Masques (Sianim #1)

Chapter 3

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The inn was built snugly to keep out the bitter cold of the northern winters. When the snow lay thick on the ground the inn was picturesque, nestled cozily in a small valley between the impressive mountains of northern Reth. Without the masking snow, the building showed the onset of neglect. It lay about halfway between the small village of Kestral and the slightly larger village of Torin.

The inn had been prosperous while the trappers of the Northlands were bringing down the thick pelts of the various animals that inhabited the northern mountain wilds. For many years merchants from all over flocked to Kestral each summer because it was as far south as the reclusive trappers would travel. But over the last several years the trappers had gradually grown fewer, and what furs they now brought to trade were hardly worth owning.

The North had always been uncanny: the kind of place that a sensible person stayed away from. The trappers traded stories of the Howlaas that screamed unseen in Iron! of the winter winds to drive men mad. They told of the Old Man of the Mountain who could make a man rich, or turn him into a beast with nothing but a whisper. Now there were new stories, though the storytellers were fewer. One man's partner disappeared one night, leaving his bedding and clothes behind although the snow lay thick on the ground. A giant bird was seen dying over a campsite where four bodies sat in front of a blazing fire. One trapper swore that he saw a dragon, though everyone knew that the dragons had been gone since the last of the Wizard Wars.

Without the furs, fewer and fewer merchants came. The inn grew less prosperous, depending more and more on the local farmers' night out. The once tidy yard was overgrown and covered with muck from horses and other beasts, some of them two-legged.

Inside, the greasy tallow candles sputtered fitfully on the rough-hewn walls and would have tent a soiled air to a far more presentable crowd than the one that occupied the inn. The chipped wooden pitchers that adorned the tables were rifled with some unidentifiable but undeniably alcoholic brew. The tabletops themselves were black with grease and other less savory substances.

Rushing here and there amid the few customers, a woman trotted blithely between tables refilling pitchers and obviously enjoying the fondles that were part of any good barmaid's job. She wasn't as clean as she could have been, but then neither were her customers. She wasn't as young as she claimed to be either, but the dim light was kind to her wrinkles and much was forgiven because of her wholehearted approval of the male species.

The only other woman in the room was wielding a mop across the uneven floor. It might have done more good if the water she was using hadn't been dirtier than the floor. The wet bottom of her skirt did as much to remove the accumulated muck as the mop. As she passed close to the tables she deftly avoided the casual hands that came her way. Not that many did. Most of the customers were regulars and were aware that if someone got too pushy he was liable to end with the bucket over his head for his troubles.

Dishwater-blonde hair was pulled into an irregular bun at the back of her neck. Her plain face was not improved by the discontented pout that held sway on her thin lips as she swung the mop.

Aralorn was discontented. A month after she'd finished in the Sorcerer's castle, Ren had called her into his office and told her that he was sending her to the middle of nowhere to keep an eye on the local inhabitants. The only reason that she'd been able to think of for her demotion to this kind of assignment was that Ren no longer trusted her; something that he had in common with most of the rest of Sianim. The story of what she had said to Talor had somehow become common knowledge and now even her closest friends avoided her as if she had a case of the pox. She'd accepted this assignment only because she'd thought that anything would be better than being an outcast.

After she'd spent the first day at the inn she'd decided that even the ae'Magi's castle had been a better option. At least there she hadn't been quite so bored.

Even though the business at the inn was brisk due to a high rate of alcoholism and infidelity among the people of both villages, not much happened. If the tavern had been located in the middle of a busy town she might have been resigned to staying there in hopes of picking up some information, even if her abilities were better utilized in a more perilous setting. However, the inn was mostly frequented by tinkers, drunken "family men," and occasionally by one very impoverished highwayman – the more skilled and ruthless of his kind having left for richer pastures.

The most interesting thing that had happened here so far was when she heard that the daughter of the Headman of Kestral ran off with somebody named Harold the Rat. When the highwayman came in next time looking more miserable than usual accompanied by a female who was taller than him by a good six inches, Aralorn concluded that he was the mysterious Harold and offered him her silent condolences.

The worst part of this monotony was that she had more time than she wanted to think about the ae'Magi. She knew that she should do something, but for the life of her she couldn't think what.

