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
“As would I, Walter. The Captain of Post there is a good man, I’m sure we’ll be welcomed.”
“Forgive me, Captain, but how can we be sure Senator Merkot hasn’t replaced all the guards by this point? After all, he has managed to push his roadblock up to The Boulevard.”
“I don’t think so Terrin. Merkot has to keep up appearances this close to The Ravine.”
“Oh, and your information is out of date, Terrin. When you went home to check on your wife we found out the blockade has been pushed all the way to Shelter.”
Terri blurted out a explanation of surprise, while the rest of the party turned to Talum bearing exasperated grimaces. It took the healer a moment to notice the stares, but when he did Talum shrugged in a somewhat conciliatory manner.
“I just thought he’d like to be up to date.”
“Next time, Talum, take a bit of the edge off when you’re passing on bad news.”
Terrin recovered enough to speak. “But, sir, this is horrible. Cutting off the trade from the tunnel is a monstrous act! The Inner Valleys can’t survive without the materials from the outer settlements!”
“Well, it would seem that Merkot has his own notions about that, though I don’t know where he’s getting them from. By cutting off the tunnel traffic he might as well have expelled the outer settlements from the Senate. They won’t stand for this.”
“But you really think the guards in Bridgeton will allow us to pass.”
“Like I said, Terrin, this close to The Ravine he’s got to keep up appearances – and the guards in Bridgeton aren’t going to go out of their way to make it easy for him.”
Terrin actually smiled. “Yes, they are a different group of guards.”
“That’s an understatement if I ever heard one.” Walter chuckled briefly before his again wrinkled in concentration. “I’m not sure what he’s hoping to accomplish, but I do know he needs to keep people happy in order to achieve his aims. And that worries me.”
Ama turned to Walter, slightly puzzled. “What do you mean, Walter?”
“I know Merkot, Meddle. I don’t like him, I never have, but I know him. He’s as paranoid as midnight, and the biggest snob you’ll ever meet, but he’s not reckless. He has to have some plan to put the Inner Valleys on top, he always has a plan for that.”
“You haven’t seen Merkot in over twenty years, Old Fox. He could have become reckless with age.”
Walter shook his head. “I don’t think so. Everything he does is to make sure the old Senatorial families stay on top of the political food chain, he won’t do anything to risk their position. Nothing I’ve heard about him in all my years out along the coast would lead me to think otherwise.”
Michael jumped in. “So what is his plan, then, Walter? Because cutting off trade and restricting traffic along the roadways seems to be the opposite of keeping people happy.”
“I don’t know, Michael, and that’s why I’ve got to get to The Ravine, nothing about his moves make any sense.”
“It’s a good thing you came back when you did, then.”
“I don’t know, the fact this is all happening the moment I returned seems to show my arrival may be what triggered all these moves. If that’s the case, perhaps I should have stayed away.”
“The Old Fox is summoned, he must come.” This voice radiated out from the Crystal in Jeremy’s pocket, which suddenly grew ice cold.
“But then, there is that.”
The party was well into the bridge span by this point, and the river flowed powerfully under it deck. Groups of people fished off the side, or walked purposefully on errands of their own. Jeremy was enjoying the scene when Terrin stopped and muttered,
Jeremy looked to the location Terrin had indicated, where he spied two guards wearing the same uniform their friend had worn the day he stopped them in the road. The pair stood in the middle of the Western Walk, barring the path.
“Great. Just what we need. Micael, Terrin, you’re up.”
The two guards moved forward to the two uniformed men, who quickly raised their batons and bellowed, “Halt!”
Michael and Terrin raised their hands and moved forward slowly.
“Patroller, you are far out of your jurisdiction here. What business do you have barring the path from lawful travelers?”
The guard on the left smiled. “Well, now that’s the thing isn’t it, Captain? You aren’t legal travelers. You broke the exclusion zone around Meadowrun and brought outsiders into the town. You abandoned your post, and you are harboring a known fugitive. I’m afraid you are all coming back with me to Meadowrun.”
Terrin responded, “The exclusion order, as well as the order to keep a Senator from his rounds, are illegal orders. The Senator is heading to The Ravine to address these illegal actions directly. You will allow us to pass.”
The left-most guard spoke again. “Patroller Terrin, I do hereby place you under arrest on the charges of leaving your post and harboring fugitives of justice. Remain where you all, all of you!”
“Remain where I am? Yah, that doesn’t work for me. Do me a favorite and tell Merkot I want him to schedule a meeting with me as soon as he can. If he pretends he doesn’t know who’s asking just show him this, he’ll figure it out.” Walter reached into his pocket and tossed something to the guard, who caught it.
The guard examined it but looked up, clearly unimpressed. “What’s this supposed to be?”
“That, sir, is my shield. Specifically the shield and emblem of The Old fox. That is Senator Old Fox. Now, get out of my way and allow me through.”
The guard pocketed the object and smiled. “I’m sorry ‘senator’ but I have my orders. You are to be held for questioning, and the guards with you are to be placed under arrest.”
“Michael stepped forward, though he kept his baton sheathed. “What makes you think we’ll be going anywhere with you?”
“With me? Not a blessed thing. But those troopers currently crossing the bridge behind you may have something to say about the matter.”
Alarmed, Jeremy turned an looked back along the span. It was difficult to make out in the mist, but he could make out several figures on horseback, riding purposefully in their direction.
The guard was now openly grinning with gloating satisfaction. “You all are not going anywhere. You might as well get used to it. Now, stay put!”
At that moment, a voice called out from behind the two guards “Is there a problem here folks?”
The left guard turned to answer the onlooker, only to be confronted with an image he was obviously not expecting. A crowd of fifteen men, all wearing badges and simple working clothes, had gathered behind him. Many had batons out, all were grinning.
“I’m sorry Captain, but as this is neutral territory we are operating well within our rights. The senator and his friends must account for their crimes.”
The lead man in the pack spat on the bridge deck and began chewing his fingernails as he spoke. “Well it seems to me that stopping a Senator on the road isn’t a very proper thing to do. As for crimes, the only court able to try a Senator is actually the Senate itself.” The man turned to Walter and asked, “May I ask your destination sir?”
“We’re heading to The Ravine, I have business in the Senate.”
The lead man nodded and said, “There, you see? He’s heading to where you legally have to take him. So, everyone’s a winner. Now, you best be off home before you get yourself hurt.”
The First Run guard who had been speaking stepped back, “Are you threatening a guard in the legal pursuit of his duty?”
“Well, ‘legal’ might be the dubious word, there. In fact, by detaining a senator I’d say you’re about as ‘illegal’ as you can get. As for ‘threatening’ you,” yes I suppose I am. Get moving.”
The guard spread out stance and held out his baton, warding off all comers. His partner followed suit, which caused some in the crowd to chuckle. Unfazed by the lack of fear his action inspired, the guard declared, “These people are under arrest.”
“Can you swim?”
The guard, shocked, stood up straight and cocked his head. “Can I what?”
“Can you swim?”
“Well, yes, I can…”
“Good,” said the man as he waved a colleague forward. “If you swim with the current, it’ll only take you a few minutes to get to the shore on your side of the river.” The man who’d been waved forward grabbed the guard who had spoken and lifted him over his head. While his compatriot struggled in the air, the guard’s partner quickly ran away.
“Don’t end up on our side of the river, we’re not nearly generous in our arrests as we are with our warnings.” With that he motioned to his friend who held the struggling obstructionist. With that signal, the man promptly dumped the guard over the side of the bridge, followed a moment later with a noticeable splash.
Smiling, the guard continued to bite his nails has he turned to the party and spoke, “Sorry about that, folks. We get all sorts of problems around here every now and again. Welcome to Bridgeton.”