.
“Whoever was murdered at the way station intended the treasure for the monastery,” Prince Dolan said. “We’ll see that it reaches there safely. There’s little else we can do for them.”
Prince Dolan did order that the burial pit be filled in, and he even picked up one of the shovels himself, though he did need some instruction in how to use it properly. Marta and Sela left them to it.
““I need to find the opposite trail leading in. There has to be one.” Marta said. “We’ll be back soon, gentlemen.”
“I know you can look after yourself, but do be careful,” Dolan said, as he tried to keep a clod of dirt from spilling off the shovel. “We haven’t searched the entire valley yet.”
“We will be.”
Sela glanced back once. “How many princes would pick up a shovel and learn how to use it without a dagger pressing into his back?”
“Known many princes, have you?”
Sela blushed. “You know what I mean.”
“I do. My guess is—not many would. Dolan’s a little odd, even for royalty.”
Marta called to Bonetapper and he landed on her shoulder as she walked back through the woods with Sela. “There has to be another way into this valley. Do you know where it is?”
Bonetapper steered them toward the north end of the valley where the cliff walls began to close in again, then up a steep incline. They reached the top and found themselves in a narrow defile. Most of the afternoon sun was blocked by the stone walls but clear daylight showed at the far end. When Marta and Sela reached it they looked out on a sloped ridge that led away to yet another narrow mountain valley and then another ridge of mountains beyond that.
“Just beyond there you will find the village of Goandel, on the pilgrim road,” Bonetapper said. The Snake Pass emerges several leagues to the east, but there’s a low pass through that ridge, so it’s easy to reach from here.”
“You can return to the pass, if you like. Wait for me there.”
“Understood,” Bonetapper said, and he flew away.
“You could cut a day’s travel time off the journey by going through the cave and taking this other route,” Sela pointed out.
“Provided you’re on foot. And another group of bandits doesn’t decide to move in. The Snake Pass is one thing, and there’s a long tradition of shared control, but the actual border as it exists through the mountains is uncertain. It’s unlikely that either Wylandia or Conmyre would accept responsibility for securing this new route without several years of diplomacy, if even then.”
Sela let out a sigh. “I hadn’t considered that.”
“If Prince Dolan isn’t considering it even now I’ll be surprised. Come on, let’s go back.”
The first rumbling began once they were about a bowshot away from the defile. Marta didn’t even glance back, but Sela did.
“The opening has collapsed upon itself.”
“Yes. Apparently it wasn’t stable,” Marta said.
“You did that. Or are you going to say you don’t know who did, as with the overhang?”
“Oh, I never said I didn’t know who collapsed the overhang. I just said it didn’t matter. And it doesn’t…yet. I did, however, destroy the exit, yes.”
((End Part 2))
©2015 Richard Parks