After their encounter with the Ralulee, the party made for the Sisters Pass with some haste, but the failure to secure water left an uneasiness among them.
“Maya, is it true that water can be made from sand?” Gwendolyn asked.
“Yes, It’s so. It is seldom done, however,” She replied.
“Is there something wrong with it, then?” Gwendolyn pursued.
“No, it is quite good, but costly,” Maya said. “If it is a matter of life, it is of course always worth the price, but not so if you are to do it frivolously.”
“You’re not saying that you have to kill something, or anything like that, are you?” The Washer Woman asked.
“No, nothing as drastic as that,” Maya responded. “Gold. It takes gold.”
“How much?” Gwendolyn asked, as if not disturbed by the prospect.
“In equal weight to the sand,” was the reply.
“Ah, I see,” Gwendolyn mused. “Only if needed then.”
“My Sisters,” Star interrupted. “I think I can help.”
She pointed to a dry stream bed, in which a few scraggly desert bushes grew. She led the others to one of the shrubs and said, “This is Koiya.”
The weedy looking little bushes had grey twigs with grey-green almost needle-like leaves. Star dismounted and began to dig down at the base of the plant. She then pulled out a large twisted root. She cut this in half revealing a pulpy interior which began to drip a slightly yellowish liquid.
She held the pieces over a cup and squeezed. A small stream of the liquid filled about half the tin cup. It didn’t look of much, and was essentially odourless. It was, however, drinkable and had a slightly citrus aftertaste.
“It is not much good for the animals,” Star said. “It would take too long to get enough. But if we drink it, then the water bags can be used for the beasts.”
A search was made of the wadi, and drink bottles were filled. It seemed a profitable delay, but a delay all the same.
What was also becoming clear was that the donkey was slowing them down. It was in fact becoming more of a liability than a benefit. Since many of their travelling supplies were now becoming depleted, it was decided that once a place was found where it could fend for itself, it would be set free.
It wasn’t until nearly sunset on their second day when the party arrived at the pass. They decided to make for the guardhouses on the kingdom-side of the gorge before camping for the night. The rubble pile which had been created by the bandits had been cleared to the side of the road by someone, and this heightened their apprehension. Were there people still in the vicinity? But the transit of the pass proved without incident. When they got to the guard posts, Seymour and Star inspected each building as Thilda and Gwendolyn covered them with bow and crossbow.
The animals would be kept in one, tended by Star and Wil; while the others would sleep in the other. Guard duty was assigned, and they settled in.
That evening Wilberta began to take the remaining items from the donkey’s packs in order to redistribute them across the other animals. As she did the pair of golden gauntlets caught Star’s attention.
“Those are beautiful,” she said admiringly. “Are they Seymour’s?”
“No, I found them among the bits outside the temple,” Wil explained. “They are not my kind of thing, and they are too big anyway. I am going to sell them when we get home.”
“May I try them on?” the horse mistress asked.
“Sure, why not.”
Star pulled the inner leather glove of the first onto her left hand, and it almost seemed as if the outer metalwork bent to perfectly accommodate her hand.
“It looks like they were made for you,” Wilberta observed. “Do you want to make them part of your share?”
They agreed to discuss it with Gwendolyn and the others in the morning.
In the other building, Seymour kept looking up through the bare eaves at the stars. “I still don’t see why they didn’t put a roof on,” he pondered aloud. “It’s bloody cold.”
“Why don’t you move closer to the fire, Hun?” Gwendolyn suggested.
Seymour moved next to the flames, but sat back up abruptly. “Don’t forget to wake me for my watch.”
“We will,” he was assured and he was snoring within minutes.
It was then that Thilda noticed that some of the graffiti on the wall was dated only a few days earlier. Whoever had been there, had passed by while they were in the temple, and they at least scribbled in the common tongue.
This would bother her all night, she knew, but she didn’t want to unnecessarily concern the others.
None of the companions, not even the vigilant Thilda noticed the owl perched on rocks above them, however.