Chapter Thirty Two


“Goodbye and good luck.”

“Thanks, you too,” Merigan replied, waving to the bargemaster as he pulled his boat away from the shore. She stood on the bank beside Willbrand. They had followed the river north out of the mountains, but now it bent west toward Pantaglia, away from the direction Willbrand and Merigan wanted to go. They had given up on their plans to go to Zalan. Neither one of them wanted to brave the mountain trails again, and the trip down the river had taken them farther from that city than they were when they started. The Bargemaster had told them that the road was just a short distance to the north, and that Baram, a city located out on the plain and their new destination, was about a days march to the east along it.

There were none of the amenities on the barges that Willbrand was used to from the few boat trips he had taken on the rivers near Crotasia. In fact, there were no amenities at all. The barges were not meant to carry passengers. They barely had room for the crew to sleep, much less anyone else. Willbrand and Merigan had had to find a place to curl up at night cramped between sacks of semiprecious stones and a pile of old mining equipment that was being sent back for replacement, with not even so much a bit of straw between themselves and the hard deck of the ship. It had hardly seemed worth the ten coin the Bargemaster had charged them for passage but what choice had they had? Before that, of course, they had been at the mining town, which hadn’t exactly been the lap of luxury, and before that they had been lost in the woods. It seemed like a lifetime to Willbrand since he had slept in a decent bed and he could think of few things that he craved more than a hot meal at a pleasant Inn and a bath.

So right now their main goal was to get back to the civilized world as quickly as possible. Beyond that, their plans were vague.

They weren’t worried about traveling on the road. They were far from Donelan and had left their pursuit far behind, the one good thing that had come from their little side trip into the mountains. The last they had seen of the mysterious man who had been following them was when Willbrand had thrown him down the mountainside. Even if he wasn’t dead he couldn’t possibly be following them anymore. If he had he would have caught up with them while they were still in Cen Findol.

No, here they were just two common travelers with nothing to distinguish them from anyone else. They had little to fear of discovery, at least for the moment.

Or so they hoped.

It was mid afternoon on the second day from when the barge had started down the river from Cen Findol. They had left the mountains behind early this morning, and though they could still see them looming to the south the terrain had been replaced by low rolling hills of mostly open grassland with clusters of deciduous trees and thick hedgelike brush. Something else Willbrand looked forward too was walking on level ground once again.

They made their way northward and as the Bargemaster had promised struck the road a short time later. It was a wide dirt track, wide enough for two carts to pass side by side, that ran fairly straight in an east westerly direction. They turned right and made their way eastward along it. They intended to get as far as they could today, even if it meant walking at night. Both of them had had enough of the wilderness, and were anxious to reach the town as soon as possible. Indeed, Willbrand harbored a hope that they could reach it tonight, in spite of the fact that the Bargemaster had told them it would take them until tomorrow.

The air was crisp and cool, and though it was not uncomfortable Willbrand knew it would get much colder once the sun went down. Winter was fast approaching. They had not set out from Winsor with any cold weather gear, and they were far north of there now. He would have to remember to get some warmer clothing once they reached Baram, but there was nothing they could do about that now of course. It looked like they were in for a cold night.

They passed a few farms on the way, but for the most part the land was empty. The ground here was rocky and mostly unsuitable for farming. The land farther south was more fertile and that was where most of the farms lay. They passed few people on the road, just a single group with a wagon heading in the opposite direction and a few lone horsemen who rode past them with nary a glance.

They made good progress. The road was smooth and level and there was nothing to impede them. They had traveled quite a distance by the time night fell but of course they could not say exactly how far they had gotten, nor how much farther they had to go. They continued on in the darkness for some time, for even though the moon had not yet risen and they had only the stars to steer by, the road ran on in front of them in a straight line, being plain to see even in the darkness, leaving them with no fear of becoming lost. As the night grew the temperature began to drop, just as Willbrand had feared, and after a while he saw Merigan shiver with the chill and draw close to him as they walked. He slipped his arm around her, his eyes searching the darkness in front of them for what he hoped would be the twinkling lights of the town. He really did not want to stop but he knew if it got much colder they would probably be better off setting up camp and a fire.

As it was, when he finally did see a light in front of them it was not the lights of the town but the flickering of someone else’s campfire. It was sheltered in a little knoll, surrounded by tress on three sides, and as a result they did not see it until they were nearly upon it. A single figure sat huddled in a cloak beside it.

