The Amulet Saga
Volume Two: The Traveler
The heat from the lowlands didn’t dissipate until they were far up into the mountains. Rose wiped sweat from her brow with a cloth Myrta handed her. The cart they sat in jostled over the bumpy trail.
Myrta still seemed uncomfortable with the idea of living in an outlaw camp, but she’d come along anyway.
As they trudged their way up the pass into the mountains, the vegetation thinned and the landscape became more barren. Plants and trees became smaller and more like bushes. Late in the afternoon, Taurin turned the horse off the main path and onto a track that seemed scarcely more than a game trail that rose up a sharp incline, higher into the mountains.
“I apologize, ladies, but I’m going to have to ask you to walk for a bit,” Taurin said. “The horse will have enough trouble carrying the supplies up this part.” He jumped from his perch at the front of the cart and took the horse’s reins to lead him instead of driving him.
Rose jumped down from the back of the cart and hurried up to walk near Taurin. Myrta followed more slowly, her eyes proclaiming how much she didn’t appreciate Taurin’s request.
For more than an hour they hiked up the steep trail, weaving in and out of boulders and zigzagging up the side of the hill. Just when Rose thought she couldn’t take another step, Taurin took her hand. “We’re almost there. Just around that bend up ahead.”
Rose took a swig from the water skin he handed her, then passed it on to Myrta.
Taurin didn’t release her hand as he began walking again.
The bend was a narrow space between two rocks, scarcely large enough for the cart to fit through. When they reached it, Taurin let out a series of low whistles that sounded like bird calls.
An answering whistle echoed from beyond the rocks, and Taurin smiled. “They know not to kill you for intruding.”
Rose giggled, but Myrta stopped short.
“That was a possibility?” Myrta asked.
“Of course. You don’t think we leave our camp unguarded, do you?”
“No trust among thieves?”
“Oh, we trust each other. Just not anyone else. As long as you follow the rules of the camp, you’ll be fine.”
A spike of panic shot through Rose. “How will we know the rules?”
“The rules are simple. Mind your own business. Don’t interfere with anyone else. Don’t harm anyone else within the camp, either physically or by harming or stealing their possessions.”
“That seems easy enough to live by.” Rose smiled.
“Who enforces the rules?” Myrta asked. “What happens if we don’t obey them?”
“The rules are enforced by all of us. If someone commits a crime, there must be sufficient evidence for a majority to agree. And if they do agree, then that person is hanged.”
Myrta nodded, as though such punishment made perfect sense to her.
Before Rose could inquire further, they emerged from the narrow pass and came out on an outcropping overlooking a valley. The camp was more like a small village. Trees surrounded it on every side. The light from the sun setting behind them bathed everything in a soft, golden glow.
The setting reminded her so much of her tiny kingdom. Tears caught in her throat. She would never see home again. But perhaps this quaint, remote community could come to feel like a home to her and Myrta.
“This way,” Taurin said. He led them down the narrow path and into the village. Men and women and even a few children came out of little huts to greet him.
One man, several inches taller and broader than Taurin, stepped in their path and crossed his arms over his chest. One of the last rays of sun filtering through the trees on the mountaintop glinted off his shiny bald head. “What do we have here?”
Taurin grinned up at him. “I have good news. I have brought us a healer.”
A gasp rose up around the small crowd gathered, which quickly turned into a clamoring.
Taurin held up a hand. “Patience. We’ve been traveling all day. Let the healer and her assistant get settled and she will see patients in the morning.” He turned to the big, bald man. “Quentyn, are you willing to lease the cabin by the stream?”
The big man nodded. “Two kadar a month.”
Rose blanched. She was still only slightly familiar with the Sunnland money, but that seemed like a preposterous amount.
But Taurin didn’t seem to think so. He nodded and handed the big bald man one large gold coin from his pouch. “She’ll pay you the rest for this month after she sees some patients.”
The big man, Quentyn, grunted, but didn’t object.
“This way,” Taurin said. He led Rose and Myrta through the village to the other end, then down a narrow path that wound through the trees to a small cabin. As he’d mentioned, a stream babbled only a few paces away.
That would be good. Rose would need ready access to fresh water for healing.
The cabin was furnished, though sparsely. It had two rooms. A front room contained a fireplace, a table and two chairs, a shelf with some dishes and pots, and some other odds and ends. The back room held two narrow cots, a basin for bathing, and a shelf for clothes.
Rose looked around and breathed deeply. “This will do nicely.”
“I’ll help you get settled, then,” Taurin said. He left to go retrieve the box of herbs Rose had brought from the market in the city.
“I don’t trust this place, Rose,” Myrta said as soon as he was out of hearing. “These people—criminals. This place—too far away from civilization. This house—who knows who lived here before, or when that man will decide to charge us more than the exorbitant amount he’s already charging.”
Rose took her hand. “Isn’t far from civilization exactly what we were looking for? We’ll never be found here. We’ll be safe. And we can be happy.”
Rose spun in a slow circle. “Magic is rich here. I can feel it in the air, in the rocks and trees. I could become an incredibly powerful healer here. And these people need that. There are children here. They’re just trying to make a life for themselves, and we can be part of that.”
“That’s all well and good for you, but what about me? I’m not your assistant, I’m your servant. I don’t know the first thing about healing.”
Rose grinned. “That’s the beauty of it. You can be anything you want to be here. Look at this place. There’s room for both of us. If I hang a curtain in the main room and get another cot and a shelf for my supplies, I can keep my healing contained to that area, and you can start a business of your own in the other half. We won’t need for much, so we won’t need money except to pay our rent. I can gather my own herbs and we can plant a garden in the back. We have everything we need here, enough that you can stop worrying about taking care of me and start making yourself into who you want to be.”
What comes next: