Throughout November I’ll be concentrating my posts on Welcome to the Valleys in honor of NaNoWriMo. If you’d like to catch up on this story, the first post of this story can be found at this link
The silence of revery was broken by the sound of a creaking floor. Jeremy looked up at the doorway to find Talum’s assistant had returned. He’d exchanged the green robes Jeremy had first seen him wearing for the brown of his order. He stood quietly in the doorway, hands behind his back, saying nothing.
“Sir, the Sergeant of guards has had his leg set and cast. He is in recovery awaiting someone to bring him to his barracks.”
“Oh yes, I had forgotten about him! How did the setting go?”
“The break was not bad. Healer Ama’s splint kept the bones from shifting much, and I was able to set the leg before it had begun to heal incorrectly.”
“Very good, Dosun! You are so skilled with bones I often wonder why you didn’t become an Em healer.”
Dosun nodded in acknowledgment and continued. “There is more, sir.”
“What else is there?”
“The sergeant has informed me to tell you the Senator and his companions are here illegally, and that Patroller Terrin is to be arrested for assisting in criminal activity.”
Walter grunted angrily as the others shifted uncomfortably. Talum’s only reaction was to utter, “Oh dear.”
“Yes sir. The sergeant has given me a message to pass on to the commanders of the First Run troop, informing them of the situation and requesting guards to come and enforce the arrest under which he has placed your guests.”
Walter face reddened with fury, and even Ama dared not touch him. Talum only smiled. “I assume you have lost this message?”
The corner’s of Dosum’s mouth twitched upward slightly. “Not precisely sir. The signal box is, however, currently inoperable due to several command crystals being depleted. Unfortunately, we do not have any replacements.”
“I understand, very good work on all counts Dosum.”
The apprentice nodded thanks. He then turned to Ama. “Healer Ama, before the signal box became inoperable, a message did arrive from your apprentice in Water Gap.” He reached into his robe and produced a sealed envelope. “Here is the message.”
Ama reached out and accepted the paper. “Thank you.”
Once more, the apprentice nodded slightly. He then turned to Talum. “If that will be all, sir, may I retreat to my studies?”
“Yes. Yes, of course Dosum. Very well done.”
The apprentice bowed and then turned and exited the room. As he exited Walter leaned toward Talum and whispered.
“Are you sure you can trust your apprentice not to call the First Run guards?”
“Oh, that is a good question! Dosum!”
“Yes sir?” called voice from above.
“Can Walter trust you not to turn he and his friends in to the First Run guards?”
“There you are,” Talum smiled at Walter, who was shaking his head painfully. “He says we can trust him.”
“I’m so very relieved.”
“Dosum is Talum’s apprentice, Walter. He would not betray his patron.”
“Yes, Meddle, but up until today I didn’t think guards would ever try to stop a senator on the roadways. I figure everything is up for grabs at this point.”
“Healer Ama, Walter may be right. It seems things are much worse in this region of the Inner Valleys than even I had known. Old rights and customs do not seem to matter much at present.”
Ama shook her head. “It’s difficult for a non-healer to understand, but an apprentice is bound to their healer. Walter is right to be generally skeptical, but he can trust in this bond.”
“If you say so, Meddle. I don’t try to muck around in your business.”
“The day that is true, Old Fox, I will know something is wrong.”
“Yah, yah. That still leaves us with a question. What are you going to do, Talum, when the good sergeant recovers and manages to contact his compatriots? Even without a call they might be on their way already.”
“Oh, that’s simple. I won’t be here.”
“Oh yes, I’ll be accompanying you to The Ravine.”
Walter actually blanched in shock. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
“I’ll be coming with you, of course. The guardians seem to have plans for young Jeremy, and as the foremost research healer in The Valleys it’s my responsibility to be with him as an observer.”
“So you’re coming with us.”
Walter’s temples were becoming permanently red from the amount of rubbing they were getting. “That’s terrific.”
