Tothelea: Chapter 13

Nera woke them early in the morning, still mostly dark outside.

"It's time," she said.  She gave them a moment to use the facilities
before leading them out, across the courtyard, and to the main temple.
It was dark and deserted except for a small area in front of one of
the shrines, where Garron stood in the light from several candles.  As
they approached, Trevor could see that it was the shrine to Arborebea.
Appropriate, he thought.

"You slept well, I hope," Garron asked them.

"Well enough, if not long enough," Trevor answered.

"I'm sorry about that, but I need not explain to you the urgency."
Indeed, he didn't.  Garron looked exhausted.  So did Nera, for that
matter.  Trevor wondered if either of them had slept at all.  Probably

"Nera and I agree," he said, "that your best chance to reach Belden
safely is to leave quickly, before Aramathokoa realizes you are here,
in this temple.  He may, of course, have worked this out already, but
if you can get out of Merlon without him knowing, he will waste time
seeking you here.

"To that end, we have prepared certain wards and protections for you.
With the blessings of Arborebea, you will escape undetected."  He
motioned for Nera to stand opposite him, and for Trevor and Harmony to
kneel, each in front of one of the Piouses.  Trevor set his staff down
as he knelt, doing his best to put the iron down silently, not wanting
to create a loud noise in the quiet, peaceful temple.

They took their places, Trevor in front of Garron.  Garron placed his
hands on the top of Trevor's head, and began to pray.  Behind him,
Trevor could hear Nera doing the same with Harmony.

The prayer was long, and as it progressed Trevor felt a lightness in
his head, a touch of dizziness that made him check himself as though
he were falling.  But he was not falling.  The sensation grew, leaving
him feeling vaguely disoriented.  When the prayer was over, Garron
pulled him to his feet.  The temple looked somehow different, as
though he were seeing everything out of the corner of his eye.  There,
and real, but leaving only a vague impression on him.

"The sensation will pass," Garron said.  His voice sounded strange.
Was this a dream?  

"No, this is not a dream," Garron answered.  Did I say that out loud,
Trevor asked himself.  "Listen.  You will become accustomed to the
sensation soon.  I know it is odd, but it will pass.  The way you are
seeing us, this is how everyone will see you.  Almost like you're not
there.  There will be few enough people out on the streets at this
hour.  If you take reasonable care not to be noticed, those who you
pass will pay you no mind."

So this is what it's like to be Harmony, Trevor mused.  "Will it work
on Wei--  on Aramathokoa?" he asked.

"We believe so.  He has fallen from his place with the Aran, we
believe, therefore, that the protections of Arborebea should shield
you from him as well.  But you must hurry.  This will not last
forever.  Perhaps a day, at the most.  You must get as far from here
as you can while you are thus shrouded.  Come."

Trevor reclaimed his staff from the floor, and followed Garron, Nera,
and Harmony to the temple's main doors.  In the darkness, Trevor made
out a pile of equipment laid out for them.

"Here are packs, blankets, food.  A few tools.  We pray these will
meet your needs."  They helped Trevor and Harmony shoulder the packs,
which were solid but not too heavy.  Trevor would have to check later,
perhaps move some things to his pack to make hers lighter.

 "I guess we should go."

"Yes," Nera said.  "Make haste."

"You can make your direction north by the sun, I assume?" Garron
asked.  Trevor nodded.

"Please," Garron added, "will you convey my affections to Belden, when
you see him?  My hopes that he is well?  It has been so long."

"I will."

Garron nodded.  Nera opened the temple doors.  Dawn would come soon.

"Thank you, for everything," Trevor said, stepping out onto the

Harmony followed, giving a small bow.  As she did Trevor heard her
say, softly, "Luam adanin," before stepping through the door.

Garron and Nera looked quickly to each other, and then to Harmony.
"You're welcome, dear girl," he replied.  "Now off you go!  Make
haste, and be safe!"

What was that about, Trevor wondered.  He took Harmony's hand--Garron
was right.  The odd sensation had mostly passed, but Harmony did look,
somehow, even harder to notice than usual--and led her along as the
temple doors shut behind them.

Trevor couldn't quite remember which way was which, in this unfamiliar
town, and took his bearings against the pre-dawn sky.  North was to
their right.

North was also uphill, away from the river.  They passed by several
people heading downhill, presumably to their day's labors at the docks
or in the many shops.  Trevor led them around these people, out of
their paths, and it was as Garron said.  People paid them no mind.

They passed between densely placed buildings for a while, before the
heart of the city gave way to larger, grander homes and estates higher
uphill.  Walking quickly, they made their way around and between
these.  Something about their fences and hedge lines suggested to
Trevor that they should not venture to cross them.

Past the estates, the hill flattened out, revealing country much like
they had passed through on their trip from White Sands.  In the early
morning light, the new sun bright on their faces, they passed through
and by several farms before those too faded away and Merlon was well
behind them.

