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Road Show Part IV


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									Road Show Part IV
JA Bard

Chapter 42
On Different Roads The women were smuggled out of the castle where there were some guards that were loyal to Clorinda. "We must be going quickly. We can catch up with Lady Clorinda at the old barn." One of the men told the tall muscular servant. He nodded and waved the others onto the horses that were breathing vapor and moving restlessly in the chill and probably from the excitement that was in the air. Three familiar horses were among the group. "What about the others in our group?" Iaia asked worriedly as she nervously eyed Agro who was looking too restless for her pensive mood. "It's been arranged." The guard told her. "Lady Clorinda will get them out." The guard turned to her. "There are some who are still loyal to her." Before Iaia could ask any more questions the group had mounted quickly and moved toward the road that already showed wear. The gray slush of the road contrasted sharply with the snow-white sides that bordered their escape route. It appeared that a large group had already passed that way. For the first candlemark they rode into the gray light that was quickly moving into early winter darkness. Iaia's thoughts were on Aleka as she felt something was going amiss with the group's connection. She wanted to ask the guard about Aleka specifically but suddenly felt a wave of fear grip her. "We…" her face paled. "we've got…" She could feel the drumming of horses coming from both sides of them. Eleanor pulled her horse quickly to Iaia's side as Erica moved to her other side to prevent her from falling. "We need to take cover." Erica told their rescuers. "Nowhere around here that we won't be seen." The leader then kicked his mount into a faster pace. "Let's move." "Both ways." Iaia shook her head frantically. "Got to get off this road." She breathed with difficulty. Erica didn't wait for their rescuers to argue but kicked her horse into a hop and jump off the road into snow bank that came up to his belly. Eleanor was going to pull the reins of Iaia's mount but Argo had her own mind made up and ploughed her way forward quickly. Iaia was holding onto the saddle feeling sick. The leader cursed under his breath and made a quick decision to let them go. He would try to hold up whatever the young playwright had felt was ahead. He motioned his riders to form a spread out formation. No one said they had a seer on amongst them! He muttered to himself.

**** * Alala led the horses out a back way that was used for moving military troops for defense of the castle. It was guarded by someone Eryalios, the stable master knew well. Lady Clorinda was waiting looking glum. The old man nodded toward the woman who managed a smile. However her eyes told the others that all was not well. "They have the Jewel." She told the old man in an undertone. "By Athena! How did they get it?" "My mistake. I should have moved faster. It seems Bacchus has sensed it and sent Labducus and his cronies after it. I have no idea what they intend on doing with it. If they bring it into his castle it will undo the work of Bacchus." "Maybe they want to destroy it." "You can't destroy the Jewel. It is linked to all things that are creative. It will protect itself as it always has." Clorinda sighed. "We will get it back." "You're speaking of the Sacred Yoni?" Grace asked leaning forward. The two turned to her surprised. "It was in our care, at one time." Grace mentioned. "We had lost it." The eyebrows of Clorinda rose as a look of disbelief covered her face. "Well, we didn't see it. Two of our members carried it. We didn't know about it until…well, just recently." Brona placed a hand over her mouth and shushed her. "Are you crazy?" she whispered. Brona turned to the two who were looking at the pair with closed faces. "This is not a good place to discuss this and…I suggest if we're going to get out of here, we do it now." "What about the others?" Camila objected. "We need to be safe to think about what to do next." Brona objected. Alala nodded slowly. She looked up as one of her friends came sailing into view. "There is a place on the other side of this mountain that is safe. We can go there and plan." Brona turned to her to say something but thought better getting a slight shake of Camila's head. She merely nodded then looked at the Clorinda and Eryalios. "Our friends safety is first." She informed them. Eryalios looked at Clorinda for a moment. "Aie, Captain Dunties said he would take care of the one's Labducus's soldiers have imprisoned." He turned to one of Clorinda's guards then watched with widened eyes as a brown shape quickly decended on them. The hawk made a landing on Alala's extended arm. He took a deep breath. "By Athena, that's a mighty fine spread of wing feathers she has there."

