At just over 2300 words, yesterday’s passage is actually the longest section in the entire story of Welcome to the Valleys. Some interesting things happen as the party finally reaches the edge of settled lands. Let’s unpack.
Walter is right about the Seekers and politicians of Woodhall knowing he’s not going out to the Retreats in order to train Jeremy. The people of Woodhall are quite perceptive, which is why the Seekers first emerged out in the settlement. Not even Tollen quite appreciates their ability to uncover truths, especially ones which are cleverly hidden.
Walter is somewhat concerned with how the people in Woodhall seem to be treating their secret with such a cavalier attitude. As a people they often see the attempts other people make at subterfuge as humorous, especially when someone they consider a friend is involved. Most people in The Valleys simply do not care to uncover hidden truths, and even in the Senate most behind-the-scenes intelligence gathering is limited to one or two topics of particular interest to any given senator. Satal is different in that she finds all information useful, but she is a significant minority 1. If people cared to look, they might easily see through Walter’s plans, but the Senator is correct in thinking nobody cares to look. Or so he assumes.
Sheilak has been more absent than present for several weeks and her departures are beginning to grate on Jeremy’s patience. He’s come to enjoy her company, and feels almost abandoned by the Guardian.
For her part, the separations are not any more pleasant for Sheilak, as bonded Guardians become extremely attached to their human partners. Yet she is deeply concerned for Jeremy’s safety, as well as the safety of all those who are traveling with him. As such, she is venturing far out along the party’s intended path in order to check for clues. As her people typically don’t venture East of Woodhall, she’s had to do this scouting by herself, and it’s exhausting her.
Of course, she only feels comfortable leaving Jeremy’s side because she knows Minnik is nearby. Jeremy, however has no idea Minnik even exists, which only makes the young man feel even more as though Guardian is doing a poor job of living up to her people’s name.
Ama was right to point out how their early departure would raise the eyebrows of even those who were not curious about Walter’s plans. The departure banquet was planned as a send off with honors from the Seekers of Woodhall 2, and when such a big party is bypassed people tend to notice.
Senator Fellow correctly deduces Walter is responding to some sort of perceived threat, so he doesn’t push the issue of his friend’s sudden departure as far as he wants to. In fact, having been made aware of Minnik’s existence through his connections to the Seekers, the Senator even assumes the Guardian is the one who delivered the news.
Walter’s change in plans shifts the secret of Walter’s actual destination from “humorously exciting” to “somewhat alarming.” Before Walter and company reached the Retreats, the watches along the roads to Woodhall were tripled in strength, and the High Road was being actively patrolled. This latter action was, of course, spotted by the Um Healers on Mount Gateway, who forwarded the news to The Ravine. This may have implications they have not predicted.
If you read the passage carefully you’ll notice Senator Fellow is left-handed. This doesn’t have a huge impact on the story, but being left-handed myself it’s nice to meet characters who share the trait.
Woodhall has already demonstrated to readers how it is a different sort of place form the rest of The Valleys. But the lack of a wall strikes Jeremy as odd, as most of the people who reside in the outer settlements feel walls help protect inhabitants from “shade-stalkers.” It’s almost as if the people of Woodhall know they have nothing to fear from the entities.
Whenever the party is traveling in the morning, they always seem to acquire some form of breakfast sandwich. I mean, why not? Breakfast sandwiches are delicious and The Valleys has some really excellent aged cheddar.
It is impressive how the Retreats could be so close to a cliff, and yet be completely invisible to anyone on the ocean — even from a great distance. Great pains were taken to make it so by the Um Healers who constructed the site. An ancient fear of the sea was at play when it was built 3.
Michael, however, casually mentions how the people of the Coastlands don’t share the old fear of the sea which is common throughout The Valleys. This isn’t entirely true, as the settlements in the Coastlands are well fortified. Highcliff, for example, is essentially a fortress on top of a tower of rock which juts out into the sea.
The day after tomorrow
That’s the final turn for this story. In story-time, the day after tomorrow the company will turn and head past the southern border of The Valleys for the first time since Woodhall was founded.
We’re about to head out into the unknown.