Pathfinder's Way(9)

By: T.A. White

It was tempting to push hard to make the Lowlands by nightfall and Edgecomb within the next two days.

Shea worried about James and Cam’s condition. Lowland villages could be very insular. They didn’t take kindly to strangers. That was especially the case for villages bordering the Highlands. Too many strange things crawled down from those cliffs to make any on the border friendly.

Expending all of their energy reaching the village might mean they’d be too exhausted to rescue James and Cam should they need it. On the other hand, James and Cam might be dead before they even made it to Edgecomb if they didn’t push hard enough.

“How are you holding up?” Shea asked over her shoulder.

“I can hold any pace you set, woman.” Dane took a bite from one of his loaves of bread. “I’m just waiting on you two.”

Sweat dripped down Dane’s temple, and his blue chambray shirt was about two shades darker than it had been that morning.

Shea dismissed his comment. His pride wouldn’t allow him to show that a woman had more endurance than him. It was unlikely he’d be truthful about his condition.

“And you?”

Witt glanced up from where he sat changing out his socks. “I’ll last.”

They weren’t the only ones feeling the journey. Shea was starting to feel a little fatigue herself. A deep burn had taken up residence in her thighs, and her shirt stuck to her skin under her jacket. Her pack’s straps had made her shoulders one throbbing ache, and her upper back was tight. The pace would fall a little as the afternoon deepened and exhaustion took hold. They would be more prone to accidents.

“We’re approaching where I saw red back activity a few weeks ago. I don’t want to take a detour, but if I think we’re getting too close, we will. I want as much land between us and them by nightfall. If we’re lucky and don’t have to veer too far from this path, we’ll be close to the Lowlands when we stop for the night.”

“Typical woman. Afraid of the dark? Every moment we have is precious. We should keep going even after dark.” Dane said, shrugging into his pack. “If time’s as tight as you say, we can’t stop for beauty sleep.”

“Can you see in the dark? Because I can’t. If we try, we risk someone getting hurt or killed in a fall. Reaching Cam and James would be impossible then. Taking the night to rest also means we can recoup some energy before reaching the village.”

Holding Dane’s gaze with her own, Shea waited until he nodded grudgingly before she turned her back and set out.

Witt paused by Dane as he followed her down the hill. “Perhaps you shouldn’t do any more thinking. It really doesn’t suit you.”

“Everyone know the plan?” Shea asked.

The three of them crouched between two buildings on Edgecomb’s perimeter.

Aside from the unrelenting pace they’d adopted to reach the village, the journey so far had been unremarkable. They’d sailed through red back territory with no problem and made camp at the top of the Bearan cliffs, then descended before dawn the next morning.

Some scouting had confirmed the villagers held James and Cam. They were to be executed that afternoon, which was why Shea and the other two were huddled close, hoping to avoid notice as they plotted their next move.

Like Birdon Leaf, the buildings in Edgecomb were built from wood. Unlike their village, no outer wall protected Edgecomb’s inhabitants, forcing the villagers to rely on the natural landscape to deter would be intruders.

A large herd of cattle were kept for trade and as food supply. As a result, a large number of horses were stabled in a fenced field right outside of town. Shea couldn’t help being a bit envious of the ease of transportation the horses represented. They were a scarce resource in the Highlands as they were next to useless in the gorges or on the mountain passes.

“Dane, I want you on one of the roofs overlooking the town square.” Shea turned to Witt. “Do you think you can create a large enough distraction so I can get them free?”

He nodded.

“Good, I’ll leave that to you then.”

“What about you?” Dane asked. “Where will you be?”

Shea brushed her hands down her pants. “Someone has to cut those two idiots loose.”

Dane frowned and looked down. “Perhaps you should be on the roof then.”

“Can’t. My aim’s not as good as yours.” Shea busied herself adjusting a cloak she’d stolen from one of the houses. She pulled the hood over her head. Hopefully, the cloak’s anonymity would get her close to the execution platform without drawing notice from the inhabitants. “Once things get started just make sure you pick off anybody between me and the platform with your boomer. I’m not going to have time to wrestle my way up there. Oh, and don’t shoot me in the confusion. When I get James and Cam loose, get off the roof. They’ll come after you pretty quick once things start happening. If we get separated for any reason, meet back at the rendezvous point.”

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