Alala calmly rewarded the Hawk something she held between her fingers. She ignored the others as she stroked the head that was tilted toward her and cooed in a language that the others recognized as a mother to her child. "There is a caravan moving toward another city going South. They have one of our people in a cage." She lifted her eyes toward Camila. The women heard the 'our' and were pleased that Alala had decided to stay with them. Clorinda looked at one of the guards. "Gregore?" "Yes, Lady Clorinda." "I thought we had everyone?" "No. The manager, Aleka was moved away from our spies. Shaker had taken personal responsibility for her capture. We have someone trailing the group." Clorinda looked at the women. "We will find a safe place and as you have mentioned, we need to assess what is happening before we make our plans. In that time, I would like to hear about your involvement with the Sacred Jewel." **** Lily awoke with a pounding headache. The guards had roughed her up and were intending on coming back later, so they said, to have more fun with her. She could feel her anger raising as she remembered her treatment and the stink of the men that fondled her. They had not raped her yet. Why? What were they waiting for? Like I can hardly wait. She heard the turn of a key in the lock and tried to move her head at an angle to get a glimpse of her jailer. Her eyes were swollen and she was not able to lift her head very high. She felt familiar arms wrap around her and she was frightened for a moment that the drugs were making her think she was being handled by someone else. She struggled. "Lily!" Agnes's voice hissed. "Hold still." Her wrists were finally released and she felt herself drop into unfamiliar arms. She tried to struggle again but her head was too unclear to know if she was awake or dreaming. "There's a guard waiting with your horses and cart about half a candlemark from the castle. You'll have to ride double with us until then." Dunties told Agnes in a soft voice. Agnes nodded and followed Menigines' Captain of the Guard out of the dark prison. Catherine and Candra were waiting nervously at the top of the stairs. "There's mercenaries everywhere!" Catherine whispered to Agnes. She grimaced at Lily's bloodied face. "They don't like Amazons I heard." Dunties grunted as he maneuvered the tall unconscious Amazon around a corner and stepped into a corridor that led to the outside of the castle. As Dunties had told them a group of riders and horses were waiting for them outside the castle. Menigines and his wife were amongst the party.

Agnes halted for a moment. Menigines merely looked at her then motioned for his men to depart. Dunties quickly held the unconscious woman up to one of the men already saddled up. The three were given hands up onto other soldier's mounts. No explanation or where they were going. Katy, Menigienes wife was riding alongside of him. Agnes wondered if they were walking into something of greater danger. Their parting was done under overcast skies. They spent a night in the dungeons and it was not one of memories of this journey she wanted to remember. Agnes looked back and thought she saw someone on the castle rampant watching their departure. Wherever they were being taken, Agnes was not going to leave without Lily and the other two. **** Menigines and his group set up camp in an abandoned barn. The four women were left in a corner of the barn, with no way out while Menigines and his soldiers talked around a warm campfire built in the center of the barn. Agnes had no herbs or salve except the cold snow from outside to apply to Lily's face and bruises on the rest of her body. She came partially conscious but Agnes encouraged her to rest. Agnes wasn't sure just what they were going to do, but she could feel the power of the Named and their quest was weakened; yet the energy was still there. They needed to find out just what Menigines was intending on doing with them and hope Lily could stand on her own feet by then. The wind was blowing outside and the fire, though not close to them, gave off enough heat to take some of the chill from the inside of the barn. Agnes was hoping they didn't build the fire too high or they would be losing their protection for some of the wood thrown on the fire sent up sparks. Agnes laid with her head back against the rough barn wall listening to Lily's even breathing. It was a good sign. She had put a new pack of ice over her eyes and mouth and was idly letting her mind wander, as she usually did at the end of the day, going over her deeds and rededicating her life to do better the next day. However her mind was on their predicament. None of Menigines people came over except to give them meager rations and one cup in which to share tea. They were being isolated. Why were they rescued? What could Menigines use them for? The bet was more than likely off with Labducus, in fact the friendship with his neighbor was probably no longer. Where were they going? And where were the others? Agnes turned a worried eye to Lily. Denities and Menigines had left the barn and Agnes could hear men's deep voices in the night air. What they were saying she didn't know. But by the look in the other women's faces, they also were feeling uneasy. "Lily?" Agnes called softly to the tall Amazon. "Lily?" She called again gently touching her cheek that had a gash across it. The touch brought pain to Lily and wakefullness. Agnes could feel it in the muscles that her hand was resting on. "Lily, its Agnes. We've got to think of a way to get out of here and we won't be able to carry you. Do you think you can…"

