It is raining by morning. After a sleepless night spent talking to Damin, I am no mood for walking, but walk I must.
Damin takes the horse and leaves without further word. The others reluctantly take off after him, on foot. He soon outstrips them. Even at this distance I feel his anger
I follow Hanna off the road. She says not a word. Everyone heard us arguing in the night.
Two hours later the road has vanished to all view and Hanna turns sharply west. “Our outposts are secrets we guard with our lives, for we rely on our horses as much as we do each other,” she says as she strides onward tirelessly. She is older, but she is certainly in better form than I am. “This one lies in a cutaway. It’s close now.”
Thank the stars. “Will they listen to you and allow me a mount?”
She nods and strides on.
Twenty minutes later we step around a jumble of giant boulders, and there we discover a stone dwelling, stables, massive trees and a small lake. It is well hidden, and so peaceful I wish to stay there forever. Smoke meanders, but dissipates before it rises above the outcrop. No one from the road would see the smoke. Horses snuffle and birds sing.
Hanna smiles at me. “I like it here, too.”
I follow her into the building. Inside is dim, but warm. Merely being under a roof again away from the rain is a gift.
A man rises from a table. “Hanna!”
“Joseph!” They embrace, laughing. “What brings you west?” Hanna asks.
He glances at me. His smile vanishes and he bows low. “My lady.” Swallowing, he straightens. “You are the reason I am here.” He glances at Hanna. “Remember the Arc map? I found it.”