They halted. Following the road would take them right past him and it didn’t seem he could fail to notice them if they continued. They had not seen the man look in their direction, nor had he given any indication that he had seen them. They were still far enough away down the road that the light from his fire did not illuminate them. They could slip off the road now and go around him and he would probably never know they were even there.

Still, there didn’t seem to be much point in doing that. He was not any kind of guard. He wore no armor. As far as they could tell he was just a common traveler like themselves. There was no reason to believe he was any threat at all, or that he would even notice them if they passed.

Willbrand saw Merigan looking at him questioningly and he guessed she had the same concerns on her mind.

“Let’s just go,” he said with a shrug.

They continued on their way, with Willbrand looking at the man out of the corner of his eye as they passed, and at first it seemed the man would not even notice them. It was not until they were almost past him that he lifted his head and looked at them. Then he stood up and approached.

“Evening good sir, and good lady,” he said cheerfully. “Might you be on your way to Baram?”

Willbrand and Merigan stopped. Neither one replied right away, not sure what to tell the man, or if they should say anything at all about their destination. Willbrand was thinking of ways to politely reply that their destination was none of his business when the man spoke again.

“The only reason I inquire is because the road cuts through a swath of tress over yonder hill;” and here he pointed to the east where the road did indeed run up a low hill. “And in that woods a group of thieves hides awaiting the unwary. I came from the town earlier tonight, all unsuspecting, and just barely got away from them with my life.”

Willbrand wasn’t very happy with this news. He had been hoping to press on and reach Baram tonight, even if they had to walk in the darkness. He hadn’t thought about thieves. It wasn’t something he was used to considering. As a noble of the court he had always traveled with a large entourage whenever he traveled any distance at all, more than enough people to render thieves of little concern. And afterwards, after he had fled Crotasia he had had Ktan and his friends with him, a formidable enough group to give thieves second thoughts. Even after they had been separated from their friends and it was only him and Merigan he had been more concerned with evading the King’s men than anything else. He hadn’t given much thought to the more mundane but perhaps more prevalent threat of common thieves.

He was tempted to ignore the man’s warning. Not only did he want to get to Baram as quickly as possible, but he had been training with a sword since he was a small child and considered himself more than a match for any common highwaymen, who could not be as well trained and were more likely to be intimidating peasants or simple travelers out of their valuables rather than fighting.

“Thank you for the warning,” he replied, “but I assure you we are more than capable of taking care of ourselves.”

The other man looked down and seemed to notice the sword at Willbrand’s side for the first time.

“As you will,” he answered. “But there were more than a dozen of them laying in wait, and even a man so obviously capable as yourself might have some trouble with that large a group.” The man glanced back at his fire. “They will certainly be gone by the morning when they will no longer have the darkness in which to hide. I have had a long and solitary journey. If you would like to share the fire and perhaps a story or two I would be glad for the company.”

Again Willbrand was slow to respond. The man seemed harmless enough but Willbrand had spent enough time with his new companions to be suspicious of anyone they might meet. He didn’t really care for Ktan’s overly paranoid approach to anything or anyone unfamiliar but he didn’t think it a bad thing if just a little of the man’s suspicious nature rubbed off on him. He would be the first one to admit that he might have been a bit too trusting when he had started out on this little adventure. Still the man was right about one thing, a dozen thieves were too many for them to tackle. Perhaps with Merigan’s help they could get through but it would be foolish to take the chance. No, if they were to continue on they would probably have to go around which would take them even longer. The Bargemaster had already told them they could not make it to the town tonight. They would just end up making camp in the woods anyway eventually.

The logic of this seemed inescapable yet he still stood there vacillating and it was Merigan who finally spoke up.

“We would be happy to join you.”

They walked over to the small fire the man had made, Willbrand last and somewhat reluctantly. He wasn’t sure he could trust the man but that wasn’t all that was bothering him. The fact that Merigan had agreed to the man’s request without even asking Willbrand’s opinion irked him a bit as well. It was foolish and he knew it was foolish but he just couldn’t help himself. Merigan was not a stupid girl, and he would readily admit she was more worldly than he was. She was perfectly capable of making a decision like this on her own, and it wasn’t like they could have discussed it right there in front of the man. And it wasn’t, also, like he wouldn’t have come to the same conclusion on his own. In spite of all that since they had been separated from Ktan and the others deep down inside he considered himself their leader. He was the man after all and his whole life he had been brought up with the understanding that men lead and women followed. In the society he had lived in women just did not make decisions like that on their own. He knew Merigan had grown up differently and he didn’t expect her to defer all decision to him but he expected her to at least consult him first. He had been a noble and a leader back in Crotasia. No one, save his parents, had made decisions for him back then and he had to admit it rankled him a little bit for Merigan to do it now.