Lily's hand weakly came up and tapped the closest part of Agnes that was near her, her knee. Agnes leaned closer to her and began to describe the barn hoping Lily could figure something out. Lily tapped Agnes's knee and gave a small gesture above them. Agnes casually looked up. Just empty rafters. The second partial floor, used for storing hay had long ago been tore down, probably for firewood. Agnes jumped when another large collection of wood that was tossed on the fire sent sparks everywhere. "Do you think they're doing that purposely?" Candra asked suspiciously. "If not, then they are real stupid." Catherine muttered under her breath. "You mean, they want to burn the barn down?" Candra asked surprised. "Seems like it." "How many soldiers are in here?" Lily asked in a hoarse voice. The three women tried not to make it obvious they were looking. "Only five. Two are near the fire and the other three near the only exit." "In barns there are always false bottoms for hiding or escape. Can you see where there may be one?" "It's kinda obvious, right near the fire." Candra reported. Lily hadn't opened her eyes since they were swollen she didn't think she would be seeing much anyway, to say nothing of the pain from the light when she did open them. "Hmm. One thing I learned about people who are obvious about hiding places, is that they got something to hide. There's gotta be another one that's less obvious." "Great. How…" Catherine moved her heel a little more and noticed that her boot heel was catching in the barn floor. "Athena be praised!" Agnes whispered. "That's it! But, how are we going to disappear down it with those guys watching?" "We'll have to wait until they make a move or fall asleep. Until then, we set up one person to keep an eye out and the rest of us try to sleep. Might as well keep them off guard by giving the appearance we sort of trust them." Agnes got up and approached one of the guards. "I need some more ice." She told the guy in a quiet voice. The others spread out as if she were the enemy and kept an eye on the others that were looking as if they were sleeping. "Yokie, go get some snow." "Hey, why me?" "Cause you're the grunt." The other returned. "I signed up the same time as you did." He protested. "You want someone to get snow, you get it yourself!"

Agnes rolled her eyes dramatically. "Soldiers. I will get the snow." She had the one-cup they had been given and started to head out the door when one of the men jumped forward and grabbed the cup out of her hand. "I'll get it." He glared at the other two. Agnes remained near the fire trying to hear what was going on outside when the door was opened but only wide enough for the soldier to exit. The cup was returned with piled with snow quickly. Agnes returned back to the others who appeared to be sleeping. Agnes noted Dunties came back in to look over the group then left when Agnes merely sat next to Lily applying the ice to her face and putting some of the moisture between her lips. Lily tried not to move but the pressure hurt. "Lily are you going to be able to move?" She whispered. "Hmmm." "Well, I'm going to make it look like I'm going to sleep too. Maybe that's all they're waiting for. Kill us in our sleep. They look the type." Agnes leaned against the wall next to Lily closing her eyes. She was so tired if she weren't so afraid for their lives she probably would fall asleep. She heard more wood being added to the fire, but gently, as if someone didn't want them to hear it. Were they going to burn them out? And why not just kill them outright? Agnes must have dozed for she felt a frantic tug on her arm. "The fire's spreading!" Candra whispered urgently between coughs. Agnes's eyes were open quickly. The heat was hot and her dreams were of being in a warm island under the sun. The smoke was thick and by the slump of Catherine's shoulders and the lack of movement from Lily the smoke was affecting them. "Hades!" Agnes muttered. She had been lying flat on the barn's dirt floor where there was a flow of fresh air so the smoke had not affected her. Her eyes smarted from the smoke as she and Candra put their faces close to the ground and felt for the edge of the floor door they had discovered earlier. "The door's too heavy." Panted Candra who tired to lift it. Both women struggled with it and were unable to get it open. "There's got to be something keeping it down." Agnes frantically cleared the old dirt that had gathered on the barn floor. It turned out that Lily's body was on door. The two rolled her off then once again tried to lift the floor board. It was heavy and they were able to lift it but neither could see Candra grabbed a burning stick near her and pulled the semi-conscious body of Lily with Agnes assisting down the dark hole. Next they pulled the lighter Catherine down. Agnes paused long enough to pull the door back down as it caught on fire. "Hades. We got to get outta here fast!" Agnes muttered as she dragged Lily's body down the dirt tunnel with Candra leading with Catherine's unconscious body slung over her shoulders. This was where Agnes wished Lily wasn't so tall. They paused to rest a few times. The women were afraid that either someone would follow them into the tunnel or that they would end up exiting to Dunties and his pals.

