Chapter 13

“Where are Talatil and the other warriors?” Traci asked as they walked toward the edge of camp.

“I believe they’re meeting with the village elders to make the preparations for the ride to the temple. It seems the ceremony must be jointly executed with the Seroniir for proper entry into the temple.

Rutherford stopped and gathered two small baskets. He handed one to Traci, and they walked into a large copse of trees. As they walked, Rutherford explained that the village elders only met with each other twice yearly, during the summer and winter solstices, or what the Iranahar called mid-winter and mid-summer. The gatherings were brief and usually involved persuading each other that their land boundaries had not been violated, as well as confirming that the Seroniir were still guarding the temple and the Iranahar were likewise watching the river. This time, their meeting was very different.

“Now that the warrior princess has been found, the Iranahar will be relaying information about your progress in returning to full health. Both tribes know what’s at stake, and they do not wish to fail in their duty to protect you. That is why young Makir was so rude earlier; they take their honor very seriously. If you were not being well cared for, there would have been war.”

Traci walked alongside Rutherford and thought about that. Perhaps the Seroniir were just trying to make sure they were in the loop on the whole princess thing. Still, she seemed to a have a pretty good read on Talatil. The elder woman acted like a mother hen around Traci, more than adequately caring for her. Makir was a wildcard.

They reached an outcrop of rough stone, and Traci saw several berry bushes growing in the cracks. They were large enough to support many clusters of juicy berries, nestled in with thorns. They clearly were not enough to feed the entire village, but together with Rutherford, she picked the bushes nearly clean. A few berries fell on the ground, and Rutherford disposed of the errant berries by eating them. Traci suspected that some were dropped on purpose.

They turned to move deeper into the forest and saw a small deer hiding in the shade of the trees. They stood silently for a few moments, staring at the watchful animal, and then the deer darted away.

When they had gathered several growing plants and some fungi and vegetables, they returned to camp. By this time, the sun was beginning to set, and the temperature was quickly dropping. Traci pulled her coat close around her.

The camp was full of activity as they stepped back into its perimeter. Rutherford exchanged a few words with the sentries, and they took their bountiful pails to one of the women working at a stone oven. She chattered in her native language, and her two small daughters appeared and quickly distributed the fruits and vegetables to a rather well-organized larder tent.

One of the village elders walking with Talatil approached them and scolded Rutherford for running off with the warrior princess on the eve of their trek to the temple. Traci suspected that the perimeter guards would also be spoken to for not providing them an escort. She felt her stomach begin to knot as the foreordained time approached. They were told that a Seroniir escort would appear at first light to accompany them to the temple site. At least she didn’t have long to wait. Suddenly, she wished she had freed Kendahl. Was it too late to just slip away and make a run for the portal? Would the tribes think of them as cowards?

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