In any case Willbrand was well aware this was a petty grievance and it was soon forgotten as their companion turned out to be quite an entertaining fellow. Turns out he was a wandering minstrel by the name of Cavi. He had spent much of his life traveling around the Kingdom finding work where he could and he had quite a number of amusing stories which he was more than happy to regale them with. The man was short and stout and close to middle age, Willbrand guessed. He had blonde hair, almost white, with a sprinkling of gray mixed in. He had green eyes that sparkled at them in the flickering light of his fire.

Willbrand soon found himself quite as ease with the man and after a while decided he was glad Merigan had taken him up on his offer. The fact of the matter was the man reminded both Willbrand and Merigan quite a bit of Saramis.

Thinking of her friends brought Merigan a certain melancholy. It had been a long time since they had parted. Seemed like weeks now but she was uncertain, of course, exactly how long it had been. They had had no way of keeping track of time except by counting the days and she had not bothered to do that. In any case it seemed like forever since she had seen Ktan, Jenya and Saramis, certainly longer than she had ever been apart from them before. She couldn’t help but wonder how they were doing, if they were all well and if they were worried sick about her. She knew at least one person in Baram, a farmer. Hopefully, once they got there he would be able to get word somehow to Ktan where they were. In spite of Willbrand’s companionship, which she was most grateful for, for she was certain she would not have made it this far without him, in spite of that she still missed the others terribly. She couldn’t wait to get back to them.

Because she was thinking of her friends Merigan did not have much to say. Not that she had planned on saying much anyway. Though Cavi seemed perfectly happy to discuss his life history with them she did not, for obvious reasons, feel the same way about herself. She noticed that Willbrand too had little to say. When the man had told them his name that had had no choice but to tell him their own, for withholding that information would certainly have made it obvious they were hiding something. Willbrand had told the man their real names, though he had glanced at Merigan before responding, as if unsure if he should do that. Merigan felt reluctance as well but they had not planned for this, and didn’t know what else to tell the man. It was silly of them really. They had been on their own for weeks now. They should at least have come up with some kind of cover story about themselves by now. But in spite of all they had been through and the obvious need to keep their identities secret they had not thought to do that. Merigan considered this her own fault. Willbrand was new at this. She was the one who had been running for years, the one who should have known better, should have thought of these things. But she was so used to Ktan handling this sort of thing that she hadn’t.

Still, besides giving their names Merigan noticed Willbrand said precious little more about them. Fortunately Cavi didn’t press, in fact, he seemed so wrapped up in the stories he had to tell them about his own life that he hardly seemed to notice the fact that they had little to say about themselves. The man certainly had the gift for gab, Merigan was quick to admit, another thing that reminded her of Saramis. He was on his way to Pantaglia now, after having spent most of the summer traveling around in the north of the Kingdom. He was not a fan of winter, and was hoping to catch a ship headed south upon reaching the city.

The night wore on. It got colder and they huddled closer to the fire. Cavi did not seem tired at all, and in fact seemed perfectly willing to stay up all night chatting. The same could not be said for Willbrand and Merigan, for they were both still tired from their long journey, even though riding on the barge had been leisurely enough, however the uncomfortable conditions had made what sleep they had gotten less than relaxing.

So it was that Merigan conked out soon after they had settled down. Willbrand held out a little longer, for in spite of the fact that Cavi’s stories seemed endless most of them were quite funny and the young noble enjoyed hearing them. Still, eventually he found his eyes closing whether he willed it or no. Soon after sleep came upon him, the soft voice of Cavi still serenading him like a lullaby.




Willbrand woke up the next morning quite refreshed. He blinked in the early morning sun as he lifted his head and looked around. There was a chill in the air. The sky was cloudless. The day promised to be cool and the air crisp. Merigan had been huddled against him, and she stirred and opened her eyes when he got up. The fire had long since gone out.

“Where’s Cavi?” Merigan asked sleepily.

A swath of long grass covered the ground here between the trees. The imprint of where he and Merigan had lain was plain to be seen as his young companion rolled up her bedroll. Willbrand’s had been left behind at Cen Findol, for Merigan had not expected to need it when she had tried to escape, thinking him dead. They had not gone back for it, nor anything in his pack she had left behind. Neither of them had wanted to step foot back in the mining outpost. Instead they had wanted to get away as quickly as possible. The Warden had let them go but it had not been by choice. They weren’t going to risk going back into the fort where the dog men could not follow just to get the last of Willbrand’s belongings.