Catherine thankfully revived before they came to the end of the tunnel and was able to help carry Lily after a while. The tunnel was long and the flaming stick was now just a glowing tip that barely showed the holder where she was placing her feet. Agnes was leading the group and was the first to catch the unmistakable smell of fresh air along with the chill it carried. By then they all didn't care about the cold air, just as long as it was fresh. They had been stumbling along in the dark by the time they reached their exit. Agnes ran into the cover over their exit, dried up vines, getting her face caught up in the wet branches. It was too dark outside for them to have seen what their noses were telling them, that the outside was near. Agnes leaned against the damp and cold dirt wall and tried to peer out. Absentmindedly brushing off the dirt from her face. She couldn't see anything in the darkness She leaned back into the dark passageway and pulled the first arm she touched. "Can you see anything?" She whispered in the ear she pressed her lips against. It was dark outside and she remembered Aleka had told them voices carried easily in the night. It was Catherine who wearily changed places with her. "There's a fire." She whispered back. Lily was weak but standing next to Candra. "We can always sneak up on them." She hoarsely joked. "We're not Amazons, friend." Agnes touched her shoulder affectionately. "Well, how do we move this stuff without anyone seeing it? Candra asked as she touched their covered exit gently. "Hopefully, we'll be away by daylight." "We can't be running around in this weather at night." Lily objected. "I'd rather risk someone coming up the tunnel then freezing." "I think one of us should check out the fire." Catherine suggested. "I'm hungry and cold to say nothing of being very tired." "They'll see your prints…" Lily tiredly objected. Her face and body were hurting so much she didn't think she would be able to sleep, but she was tired, hungry and cold too. They weren't in a position to take chances, she thought. "I'll go." Catherine told the others. "It's like we use to do when we were kids. Climb up then over then down." She had been patting the outside of the cave with her hand, trying to get an idea of what they were taking refuge in. It appeared to be the side of a mountain. **** * Alala and Brona took the second watch from their group while the others slept. Four guards from Clorina's group and two from theirs made up the detail. The owl made it easy for all of them as she made her night search for dinner she kept an eye out for anything else that moved. It was her sharp eyes that spotted a familiar figure moving slowly in the cold snow along the hillside near their campfire.

"Brona! Wake the others!" Alala's voice was low but held so much emotion Brona thought she was about to cry. Strange coming from the tall red headed woman, Brona thought. What was getting her upset? "What's wrong?" She asked frightened. "Chia spotted one of the priestesses headed this way." "By Artemis' bow!" She hurried off sliding in some of the snow that had turned to slush from their pacing back and forth. "Camila. Grace!" Brona whispered in an excited tone. Groggy heads lifted in the shadows of the firelight. The guards from the outer perimeter joined Brona at the fire. Clorinda looked out from her warm fur cloak. "What's going on?" She asked in a hoarse voice, heavy with sleep. "We spotted one of the priestess'. Alala went with her friend to get her!" Grace rose tiredly from her warm bedding, pulling her cloak around her and started to prepare some water. One. Where were the others? Her heart was heavy as she moved to pull out some food to warm. Her thoughts went back over Clorinda's guard that had found them and told them that Menigines had gone back on his word and would not deliver his prisoners without Clorinda giving over the Jewel. Grace's heart sank even further down as she realized too many people knew about the Jewel and that already some of their group may have died. She saw that in Clorinda's guard's face. Who did the owl see? Kynthia, Eleanor, Catherine, Agnes or Candra? Since the group was separated the connection between them was fading. She didn't realize how strong it was until the intensity of the connection lessened. In place she was feeling remorse and a great sadness that made it difficult to worry about her individual survival. By the looks of the other women, they were feeling it too. **** "Agnes!" Catherine whispered in the dark. "Athena's grieves, Cat. Be quiet!" A soft voice called from her right. "It's Alala's owl! She's right here." She turned to face the sound of brush moving. The other three women joined her. Agnes and Candra were supporting Lily. By her groans the grip the two women had on her was around painful areas. The owl hooted a few times near them causing the women to jump, then a dark familiar figure came out of the night. "Alala! By Athena's mantle! Are we glad to see you." Candra breathed as she gladly relinquished her share of Lily's weight to the stronger Alala. "Come on. We have hot tea and some food by the fire. We'll talk there." ****