Far to their right, Trevor could make out the Trade Road as it made
its way along the coast up towards cities that were only names to
Trevor--Church, Olanton.  The road was much larger going the other way
from Merlon than it had been on their way in, and even at this hour
Trevor could make out the shadowed side of horses and wagons here and
there, dark dots moving against the rising sun.

The Trade Road ran eastward, hugging the ocean, as it went North.
Every step north they made took them farther from it, and made Trevor
feel just that much safer.  He wondered how long the prayer would
last.  How long they would really be shrouded for.  He stopped for a
brief look around, but saw not a soul, no one that could be following

Still.  He hadn't seen the cloaked man--or whoever had followed them
from White Sands--either, and now he didn't have Morton's experienced
ears and road sense to alert him.  He wondered how far they could go
before the prayer's protection ended.

Trevor was determined to make that distance as far as possible.  It
had, after all, been two days since they'd had to exert themselves.
"Come on, Harmony," he said.  "We need to speed up a bit."  He picked
up his pace, and she followed without complaint.

They made excellent time.  The landscape offered no real obstacles.
It was more or less flat, with low rolling hills.  Between the hills,
Trevor felt very secluded.  Atop the hills--particularly the larger
ones--they could see for miles.

There were few trees in this area.  Trevor wondered whether that was
natural, or whether they had been taken for use in Merlon.  Grasses
dominated the land, with low bushes accenting it here and there.
Trevor kept a careful eye on the sun, doing his best to keep them
going directly north.  How far was it to the Spine Mountains?  Trevor
had to admit that he had really no idea.  Only a vague sense.  Olanton
was north of the Spine, and as far as he knew Church was south of
them.  And Church--while a long way off by his standards--he knew wasn't
that far off to people like Morton.  Olanton, though, that was a long
journey for anybody.

Trevor pondered the question.  But whether measured in miles  or days,
the answer was that he had no idea when they might get to the
mountains.  And when they did, how long it might take them to find


"Yes, Harmony?"

"I miss Papa."  The words hung there for a moment.  "Mama, too."

"So do I, Harmony," he said.  So much had happened since his father's
death, Trevor really hadn't thought much about him.  But in a moment
the sorrow was all back.

"I wish Papa was here," Trevor said.  "I'm afraid sometimes I'm not
making a very good job of this.  Of keeping you safe."

They continued on another long moment.  "I," Harmony began, and before
stopping.  Trevor knew the tone in her voice.  She would finish her
thought in her own time.  He waited for her to find her words.

"I feel safe, Trev.  I understand, real danger.  But together, I feel
safe.  Only, you stay with me, 'kay?"

"Of course, I will," he promised, a pang of guilt hitting him again
for having left her that afternoon in the inn.  Aran!  What if
Armathokoa had found her while he was out!  He wasn't sure which god
or goddess to thank for that not happening, so he quickly thanked them
all.  "I will always stay with you, Harmony."

"Thanks, Trev."

They stopped in a hollow between two hills for a quick lunch.  Garron
and Nera had packed well for them.  The food was all travel food,
compact.  Dried fruit. Hard cheese.  Blocks of pemmican wrapped in
oiled cloth.  Things that would last, and that they didn't need to eat
a lot of at any time.  I should have left them some money, Trevor
thought suddenly.  An offering, at least.  He berated himself for
being selfish when Garron and Nera had done so much for he and
Harmony.  Done so much for two total strangers who had done nothing
other than ask for help.  Trevor resolved that if he ever passed
through Merlon again, he would make up for it.

They finished lunch, shouldered their packs, and stood to continue.
At the top of the next hill, Trevor took a quick glance behind them.
There was no one, still.  But, there was a trail.  Yes.  It was clear
enough to follow when he looked for it.  Bent grasses pointing the way
back to Merlon.  An easy trail to follow, and heading due north.
Trevor began to sweat.  He called for Harmony to stop a moment.  Think
it through, he reminded himself.

He thought back over the land they had crossed that morning.  There
hadn't been a stream, not yet, that they could walk up.  Ah!  Trevor
had an idea.  There had been a brief rocky patch they had passed over.
They could go back to it, and go a different way for a while, leaving
no trail.  But no.  That had been miles ago.  If someone was following
them, they would like as not encounter that person before getting back
to the rocks.  Well.  Surely there would be other rocky spots.  It was
a plan, only, it would have to wait.

"Come on, Harmony.  We need to find some rocky ground."  He explained
his plan as he hurried them along, as fast as he dared push them.
Yes, they would continue due north till they found a rocky patch.
Then go west, away from the coast, as much as they could until the
rocks gave out.  Then resume course, and do the same at the next rocky
patch, and the next.

But no, that wouldn't work.  He imagined Aramathokoa following their
path.  Encountering a break in the path where the rocks were.  Not
finding the path on the other side.  It was too obvious.  He would
just search around the rocks until he found their trail again.  Think,
Trevor, think!