There was an impression in the grass on the other side of the fire as well, where Cavi had been, but he was nowhere to be seen now.

Willbrand lifted his head and looked down the road in both directions, but there was no sign of the man.

Willbrand shrugged.

“I guess he wanted to get an early start,” he suggested.

“Kind of strange though,” Merigan commented. “We didn’t even get to say goodbye.”

Willbrand gave a curt nod.

“He probably didn’t want to disturb us,” he replied.

It still seemed odd to Merigan but there wasn’t must they could do about it in any case. He was gone and that was all there was to it.

After a quick bite to eat they were on their way again. The air was cool but as the sun rose it got warmer, until the morning chill was gone and they were quite comfortable. As Cavi had warned them they soon reached a spot where the road dropped down into a dell surrounded by a thick stand of trees. This must have been the spot the minstrel had warned them about, where the thieves laid in wait. They saw no one now however, and when Merigan concentrated, she felt no one nearby. Apparently Cavi had been right about that as well and the thieves had fled before the sun.

Now that they were approaching the town Willbrand began to give some thought to what they would do next.

“Do you have any ideas on what we can do once we reach Baram?” he asked.

“I know at least one person there,” Merigan replied. “Or used to. It’s been years since I’ve been there so I can’t say for sure. He’s a farmer by the name of Winton. Hopefully we can stay at his place…”

She stopped when she saw the look on Willbrand’s face.

“Do you really want to do that?” he questioned.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

He didn’t reply immediately.

“Well, actually I was hoping to stay at an Inn,” he finally said.

She didn’t look all that pleased with that idea.

“We don’t have a lot of coin,” she reminded him.

“I know, I know,” he replied rather curtly. The simple fact of the matter was he was sick and tired of roughing it. He had been on excursions into the wild occasionally when he had been in Crotasia but never for this long. He was tired and filthy and cold and longed to get some rest in a real bed. That was the main reason he was so anxious to reach the town after all. The person she knew was a farmer, a commoner, and he had already seen how the commoners of the Kingdom lived. He doubted very much he would get a decent meal or a bath if they were to stay with this farmer, nor much else save a pile of hay in a barn to sleep on. He wasn’t sure quite how she would take it if he told her that though. “But I’m tired of roughing it. We’ve been out in the wilderness for what seems like forever now. Wouldn’t it be nice to sleep in a real bed for once?”

She did not look particularly convinced, though the look on her face suggested she might be convincible with a bit more coaxing.

“C’mon,” he said. “Just one night. That’s not going to cost us that much.”

“Except we don’t know when we’ll be getting anymore coin,” she protested. “We don’t know how long we will be on our own.”

“A nice comfortable bed. A hot meal and bath,” he cajoled, ignoring her protest.

She sighed. In spite of her protests he did make it sound appealing.

“Well, how much coin do we have?” she questioned.

He eagerly slipped the pack off his back and rummaged through it. It was her pack but he had been carrying it since they had been reunited outside of Cen Findol. He could tell by the look on her face and the tone of her voice that she was going to give in. An Inn would probably cost no more than twenty coin, perhaps cheaper, if they stayed in one room, and Willbrand had no qualms about that anymore, especially if it meant the difference between a soft bed and a pile of hay. They still had around one hundred and fifty coin or so leftover from when they sold Alios’ horse. They would still have more than enough to buy a new pack and bedroll for himself and some cold weather clothing. And if after tonight they had to start roughing it again then so be it. One night of comfort was all he asked. After that he felt he could go on for weeks again making do if he had to. Surely they could manage this, but where was the damn coin?

His hand was rooting around in the bottom of the pack but he felt nothing. He shook the pack, but did not hear the telltale rattle of coins in it. He looked at Merigan, a growing look of concern on his face.

“What’s wrong?” she questioned.

“I can’t find the coin,” he said in distress.

He turned the pack upside down and dumped the contents onto the ground.

Willbrand and Merigan both stood there staring at what lay on the ground in front of them. There was no coin to be seen.

Willbrand’s hands suddenly clenched into fists.

“He must have stolen it!”

“He…” was all Merigan got out.

“Cavi! He must have stolen it!” Willbrand snapped. “He must have waited until we fell asleep last night and took our coin!”

Merigan looked down the road.

“You are probably right,” she said resignedly.