Eryalios and the nervous guards were waiting with Brona just outside of their camp. Eryalios took Lily's partially conscious body from the two women and easily carried her back to his bedding. While the four women ate and got some refreshment, Grace took care of Lily. Lily had only remained awake for a few sips of tea then let herself sink into a heavy sleep. Candra brought the others up to date on what had happened to them and of Menigines soldier's setting the barn they were herded in on fire. "He's back to his old self." Eryalios muttered sadly. "He use to herd villagers into buildings then set them on fire. He would do that when he thought they were hiding something from him." "You use to ride with him, Eryalios. Did you do that too?" Camilia asked sadly. "No. I was one of the lucky ones that didn't have to witness that. My duties kept me with the horses and the supplies. He didn't want to risk my getting killed." "Your skills with animals, Eryalios, saved you from that type of life." Clorida told him softly. Eryalios looked toward Clorinda. Even in the firelight the women could tell he cared for her. "Aye, by the blessin's of Diana. I have a gift for the animals." Clorinda took his cold hands. "I could tell the first day I saw you." The others smiled and busied themselves getting ready for sleep. One of Clorinda guard's had pulled some extra furs from their cart and helped set up extra places for the women. Alala returned to her post as did Brona. "Alala?" Brona whispered as they prepared to separate for their parameter check. "Yea." "I'm glad you decided to continue with us. And not just because of your friends." Alala stopped her progress into the dark and turned to face the dark figure four strides from her. She was quiet a moment as she let the feeling of elation she had felt at the news from Chica move over her again. "So am I, Brona." And then she moved off wondering why it was so nice to be part of this strange group. Usually she made friends with the creatures more readily than with others of her own kind. She had always kept a polite distance from people. She didn't like the politics or games that seemed to be necessary in a relationship with her own kind. She sighed as she moved further into the night. Actually, all creatures played games in their relationships, she just didn't feel as hurt when they went wrong as she did with people. She smiled grimly to herself as she let the truth sound in her mind. Do I want to risk that hurt again? She silently laughed at herself. Chica, the owl was looking down at her from a branch not far from where she was. I think I like these women, Chica. She felt a big smile light up her face as the picture of Camila came to mind. To think she was one of the young workers in the temple that handled the birds and horses and she hadn't even noticed her. But she usually was alone, even when she sat with others to eat. Since her misadventure in love and displeasing Athena she was well known in the Athens temple.

She was lucky her fate wasn't like Medusa. Athena must have been in a better mood when she meted out her punishment. **** Aleka could hear the uneven footsteps of her jailers. She had managed to spit out the drugged food they had given her without their noticing. They were stupid soldiers. She had been waiting for them. She made sure they couldn't pass up the idea of taking her before they got rid of her. It didn't take much effort on her part. She had been listening to their drunken taunts tossed back and forth between those sitting around the fire trying to keep warm and the ones pacing on guard too close to the camp parameter to really be effective as guards. It was cold and they were using the wine as an excuse to stay warm. They wouldn't have lasted long in her army. The cage jolted and rolled a bit followed by curses in hushed whispers. Aleka rolled her eyes. This was going to be like taking honey from a beehive, she thought with humor. Ya just have to know how to do it without getting' stung. It took a few moments for the key to turn for the men were having problems getting the key into the lock. It was the third man, after dropping the key many times, who managed to fit the key into the lock. Aleka closed her mind to the stink of the bodies that pulled her close as they dragged her relaxed body out of the wagon. She and her captors fell to the ground. She hit a rock and she could feel her arm numbing from the blow. She resisted the need to rub some life back into it. She needed to remain relaxed and limp as if she were unconscious. The men didn't bother with conversation as they all tried to paw her and pull her toward them. She felt like a toy doll being fought over. Finally one person had a firm grip on her ropes and pulled her behind him, more steady on his feet than the others. She was dumped behind him as he punched a few overly eager fellow soldiers who didn't get the message that he was going to be first. She needed her feet untied. She was sure they would regardless of the warning their leader gave them. Grunts and pantings later she felt a frustrated body over her as she kept her body unresponsive. She could hear a knife being pulled out of its sheathe. This was it. The others must have been watching for as soon as her legs were free she didn't have a chance to get blood back into them when the other men attacked the man that was on top of her who had untied her legs. Aphrodite! She thought disgustedly. Finally someone fell onto her pulling her legs apart. Aleka managed to surprise him with a knee between his. He slumped with a low groan on top of her. She was hoping his fellows in the dark thought he was busy. Her hands were tied around her waist and she was able to pull his knife out from his wait band and use it on her bindings. A hand finally pulled the partially conscious man off her. "Your turn?" She asked softly to the dark form above her. She was already moving out of the way not daring to use her legs yet. Her limbs still were stiff.