Tonight was worse than usual; the innkeeper's wife was sick and the innkeeper was doing all of the cooking – rendering the food even less edible than it usually was. This led to more than the usual number of customers getting sick on the floor – because the only thing left to do at the inn was drink, and the alcohol that they served was none of the best and quite probably mildly poisonous, judging by the state of the poor fools who drank it.

As the newest barmaid, the task of cleaning up fell to Aralorn. She'd found that this consisted mostly of moving the mess around until it blended with the rest of the grime on the floor. The lye in the water ate at the skin on her hands almost as badly as the smell of the inn ate at her nose.

She dipped the foul-smelling mop into the fouler-smelling water and occupied herself with the thought of what she would do to Ren the next time she saw him. As she was scrubbing, humming a merry accompaniment to her thoughts, a sudden hush fell over the room.

Startled out of her reverie, Aralorn looked up to see the cause of the unusual quiet. Against the grime and darkness of the inn, the brilliant clothing of the two men in court attire was more than a little incongruous.

Not nobles surely, but pages or messengers from the royal court. They were usually used to run messages from the court to a noble's estate. What they were doing at this little, pedestrian inn was anyone's guess.

Unobtrusively, Aralorn worked her way to a better observation post and watched the proceedings carefully.

One of the pages stayed near the door. The other walked to the center of the room. He spoke slowly so that his strange court accent wouldn't keep the northerners from understanding his message. It was obvious to Aralorn from his stilted style that the speech had been memorized.

"Greetings, people. We bring you tragic news. Two weeks ago Myr, your king, overset by the deaths of his parents, attacked and killed several of his own palace guard. Overwrought by what he had done, his majesty seized a horse and left the royal castle. Geoffrey ae'Magi has consented to the request by the Assembly to accept the regency of Reth until such time as King Myr is found and restored to his senses. The ae'Magi has asked that the people of Reth look for their king so that a cure may be effected. As he is not right in his mind it may, regrettably, be necessary to restrain the king by force. As this is a crime punishable by death, the Regent has issued a pardon. If the king can be brought to the ae'Magi, there is every possibility that he can be cured. As loyal subjects, it is your duty to find Myr.

"It is understood that a journey to the royal castle will be a financial hardship, thus he will have just recompense for his service to his king. A thousand marks will be paid to the party that brings King Myr to the capitol. I have been authorized to repeat this message to the citizens of Reth by the Regent, Geoffrey ae'Magi." He repeated his message twice, word for word each time, then he bowed and left the inn with his companion.

"So," thought Aralorn, "the day isn't such a loss after all."

Wandering between tables, she caught bits and pieces of conversation and found that everyone thought that the ae'Magi had done them a great service by taking the throne. They didn't all agree on what ought to be done for the king. One man said that everything should be done to see that Myr was captured and taken to be cured. He was answered by agreeable muttering from his table.

Olin, the tanner from Torin, stood up, more than slightly drunk and spoke loudly. "Anyone who cares about Reth should kill Myr and ask for Geoffrey ae'Magi to take the kingship of us. Who needs a king what is going to attack his own folk out of the blue like that? Just think what'd be like havin' the Sorcerer for a king. We'd not worry 'bout those Darranians who're claiming our mines over in the east." He paused to belch. "'N with the most powerful magician in the world, we could even drive those Uriah spooks outta the wilds. Then we could be rich again."

Not to mention that a thousand marks was more than a man earned in a lifetime of farming or mining, thought Aralorn. The tanner's speech wasn't odd, but Aralorn was surprised how it was received. The patrons of the inn shifted uncomfortably, and chose another topic to speak on; but they didn't disagree with what he'd said. The whole nation had adored their young king, who was promising both as a warrior and a statesman. Two years ago Olin's words would have gotten him into a rough argument or even a fight.

Moving unobtrusively. Aralorn took the slop bucket outside to dump it. That done, she walked to the stables where Sheen was.

She received a lot of harassment from Ren when she took the warhorse with her on assignments because he was too valuable to go unremarked. Talor carried an old coin for luck when he went into battle: it must be much more convenient than a horse.

She did what she could to disguise his worth. He'd long ago learned to limp on command, which helped somewhat. She also left him ungroomed, but anyone with an eye for horses could see that he was no farmer's plug.

Here at the inn, she'd let it be known that he was the only legacy left to her when her elderly protector died. The innkeeper didn't ask her too many questions – just retained the better part of her weekly salary in payment for boarding the horse.

