The Meek Valley Incident: Part 14
Oh hello! I am hormonal and grumpy, leaning toward whiney, and really shouldn't be spending any length of time writing in this personal blurb section as I'm pretty sure I'll end up have a "too much info" moment. (Aside stage whisper: it will not be info about me you want to know!)
Suffice to say, it was a pretty good week. Normal house cleanliness levels were maintained, some writing occurred, kids both made it into classes, and my hubby's job is continuing to be a good place to work. Is this... is this that fabled "rut" people speak of? Where life is semi-predictable and regular habits and routines can be maintained?
I know many people complain about being "in the rut" but, as someone who's never really had one, this seems almost okay.
14. Meek River
They set off in the dark, tied together by Tor’s rope so neither of the other two would get lost in the snow. When the black before sunrise gave way to the grey after, they were walking along the tree line beside an open expanse that could only be the winding route of a river. Tor had said there was a river feeding the workings at the mine, which was directed through a single canal around the pit to continue unharnessed on the other side. It ran past the guards’ town and then down the mountain. He had failed to mention that the river was this wide. Justin eyed the jagged blue peaks marking the top of the water, which spoke to him of the fast current beneath shoving up ice into piles on the surface.
The snow was still falling, but had lessened considerably. He could see further than a draughtside in the shadowy morning light as Tor brought the group to a halt and they untied from each other.
“We’re making better time than I’d expected,” he said, keeping his voice quiet as he started wrapping the rope into a coil. “The road into the mine is on this side of the river. The way out is on that side,” he pointed with his chin to the opposite bank. “I’d figured that we’d have to fight our way over the bridge, but if we cross now everything gets exceptionally easier. We might not have to fight at all.”
Justin frowned at the river. He could see the other bank approximately four draughtsides away, and could pick what appeared as a fairly safe pass to get there, but he didn’t like walking on ice on a good day… and this ice could be loose.
“The bridge is just there, around that bend,” Tor pointed in the direction they’d been walking. “It always has guards at both ends. This is the last place we can cross without being seen, and the last place the river’s fully frozen over. Around the bend they break the ice.”
“Drinking water?” Justin asked, keeping his voice at the same volume as Tor’s.
“Natural prison wall,” Tam replied. “The water is so cold that it even thinly ices in the summer. It forces people to use their bridge.”
“What about the perimeter patrols?” Justin reminded Tor. The last thing they needed was one of the guard patrols passing by as they were out in the middle of the river.
“We’re already inside,” Tor said with a quick grin. “We have ten minutes until the next pass. They’ll wave at each other across the river just back there,” he pointed with his thumb in the direction they’d come from.
“They’ll see our tracks,” Tam frowned.
“But they won’t follow us,” Tor pointed across the jagged ice. “They won’t cross the water. Too much superstition.”
“About what?” Justin asked.
“Everyone who died in the water,” Tor said, grinning wider. He finished wrapping the rope and looped the ends to secure the coil from unravelling or knotting. “Some of us scouts may have played a few tricks over the years to strengthen those superstitions, as well. It made sure we didn’t have to worry about being followed whenever we crossed it ourselves.”
Justin chuckled, the thoughts flicking into his mind of how creative his own crew could get when they were bored. Suddenly anger and fear touched into his mind, the strength of it dimmed by distance, but the power of it drowning any further conversation for a moment. Tor and Tam both stared, eyes wide, toward the distant horizon in the direction of the ocean that neither could see.
Justin didn’t even bother turning around. The distance was much too far for him to try returning anything structured, so he just pushed back with safe reassurance followed up with wary determination. Justin’s mother replied with love, her emotions amplified by sharing the contact with her friend and trainer, Madam Isabelle. His mother’s anger ramped up considerably after he gave a feeling of imprisonment and of being alone, and he could feel Madam Isabelle’s touch turn calculating at the realization that Rourke wasn’t there... but she could sense someone else was.
Her feelings confirmed both of Justin’s worries; his friend had shielded his death to stop Justin from waking up to stop him, and as a by-product had successfully stopped any of The Ladies from knowing as well, and that Tam and Tor were talented but untrained. The siblings he was with turned their stares on him once his mother cut the communication, even her and Madam Isabelle’s combined efforts over this distance were too much of an effort to continue. Tor and Tam’s stares verified Madam Isabelle’s findings about them.
“What was that?” Tam demanded, her words reinforced as tumbling thoughts in Justin's mind – and apparently in Tor’s – which she didn’t know how to break away from sharing now that she’d accidentally been included in a contact. These two being untrained made it more important for him to get them out of Opat. It had been years since anyone talented had been found in this country.
“That was my mother,” Justin replied.
He quickly estimated how far he was from the coast, did a subtraction of the distance he knew his mother could communicate at that clarity when she had Madam Isabelle’s help, and realized she was already on the wet. He didn’t envy his uncle for having to participate in the conversation that had brought her off the estate.
“We need to get moving before the next patrol comes,” he added, bringing Tor and Tam’s attention back to the immediate situation. Tam shook her head, disconnecting the contact instinctively, while Tor brushed off his sleeves as if the lingering emotions were a physical thing.
Tor turned and studied the piled-up ice as he tucked the rope away. “We could be safe crossing there,” he said, pointing out a line of ice peaks near where Justin had been looking.
“I wanted to avoid that pile,” Justin said as he pointed at one of the jagged heaps on the path that Tor planned on using. “There are breaks in the snow already. The ice might have shifted apart. I was thinking that way.” Justin pointed out the route he’d seen, where the snow was piled from being pushed rather than broken from being pulled apart.
Both ways were a risk. On Tor’s, the breaks could mean dangerous gaps in the ice, or safe settling of ice sheets into solid positions. On Justin’s, the snow piles could be hiding gaps or the sheets could have been recently shoved up and still be off balance. Both had the threat of loose ice that would tip and drop whoever was stepping on the sheet into the cold river below, and the whole river was a groaning mass of rushing water that did not provide any level of comfort about any part of the ice being safe to cross.
“What about that way?” Tam pointed at a flat expanse of unbroken snow spanning from bank to bank.
“No,” Tor and Justin replied at the same time.
“If you can’t see the ice, you don’t know if there’s any there,” Tor explained. “The snow may have just piled up on the water and formed a shell after floes broke away. Come on. I’ll go first.”
“What if you fall in?” Tam asked, alarmed.
“Don’t follow the same path I took,” he said, grinning at his sister
Tam shook her head and chuckled ruefully at her brother’s rock headed joke. Tor shifted his gaze to stare at Justin.
“Whatever happens to me,” Tor started, “I want your word that you’ll get her out of Opat and keep her safe,” he finished, his tone heavy and quiet.
“I will,” Justin promised. Tor nodded and turned back to his sister.
“The ice can’t flip you under if you’re already on the next piece. You need to run. Whatever happens, just keep moving,” Tor instructed.
He didn’t wait for her reply before he turned and sprinted out onto the river.
“Don’t step on anything that moves after Tor stepped on it,” Justin advised her. Tam gulped a mouthful of air and swallowed the surge of fear threatening to choke her. She followed her brother at the same leaping run that he’d set.
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A weekly blog updating on Fridays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!