The Price of Independence - Rough - Day 3


They chatted for a time and Calland asked after Altman’s experiments, which he was only too happy to show off and explain at length. After saying their farewells, Altman replaced his equipment and began a list of the things he’d need for the journey.
He was two hours into his preparations—mostly shutting down the experiments, as they wouldn’t keep until he got back—when Deman arrived. With astonishing speed and accuracy, he spotted the preparation list. “Altman! We’re going on a trip, and you didn’t tell me? I am astonished and appalled!” Altman couldn’t tell if Dem was serious or being flippant, but there was a certain aggrieved tone to his voice.
“This isn’t a trip to the pub, Dem. It’s a personal matter of family, and a trip of indefinite length. You don’t have to come this time.” Altman’s smile was a touch sad.
Deman looked at his friend and his expression turned sober. “Nonsense. We may as well be family, and the least I can do is see you off. If you don’t return with me, so be it, but I insist on at least making the trip down there with you.”
Altman looked at him for a long moment, then sighed in acceptance. “Company along the way would be welcome. But you do know there won’t be any pubs don’t you?”
“Well. Then we’ll just have to bring our own along, won’t we?” And with that, the matter was settled. The rest was simply the province of detail.

* * *

Deman tied the last bag to his horse’s saddle and looked about in satisfaction while Altman shuffled notes and papers in a leather folio. “We’re all set. You’ll never regret this, Altman. Just wait until you see what you’ve been missing all this time!”
Altman glanced up, finger marking his place. “What? Oh, yes, of course. Are you ready?”
Dem rolled his eyes, sighing ruefully, and swung himself up on his horse. He’d already packed Altman’s horse for the journey, knowing if he didn’t do it, it would never get done. “Indeed, my friend. If you’d just get your nose out of your work for a moment, we can be off.”
They rode out the massive stone and iron gates of Holdswaine at dawn. The chill autumn air hinted at snows to come and turned their breath to mist while they gazed at the blaze of the season’s colors in the trees. The road was broad and empty as they made their way south and west toward the valley described in Eldrid Tremaine’s letter.
Over the first two days, they would pass Holdswaine guard posts, reassuring small wood and stone towers and filled with armed men who kept banditry to a minimum. The distance between the towers increased steadily beyond that point, and by the fourth day they’d long passed the last of them.
The road took on a somewhat more sinister aspect after that, and the two were grateful when they passed through the occasional small village. Altman found himself jumping at shadows over the long stretches of unoccupied road; every rustle of wind brought an imaginary bandit raid from the thick forests the pair rode through.
“I wish we’d thought to bring an arms-man along,” Altman commented wearily on the fourth night as they made camp just off the road.
“And I wish we’d brought a whole troop of them, but sadly we are not wealthy men. We’ll have to do without. Though I should say it’s just as well we aren’t wealthy, as we’re not a terribly tempting prize, now are we? Barely graduated scholars out on a journey to a run-down cottage in an obscure valley with little more than the clothes on our backs?”
The comment was offhand, but put in that light, it did ease Altman’s mind and soon the pair slept.

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