Tothelea: Chapter 14

They woke with the sun.  A quick check revealed that everything was as they
had left it the night before.  Trevor had a few aches in his legs, but not
what he was expecting.  I guess we're becoming accustomed to travel, he

They sat to breakfast in the morning sun.  Blocks of pemmican, flavorful and a
bit spicy, but very dense.  It had to be eaten in small, slow bites. While
they ate, Trevor took a thorough look through their packs.  It was the first
chance he'd had to do so since leaving the temple the morning before.  They
contained, not surprisingly, mostly food.  But they held a few useful looking
odds and ends as well.  A knife--although they did have two others already--an
extra shirt and pair of trousers for each of them, a coil of thin rope, a
couple of small tin pots, tin spoons, and a map.

Trevor was particularly pleased to find the map.  He thanked Garron and Nera
out loud, and showed it to Harmony.  It appeared to be a map of Hardal,
showing the provinces, rivers, cities, and mountains.  Trevor had seen maps
before, of course, but had never really thought much of them.  Most of the
ones he had seen had been nautical maps at his father's boat house, which were
sparse on details of the dry parts of the world.  And, of course, he'd had no
real need to know, in other than general terms, how Hardal was arranged.

But he needed to know now.  And a lot more than just generally.  He puzzled
over the map for a while, figuring out how to read it.  He found Merlon,
Church, and Olanton.  And there were the rivers at each one.  And there were
the Spine Mountains.  It wasn't even the length of his finger from Merlon to
the Spine on the map.  How far was it really?  Hard to tell.  There were marks
along the Trade Road, showing the distances from Fort to Kostun, Kostun to
Olanton, and so on all the way down to Merlon, but no convenient mark from
Merlon directly across the wilderness to the Spine.

Still, from Merlon to Olanton was, he added the numbers, XXX miles.  They
would be going, Trevor hoped, much straighter than the road.  And not as far,
of course.  So, less than XXX.  Maybe YYY?  It was as good a guess as he could
make.  And after that, going through the mountains, who knew how long it would
take them to find Belden?

Well, as long as the going was like this, they could probably make twenty
miles a day.  So that meant... Trevor counted it out and could not help but
slump a bit as he sat.  It would be a long time before they reached the
mountains.  They would have to be careful with their food supplies.  Still,
the map showed another road, branching from the Trade Road, called the
Mountain Loop Road.  The trade road went right through the mountains, while
the loop went around, to the west.  They couldn't possibly miss it.  And there
were a few towns, places Trevor had never heard of, marked along the loop.
They would just have to hope they could restock their packs before heading
into the mountains.

The sheer length of the journey weighed on him.  Trevor could almost feel the
weight of so many days walking as though he were carrying all those days along
with the contents of his pack.  And here we are, he thought, sitting to
breakfast when we could be walking.

He stood up.  "Come on, Harmony.  We need to be going."  They drank deeply
from the stream, and refilled their water skins before moving on.  He pondered
briefly the notion of continuing upstream, maybe until lunchtime, but then
remembered about the muddy water.  No, they'd leave the stream here.  Besides,
their clothes were mostly dry now.

The grass was sparse under the trees, but thick enough past them that stepping
between the tufts wasn't really practical.  Still, Trevor was worried about
leaving a trail.  There had to be some way to minimize the signs of their
passage.  He would feel much better if they could at least get over the next
hilltop without leaving such an obvious path.  He mentioned this to Harmony.

She looked at him like he was an idiot.  She reached up to one of the trees
and broke off a small branch, covered with new spring leaves, crisp and green.
"You go," she said.  "Step carefully.  I will follow."

Okay, he thought, let's see what this is about.  Trevor walked slowly up the
hill, picking his steps with care, leaving the tufts of grass as untrampled as
he could.  Harmony followed, walking backwards.

She stepped carefully where he stepped, and as she went, used the leafy branch
to sweep the grasses back up.  It wasn't perfect, but it definitely helped.
"Good thinking, Harmony," he said.

He watched her work as they made their way to the hilltop.  Unfortunately, it
was slow going.  But they didn't need to do it for very long.  When they had
crested the hill and could no longer see the trees they had slept under, they
struck out northward again at their faster pace.  Hopefully, by the time
anyone managed to unravel their false trail and find their camping spot, their
trail up the hill would be gone.

The day--and the next days after it--passed much like the first.  They left
false trails when they could, and made good progress.  Trevor diligently
watched for signs of followers, but never saw anything.  He still worried that
if pursuers were behind them, that they could be warded and unseeable.

