by Zentara Shadowsoul
“I need to return to my workshop, to make copies of the Key,” Grunthrin declared as we finished breakfast. “And someone needs to search the Guild library, see if we can find any references to other Pathways. Perhaps you could do that, Zentara?” I nodded. It sounded a good idea. I also felt a need to return to the Guild. To rest. To take stock of all that had happened. “At some point it may be worth talking to Ferantu again, too,” added Grunthrin, frowning. “His mysteries and secrets annoy me.”
“Could it have been him you sensed following you yesterday?” queried Isolda.
“It might have been.” I considered for a moment or two, continuing “There was something familiar about the person I sensed. My first thought had been that it was Thorne. There were three horses in the temple stable with Ghost – two were cart horses, but the third was obviously ridden by someone from the temple and I could only think that person would be Thorne. I keep worrying, wondering, why the priestesses hadn’t had him, or someone else, follow me…”
“That surprises me too,” answered Grunthin, concern etched into his face. “Maybe someone did. If so I guess Ferantu took care of them. He did write ‘we’ were watching you.” The Targ shrugged. “No point in worrying. There’s been no-one else arriving in Skarlton. I asked last night,” he said gruffly as Isolda raised her eyebrows at him. “Well, didn’t want any surprises whilst we slept. And I checked again this morning. No one has seen anyone arrive, or leave, apart from local folk going about their daily business.”
Yet Ferantu had been there, within the tavern yard and the stables, and had not been seen. He was shay, as was I. In the shadows we could both move freely and invisibly should we wish. I wondered how many others had that skill. But I kept my thoughts to myself and prepared to leave for the Guild, packing my shay cloak and choosing instead to wear my older hooded one.
An hour or so later and we were all on the road leading north from Skarlton. It felt good to be travelling with companions. The sun shone, the birds sang and the road was relatively well paved. To our east lay Skarl Marsh, just far enough distant that we didn’t get bothered by the mists that forever swirled above and around it. We could hear the occasional Marsh Greybirds cawing and at one point saw a large flock of them spiralling in the sky above stunted trees that grew between the road and the marsh. Searching for prey, Grunthrin said, or more likely for carcasses. Scavengers, the large Greybirds had black beaks that could tear apart dead, or dying, livestock and were disliked by farmers and ranchers alike. Yet they served a purpose, nonetheless, cleansing the land of corpses. Even so I was glad when the flock flew east and out of sight.
We rode steadily but didn’t push ourselves or our horses, stopping once by the side of the road for a lunch of cooked meats, bread, cheese and fruits. There were other travellers on the road, mostly farmers, traders and local folk journeying between hamlets or heading to or from markets in either Corim or Kerriton. All strangers as far as I was concerned but none seemed threatening and a few even exchanged greetings, although many seemed wary and hurried past. I suspected that Targs and Zigandi were not normally seen on that road and couldn’t blame the locals for their frowns and scowls.
It was late afternoon by the time we reached the Three Ways Tavern, a large inn where several routes met, and we decided to stay there for the night. Once we’d seen to our horses and taken belongings to our rooms I went back outside for a quick look around.
The main road led northeast toward Kerriton, whilst the northwestern road met the High Road at the hamlet of Roham although most people travelling in that direction were heading to Corim or beyond. The third ‘way’ that the inn derived its name from was a trackway winding past farmsteads, through farmland and into the marsh, but it wasn’t big enough to be marked on any maps. Partially surrounding the tavern was Skarlways, a small hamlet consisting of a few cottages, a forge, one small shop and several deserted and semi-derelict buildings.
“Used to be a busy place, this,” Grunthrin remarked as he joined me. “Was a major trading centre, they say, for Maris Hemp and thatching materials plus marsh herbs. Like so many, it suffered after the High Road was built. Now no-one trades here. Just a halt for people like us.”
I nodded. “Seems the Wars changed much.”
“They did indeed,” answered Grunthrin. “Caused much grief and suffering too. Anyway, I’m hungry – let’s go get some dinner!”