The road snaked over a couple of smaller mountains, but largely passed under the shadow of the larger bluffs. As they ascended the trees became more sparse and patches of snow clung to the shaded places. The main pass would be more of a straight shot between two massive peaks, ironically called “the Sister.” They would then begin their descent into the desert lands to the south.
“It’s cold,” Wil complained, blowing on her hands.
“At least we didn’t have to go up there,” Gwendolyn reminded her, giving a nod to the snow-capped peaks above them.
“Or up there, either,” Seymour rejoined pointing to the rise they had just descended.
The women smiled and muttered their agreement.
On the next day, they crested the highest point of their journey, and began the gradual descent to the pass. It was much drier on this side of the ridge, and dry stream beds were more plentiful than running water. The company used every opportunity to top up their water-bags even if it did cost a few minutes. The desert would not be an easy leg in that regard. The map did show the position of two oases, which would help, but was it enough?
They could see the Sister Peaks ahead of them, and they hoped to make the final pass the next day, but that still required one more night in the high country.
They observed a sheltered outcrop to the lee of the wind not far ahead of them, so decided to make camp. When they moved into the gap they made some uncomfortable discoveries. The first of these was that there was a ring of stones containing the charcoal of a previous campfire.
“Its old,” Maya said, as Thilda notched an arrow and scanned the surrounding rises. Indeed, it did seem old, it was longs cold, and the coals weathered. There was also almost no ash, but rather a grayish film where it had been reduced by successive melting snows.
What was more disturbing was the rune markings lightly chiselled into the stone that shielded them from the wind.
“What does it say?” Gwendolyn asked Breena.
“It is odd,” she replied. It says “‘Above – Beware,’ in Dwarf rune, but the words are in the common tongue.”
“What does it mean?” Thilda queried.
“Of that I have no idea,” Breena responded.
“I’m sorry ladies . . . Seymour. Double watch tonight,” Gwendolyn announced.
“I don’t think I could sleep, anyway,” Wilberta said half to herself.
The party, three times were called to alert in the night by sounds in the near distance. One had definitely been a rock fall, the others were less certain.
* * *
It was with some relief that morning came, and there was general agreement that they move on without breakfast.
The traveled quietly, each taking turns to glance at the sky, or the peaks surrounding them. None was sure what the strange warming had meant, but they were going to take no chances.
Thilda on the other hand kept her eyes steadfastly on the road, and its surroundings. “If there is going to be a trap, what better way to set you up for it?” she thought to herself.
The others noticed a lone eagle circling on the thermals some distance to the west, but it soon drifted away from them and they breathed a collective sigh of relief.
It was Thilda who was proved right in the end. As she held her attention on the road she noticed a subtle change in the hue of the pathway.
“Breena, do you ‘see’ anything?” she called, notching an arrow. She slowed, but did not stop until she was nearly on top of the discolouration. “Everyone keep your eyes open.”
Breena called, “Yes, there is danger there,” and rode up beside the now dismounted archer. Breena handed Thilda her short staff, and she prodded the ground before her, it immediately gave way to a deep pit laced with spikes.
No attack came, or any other recognition that the trap had sprung. On examining it, it was decided it was the work of robbers who hoped to cash in on the remains at a later time, or worse style of some of the nastier examples of “the old races,” looking for a meal.
The companions carefully skirted the pit, and made for the pass with a more deliberate haste, but not too hastily as to miss any other irregular signs on the road.