Aralorn scuffed her foot lightly in the dirt as she leaned against the stall door. Sheen moved over to her and shoved his head against her shoulder. Obligingly she rubbed his jaw.

"It's got to be the ae'Magi's doing, Sheen. The last time I saw Myr he was hardly distraught enough to go berserk. I think that it is too convenient that the Assembly decided to place the ae'Magi as Regent, don't you?" The stallion whickered softly, as if in response. Aralorn laughed at his timing and gave him the carrot she'd taken before it would have gone to its death in the greasy pot of stew.

She tangled her hand in the coarse grey-black mane and listened to the munching sounds he made and continued with some enthusiasm. "I could go to Ren with this, but given his present attitude toward the ae'Magi, I don't, know what he would do. Myr needs to be protected from the ae'Magi. Since Myr is the king and immune to magic, he's the ideal hero to stand against the ae'Magi. Someone has to stand against him, and people would hardly follow a mercenary from Sianim.

"I only wish I had some way of contacting Wolf. Knowing him, he probably could tell us exactly where Myr went. It could take me quite a while to find him; I'm not nearly good enough with magic to locate anyone, let alone someone immune to magic." She paused and then smiled. "But I would be much better occupied looking for Myr than struggling with the futile battle to clean the floor of the inn."

Finished with the carrot, Sheen bumped her impatiently, asking for more rubbing. "Well, Sheen, what do you say? Should we abandon our post and go missing-monarch hunting?" The grey head moved enthusiastically against her hand when she caught a particularly itchy spot. Aralorn laughed softly: it looked for all the world as if he were nodding his head in agreement.

When Aralorn decided to move, she moved fast. She snuck into the kitchen and blessed her luck because no one was there. She located a large cloth that was almost clean and folded it to hold such provisions as would keep on a journey: bread, cheese, dried salt meat.

Cautiously she made her way upstairs without meeting anyone and crept into the room that had belonged to the only son of the innkeeper. He'd died last winter of some disease or the other and no one had yet had the heart to clean out his room. She murmured a soft explanation of what she was doing and why in case his unquiet spirit lingered nearby.

She look a pair of leather trousers and a tunic, neither of which were remarkable in any way. She found also a pair of sturdy riding boots and a set of riding gloves. Searching through a chest by the font of the bed, she discovered a worn cloak, which she wrapped her loot in.

In her attic room she retrieved her sword from its hiding place inside the straw mattress (she generally slept on the floor, it being less likely to be infested by miscellaneous vermin). Before sliding the sheath onto her belt, she drew the sword and ran a finger over its smooth, curiously colored surface. It was a sword she'd found hidden in one of the many cubbyholes of her father's castle – the pinkish-gold luster of the metal had intrigued her. Aside from Sheen, it was the only thing she'd taken from her home when she left. She wasn't that good with the plaguing thing, having found it most useful against beasts like the Uriah, creatures too big to be killed quickly with a dagger and not easily downed with a staff. She'd only brought it because she didn't know if she would be returning to Sianim.

She gratefully rid herself of the maidservant's dress and dropped it on the floor. She removed the knives from their position on her thighs and rethreaded the sheaths onto her borrowed belt. She donned the stolen garments and found that, as she expected, they were very tight in the hips and chest and ridiculously big everywhere else.

Most shapeshifters could switch their sex as easily as most people changed shoes, but she had never been able to take on a male's shape, perhaps because of her human blood. Fortunately, the boy whose clothes she'd appropriated had been slender, so that it was an easy thing to create a tall, angular, androgynously female body that could pass as a man's.

Once dressed she appeared to be a young man neither rich nor poor, who wouldn't look out of place on a sturdy draft horse. Most of the items in the room she left behind, though she was careful to take the copper pieces that she'd earned as well as the small amount of coins that she always kept with her as an emergency fund.

Quietly she shut the door to her room and made sure that the bundle that she was carrying wasn't awkward-looking. As she made her way down the stairs she was met by the other barmaid. Aralorn gave the woman a healthy grin and swept past her unchallenged.

In the stable Aralorn quickly saddled Sheen. The cloak and the food she packed into her copious saddlebags. She filled an empty sack that was lying nearby with grain and tied it onto the saddle. From one of the saddlebags she took out a small jar of white paste. Carefully, she painted the horse's shoulders with white patches such as a heavy work collar tends to leave with time. No farmer's plug, but he could well pass for a squire's prize draft horse.

