News travels now without prompt. Joseph tells how, wherever he goes, folk speak of a wall of water vanquished, the path through the flood, of light beams, a map that points the way to safety and of a two-eyed lady and her rebel leader.
“Until now the Messengers took the word to isolated places,” he says as he invites us to breakfast. “And now the word is already there when I ask to speak. Some of it may be garbled, but it is a fact that people hark now to both warnings and hope. I have seen lines of travellers cross the countryside, all heading south.”
His news fills me with relief. It means Damin and I no longer need to get people moving. Now we are able to concentrate on what needs doing, not saying.
Joseph is a tall, spare man with short, grey hair and a stubbly beard. He wears his red sash proudly. His years and bearing have presence. I feel able to trust him. I also believe his words. Unlike Mirlin, he does not fill me with misgiving.
Hanna eyes him. “You expected the lady Lyra to come here? How?”
“I cannot explain, Hanna. It was a feeling,” he says with a smile.
As he pulls a small scroll from an inner pocket, I ask, “Have you heard anything about the raiders?”
Sighing, he sets the scroll down amid platters of sausage and fresh bread. “The Porlese slavers take advantage of people moving from place to place. This movement is unprecedented and they see bags of coins and do not hear the words of doom. Ever has it been thus with the slavers – coin first. Now, however, it is no longer necessary for them to cross the plains to grab the westerners beyond. They are emboldened, knowing authority is breaking down.”