Yells from the remaining men as they all tried to reach her rolling form on their unsteady legs, brought others from the camp. Aleka rolled under the cage and startled the horse that was still harnessed to it. The cage moved back and forth as the horse moved restlessly and Aleka crawled to the tether that was preventing the horse from taking off. She sliced the tether then grabbed the harness to pull herself on the horses back. While the horse danced around from the noise and the drunken soldiers attempted to find her in the dark, she cut the remaining harness from the horse kicking him into a run though the awakening camp. As the horse moved out of the camp she let him move unhindered into the night. She slid off his back not far from the camp she was escaping. She needed warm clothing and it was back at the camp. The horse continued his journey into the night alone while she rested against a tree getting some mobility to her legs and arms and clearness to her thinking. As she leaned her head against the tree she found her connection to it giving her warmth and comfort. Where are the others? What's happened? She thought worriedly. She was hoping it was the same day she was taken prisoner. She returned to the disorganized camp and waited in the cold snow for a chance to nab someone's cloak. It wasn't difficult. Once more she headed away from the camp keeping the moon to her left. She didn't know where she was going, she just knew she needed to find shelter to collect her thoughts. Suddenly she stopped. She cocked her head to one side and listened. There it was. A wolf's call. She changed her direction and headed to where she thought it was coming from. She was leaving tracks in the snow and right now she didn't care. She needed to see her guide if for no other reason than comfort that she wasn't alone. She felt the presence rather than saw her. Her feet were crunching in the snow from the large boots she had taken off the unfortunate soldier. Child, you are making enough noise to waken the sleeping. Can you not walk quieter? " The old voice chided her. Aleka felt relief. Come. We have much to prepare you for. Her guide instructed. Aleka could barely make out the shadowed form that moved further into the darkness with it's waving tail looking like a dark plume. More careful, Aleka placed the big clumsy boots softer in the snow. **** The horses moved in uneven hops, ploughing in some places as Agro had taken the lead making her way off the road. The terrain took a sudden downward slant and the women lost sight of the road they had left their rescuers on. Argo seemed to be the only one that knew where they were headed. It was dark before Argo halted with a half conscious Iaia who was dozing in the saddle.

