The morning was warm and dry as the wagons approached the foothills. The air was still, and even the birds were quiet at the caravan’s approach. It was too quiet in these hills where there was more life than in the plains below.
jer’Mon, the captain of Fysal’s guards was a careful man who had learned early in life to play his hunches. At his word two more scouts rode out ahead of the caravan, and those asleep from the last night’s watch were wakened. Crossbows were loaded, and the safety straps on scabbards were loosened. Two of the eight dogs were unleashed and encouraged to run in front.
Fysal approved as he too was nervous and picking up on unvoiced cues. Word was passed down the line, “‘ware the ambush.” Drivers put their blades and clubs on the benches beside them. Women and children pulled out their knives, and wrapped their babes in extra quilts.
Fysal’s wife strung her re-curved horn bow and checked her quiver of arrows. She was a child of the steppes, and although he had married her, Fysal had not even been tempted to tame her.
Konna had left his wagons to their drivers, saddled and ridden his roan to the head of the caravan and pulled up by Fysal.
“Something is wrong, my friend,” said Fysal. “There is always life in the groves here. It has always seemed a quiet and benevolent place. It feels . . . it feels as though someone is trying to pervert that benevolence.”
“Yes,” said Durnair, Fysal’s wife, as she honed her knife’s curved blade. “There is perversion here. Someone is trying to waken an ancient force he can neither understand nor control. They all will perish in the fire, and we may be caught and turned to ashes as well.”
“‘A quiet and benevolent place.’ I like that turn of phrase Fysal. It was here that Asyra left this life. It is to these groves, these trees in the foothills that I have returned once each year when the new snow first whitens the ground. It is peaceful here, and she has rested well.
“Durnair is right. If she is disturbed, fire will consume the transgressors, but you and your families will be safe and need not fear the flames.”
Durnair heard surety in Konna’s words and looked at him in a different light. His black eyes were tinged with gold. “An ancient power”–those were the words her mother’s mother used to describe eyes such as these.
A powerful shaman in her own right, Aphasa was said to have been the last to have converse with Siir and her black dragon before they flew off the edge of the world. Flew off the edge of the world and left to men their delusions of greed and power.
Durnair shook herself. She’d always thought the stories were just that, stories. Stories made up as lessons for those too young to listen to reason. Like the banded wolf that roamed the grassy steppes looking for the wandering and disobedient child, she thought.
Feeling what she felt and looking at Konna, she was no longer so sure. Replacing her knife in its sheath, she pulled an arrow from its quiver and readied her bow while looking to the road ahead.
to be continued