They could cross some rocks, go a little ways, and then double back.
Leave a false trail headed north, before striking off westward for a
while.  It might work.  He had to do something, anyway.  He prayed
that Garron was right, that Aramathokoa would spend days hunting for
them in Merlon before giving up.  That their trail would be long gone
by then.  But he could't take the chance.  He had to take every
opportunity to increase their odds.  If that meant doubling back, even
at the cost of wasting precious footsteps, then so be it.  Only, in
order to make doubling back a safe thing itself, they needed a big
lead on their pursuers.  And that meant speed.

He could tell Harmony wanted to slow down.  He did too, for that
matter.  But he refused.  They walked very fast now, not quite at a
run, but almost.  The hills went by, one after another.  At last they
encountered a rocky patch.  They crossed over it swiftly, and began
their false trail.  How long to make it?  How to balance the
length--the falseness--of the trail against how much lead they might
have?  Trevor thought for a bit.  Five hundred paces, he decided.
That would not take too long.  But should throw someone off a bit.  At
the very worst, he thought, regaining their trail should take someone
longer than it would take them to leave a false one.  And that meant

Trevor counted off the paces.  One hundred, two hundred.  They crested
another hill.  Four hundred.  Four hundred fifty.  Then Trevor saw the
flaw in his plan.  Their trail would just end, in the middle of the
grass.  It would be obvious that they had doubled back.  Obvious what
the pursuer should do.  He needed a new plan.

What we need, he thought, is two rocky patches, not too far apart.
Leave a false trail from one to the other, then double back to the
first.  Aramathokoa can search around the second patch all he likes,
but there will be no other trail for him to find.  Only there was no
telling how far they'd have to go to find that.

Or a rocky patch and a stream, he thought.  Or a stream and a rocky
patch, for that matter.  Possibilities expanded on the basic idea.
Two streams, even.  Surely there would be an opportunity to hide their
true trail.  He just had to stay alert for it.

In the end, it was a stream and a rocky patch, which they encountered
close together late in the day.  They were both exhausted, and not
traveling nearly as fast as they had been for most of the day.  They
crossed a small stream that trickled between two hills.  The hill on
the farther side was low, but sloped gently so it was a short but
respectable distance to the top of it.  And the back side of the hill
was rocky.  In the early evening light, just starting to show some
orange, Trevor could see that this was, actually, just about perfect.
It was a rocky slope, soil interspersed with rocky patches.  It looked
as though the rocks gave way to soil again as the next hill

"This is our spot, Harmony.  Here's where we'll make our false trail.
We'll go down here, and up to the top of the next hill.  Then we
double back, all the way to the stream."

Knowing they were about to turn around, and double back for--what, not
quite a mile?  Trevor estimated it as about the distance from their
house to Yun's smithy, but certainly not as far as the
boathouse--Trevor pushed them to go faster.  He still hadn't actually
seen anyone following them, all day, but that didn't mean they weren't
out there.  He and Harmony were under a protective ward.  There was no
reason their pursuer couldn't be as well.  Which is a chilling
thought, Trevor mused.  Because their pursuer, if warded, probably had
the ability to produce the ward themselves.  Theirs would be gone in
the morning, if it wasn't gone already.

They doubled back, and made it to the stream before the sun went
behind the hills.  Trevor led them west, into the bright light,
splashing in the cold water as they went.  He was glad they hadn't
found this spot earlier in the day.  They were kicking up a lot of
silt as they walked, making the water cloudy, but that would be
difficult for their pursuer to see in the dark.

On the other hand, it would be nice if it were light.  Trevor would
prefer to be able to see better to find a good place to leave the
stream.  Somewhere they could do so without leaving a lot of muddy
footprints.  But, one couldn't have everything.  Another hour, he
decided.  We'll go another hour, then find a place to camp.  An hour,
though, was hard to judge.  The full moon had been a few days ago, and
now wouldn't rise until into the night.

A while later--probably not an hour, really, but they were tired and
hungry--they encountered a small stand of trees near the stream.  It
would do.  They camped under the trees, in the lee between the two
hills.  They ate cold rations from their packs.  Trevor was unwilling
to risk making a fire.  Harmony argued the point, on the grounds that
they were about soaked to the thighs from tromping up the stream, but
Trevor refused to give in.  They were still too close to Merlon.
Maybe tomorrow night.

Tired to their bones, they bedded down before the moon rose.  As
Trevor waited for sleep to come, he had a sudden and strange
sensation, as though he had turned from his side onto his back.  But
he had laid down on his back.  He checked, and yes, he was still on
his back.  He hadn't moved.  The sensation passed quickly.  Oh, he
realized.  Must be Pious Garron's prayer, wearing off.  Well, we're on
our own now.  He didn't have time to worry over much about it, though,
before he was fast asleep.