The Price of Independence - Rough - Day 4



Days passed uneventfully as the pair made their way along the Southern Road. The last of the guard towers were long past the day before when the road began to turn gradually to the east. Altman checked the map on the letter carefully. “I think this is it. We should turn west here.”
Deman inspected the map himself, uncertainty written on his features. “Are you sure we haven’t gone too far already? Not that I don’t trust you, my friend, but you haven’t spent all of your time traveling. Are you sure you know how to judge these things?”
Altman sighed. “No, I’m not sure. But the road just started turning to the east, right? Does that not match what we see here?”
“Yes, I could see it that way, I suppose. I was expecting a sharper turning point like we see there,” he said, pointing a touch further down.
They bickered for a bit, then finally agreed to turn off when Altman pointed out they merely had to find a long stream that meandered through the woods and lead to the valley where it disappeared under the hills near the valley’s mouth.
They were only a few hours past the Southern Road, off into the woods on what Altman assumed must be a game trail when a sudden quieting of the woods pricked at his attention. It surprised him, back in the recesses of his attention, just how used to the subtle sounds of the woods you could get even when you’d never spent any time in them in your life. Nothing showed you just how used to it you were until they were suddenly gone. Even the sound of the wind in the trees seemed to have died off.
Altman searched intently ahead of them, trying to see anything that might have spooked the wildlife. Dem looked back the way they’d come.
“You there!” he called. Altman turned his horse awkwardly. It took him a few seconds, but not more than 20 meters back, he thought he saw an off-color shape flitting from tree to tree. His horse edged closer, which he took as a good sign; didn’t horses edge away from danger? If they recognized it as danger, at least?
Dem sat his horse with an air of caution, radiating uncertainty. The rustling in the brush grew louder.
Altman’s horse started forward again, and suddenly a figure melted out of the shadows of the trees.
It was a person, and not an overly tall one. Coarse brown trousers and a dull green hooded travel cloak obscured the figure’s sex, but something in the movement made Altman identify it as a female. She was slight of build and moved with an economy of motion and ease of posture that spoke of experience. Altman was about to speak again when she raised one hand and put a finger to her lips. He bit back the words.


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