“Bastard!” Willbrand exclaimed. He pulled out his sword and turned around, heading back the way they had come.

“Willbrand, wait!” Merigan cried. He had left the pack behind, with all of their belongings strewn on the ground beside it. She bent down and started to pick them up.

Willbrand stopped and turned to look at her.

“I’m going to find him,” he proclaimed.

“How are you going to do that?” Merigan shot back. “You don’t know where he went.”

“Yes I do. He told us he was going to Pantaglia.”

“And how do you know that wasn’t a lie?” Merigan countered. “How do you know everything he told us wasn’t a lie? How do we know there were any thieves on the road at all last night?”

This gave Willbrand pause, but not for very long.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said angrily. “He took our coin. No matter where he went we have to find him. We have to get our coin back!”

“We don’t know where he went!” Merigan insisted. She had finally gotten everything back in the pack and now slung it over her shoulder.

“So what are we supposed to do, just forget about it?” Willbrand exclaimed. “Don’t you get it? He took all our coin. We have nothing. Nothing! We have to find him again and get it back!”

“He could be anywhere by now!” Merigan shot back, her voice rising now as well. She was just as unhappy as he was about what had happened but she didn’t think running off after the man was going to help the situation. He had been clever enough to steal their coin, surely he would be clever enough to conceal his tracks.

“We can’t just forget about this!” Willbrand exclaimed.

“We have no choice!” Merigan countered.

Willbrand could not understand her attitude at all. Without their coin they had nothing. How were they going to survive? It was just like Keesa all over again, where he had arrived penniless, with no idea of where to go or what to do after he couldn’t contact his cousin. That time he had had Ktan and Merigan to fall back on but he didn’t think they’d be as lucky this time.

And that wasn’t all. Cavi had stolen their coin, had cheated them. Such a thing had never happened to him before. In Crotasia no one would have dared to do such a thing. It was a matter of pride.

And he had so so wanted to sleep in a nice warm and comfortable bed tonight…

For all these reasons he didn’t feel in a particularly generous mood. He glared at her for a moment then suddenly stabbed a finger in her direction.

“This is your fault,” he snapped.

Merigan’s mouth fell open.

“Wha..?” she faltered.

To Merigan this was totally out of the blue. The last thing she had expected was for Willbrand to accuse her of such a thing.

“You were the one who accepted his invitation,” Willbrand went on. “You were the one who said we would stay with him. You were the one who was so quick to trust him. You didn’t even ask me for my opinion.”

“Well… well how was I supposed to know he was a thief?” she stammered. “You’re not being fair!”

“You’re the one who’s been doing this all her life,” he continued. “You’re the one who’s supposed to be suspicious. I trusted you to make the right decision about this guy!”

“I can’t read minds!” she snapped. “There was no way for me to know he was a thief any more than you could!”

“If it had been up to me we would have gone around him!”

“So why didn’t you say something then!”

“Because I trusted you!”

She didn’t know how to respond to this. Willbrand had never been angry with her before, even when she disagreed with him. She had never seen him like this before. How could he possibly blame this on her?

“You’re being a jerk!” she finally blurted out.

“Well so are you!”

Not a very logical thing for him to say, but by now he was in no mood to be logical. He was so frustrated at this point he was willing to take it out on anyone and Merigan just happened to be a convenient target.

Merigan just stood there. She opened her mouth, then closed it again. Anger burned in her at his words, anger that he could be so unfair, that he would blame this on her. But it didn’t last. She wasn’t good at expressing anger. She didn’t like it, especially against someone she considered a friend. She didn’t want to fight.

Suddenly she sat down on the ground.

“Fine!” she snapped. “Go ahead and go after him. See if I care!”

He stood there for a moment staring at her.

“Well come on then,” he said finally.

“Leave me alone!” she snapped.

“You can’t just stay here!”

“Why not?” she exclaimed. “You want to go run off chasing after this guy then go ahead! I hope you get lost in the woods and never find your way out! This is all my fault, remember? Why would you want me with you anyway?”

Willbrand just stood there. He couldn’t believe she was acting this way. Already he regretted some of the things he had said but with every moment they wasted Cavi was getting farther away. He might still be nearby. For all they knew he might have left right before they woke up, might be right down the road. Wasn’t it more important to find him and their coin than to stand here and fight?

“Fine! I’ll go after him myself,” he announced.

