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
“I suppose Walter and Jeremy are being escorted to the Town Council,” Ama responded. “I’m sure we’ll be escorted there presently, as well.”
“Yes, by some of Woodhall’s guards, it seems,” Michael added. His voice contained a hint of uncertainty.
“Easy there, Captain. since I’ve retired I may not have all the resources I had as a guard at my disposal, but I’m certain Merkot doesn’t have any friends among the Woodhall guards.”
“That might be True, Tollen, but I’d rather not take any chances.”
“Oh let’s not be so untrusting!” Talum quipped. “I’m sure everything will be fine.”
“Right, because you’re the most observant person on this trip, Talum,” remarked Tollen, causing the healer to don a hurt expression. “Though in this case, Michael, I’ve got to say he’s right. Woodhall might be the the safest place for us at the moment. Even more safe than The Ravine.”
“He’s right, Michael, let’s at least hope they are friendly,” soothed Ama.
The guard nodded, and said no more, but still eyed the uniformed men who awaited them with an unbroken gaze.
When the group had descended about two-thirds down the switchback trails, four of the guards began to make their way up the staircase. They managed to arrive at a crossover between the two ways down the cliff face right as the party passed by.
“Greetings, friends! I bring you welcome from the Council of Woodhall. I have been ordered to offer assistance to your animals, should you wish it, and to convey you all to the Great House as fast as you are able to come.”
“I thank you for your offer…” Ama responded, leaving her sentence open as a question.
The guard who had spoken saluted and spoke, “My apologies, Healer Ama. I am Lieutenant Marks of the Woodhall troop.”
“Thank you Lieutenant, what assistance would you like to offer?” Michael cut in.
Saluting again, Lieutenant Marks responded, “If you desire, I can escort you and your party to the Great hall, while my men lead your animals toward lodging. As you no doubt have discovered, the switchbacks are much longer than they appear! After a walk on the Empty Plateau, you must be ready for some refreshment.”
“Can’t say I’d say no to that, Lieutenant,” quipped Tollen. Turning to Michael the old guard added, “What do you think, Captain? Do we take the nice man’s offer?”
Michael frowned as he considered his response. Finally he waved Tollen and the others toward the crossover. “Lieutenant Marks’ offer is very generous. And You three should take him up on it. I will continue to accompany our luggage and see that our animals are tended to.”
“You’re loss, Captain,” Tollen said with a chuckle as he took Ama’s arms in her own. “We’ll try to save you some dinner.”
“Please do,” grunted Michael.
With that, The Captain turned and began to lead their pack animals down the switch backs once more, joined by the tree guards who had accompanied Lieutenant Marks up the stairs. As they moved off, Marks invited the remaining companions to follow him.
“Well, shall we be going?”
They made their way down the stairs in a few minutes, and crossed the bridge into Woodhall’s Birch Grove. Once off the bridge, Marks was joined by two other guards, who joined behind him in step as the group passed.
“You seem to be taking your security very seriously, Lieutenant Marks,” remarked Ama.
Marks nodded. “Yes, Healer Ama. In these uncertain times we cannot be too careful, especially with guests as important as you and the Senator. I had requested to escort you across the plateau, but the Council rejected my request. But I was permitted to watch for your arrival with Senator Fellow. It was he who suggested we help you with your luggage.”
“I will have to thank him. The times are, indeed, uncertain.”
The group travelled in silence as they came up the road toward the Great House. Before the main turn toward the house’s grounds, however, they came to a split in the path. Here Tollen stopped, causing the rest of the party to halt and turn toward their paused companion.
“Tollen? What is it?” asked Ama.
“Your pardon, Meddle, but I seeing as you are in good hands here I where I’ll leave you for the evening.”
Tollen pointed down the fork in the road, “I’ve got business in the main settlement tonight, Ama. I was going to check in at the Great House first, bit this’ll save me a bit of time. I’ll see you in the morning. Actually, I’d like Talum to come with me, should he wish.”
“Me? Well… I don’t know. What would we be doing?”
“Ahh, well this’ll be right up your alley. I need to meet with the local chapter of Seekers and let them know I’ve arrived.”
“Tollen, I though we’d talked about this.” Ama warned.
“Yes, dear Ama, we did. I won’t keep us from our timetable, but I’ve got responsibilities to the Seekers as well. They need to know I’m here.”
Ama pursed her lips. “Very well, if you must. But don’t delay us, Tollen,” emphasizing “delay” as to convey a different meaning altogether.
“I give my word, Meddle. Now, Talum, are you with me?”
“Well, I must say. This is an excellent opportunity for study. The Seekers in the outer settlements are much different than their kin in the Inner Valleys.” Turning toward Marks, the healer asked, “Are you sure this is OK, Lieutenant?”
Marks smiled. “Healer Talum, Tollen is well-known in these parts. If it’s ok with him I have little reason to object.”
“Oh, well. I supposed I’d better go. So much to study you know.” The healer started down the road without waiting to see if Tollen would follow. The old guard, however, remained in place for some time.
“Tollen, you’d better go. We don’t want Talum getting lost.”
“No problem, Ama. I’ll catch up soon enough.” He stepped over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. “You can trust me. Don’t worry.”
“I’ll stop worrying when we’re all safe.”
“You’ll be worrying a long time, then.”
Ama crossed her arms in defiance. “Be that as it may, I will do so. Consider it part of my healing call.”
Tollen chuckled. “All right Meddle, have it your way. Worry all you want. I’ll see you later tonight.”
The old guard then turned and jogged after Talum, who by this time had come to the realization he was alone on the path. He had stopped about 100 yards from the split and looked back to see what had become of his host. When Tollen finally caught up with the healer, Talum actually looked worried.
“I thought you said you wanted me to come with you?”
“I do, indeed, Talum.”
“But why didn’t you come with me when I left?”
“Talum, when someone asks you to come with them, it’s considered wise to allow the person doing the inviting to start the trip.”
Talum’s brow wrinkled in thought. “Yes, I suppose that makes sense.”
The two started down the path again, which slowly bent down toward the main settlement below, nestled at the base of the falls. It was a significant hike to reach the main town from the Great House, and Talum’s grumbling belly had him regretting his decision to accompany Tollen on his trip.
“Relax, Talum, they’ll be plenty of food at the gathering. You’ll be well fed.”
“Well, ok then,” the healer replied. “But did you want me along?”
“Well, Talum, I want you to explain this to the local Seekers.” Reaching into his shirt, Tollen removed a crystal almost identical to the one Jeremy was now wearing around his own neck.
“Say hello, Minnik.”
“Greetings, Healer Talum” whispered a voice in the darkness. Talum looked at the old guard in shock, his breath suddenly visible in the night.