Part Two – The Lowlands (now the parts have names again, couldn’t she think of an interesting one for Part One or something?)
Riding is not as bad as Elspeth had thought, and Gahltha is making sure she becomes adept before they get to the lowlands, as no Gypsie wouldn’t know how to ride. Elspeth will have to learn fast, as she must learn to ride on balance alone, and not use a saddle, stirrup or her hands. Gahltha is constantly sending her instructions on how to hold herself, and was probably enjoying her discomfort. The weather was so bad that they passed through the Blackland’s storm without really realising.
They passed through without trouble, and went off the main road to the White Valley. Jik communicates to Elspeth and asks about this Oldtime way they are going, and whether the carriages will be able to go through them. Apparently it was once an important route, but Jik reveals that he has never heard of Herder priests talking about it and has never seen it on a map. Elspeth too has had this thought but hopefully it is because people don’t want to use the route thinking it haunted.
The group stopped for the day, and they all went into one carriage to talk. Elspeth, who had been exposed to the rain for hours, had no time or space to change, and was almost drifting off to sleep once the flaps had been closed and the carriage began to warm, but Kella insisted that she eat some food. Kella also provided some green slave to ease Elspeth’s aching muscles. Jik took the opportunity to ask Elspeth why he was included on the expedition, as Dameon had provided no explanation. Elspeth uses Jik’s knowledge of Herders and Sutrium as the reason, as she could never burden him with the truth. I don’t know whether I’d prefer to know the future or fall blindly into it? Knowing would be a burden, but would allow you to prepare yourself for what is to come. Though I guess we will never have that sort of dilemma.
Jik wasn’t exactly satisfied with her explanation, but she gives him good advice to not worry about why he is with them. Gahltha reveals to Elspeth that there are day old tracks heading in the opposite direction to theirs in the mud. Avra tells Elspeth that there were probably twice as many people as this expedition has, so around 20. This is odd and slightly disturbing news as there are no towns in the White Valley and people usually keep away. It could be the Druid, or an unmarked settlement or even hunters, but each possibility is less than the last. Elspeth tells Gahltha to pass the word around the animals to keep an eye out for any more clues on the other group, and they will leave at dawn tomorrow. Jik told Elspeth that it was obvious to him that Gahltha doesn’t like her, and this to Elspeth is a new use of Emapth talents, as he was able to feel the dislike.
Elspeth decides to farseek their route to see if there is any sign of a settlement. All she found were some animals, some of which were not happy at her intrusion. She could sense the static from the Blacklands, and the Suggredoon, which the group are basically going to follow to find the olden path. Strangely she found a ‘numb’ spot where she couldn’t seem to be able to penetrate. It is a strange thing, but possibly just tainted water. But it is evident that there are no humans around, so hopefully it was just a hunting party, even though that itself is strange. Elspeth contemplates whether the numb spot is from a machine, but Pavo thinks this is unlikely. Elspeth quickly fell asleep and had bad dreams about running through tunnels and feeling like she had forgotten something important.
The morning was sunny, which was a welcome relief for them all, and we learnt that Darga could tell when water was tainted or not using his nose, which is a really handy skill to have! Elspeth had to ride without a saddle and felt more comfortable but less stable. Does anyone know if it is actually better for horses if they are ridden bareback, or is it better with a saddle, or do we just don’t know? At one point Gahltha went into a trot, and Elspeth fell off, as a consequence of not gripping with her knees the way she was supposed to. And this seems to continue for a while, and by midmeal Elspeth was covered in mud, Gahltha seems to like to punish Elspeth for her laziness.
After lunch Gahltha decided that they should start galloping to progress her riding skills. After a while of cantering and galloping Elspeth began to get used to the rhythm and movement, and even started to enjoy riding. Unfortunately the ground starts to become more difficult for the carts to get through, so it is taking some time to move. Domick and Avra scout further ahead and seem to find no pass to go through, only where the river goes under the mountain, which is not good news. Hopefully the passage is just hidden from view, otherwise this journey will be for nothing.
Even worse, further ahead the ground turns basically to swamp, and it will take days for the wagons to get through. Now is as good as ever to stop for the day. Elspeth had gone to bathe in the river, but before she could Kella and Domick started a heated discussion, which Elspeth needed to break up, lest guild tensions ruin the expedition. Pavo though, breaks up the fight, but only because he starts to cough. Kella investigates and figures out that he has the beginnings of the rotting sickness from all the radiation in the Blacklands. He only has three or four months left and there is nothing any Healer could do. Elspeth wants to send him back to Obernewtyn, and Rushton would never have allowed him to go, but he pleads with Elspeth, and tells her that they need him to find the library. He will be allowed to remain on the expedition, but I don’t think Elspeth is pleased, though she is also sad that he will die.
During the middle of the night, Domick wakes Elspeth and tells her that there are men coming. There are about a dozen approaching, and there is no time for escape, so Elspeth sends Domick away to safety and sends the horses too, so at least someone is safe. If Domick had not woken up, they would all be in danger.
The men come across the group, and Elspeth converses with them, and acts gruff and rude like a Gypsie. One of the men orders them out of their carriage, and Elspeth weaves a story about their party splitting in two because of Pavo being sick, and they are to go through an olden pass to meet her father in Arendelft. The man says there is no such pass, and orders the rest of his men (some of which were hiding) to take them to the camp, and to round up their horses.
One of the men reveal that they are going to meet the Druid.