On the road she hesitated before turning north toward Kestral. That was the direction that the messengers had been traveling. In the guise of a young farmer she could question them, as a servant would not. A better reason for looking north was that the northern mountains were the best place for someone seeking to hide from a human magician. For some reason, human magic didn't work as well in the Northland mountains as it did other places. There were stories of places where human magic wouldn't function at all. Users of green magic, on the other hand, found that magic was easier to work in the North – most of the remnants of the shapeshifters lived in northern Reth and the Northlands.

As Myr was from Reth, Aralorn fell that it was safe to assume that he was aware of the partial protection that the Northlands offered. There were very few other places as easily accessible that offered any protection from the ae'Magi. Unfortunately, the ae'Magi would also be aware that the Northlands were the most likely place for Myr to go; hence the messengers.

Although it was still late summer the air was brisk with the chill winds of the Northlands. The winds retained their bite this far north year-round, making Aralorn grateful for the soft leather gloves and warm cloak.

Several miles down the road she turned off to take a trail me highwayman had once described. The shortcut traversed the mountain rather than wandering around its base. With luck and the powerful animal under her, she could cut more than an hour off her travel time. Sheen snorted and willingly took on the climb, his powerful hindquarters pushing his bulk up the treacherously steep grade. His weight and large hooves worked against him on the angular, rocky ground; and Aralorn held him to a slow trot which left Sheen snorting and tossing his head in impatience.

"Easy now, sweetheart. What's your hurry? We may have a long way to go yet this evening. Save it for later." One ear twitched back and he settled into stride, only occasionally breaking gait to hop over an obstacle in his way.

As evening wore on, the light began to fade; and Aralorn slowed him further into a walk as he began to stumble over rocks and brush made invisible by the play of light and shadow. Being unable to see clearly around him made the seasoned campaigner nervous, and he began to snort and dance at every sound. A branch snapped loudly to the left of them, and before Aralorn could pull him up, Sheen plunged off the trail and into the trees.

"Just you behave, you old worrywart you. It's all right. Nothing's going to get us but ghosts and vampires and other nice things that feed on stupid people who ride in the woods after dark." She pasted him reassuringly, silting back to ask him to slow down. The dark mountainside was too treacherous to allow her to pull up on the reins at the pace he was going.

The horse calmed marginally at her soft voice, so she babbled on. Gradually he slowed and stopped, lowering his head to snatch a bit of grass as if he hadn't been snorting and charging a minute before.

Aralorn stretched and looked around to catch her bearings. As she did so she heard something, a murmur that she just barely caught. Sheen's ears twitched toward the sound as well, if he hadn't heard it too, she'd have been tempted to put it to imagination. Following the direction of the stallion's ears, she moved him toward the sound. When she could pick up the direction herself she dismounted and whispered a command that would keep the horse in place until she called.

She crept closer, moving as slowly as she could so as not to make any noise. Several yards from Sheen she picked up the smell of a campfire. If it hadn't been for that, even with the sounds to guide her she would have missed it.

Against the side of the mountain, rendered almost invisible by a gigantic boulder that had rolled down the hill, was a cave. When Aralorn carefully peeked around the boulder she could see the reflection of firelight against the rock walls, but nothing more.

Mouse time again, she thought. The wonderful thing about mice was that they were everywhere and never looked out of place. She'd long ago perfected many different kinds of mice because of their usefulness, so that the medium-sized, northern-type mouse looked perfectly at home as she scampered into the entrance to the cave.

The adrenaline smell of fear hit her as she entered the cave, Two men stood by a large pile of goods that ranged from swords to flour, but consisted mainly of tarps and furs. The scent of fear drifted clearly to her rodent-sharp nose from the more massive (at least in bulk) man as he cowered away from the other. He wore ornate facial tattooing of the merchant's guild of Hernal, a larger city of the country Ynstrah, which lay several weeks' travel to the south. It was unlikely that the merchant had wandered that far, at least not in his nightshirt.

The second man was tall and slender, but something about the way he moved told her that this man had either been a dancer or fighter and was in very good shape. He wore a hooded cloak that flickered red and gold in the light. Underneath the hood of the cloak he wore a smoothly wrought silver mask in the shape of a stylized fate.