"Diana's blessings! Argo found a nice shelter. You old war horse!" Erica patted the tired horse on the withers and helped pull Iaia down. She didn't do horse travel well. They led the horses into a partially sheltered overhang made up of dead fallen trees and debris. Erica and Eleanor pulled off the saddle bags tossing them in a corner where there was an old fire ring of stones. Iaia found a stack of dried wood in one of the corners by stumbling on them in the dark. She mechanically started to stack a neat pile ready for a fire. "Looks like this place is a regular hide away." Erica murmured to the others as she rummaged in the saddle bags. "Hey. Someone thought of everything. We've got some food for the horses." "Probably Alala. She was talking to Camila the other day about each person should carry three days worth of supplies in case any of us should get separated." "Spoken like a true warrior." Iaia chuckled. She took the small pot Erica handed her filled with snow to rest on a rock near the fire. "Can we risk cooking something?" Eleanor asked as she thought about the aroma of cooking food and what it would do to her stomach and whoever else might get a whiff of it. "Yea." Erica noted the air outside of their shelter had dropped noticeably into the colder measures. She doubted anyone would be moving around however, she needed to go back and cover their tracks. While the two women prepared a warm meal Erica left to do what she was skilled at, cover trails and leave false ones. It certainly took her back to her more youthful times in Meldrona. **** The next morning the three women reluctantly plotted their next move out of their warm shelter. "We need to find the others." Eleanor started. "We need to find Aleka." Iaia told them firmly. Erica sighed. Both were right. "We don't know where anyone is…" She turned to look at Argo suddenly realizing that the mare would be the best guide to the Named. Eleanor followed her eyes and nodded silently to Erica. "We'll find the Named." Iaia wasn't watching them for she was more focused on what she was feeling inside. Confusion. She took a deep breath and tried to imagine where she would be. Is she still in the castle? No. She left before us. She felt that with certainty. Where would…who would take her? Labducus? Then she remembered the Jewel. She pursed her lips. The scroll said that the Spirit of the Jewel moves events and people, so…maybe we're all suppose to be going to Labdu. What better city to change than Labdu? "Iaia?" Eleanor asked again. "Hmmm?" Iaia looked up still in thought.

"We're going to let Argo lead the way. She seems to know more of where to go than us, and hopefully she'll lead us…to the others." She finished uncomfortably. She didn't want to mention the Named then she would have to explain why Argo would be attracted to her. "Oh." She looked at the mare whose eyes were looking intently out of their covered shelter at something only she could see. "Right." Erica looked up and followed the mare's gaze. "There's something out there." She whispered softly. She waved the two women back further into the shelter. "Wait here." She warned them. Eleanor pulled out a bow and notched it waiting. Iaia pulled out a stick from the pile they hadn't burned and tested it for balance. Erica soon was seen leading a large draft horse that was looking tired. It had a sled harnessed behind him. Eleanor and Iaia quickly ran to the horse's side. Erica relinquished her hold on the bridle and ran back over the trail with the intention of covering as much as she could. Eleanor stroked the huge beast's neck while Iaia dipped into her pouch of food. "This is going to make a big dent in our rations for the horses." She murmured to Eleanor. "Hmm. Hey. That's one of our trunks on the sled." Eleanor moved to the back and unlatched the lid. A lock that had been on it was hanging broken open. It looks like someone has riffed through this stuff." Iaia looked into the chest. "Hey, that coat looks like it would fit me a lot better than this." She shrugged out of the warm one but oversized and exchanged it for the fur linned one that they used for one of the characters. "Want the mask too?" Eleanor teased. "Ahhh. No. I think that would be a bit much." They heard the soft sound of irregular crunching of snow. They watched as Erica slowly made her way back to their shelter covering tracks and where she could not, making confusing marks to not give away how many were in their company. "Well?" She asked nodding toward the large horse that was contently munching on the oats that Iaia had poured into a canvas cloth. "Did you get a look at what he was pulling." Eleanor asked. "Yea." Erica smiled at Iaia. "I see you found something more your size." "It's too much to be pulling the sled and our luggage. We'll find a place to store it and the sled." She glanced at their new addition. "She's somebody's prize mare." "Yea. Camila would love to meet her." Eleanor smiled in appreciation at the large creature's beauty. "We'll take her with us and maybe someone will know who she belongs to." "If she was carrying our luggage, she's had to have been with the others."

"Yea." The three also knew that if she was alone, something had to have happened to the other for her to have strayed from the group. "Come on. Let's get going. We need to find a place to stash this trunk, but not too far from here." **** The women were back on the main road after finding a place to store their luggage and the sled. The large horse patiently followed behind Argo, who led the way. She seemed to know where she was going for she found the road quickly. Argo's pace was a fast walk, her head swung side to side and ears swiveled around as if looking for something. Her nostrils flared now and again as if testing the air. The larger horse behind her with her long legs moved at a slower pace with her large head slowly moving around and ears perked forward. By the condition of the road they were following, the road had been busy before them. Was it their comrades? Continued in next chapter

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