The morning sun awakened me as it rose over the hills to the east, and shone into the trees where we were encamped. I rolled my head away, to find Vall’s head resting on my shoulder. Her arm was thrown over my chest, and her leg was over mine. She snored softly, and I thought of our night together.
After our first love making, she and I had slept for a time, and then we had started up again when we awoke late in the night. We mated again, and slept, and mated once more. Then, she had slid off me and curled up against my side to sleep. I reached over to caress her hair, and her eyes fluttered open. “Good morning,” I greeted her with a smile.
“Good morning.” Vall lifted her hand from my chest to shade her eyes. “Oh, that’s bright.”
I rolled onto my side to face her. “I enjoyed our night together.”
She leaned in to kiss me, and then pulled back with a grimace. “I did, too, but now I’m a little sore.”
I looked down to where she had her hand on her belly. “I can heal you. I think.”
“No, don’t use it for that. We may need it later; you never know.”
I kissed her again. “We should be going.”
“Yes,” Vall said with a gentle smile.
We dressed and packed our camp for travel. While I refilled our waterskins from the creek, Vall rolled our bed, and brought out breakfast for us. We started off from the campsite, moving west as we had done the night before. Fifty paces from the camp, Vall stopped and turned to me. “What’s wrong,” I asked?
“How do we know we are going in the right direction?”
It took me a moment, and then I pointed to her pocket. “See if that talisman Dreev gave us does anything.”
She removed it from her pocket and peered at it. “I don’t know. There seems to be something.” She held it up to the sunlight, and it chirped like a bird. Vall fumbled it in surprise, but she quickly caught it before it could fall. “What was that?”
“I don’t know, but hold it up to the sunlight again.”
She complied, and it chirped once, and then fell silent. “Look!” Vall pointed at a spot on one of the flat sides. A small green box was next to a larger red box, and, as we watched, the green box grew a bit larger, while the red box receded by the same amount. “What does that mean?”
“I don’t know,” I repeated. “I have never seen a talisman like this one.”
We stood there, watching the green box slowly devour the red one. Finally, the red was gone, and the talisman chirped, twice this time. Vall brought it down to hold it as a book, peering down at it as the green box faded. “Ornthalas!”
I had looked away for a moment, and I looked back at it. The talisman now showed a grouping of runes; one of them was clearly an arrow, and it pointed west. Vall turned the talisman in her hands, and the arrow still pointed in the same direction. The other runes were unfamiliar to me. “Can you read that?”
“Yes, and no,” Vall said slowly. “They are similar to magic writing; that,” she pointed at the arrow, “means ‘go this way’, but I don’t know any of the other runes.”
“We follow it, then.” I picked out one of the distant mountain peaks in the direction of the talisman’s arrow. “That taller peak, there,” I pointed, “is in the direction we need to go.”
“What is there?”
“I don’t know,” I told her. “I was hoping you’d know.”
“I’ve been further along the road, but I came from the north, not the west.” Vall started walking west. “Let’s see where it takes us.”
A short while later, we spotted the trade road in the distance, where a bridge crossed a small river. At this time of year, the river was a stream with wide, sandy banks that cut through the rolling grasslands. As we watched, a caravan came into sight from the west; a dozen or more heavy freight wagons, guarded by mounted troops.
“Those will be janissaries, men at arms hired by the trade guilds,” Vall said as she crouched down. “Don’t let them see us; many of them are slavers in addition to guards.”
I crouched down in the tall grass, and we waited for them to pass. “I think we should avoid the road, then,” I said quietly.
Finally, they were gone, and we walked onward, choosing to pass under the bridge on the riverbank. We walked until we found another stream with a grove of trees growing near it. Along the way, we spotted many animals; antelope and the lions who hunted them, great elephants I’d only seen from a distance – and we made sure to stay away from them now – along with small game and birds of every type.
“I’m hungry,” Vall said, taking a drink from her waterskin. The sun was high in the sky, and the day was growing warmer than I was accustomed to in the mountains.
“We can stop here,” I said. “Find us a place to sit, while I look around.” I noticed that one of the trees had limbs suited for climbing, so I pulled myself high into its branches. The grasslands rolled away from us in all directions, with the mountains still in the distance to the west. I climbed down. “More of the same,” I told Vall as I sat down next to her.
“I don’t want to share you, anyway,” she said as she smiled and leaned close to kiss me.
I returned the kiss, and pulled back enough to see her face. “I love you, Vall.”
“And I love you, as frightening as it is.” She had unwrapped one of the rations and laid the contents on a rock. She handed me a wedge of cheese with a neatly cut piece of bread. “They cut up the bread into these flat pieces,” she said with a laugh. “Who does that?”
“Wizards and other mad magic users?”
“Hey!” She thumped me on the arm. “I use magic!”
“My point,” I said smugly.
“Just you wait,” Vall said ominously. “You will be naked and sleeping next to me soon enough.”
“And you will be too tired to carry out your nefarious plan.”
“You keep thinking that, lover.” Vall grinned, showing her fangs.
I grinned back. “Eat, so we can be on our way, and then I can try to lull you to sleep tonight. Speaking of magic, have you looked at the spells Dreev gave you?”
“No,” Vall shook her head. “I have the few that I know, but none of those are written down. Once I memorize them, they stay with me. I can only know so many at a time, though.”
“Maybe you can look at them tonight, before the sun goes down.”
We ate our meal, and continued walking west. The sun sank in the west, and we saw no one but the animals. Those few who spotted us stayed well away, and we passed them by. Nightfall found us in an area of rocky outcroppings with nearly flat tops that rose out of the grasslands. We carefully climbed one of the smaller ones, and made our camp in a rocky place that hid us from view below.
I gathered some sticks and a few small limbs from the stunted trees scattered among the rocks, and built a tiny fire. Vall spread out our bed, and laid out our evening meal. I had shot a rabbit earlier, and she stepped away to prepare it for cooking. When it was ready, she set it over the fire on a stick to roast.
We ate our meal, and Vall looked through her new spell book. “I don’t even know what most of these do,” she sighed. “Some of them are very long, and I don’t know if I can cast them at all.”
“I don’t have to do anything special to heal,” I said. “Lirimaer tells me all the time that I can do more, but I really don’t practice.”
“I have to read them a few times, and then they just come to me. If I cast one, though, I have to wait until after I sleep to cast the same spell again.”
“How did your ... captors, keep you from casting spells on them?” I spoke quietly, carefully watching Vall’s face in the firelight.
“If I can’t speak, or move my hands, then I can’t cast,” Vall explained.
“Oh, that’s right,” I nodded. “I have to speak and touch to heal, too.”
While Vall studied the book, I buried the remains of our meal so as to not draw predators. When the fire died down, we laid down for the night.