She said nothing to that, but instead turned away from him. She sat there staring at the grass in front of her, refusing to look in his direction. Eventually, after hearing no more from him she turned her head back toward him. He had walked away, back the way they had come for some distance. She saw him turn back toward her again and she quickly looked away once more.

Was he really going to leave her here?

She looked down at the ground in front of her again and her shoulders slumped. Her anger was gone now, slowly being replaced by self-recrimination. Had it really been her fault? Thinking back on it, it was true. She had been the one to accept Cavi’s invitation. She had been running all her life, she had been taught by Ktan practically since birth to be suspicious of everyone. She should have known better. Maybe Willbrand had a right to be mad at her. He had depended on her to decide whom to trust and she had let him down. Would he ever trust her again? If she couldn’t be depended on, what reason did he have to stay with her at all? Would he even come back to her after he found Cavi, or the search proved fruitless?

She felt tears suddenly beginning to well in her eyes.

What would she do if he didn’t come back? She didn’t want to be alone. That scared her more than anything. He was right, it was all her fault. He had every right to leave her there, it would be what she deserved. But perhaps it wasn’t too late. Perhaps he would forgive her. She should get up right now, run to him, tell him she was sorry.

It was silly of her to think that Willbrand would abandon her over such a thing, but she wasn’t thinking clearly now either, she was too upset. She was just about to get up, resolved to chase after him, when her musing was interrupted.

“I’m sorry.”

Her shoulders shuddered at the sound of his voice. She turned her head and saw him standing right behind her. So he hadn’t left after all.

“I shouldn’t have said those things,” he continued hesitantly. There was no more anger in his voice. “I was wrong. It wasn’t your fault. I was just angry, angry at myself and I took it out on you.”

He had been filled with anger, had wanted to catch Cavi, wanted to strangle the man with his own hands. But walking away from Merigan, looking back and seeing her sitting there on the ground looking so forlorn, had made it drain away. He could hardly believe he had said what he had said to her. After all she had done for him, after all they had gone through together. She had called him a jerk and she had been right. She had been right all along, he realized now. He had been a fool. What could he do to make it up to her? Would she ever forgive him?

She didn’t say anything at all. She lifted her hand and wiped the tears away.

He sat down beside her, staring straight ahead.

“I was just… just upset,” he went on. “I was looking forward to finally staying someplace nice, with a warm bed and a hearth, and some hot food and a bath. I was just upset,” he repeated. “And I said stupid things. It wasn’t your fault, Merigan, none of it was. Can you forgive me?”

She didn’t say anything, just sniffed a little bit, looked at him and nodded, then reached out and slipped into his arms.

“Don’t leave me,” she said softly. “Don’t ever leave me. I don’t want to be alone.”

“I won’t.” he replied.

They sat there in each other arms for quite some time, not saying anything at all. The day crawled by around them, but they didn’t notice. After some time Merigan looked up at him and smiled.

“Our first fight,” she said.

He returned her smile, then he kissed her.

“Yeah, I didn’t like it much,” he replied. “But there’s something to be said for this making up part.”

She held him tighter.

“You can say that again.”

He held her for a bit longer, but eventually pulled himself to his feet, helping her up as well. The sun was climbing in the sky. They needed to be on their way.

“So what should we do now?” Merigan asked. “Should we go after Cavi?”

Willbrand looked around. The road was empty. After a moment he shook his head.

“Nah, you are probably right, he’s most likely long gone by now, and his story about going to Pantaglia was probably false. Let’s just head for Baram like we planned. We can stay at your farmer friends and after that, well, we’ll manage somehow.”

He took her hand, and they started down the road.

Merigan couldn’t say she had been in this exact situation before. They had been low on coin, certainly, and often had to struggle to make ends meet, but she had always had Ktan with her. Even so, it might be a bit more desperate this time and it might not be exactly the same but she was still more used to this kind of situation than Willbrand was. It was obvious to her that he had much less confidence in their ability to fend for themselves than she did. She could see it in his face, in spite of his words.

Still, there was not much they could do but go on. Once they got into town they would have a clearer idea of how things stood. She had little hope that Winton would be able to lend them any coin. He was a farmer and, like most farmers, barely scratched out a living for himself and his family. Sure, sometimes there were good crops and some farmers did quite well, but most of what they harvested beyond what their family consumed went into the coffers of the local Baron as taxes. No one in this Kingdom became rich from farming.

No, the best they could hope for was a safe place to stay for a little while and perhaps a chance to get word somehow to Ktan and the others. That was, of course, if Winton still even lived here anymore. If he was gone, for whatever reason, then they were really in trouble.