Jeremy wasn’t sure how he felt about Talum tagging along. The healer didn’t seem like a bad man, but “absent minded” was a bit of a generous description. He also didn’t appreciate the way Talum spoke as though Jeremy were part of a grand experiment he’d planned. At the same time, he had offered their party hospitality and information, two things which seemed to have become in short supply around the Inner Valleys. Ama herself appeared skeptical about Talum’s declaration, as did Michael. Walter’s reactions to the healer up to this point proved to Jeremy the old trader could barely be in the same room as Talum, much less have him along as a traveling companion. He did not bother disguising his displeasure with Talum’s plan. For his part, the healer noticed none of the reactions around the table.
“Well, we’ll probably want to get an early start in the morning. Why don’t I have Dosum bring us dinner and then we can retreat to our beds? I have rooms made up for each of you. Well, except for you Terrin. I assume you’ll want to go home to your wife?”
Terrin flushed. “Actually, yes. I should have been home already as it is.” He pushed his chair away from the table and held his hand out to Walter. “Senator, it was a pleasure.”
Walter took the hand and shook. “You’re not worried about what’ll happen when the good sergeant recovers and finds us long-gone?”
Terrin shook his head. “No. I followed a legal order from a senator, and the good sergeant probably doesn’t want to provoke too deep an investigation of this incident. Should he pursue charges against me, the wrong people in the Senate might catch wind of what Senator Merkot is doing, and I doubt that is something he wants. Besides, I’m not sure the guarding, in its current state, is a proper vocation for me. It might be time for me to move on.”
“It would be a shame, Terrin, your father was an excellent guard. Still, given the status of things, it might be good for your to keep your head down for a bit.”
“I’ll try Captain.” He bowed. “Thank you sir. And, on behalf of the Guards of First Run, may I apologize for the way you have been treated.”
Michael returned the salute. “Apology accepted, good luck to you, sir.”
With a few nods around the table, and a cautious glance shot at the evertorch, Terrin left the house. After he’d gone, Talum rose from the table to summon Dosum to serve the evening meal. When the party was alone in the room, Walter pointed to the envelope in Ama’s hand.
“So, are you going to open that or what?”
Ama looked at the message. “Certainly. Give me a moment.” She broke the seal and opened the envelope, pulling out a single sheet of parchment. She read for a few moments, and her face betrayed displeasure at the contents of the letter. Finally, she whispered, “Unbelievable.”
“The news is that bad?”
“Merkot has closed the tunnel.”
“He’s closed the tunnel, and set up one of his exchange points in Shelter where outer settlement traders can bring goods to the Inner Valleys. Several merchants have returned through Water Gap complaining of the situation and of several instances of violence against those who protest too much.”
“How does Ami know this?”
“She’s sitting with the Water Gap council, Walter. She’s privy to whatever information I’d be privy to.”
“What else does she say?”
“Here, let me read it to you.
As instructed, I am sitting with the Water Gap council and keeping abreast of the goings on in Water Gap. Up until yesterday things were growing in tension, not quickly, but noticeably. Then, today, merchants began flooding back through the tunnel complaining of poor treatment, unfair prices paid for their goods, and several acts of violence (I personally set the bones of those affected this way). When asked why they had returned to Water Gap after receiving unfair prices for their goods, instead of journeying on to a more favorable location, the traders informed the council that all outer settlement traders were being denied entry into the Inner Valleys.
It appears Senator Merkot has someone gotten permission to close travel through the tunnel as part of his anti-smuggling initiative. Trade between the Inner Valleys and outer settlement traders is only permitted through a trading camp which has been set up in Shelter.
A message of protest has been sent to Senator Kaitlyn in The Ravine, but there has not been a response. People are angry and upset here, and there is talk of boycotting trade in with the Inner Valleys altogether.
I hope this letter finds you safe and well. For the sake of us all, I hope your journey is successful.
Ama folded the letter in a state of silent shock and set it back in it envelope. Walter pounded his fists on the table. “OK, that’s enough. No more delays, we have got to get to the ravine.”
A voice emerged from the doorway. “Oh good, does that mean I need to get my things packed tonight?”