Power’s Shadow: Chapter 13, Part 5 — Conclusion

 

Powers-Shadow-Rough-3Reunited.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13, Part 5 – Conclusion

“Be Careful,” Marta said.

“Always.”

Bonetapper launched himself off the rock and flew up toward the entrance to the cave. Once he was there he did a quick swoop past the opening, then again. On the third pass the landed on the lip of the entrance and looked into the darkness. After a few moments he called down to them. “No one in sight, but it does go back some distance. There’s a rope ladder anchored here.”

“Throw it down, if you can,” Marta said.

There was some rustling and squawks of complaint which drifted down, but not the ladder.

“Bonetapper?”

“Give me a minute. I’m only a raven and this thing is heavy.”

“Stand clear of the edge,” Marta said. “Man.”

“Got it,” said a less harsh and croaky voice from above. “Coming down now.”

The rope ladder rolled off the edge of the cave. It didn’t quite reach the top of the rockfall, but close enough to grasp. “I’d really like to be a raven again,” said the voice. “This feels very strange and uncomfortable.”

“Done,” Marta said. In another moment Bonetapper flew out of the cave.

“I know he’s really a man,” Sela said. “And yet….”

Marta shrugged. “A raven was the form my mother chose for him, and in that form he’s been the most useful to me. He’s had the chance to rid himself of it before, and yet here he is. Sometimes I think he’s simply a better raven than he ever was a man. Sometimes I think he knows it, too.”

Kian spoke to Loken who then shed his helmet and hauberk. He belted his sword back in place before he took hold of the rope ladder and started to climb up.

“Bonetapper, watch the cave. Warn us if anyone shows themselves,” Marta said.

The raven flew back to the lip of the cave and perched there. “Still clear,” he said.

Kian sighed. “I can see the advantages of having such a one for a scout.”

“I can see the advantages of having a bodyguard who is not easily flummoxed by such things as witches and talking ravens,” Prince Dolan said. Marta thought he was trying not to smile.

“I’m from Lythos, originally,” Kian said. “Such—forgive me—unusual things were not so unusual there, at least by reputation. Though I have to admit that I don’t think I believed even half of what I heard until now.”

“Once you accept the notion of a talking raven, the walls do tend to come down,” Prince Dolan said. Continue reading

Power’s Shadow: Chapter 13, Part 4

Powers-Shadow-Rough-3Fall down go boom.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13, Part 4

The two archers placed their shields at either side of the entrance to the shelter, using their feet to prop them in place. One shield was hit immediately and another arrow buried itself in the dirt, but the two men both drew and loosed almost at the same time and there was no answer from the overhang right away. Sela darted out and returned with the second arrow.

“Lady Sela, what are you—“ Dolan began, but she cut him off.

“Highness, whoever they are, it’s safe to assume they have more arrows than we do, so we might need every one we can get. Besides, I’m not a fool–by the time any of them can mark me, I’ll be out of sight.”

“Yes, but—“

“Highness, she’s right,” Dolan’s bodyguard said. “They’re not bad archers, and we’re certainly in danger. But I haven’t seen anything to convince me that we have any masters among them. Kev and Loken are in more peril, and poor Akan is stuck under the wagon.”

“We can’t stay here,” Marta said. “And if we try to leave we’ll get picked off. As your bodyguard pointed out, Highness—they’re not bad archers.”

Dolan frowned. “True, but we’re safe from arrows in here and they don’t dare a direct assault, even if they can get down here. Only four? Feh. Kian could handle that many by himself, and he won’t be alone.”

Marta was a little embarrassed to think that she only now knew the names of their companions other than Kian, but there were more pressing concerns, as Kian was quick to point out.

“Your Highness flatters me, but all our supplies are in the wagons which we can’t reach. The bandits—for so I presume they are–can wait longer than we can. But at least we know now who was responsible for the murder.”

“Sir Kian? I understand your scout discovered a killing?”

“In here, in fact. Look at the dirt by the entrance, Lady Marta.”

Marta did so. What she saw was that it had been disturbed. Further into the shelter, the floor became rock, but the first few feet were bare earth, and it looked as if someone had turned it with a spade. Bonetapper hopped down to the ground, gave a sniff, and fluttered back up to Marta’s shoulder.

“Blood,” he said. “No bodies buried, but there was definitely blood. Human.” Continue reading

Power’s Shadow: Chapter 13, Part 3

Powers-Shadow-Rough-3Trapped.

 

 

 

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.” Continue reading

Power’s Shadow: Chapter 13, Part 2

Powers-Shadow-Rough-3Snakes, metaphorical and less so.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13, Part 2

 

“Once we get inside, you’ll find out.”

The answer to why it was called the Snake Pass was indeed clear once they were well into the pass. Unlike a high mountain pass mapped along a route of least resistance, the Snake Pass followed a natural defile almost at ground level, but it was never a straight trail. It followed an undulating course like its namesake as it worked through the mountains. Sheer cliffs formed the walls reaching up several hundred feet, with the mountains on either side rising higher still. At its widest point, no more than two wagons could travel side by side, and it sometimes narrowed even further. As the day wore on, however, Marta and Sela were grateful to find that there were occasional side branches. They never reached very far into the mountains and none were even wide enough to accommodate a wagon, but they did make convenient and private places to answer nature’s call.

They rode until early afternoon, and down in the pass the shadows were already gathering.

“Snake Pass indeed,” Sela muttered.

Prince Dolan rode beside the wagon. He raised his voice a bit to be heard over the creaking of the wheels.

“It’s presumed that the pass was created by some great cataclysm in times past, but if so it’s not in anyone’s living memory. Look up there,” Dolan said, pointing ahead to where a giant boulder the size of a house had fallen off the cliffs only to become wedged perhaps thirty feet above the narrow road. “We’ll pass under several of those along the way. I know they’ve been there for centuries, but I always cringe. “

“What happens when a smaller one blocks the pass?”

“Stonecutters and masons are engaged from either side depending on where the block occurs. They break up and take anything that reaches the ground. They gain building materials and the path is kept clear.”

“I suppose one could invade either way through this, given enough time,” Marta said.

Sela looked doubtful. “I wouldn’t think so.”

“Why not?” Prince Dolan asked, though Marta had the feeling that the prince already knew the answer. Continue reading

Power’s Shadow: Chapter 13, Part 1

 

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.” Continue reading