Harmony, for her part, flourished.  She seemed completely at home, relaxed,
out in the wilds.  She had told him she understood the danger Aramathokoa
posed, but if it worried her she gave no sign.  Just as well, Trevor thought,
I'm doing enough worrying for the both of us.

Still, as the days passed and nothing bad happened, he began to relax, just a
little, although he wished they had some way of gauging their progress other
than by vague guessing.

About a week into their journey, they encountered a break in the landscape.  A
scarp, only a few tens of feet high, running across the plain.  It was
mid-morning when they saw the low cliff, not too far away.

"Let's get to the top of that," Trevor said, "and look around a bit."

It took them the better part of two hours to reach the scarp, find a good
place to climb up, and climb to the top.  The climbing was unfamiliar to both
of them.  There had been nothing like this feature of the landscape anywhere
near White Sands.  The scarp, which had looked so unimposing from a distance,
loomed over them when they stood at the base of it.  Eventually, they found a
place where some boulders had come down, forming a rough slope.  It was hard
work, climbing up and over the rocks, but the slope of them was not so steep
as to seem perilous.  Except at the last bit.  When they reached the top-most
boulders, they found a rock face, leaving them perhaps ten feet below the lip
of the scarp.  The boulders had clearly cleaved from this mother rock, leaving
nothing behind they might use to make their way up the remaining distance.
They perched on the boulders, resting while figuring out what to do.

After a few minutes, Trevor opened his pack and dug out the coil of rope.
"Harmony, if I lean up against the wall here, can you climb up me and reach
the top?"  He stood, and leaned against the rock face to illustrate his

"I think so."

"Climb up, then.  See if there's anything to tie this rope to."

"Okay."  Trevor steadied himself while she got in place behind him.  She put
her hands on his shoulders, and lifted one leg up to place her foot on his
hip.  Trevor braced himself, holding his breath as she heaved up onto his
back.  He exhaled.  She wasn't that heavy.  She stood on his shoulders and
peeked over the top of the cliff.

"I see rocks.  Mostly small.  Trees, but not very close.  Some bushes."

"Okay then," Trevor grunted, "pull yourself up there and find something that
will work."

She gave a little hop, and then she was up, her feet scrabbling over the top.
She peeked down at him a moment later.

"Okay, Trev," she said.  He handed the rope up to her, and she vanished again.
Trevor waited, listening to Harmony walking about above him.

A couple of minutes later, he heard her call "Trev, over here," and turned to
his left to see the loose end of the rope tumbling down over the edge.
Moments later, he joined her.  She had found a boulder close enough to the
edge for the length of the rope, and obviously heavy enough to take Trevor's

They looked down, out across the plains to the south.  Trevor marveled at the
view, feeling like he could see forever.  It's like standing on the shore,
looking out to sea, he thought.  Only, a sea of land.  He looked to the east,
and realized that the ocean was out of sight.  The realization hit him
unexpectedly.  He had spent his whole life within shouting distance of the
sea, hearing the endless surf.  Now, he was so far from it that it was
invisible, the sounds of the surf having been traded for the chirps of birds
and wind rustling through the tall grasses.

To the south, he could see their trail leading away, pointing back towards
Merlon.  Merlon, however, was also gone from sight.  Which, all in all, was
fine with Trevor.  He wondered again about their pursuers, and had an idea.

"Let's stop here for the day, Harmony."

"But Trev, it's only morning."

"I know, Harmony.  But we could use a day's rest, I think, and this is a
perfect time to watch, carefully, to see if we are being followed."

Harmony considered the idea.  "Okay."

Trevor unshouldered his pack and handed it to her.  "Find us a good place to
make camp, all right?  I'll look for a good place to watch from."


Finding a good lookout spot was considerably easier than finding a good place
to climb up had been.  He settled on a place where he could sit, leaning
against a large boulder, blending his outline with that of the rock.  He could
sit in the shadow of the rock, which would pass soon into shadow as noon
passed into afternoon.  Unless someone was looking very carefully, Trevor was
pretty sure he could watch without being seen.

He found Harmony, and showed her where he would be in case she needed him.
"Okay," she nodded, "I'll find some good plants for supper," she added,
continuing to make camp.  Trevor was happy to hear that.  A week of nothing
but travel food three times a day had him eager for, well, anything else.

Trevor took up his position by the boulder, and began to watch.  The rock's
eastern face was warm from the morning sun and made for a cozy lookout.
Trevor scanned the plains below him, looking for any signs of motion.  There
were plenty, to be sure, as the day wore on.  But, upon inspection, each one
turned out to be natural--rabbits, birds, something that might have been a fox.
But no people.  In fact, in the whole expanse of land he surveyed, he couldn't
see any houses or buildings either.  They were really alone.