Traveling players used such masks when they acted out skits – allowing one player to take on many roles in a single play without confusion to the audience. Usually, though, these masks were made out of inexpensive materials like clay or wood.

Each mask's face wore a different expression denoting explicit emotions. As a Rethian noblewoman, Aralorn had spent many a dreary hour memorizing the slight differences between concern and sympathy, weariness and suffering, and other such nonsense. She found it interesting that the mask's face displayed the curled lips and furrowed brow of rage.

In one hand the slender man held a staff made of some kind of very dark wood. On the lower end was the clawed foot of a bird of prey molded in brass; its outspread talons glowed softly orange in the darkness of the cave, as if it had been held in hot coals. The upper end of the staff was encrusted with crystals that lit the cave with their blue-white light.

The staff made it obvious that this man was a magician. If he had spirited the merchant and his goods from the south as she expected, then he was a sorcerer of no little power.

Hmm, she thought, maybe this mouse idea wasn't such a good one. Magicians have this strange way of finding mice that weren't really mice and not being very pleasant about it. Even as she thought about this, the magician turned with incredible speed. She didn't even have time to squeak before she was stuffed into a leather bag that smelled strongly of magic.

She tried once to shift back into her human shape, but as she'd expected she was unable to do so. Rather than panicking she relaxed and thought wryly that at least she wasn't bored anymore.

"How much, merchant?" the magician asked in Rethian. His voice was distorted with a strange accent – or maybe it was just the leather bag.

"Fourteen kiben." The merchant too spoke good Rethian but his voice was hoarse and trembling. Still, Aralorn noticed, the price he'd quoted was at least twice what the items were worth, unless there was something extremely valuable amongst them.

"Six, merchant." The magician's voice may have had an odd slur to it, but it was still effective in striking terror into the heart of the merchant. Aralorn had the feeling that it wouldn't take much to strike terror into this merchant's heart.

"Six, I accept," he squeaked. There was the sound of money changing hands, then a distinctive pop, which Aralorn thought either signaled the merchant or the magician and herself being removed to other places. There was a moment's pause and then a third person's voice spoke.

"Thank you, my friend. It worked as you said it would." The voice was reserved and of courtly accents. It was also young and belonged to Myr, sometime king of Reth.

"Hopefully our friend will not think to question all of the merchants in Hernal." There was something about the tone of the magician's voice that was familiar, but the accent kept throwing her.

"He wouldn't learn much even if he did. The merchant doesn't know where you brought him to."

The magician grunted. "He knows that it was in the North, because of the cold. He knows that it was in the mountains, because of the cave. That is more than we can afford to have the ae'Magi know."

Myr gave no vocal reply, but he must have nodded, because when he spoke again it was on a different topic. "What was that you grabbed off the floor?"

"Ah yes, that. Just a … spy. Small but effective nonetheless." Was that amusement she picked up in his tone?

The bag was opened and she found herself hanging by her tail for the perusal of the two men. She twisted around and bit the hand that held her, hard. The magician laughed, but moved his hand so that she sat comfortably on his palm.

"My Lord, may I present to you the Lady Aralorn, sometime spy of Sianim." She twisted about to look at him; just how had he known her name'? It wasn't as if she were one of the famous generals that everyone knew. In fact, as a spy she'd worked pretty hard to keep her name out of the spotlight. Her mouse shape now shouldn't make matters any easier. Then, without the additional muffling of the bag, she recognized the voice. It was altered through the mask and a human throat, but she knew it anyway. No one else could have that particularly macabre timbre. It was Wolf.

"So." Myr's voice was quiet. "Sianim spies on me now." Aralorn turned her attention to Myr. In the short time since she'd seen him he'd aged years. He was thinner, his mouth held taut and his eyes belonged to the harsh old warrior who had been his grandfather. Instead of state robes he wore clothing that a rough trapper or a traveling merchant might wear, patched here and there with neat stitches.

Aralorn jumped nimbly off her perch and resumed her normal shape, which was not one that he would recognize. Magic was used to change her form, but unlike human magic, shapeshifters didn't need magic to keep that shape, so that even someone immune to magic would see only the form that a shapeshifter wore. When he'd seen her at the magician's castle, she'd been a pretty blonde designed to catch the ae'Magi's eye.

