As the party ploughed along under the mountain, Kale became more aware of the guards. When Lord Ralleck had lived they had their duty of protectiion. They had kept to themselves - their crimson tunics and chainmail binding them to their routine. Their rigid and organised marching formation around the carriage was their downfall - they had received the first and cruelest of the arrows in the ambush. Now, with their master slain under their watch, and most of their group slain they marched silently, and their silence inffected the rest of the group. The jingle of their ill-suited chain mail mixed with the clacking of cascading pebbles. Even the Strolians gave the guards dignified space. Though Kale had winced when he heard an offence from Danis' backside, who then bowed to Silo in good nature.
The sun had fallen close to the horizon, blazing an orange light on the mountain face. Their feet kicked up puffs of dust which burnt a brillant orange. But the party regarded this beautiful scene with annoyance and frustration. Anyone, from miles around would easily see their figures and their accompanying dust at the mountains base. They could not go lower - for the larger rocks below formed unnavigatable mazes. They could go no higher, the mobile slopes would just slow them more, and make them even more visible. They just had to bear this short, dangerous window, and wait for the shadows to creep up from the plain below and swallow them.
Behind him, Kale overheard one of the younger guards echo all their thoughts,
"By Vela, I feel the eyes of the plains upon us."
All the guards had stopped along a ragged line, and were standing motionless, staring into the shadowy plain. Their scowls and glinting eyes ablaze in the setting sun. Their shadows blasted back against the mountain. Fen the navigator, so recently lost of his brother hissed,
"I so wish to put those eyes out".
The whole party had stopped, exept for the wirey assasin Doraveen who had been taking up the rear. He quietly continued his march. Jorn regarded the guards with one solemn look, and followed Doraveen. Kale turned soon after. Danis and Silo, stood looking at the guards with calm expressions, leaning on their spears. They had been scouting ahead - but they waited for the guards to tear themself away from the plain, and they they joined their formation - if only symbolically, as advant guards - 30 paces ahead. A show of solidarity.
They marched this way until the sky was purple, and then Danis broke ahead of the party, and angled upwards. He darted between between boulders and bushes, and soon was out of sight all together. They continued to march until the sky was greying. Jorn and Kale became nervous, it was getting dark. If their ambushers had companions they would likely rest, but the Volverine, she hunted as soon it was full night.
Silo kept stopped and looked up at the slope with so much regularity it was unnerving. Not wanted to betray his worry, Kale tried to think of a veiled question that wouldn't attract SIlo's childish taunts. He couldnt so he just marched on silently.
The air above them fluttered with dark sillouttes of some sort of small bird coming in from the plain to nest in their tree top nests. They chirped occasionally, short high pitched calls as they flew, lower moans once perched. The wind picked up, the smells of the oaks and pines of Anarn filtered up, touched with a chill. Jorn spoke softly while the wind tugged as his hair,
"While in the forrest, and in the plains I fancied I could smell the Sorsee ocean beyond. But on this mountain face, all I feel is the coldness of the rocks. And all I smell is ice in the clouds above us."
There was reason for Jorn's philosophical tone, the line that Kale and Jorn shared came down from the broad arm of peaks that this mountain was part of. Kale reflected, and then spoke,
"Something stirs in me. It is fear, but there is also...communion".
Up ahead in the gloom came hiss from Silo
"Hold". When they sound of footsteps ceased they could hear another bird unlike the others far up the slope - it must be Danis! at last!.
"Up up boys" said Silo.
"Dont look back, dont waste time. Just climb."
Not looking back proved harder than it sounded - the plain below had been ominous before, it housed their enemies, both man and beast. But now it was at their back, with not even the moon to light it. Their imaginations played up. Doraveen took up the rear, but what if he was taken out with a well placed arrow Kale thought? It would be a lucky shot - but it would leave them totally open. The guards mail and their culmsy feet made enough racket to curtain a curdlled yelp from an injured voicebox. At one stage Kale heard muttering behind and he turned, but it was Silo explaining to Fen where they were headed. The guard behind him nearly bumped into him - Kale heard the guards mail rap against his leather. The guard was to polite to complain, but Silo hissed -
"Don't break stride!"
Kale turned embaressed as the hulking shadow of his brother surveyed him.
"Don't worry. Danis has his eyes to us - and will warn Silo if there is trouble".
And with that they continued to climb in single file. The shrubs became less dense, and the clumbs of hardy grass more numerous. At first they had all avoided stepping on the grass and rocks for fear of leaving such an obvious trail. But after a few stumbles and curses, Silo took the lead, and told each man to follow his steps precisely.
Kale found this to be quite a pleasure. WIth only sound and the dim sight of the mans feet in front, each person in the party became very concious of their foot falls. And after a short period their pace seemed to quicken, as they bent their concertration merely walking. The guards in the mail seemed unbothered by the pace even in their mail.
After a time, and well after dark, the slope leveled off with such abrputness that Kale felt disoriented. He heard Danis whispering with Silo and Fen. Around him the party sank down on their knees, panting, in a group. Danis stood at the centre,
"We make camp, pool any rations you have - we need each man to feed after a climb like that. In the morrow Fen will direct us to which roots has sustain us. We eat our meats at night, and our breads and roots during the day. Fen has volunteered first watch, and his fellow Dasy for second, and his fellow Konon for the last. Ok bed down."
So the party dispersed and settled over the small outcrop. The wind was cold, but there was a fallen tree which still had dead foliage. Those that could fit set up their sleeping sacks against this wind barrier. The guards volunteered to setup by the poorer shelter of a boulder. but the five guards would be thinking of their lords deathless face. Rather than lie looking at the stars - they would sit - looking back to where their lord was murdered.