Trevor allowed the thought, perhaps we did make a clean escape from Merlon.
He thanked the Aran, and prayed for their luck to continue.  Harmony came to
visit a few times as he watched.  He told her what he thought.  "Maybe.  Hope
so," was all she replied.

Then Trevor began to wonder.  If their pursuers--for surely Aramathokoa was
still after them, with who knew how many others working for him--were not out
there, in the plains, then where were they?  If we had been tracked out of
Merlon, then surely they would not be far behind.  Were they still in Merlon,
conducting a futile search?  Have they abandoned Merlon, to seek us northward
on the Trade Road?  Or maybe they've gone back south, thinking that perhaps
that we tried to return home?  Or maybe they're at sea, trying to reach Church
or Olanton before us.

Trevor asked himself what he would do if he were Aramathokoa.  He laughed at
the thought--as if he could possibly think like a mad, fallen god!  Still,
Aramathokoa had to be smart, even if he was crazy.  He would track us to the
temple, eventually.  That was for sure.  Garron would, presumably, deny any
knowledge of them.  If Aramathokoa believed it, then their trail would end
there.  But probably, Trevor had to admit, Aramathokoa would try to force his
way in, past the protective wards which kept evil things out.  What would
happen then?  Would the wards hold?  Were Garron and Nera strong enough to
hold Aramathokoa back?  Would he destroy the temple and kill everyone inside
just to find out if they were still there?  Yeah, he probably would, Trevor
admitted.  He prayed for Garron and Nera's safety.  He didn't want anyone else
to die on their account, like poor Hinton had.

It wasn't fair.  Trevor felt guilt at leaving the temple in danger.  But what
else could they do?  All they could do was what they had done--leave Merlon.
If that wasn't enough to take the danger with them, well, it just wasn't fair.
He prayed for justice, too, as well as for the safety of the temple and its

However it ended, though, Aramathokoa would discover that he and Harmony were
not at the temple.  And yet, there was no one seen to be following them.  So,
where would Aramathokoa seek them next?  He had sailed to Merlon, and gotten
there ahead of them.  Church, by the look of the map, was at least twice as
far from Merlon as White Sands had been.  He would probably sail there, too,
and lay in wait.

Trevor counted up the days since they had left Merlon.  Aramathokoa was
probably in Church now.  How long would he wait?  Where would he go from
there?  Trevor couldn't say.  He had no idea at all.  Well.  Harmony and I
don't seem to be in imminent danger.  That's the main thing.  We'll find
Belden, as soon as we can, and see what he knows.

When it got too dark to watch the plains any more, Trevor joined Harmony at
their camp.  She had made a small fire and was cooking a pot of some kind of
stew.  The fire was nice; it had been a clear day, and with the sun going down
there was already a chill on the air.  Trevor gathered some wood for the fire,
and noted that here, atop the scarp, the land was a bit different.  The
grasses weren't quite so dense, while the trees and bushes were more numerous.

Harmony divided the stew between their two small pots when she deemed it

"This is good!" Trevor said, after taking a bite.

"Good to have a hot meal, too," Harmony added.

They enjoyed the meal, and sat by the fire in the cool evening while the wood
slowly burned down.  The thin slice of moon set early in the west, and soon
the night grew dark.


"Yes, Harmony?"

"Show me the stars?"

Trevor smiled in the firelight.  Trevor had always liked the stars, and had
learned the names of many of them and their groupings.  They all had stories.
Stories about the Aran, about heroes, and great deeds.  He had enjoyed sharing
these stories with Harmony.  They used to go out on warm nights, behind the
woodshed, hiding from the bright light of their house's small windows.  Laying
on the bare ground, Harmony would point to stars and ask Trevor what they were
called.  He would tell her, and then start in on the stories about that star
or its constellation.  Sometimes he would add his own embellishments and
details.  Sometimes she would add her own, or correct him, insisting that some
detail or other couldn't possibly be right.

How long had it been, he wondered, since they had done this?  Last summer, at
least, although really he couldn't remember for sure.  Too long, anyway.
Trevor banked the fire down to quell the bright flames, leaving a bed of warm
coals.  They laid their bedrolls beside it, and lay down with their heads
close together.  Harmony asked about every star she could see, and they went
through almost every story Trevor knew.  Trevor finished a story, and paused.
Harmony was fast asleep, breathing soft and deep.  Trevor smiled, and fell
asleep happy.