Chapter 12: Running the Gauntlet

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"A storm in the desert is a rare and precious thing

Often bringing life-giving water to parched lands

Yet, as it sweeps over dry and unforgiving ground

Such storms also bring destruction and change;

Ravaging lightning, flash floods and knifing winds.

Only the life yielded by its coming, makes a storm welcome at all."

- from the writings of Talid, a Scattered Kingdoms philosopher circa 330 AC (After the Cadremoor) 

"You can't be serious!" Raelin hissed hoarsely, staring hard as Jaeda calmly filled a pack with supplies. "You know as well as I that running the Gauntlet to Kala'finae is virtual suicide if not done at the right time of year and with a full company of heavily armed soldiers."

"If Patrik needs to go to the sanctuary to see his destiny fulfilled, then I will see him there," the lithe desert princess replied without looking up from her preparations. "God has given him this fate and so will protect him and any others that accompany him until it is done."

"Suddenly you're religious." Raelin couldn't help the second snort that rasped free in his incredulity. He leaned back to fold his arms once more over his chest, a disgruntled bear with a sore tooth. "I'm curious how a mysterious kevan, arriving by sea with no purpose or name, can suddenly turn the daughter of Abdulleh kaeDrith el'Faetwah from her life of debauchery and sin when a hundred druids with lifetimes of training in the Maker's name could not."

At the mention of debauchery and sin Jaeda paused, a muscle abruptly tightening in her jaw.

"I warned you about overstepping yourself, Raelin," she hissed tautly, her voice filled with enough venom the handful of her followers that accompanied them into the building suddenly shifted to put hands on weapon hilts. "If I have to warn you again, it'll be to your cooling body as I wipe my dagger off on your tunic."

Raelin hastily threw up placating hands as he took a half step back from the dangerously tense young woman.

"My surprise at your turn of intent has loosened my tongue. I apologize," he quickly explained, dropping his hands only when Jaeda's tenseness eased enough for her to resume her packing. "I merely wished to remind you of the dangers in running the Gauntlet at this time of year."

"Consider me reminded, druid," Jaeda bit back, not mollified by Raelin's attempt at peacemaking, as she stuffed a scrip of druid fruit and cheese into the bag with savage energy.

Raelin swallowed against the sudden dryness in his throat and hazarded a glance over at the knot of Jaeda's followers, who were still fingering their weapons with barely masked eagerness.

"Then perhaps we should wait a moon, while the kevan is properly prepared and trained for the Gauntlet's dangers, yes? Surely the Maker wouldn't begrudge his fated messenger a handful of days to truly understand his role as He did set out it for him."

Jaeda's hands slowed as she considered the suggestion. It made sense; any preparation against the dangers of the long trek to the druidic sanctuary would indeed be some proof against the many pitfalls and obstacles the trip presented. If she were any judge of character and skill, the kevan came as unprepared for the harshness of the Scattered Kingdoms as a babe into the broad new world. Had she and her troop not come upon the thief prince's company about to have their way with the newcomer, he'd be filling some nameless hole by now in the port's graveyard. Some training, any training, would go a long way to insuring he reached the sanctuary relatively intact.

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