Today’s blog is the continuation of, Welcome to the Valleys. If you would like to catch up with the tale, the first section can be found at this link
It took their party much of the morning to escape the full sprawl of The Ravine and its environs. As they walked the city slowly came to life, and the smells of breakfast being cooked caused everyone’s stomaches to rumble. Walter eventually gave into Talum’s mournful sighs as they passed yet another bakery opening for business as they passed.
“OK, fine. Fifteen minutes, if you want breakfast go and get it. But I want to be out of the city by noon.”
Everyone grinned with relief and rushed forward toward the smell of baking bread en masse.
“Hey, you think you’re all just leaving me here with the baggage?”
Jeremy turned grinned sardonically. “You did tell us to go, Walter.”
The old Senator sighed. “Fine.” He then held up his hand to his mouth and shouted, “Meddle! Bring me back a sandwich!”
Ama nodded curtly and entered the shop behind Talum, who appeared to be drooling slightly.
“Lets go, son,” Michael called to Jeremy from the bottom of the steps. “Walter might leave without us if we wait too long.”
Terrin, however, had taken two steps toward the bakery with the others and then stopped. He glanced over toward Walter and their animals and then turned to rejoin their belongings, scanning the growing crowd.
“Terrin, you might as well go in. I doubt anything will happen to us here in The Ravine now.”
“Thank you. But I prefer to be certain, Senator.” He said no more, and returned to scanning the crowd for apparent threats. Walter merely sighed and waited for his breakfast.
Several minutes later the group emerged from the bakery with various breakfast sandwiches and many assorted baked goods. Michael had even purchased breakfast for Terrin, who accepted it with a pleased grunt. Almost everyone in the party ate voraciously as they began their trek once more, but Jeremy noticed Michael waited for Terrin to finish before opening his own meal.
The guards’ vigilance didn’t appear to be needed, as the group made it way out of the city without incident. Departing the main part of the City led the party through an invisible barrier. One block the buildings were still three or four stories tall. Then suddenly a two story building seemed woefully out of place. After living in the Confines of The Ravine for several months, Jeremy was amazed by the sense of openness he felt.
His appreciation for wide open spaces increased as the smaller buildings began to give way to a combination of small patches of forest, orchards, and fields being prepared for the Spring planting. He sighed in contentment and Ama wrapped her arm around him affectionately.
“As much as The Ravine impresses me, I much prefer open sky and wide spaces.”
“I agree,” Jeremy responded.
Toward the end of the morning the road banked toward the East and came to a narrow bridge crossing the wide Calise River. Given all the farms and orchards Jeremy could see in the distance, he found the small size of the bridge confusing.
“Walter, with all the produce over in the area, why is this bridge so small? I would have assumed people would want to cross here to come to The Ravine, but big carts can’t cross that.”
“You’re right, lad, of course. For that matter, look at how narrow the road is.”
Startled, Jeremy took in the road upon which he walked for the first time. He was shocked to discover how narrow it’s width was, barely allowing two horses to travel down it’s face side-by-side. In his head he guessed it was only a quarter the width of The Boulevard.
“Why would it be this narrow?”
“Because lad, for us, South has always been equated with danger. So we create a nice narrow road, just in case the danger decides to come calling. Why give it an easier path to travel than we have to?”
“Danger from what, though?”
“That, lad, is the question. No one really knows, though most suspect it’s got to do with the shadows.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense, the Guardians don’t need roads.”
“Fear doesn’t make sense, lad. Lad, it just is. Now watch your step up here, I don’t want to have to fish you out of the river.”
Soon, the party had crossed the bridge and the narrow road turned South once again. Slowly it began to rise up into the hills South of The Ravine, and Jeremy’s legs began to ache from exertion. Walter allowed the group to rest several times, during which Jeremy gratefully accepted cool water as refreshment.
After one such break Walter called Jeremy up to the front with him. “You gotta up up here, lad, we’ll see it soon.”
“The Gateway to the South.”
Jeremy had studied many aspects of Valley societies, but the geography of the place continued to vex him. While he was certain he’d read about this ‘Gateway,’ he couldn’t remember what it was. Until, that is, he crested a particularly tall hill with Walter and spied his first of it. Walter was pointing South and East toward a tall mountain which seemed to stand off on it’s own.
“That’s Mount Gateway, lad. She might not look it from here but she was the silent guardian of The Valleys for Centuries, until Woodhall was founded, of course.”
“One Mountain was the guardian?”
Walter chuckled. “Looks can be deceiving, lad. To the mountain’s north are endless bogs and swamps which are all but impassable. That gap between Mount Gateway and the Bayside hills in the distance is a massive gorge with few would dare to chance. The hills off to the South are filled with steep cliffs and box canyons. There’s a good reason this mountain was the gateway.”
“Why is that?”
“Because the eccentric people who demanded to settle on the other side of it decided they’d simply cut a whole right through it’s heart.”
“You mean like the tunnel through Shelter?”
“Well,” Walter paused. “It’s not quite as nice as that. Honestly, most people don’t enjoy passing though it, they’d rather go the long way ‘round and take the River Road to Water Gap.”
Jeremy nodded. “So, are we going to pass through the tunnel tonight?”
“We probably could, but I don’t want to be on the road to Woodhall after dark. The lands after the tunnel aren’t well settled until you get to their plantations. We’ll spend the night in Mountain Hold, then pass through the tunnel in the morning. If all goes well we’ll be in Woodhall by lunch.”
“And then what?”
“We’ll spend a day or so in Woodhall. You and I will meet with some notable people and Michael and Terrin will quietly gather our supplies. Then we’ll head out to the retreats before we turn South.”
“What is this?” Sheilak rang out in Jeremy’s mind.
“We’re heading East from Woodhall before we travel South,” Jeremy replied in his mind. “So we don’t arouse suspicion.”
“I was not aware of the Eastern path.” This last statement was audible for all to hear, and Jeremy’s communion crystal became painfully cold as she spoke.
“I wasn’t aware we had to run our plans through you, Sheilak,” Walter grumbled back.
“The path has not been cleared.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It has not been cleared.”
Walter was about to repeat his question in frustration, but Ama placed her hand on Walter’s arm and raised her brow at her friend. Hearing an unspoken question, the old Senator bowed his head in a nod of permission.
“Sheilak, what do you mean by saying it’s not been cleared? Cleared of what?”
“Danger. Turn South at Woodhall, the path is cleared.”
“And if we do not turn South at Woodhall?”
“Then none of you may be safe.”