"No, my Lord," she answered. "Or at least not me. Sianim has spies on everyone. In fact, this is a rather fortunate meeting; I was looking for you to tell you that the ae'Magi's messengers have reported your bit of madness to all the nearby townsfolk." She spoke slowly and formally to give him a chance to adjust to her altered state.

Rethians were not less prejudiced against werefolk, just more likely to admit their existence. Since the shapeshifter tribes lived in the northern mountains of Reth and paid tribute yearly to the king of Reth in the form of finely woven tapestries and carefully crafted tools delivered in the night by unseen persons, the Rethians had a tougher time dismissing them as hearsay.

Folk tales warned villagers to stay out of the forests at night, or they would be fodder of the shapeshifters. Given the antagonism that the shapeshifters felt toward invading humans, Aralorn was afraid that the stories might not have it alt wrong. The royal family tended not to be as wary, probably the result of the yearly tribute.

Myr glanced at the magician, who nodded his head and spoke. "Whether she was spying on you or not I cannot say. That she means you no harm, I will vouch for." The slurred quality was not a product of the muffling of the pouch, after all, maybe it was the mask.

"She is something of a scholar, and I need someone to help me in my research. If she is not occupied with other things, it would do no harm to bring her to camp with us. She can fight, and Temris himself knows that we have need of fighters. Also, she stands in danger from the ae'Magi if he should discover who it was that spied on him."

"You spied on the Magician?" Myr raised an eyebrow at her.

Aralorn nodded, "It wasn't my favorite assignment, but definitely one of the more interesting." She let her face shift quickly to the one he'd seen in the ae'Magi's castle and then went back to normal.

Myr smiled. "Yes, I see. Welcome then, Lady. I invite you to join our small camp." Myr gave a short bow of his head, which she appreciated as exactly the correct height for a male sovereign to give in polite invitation or acceptance to a female who was neither his subject nor fellow royally.

She in her turn, dressed in the dead son of the innkeeper's clothes, gave him the exact curtsy she would have given him as her father's daughter. Rethian nobility overdid manners, so she knew he'd catch the subtle difference.

He did. "Who are you?"

She gave him an apologetic smile as she pulled at the uncomfortably tight front of the tunic. "Lady Aralorn of Lambshold."

"One of Henrick's daughters." Myr's voice carried a hint of incredulity.

Aralorn nodded, smiling apologetically. "I know, I don't look much like him, do I? He didn't think so either. I was quite a disappointment to him." She rolled up the sleeves until she could see her hands again.

"No, that's not what I mean," said Myr. "I've seen you in court – a long time ago. You're his oldest child?"

She laughed, "No, oldest daughter, but I have a brother a year older than I am. We two are the illegitimate get of youthful folly. My older brother's mother was a household maid and my mother was a shapeshifter who seduced poor father in the nearby woods. With fourteen of us I can see where you could have trouble keeping us straight. My siblings are all copies of their father, rather unfortunate for my sisters, but my brothers are all considered handsome."

She startled a laugh out of Myr at her description of her family. He'd met several of her sisters as well. They were all quite beautiful, golden like their father: like their father they overtopped most men by a good handspan. "How did you end up with Sianim?"

She tilted her head, thinking about how to best frame a reply. "I am too much my father's daughter to be content with sewing a dress or learning how to converse. He taught me swordplay with my brothers because I asked him. When it came time for me to go to court it was obvious to both him and me that as a Lady I was hopeless. He gave me his own horse, armed me, and sent me on my way." As she talked, she worked at rolling up her pant legs. Finally she cut the bottom off with her dagger.

"'Somehow that sounds like the Lyon of Lambshold. He's the only man I know who is unconventional enough to do that." Myr shook his head.

Straightening up to her unimpressive height, Aralorn continued with a grin. "He said, if memory serves, that if no one had the nerve to laugh in his face when he was addressed as the 'Lyon of Lambshold' no one would say anything about an absent daughter."

"If you are through talking, it might be best if we left for camp." The harsh voice was distracted, and Wolf's eyes focused on some distant point.

"Someone coming?" Myr changed in an instant from courtier to warrior.

Wolf grunted and then said, "Not here, but near enough that we ought to move out."

Aralorn left them to their packing and ducked through the trees to grab her horse. As she checked the girth she muttered to Sheen, "I wonder what mischief our friend. Wolf, has been up to; and for what purpose."

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