Altman watched him leave, then turned to follow. The market was to be a quick build, little more than a cleared space with some pre-built stalls to allow merchants a place to set their wares for sale. Only a few of Waldon’s men would be working on that; the rest he’d have building the road.
When he arrived at the market, really only a few steps away, three large, very heavily muscled men were digging out a patch of earth a good 20 meters across. Stacks of stone bricks similar to those used for the tower were scattered around the perimeter. Within a few days the area would be stone-paved and smooth.
Three men worked at the ground, the bulk of it dug out. One man worked at removing hard-packed earth from the far side while two more compacted the earth with heavy tools. All three ignored him. The two nearer ones, turned to Waldon as he approached with the day’s instructions.
He felt exposed somehow, almost awkward, but knew he had to stay with the daily inspection routine. Whoever had left him the message could be watching for the effect of his revelation. There was no sense in giving anything away before he had to.
It was amazing, he thought, how little it took to completely change the feel of a place. The valley had started as a haven, a land of promise and scientific exploration, of wonders. It had become a land of bad luck for some; for Kaylene and himself, a land of shadows where an opportunistic mystery agent lurked, ready to expose them or blackmail them or who really knew what.
The trick, he decided, was figuring out how to nudge things just enough to get things back on track to the wonderful promise he’d started with.
“Let’s be off then. I’ll show you what we’ve got for a road.” Waldon’s voice was less cold, but there was a tightness of the expression there that said Altman’s problems were getting worse.
The road was little more than a faint trail and a promise. It was to be carved out of the woods in stages. First would come the leg out to the Holdswaine road and the merchant trade that would bring. Once that was complete, they’d turn to the other direction and build out along the river to the deeper waters where docks could be built and water trade could begin; those docks were the third stage. Once the docks were built, unused wood obtained in the building of the road would be simple to ship elsewhere for trade.
Waldon slowed; Alton, trailing behind, had to stop abruptly to avoid walking right into him. He stepped aside and frowned. A group of 5 of Waldon’s men were gathered around a 6th, pale but upright, clutching his arm.
“What’s this about? Why’re you all standin’ around? All the trees are marked, are they?”
“It’s Baines, Sias. Cut his arm deep while markin’ the tree.” In roadwork, they had to mark the path the road was to take. They did this by making a thin wedge cut at the base of each tree that was to be removed. “Says his hatchet slipped.”
Baines was a bit smaller than some of the other men, which was to say he only out-massed Altman by most of his bodyweight again instead of fully double it. His face could’ve been carved from granite for a gargoyle, and wore the workmen’s rough-woven, dark-dyed clothing. He looked up at Altman, pain in his eyes. Altman could’ve sworn there was a flash of something there though. Not recognition; they’d all been there long enough to have seen him around. Whatever it was, it was something ugly. He shivered in spite of himself.
Waldon pushed his way through and Alton followed. Baines’ arm was very bloody, but even to his untrained eye it didn’t look particularly deep or serious. There was no shortage of dark looks directed his way; he schooled his features to cool, serious concern. It helped that the looks inspired a flare of genuine irritation.
“Get ‘im to the medics’ wing, Mitchell. The rest ‘o you can get to it, and do it like I told you this time! I’ll ‘ave no careless accidents on my watch or there’ll be hell to pay.” Waldon turned, examining the tree; Alton saw his hand twitch toward a pocket, but he seemed to hold himself back, turning resolutely away.
“Mr. Dolet, we’ll cut the review short today I think, under th’ circumstances and all. I’ll work on this myself and make sure nothin’ more serious happens.”
“Of course. Thank you, Waldon. I’ll check on Baines and see if Claver’s improved at all.”
Mind a whirl, the walk back to the house seemed to take far longer than it really was. He really hadn’t liked the look on Baines’ face.