Pathfinder's Way(2)

By: T.A. White

Idiot. As if pathfinders would abandon their charges. If that was the case, she would have left this lot behind days ago. There were oaths preventing that kind of behavior.

What she wouldn’t give to enjoy a little quiet time relaxing on the roof of her small home right about now.

They didn’t make it back to the village until early the next morning. Shea brought up the rear as their group straggled past the wooden wall encircling the small village of Birdon Leaf.

The village was a place that time had forgotten. It looked the same as it had the day it was founded, and in fifty years or a hundred, it’d probably still be the same. Same families living in the same homes, built of wood and mud by their father’s, father’s, father. Most of the buildings in the village were single story and one room. The really well off might have a second room or a loft. Nothing changed here, and they liked it that way. Propose a new idea or way of doing something and they’d run you out of town.

They didn’t like strangers, which was fine because most times strangers didn’t like them.

They tolerated Shea because they needed the skills her guild taught to survive. Shea tolerated them because she had to.

Well, some days she didn’t.

A small group of women and children waited to welcome the men.

A large boned woman with a hefty bosom and ash blond hair just beginning to gray flung her arms around a tall man with thinning hair.

“Where have you been? We expected you back yesterday morning.” She smothered his face with kisses.

“You know we had to keep to the pathfinder’s pace. The men didn’t feel it would be right leaving her behind just because she couldn’t keep up.”

There it was. Her fault.

Anytime something went wrong it was due to the fact she was a woman. Even looking less feminine didn’t help her. A taller than average girl with a thin layer of muscles stretching over her lean frame, Shea had hazel eyes framed by round cheeks, a stubborn mouth and a strong jaw-line she’d inherited from her father. Much to her consternation.

“What the guild was thinking assigning a woman to our village, I’ll never know,” the woman said in exasperation. “And such useless trail bait. They must have sent the laziest one they had.”

Trail bait. Dirt pounder. Roamer. Hot footed. Shea had heard it all. So many words to describe one thing. Outsider.

Shea turned towards home. At least she would have a little peace and quiet for the next few days. She planned to hide out and not see or talk to anyone.

Just her and her maps. Maybe some cloud watching. And definitely some napping. Make that a lot of napping. She needed to recharge.

“Pathfinder! Pathfinder,” a young voice called after her.

Shea turned and automatically smiled at the girl with the gamine grin and boundless enthusiasm racing after her. “Aimee, I’ve told you before you can call me Shea.”

Aimee ducked her head and gave her a gap toothed smile. She was missing one of her front teeth. She must have lost it while Shea was outside the fence.

“Pathfinder Shea. You’re back.”

Shea nodded, amused at the obvious statement. Of all the villagers in this backwoods place, Aimee was her favorite. She was young enough that she didn’t fear the wilds lying just beyond the safety of the barrier. All she saw was the adventure waiting out there. She reminded Shea of the novitiates that came every year to the Wayfarer’s Keep in hopes of taking the Pathfinder’s exam and becoming an apprentice.

“Um, did you see any cool beasts this time?” Aimee burst out. “Nightfliers, maybe? You said they liked to nest in the peaks around Garylow’s pass. What about red backs?”

“Whoa, hold up. One question at a time.” Shea took a piece of paper she’d torn from her journal last night in anticipation of this moment. “Here. I saw this one diving to catch breakfast yesterday morning.”

Shea handed her a sketching of a peregrine falcon in mid dive. It was a natural animal, but to a girl raised in a village where all non-domesticated animals were considered ‘beasts,’ it would seem exotic. Shea had sketched it during one of the numerous breaks the men had taken.

“Pathfinder Shea,” a woman said from behind them, disapproval coloring her voice. “The elders wish to speak to you.”

Shea’s smile disappeared as she schooled her face to a politeness she didn’t really feel. Aimee hid the drawing in her skirts.

The woman’s eyes shifted to Shea’s companion. “Aimee, my girl, your mother’s looking for you. I suggest you get on home.”

Aimee bobbed in place, suitably chastened and followed as the woman swept away, but not before aiming a small smile in Shea’s direction.

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