By mid-morning we are at the crossroads. Here travellers make their choices. Behind us, the west, lies Normur; east is the inland city of Alarn. South leads to Porlese, although few go there, for folk claim it is of loose morals. North is Grenmassin, a farming community nestled in the mountains.
Smiling at each other, we take to the northern road.
Clearing the treeline an hour later, we encounter the first cottages. It is still raining, but we expect to see people about their chores. Instead we find only silence. Not a breath of smoke from a hearth wafts into the air. No dogs greet us.
It feels abandoned.
Damin kicks our horse into faster gait, saying not a word. Soon the common is before us and beyond is the village where we grew up. There is evidence of water damage. It is possible the river burst its banks and folk chose to move to higher ground when that danger loomed. I remember a time my father grabbed me up from my bed in the middle of the night to escape the rising water.
Murmuring about the river, Damin turns the horse for the high path. After tethering him where the way becomes too steep, we walk on, climbing steadily. We do not speak; I think we are afraid to.
The caves are deserted. There is no sign of habitation, not even of anyone having been there.
Hands in his hair, Damin shouts, “Where are you? Siri, can you hear me?”
“Horin!” I holler. “Mom!”
“Lyra?” It is a whisper of sound only. I run to a jumble of rocks near the entrance. Old Jessen, the blacksmith, lies curled upon a threadbare blanket. He is near death and coughs words out. “South … Porlese … raiders …” Then he stares forever sightless.