“Torm? But … well this is certainly a coincidence. And just what is Torm doing here when the last I heard he was supposed to have experienced his personal Judgment Day?” I asked, letting them know how uncomfortably coincidental I found this meeting.
Ropsy and the young man who they claimed was his brother Torm stopped their wrestling about, stood up and while I gave them a stare not even Ceena could have bested, they brushed themselves off and began to comport themselves with more seemliness.
Ropsy gulped and said, “Lady … this really is Torm. I swear it. And there’s no dark to it. That I swear too. Your old watcher told them to be on the look out for us.”
I crossed my arms and the young woman that had assisted Hela quickly stepped to Torm’s side. “And am I to assume that this is Hela’s long lost sister as well?”
Hela stepped forward and spoke for her. “Yes Lady, this is Kizzie.:
The young woman looked at me like I was something to be feared and that only irritated me more. “Oh honestly, must you look at me like I’m going to …” I nearly said eat you but stopped myself from putting my foot in the wrong orifice just in time.
Torm put his arm around the girl who looked to be about my age and muttered, “He said you’d be foul as a river pirate.”
Becoming incensed I asked, “Who … is … this … he?”
Knowing I wouldn’t like the answer, I had it confirmed when he replied, “Your watcher.”
I rolled my eyes and nearly through my hands up. “This is getting ridiculous. First he shows up out of the blue, telling me tales that are beyond possible to believe including threads of my own story I still find fantastical. And he apparently knows I’m going to be carried off but doesn’t warn me except to say some of those I trust weren’t to be trusted. Which I knew only it turns out was not not trusting the wrong individuals. He ever so kindly fades into the mist. And while I deal with the consequences of his visit turning my life upside down he somehow travels untold miles in a very limited amount of time, tells you that we’ll be coming out here … when I didn’t even know … sets these children the monumental task of finding me out in the middle of a desert of the Borderlands and then dies right where I can find him … leaving me a mystery along with a cloak and map that save my life at which time I also was just in time to save Damsie’s which given everything else may have very well be set up by him as well. That doesn’t even cover the fact that he was the grandfather of my sister wives and the owner of Nanny, my steed … or she was only now I’m not sure except that I hope someone is taking care of her.” I went to kick a stand of dandelions only to find they hid a good sized rock and spent the next few moments hoping around on one foot and trying to remember my upbringing, dignity, and status.
By the time I was through Damsie and Rulie both were howling with laughter, the young lady with Torm was smiling along with Hela and Ropsy, and the young man named Torm was trying to get me to sit down so he could see whether I had broken anything.
“Well excuse me,” I said in embarrassment. “While I appreciate the thought, especially given my recent mad behavior, I am not going to just let a man look … look …”
Hela pushed Torm back and said, “She ain’t broke. Bruised maybe, but not broke. She can mind her limp with the staff Ropsy cut for her before we entered the tunnel. She’s not near so clumsy with it as she was.” And didn’t that statement aid my pride.
Suddenly there was a yip from the bushes and a small, tusked animal rushed out heading straight for where I remembered throwing the game. I growled, “Oh no you don’t.” I threw the machete I had tied to my belt and cleaved the beasty in the throat where it tumbled end over end, finally falling well short of its intended quarry.
I limped over but Torm jumped in front of me. “They ain’t always as dead as they play at and run in small groups. You lot, gather up all the gear, we need to head to safe ground.”
“I am not leaving the game. The youngers need sustenance.”
Torm gave me a considering look but nodded. Upon closer inspection I saw that he looked older than I but that could have been a result of what he had been through. Though Rulie was but seven he certainly acted older than similarly aged children that I had been exposed to in the village school … but then again so had I at that age so my estimations may have been off. Torm’s next nod was approving as he saw I’d already field dressed my kills.
“Run into a troop did you?” he asked.
“Hmmm. I will let Rulie tell that tale.”
Torm snorted. “Take it he ain’t changed much. Rulie always has liked a good story. And Damsie. I’m surprised to see her.”
“That story I will leave to Ropsy or Hela,” I said, anger at the circumstances still having the ability to bring my anger beyond my status wall.
Quietly Torm stopped me and said, “Lady … your watcher really did set us here to wait. But … but we normally be living at … at a nearby church.”
I heard a collected gasp of shock from the others. But I sensed that he had told me so for more than just affect. “A church? What order?”
“No order, just laymen brothers and sisters that come together to help those in need. They call themselves brothers and sisters serving compassion.” I winced. I knew the sect and knew they were as dedicated to pacifism as they were to compassion. He added, “Kezzie and I were both hurting – in body and spirit – when they found us chained down to feed the carrion eaters of this place. They rescued us and took us in. We’ve learned … we’ve learned not all we heard has been true-ful. What doubts we still had were set aside by your watcher. The Light had touched him and it was something to see.”
Carefully I picked my way through the various possibilities that stretched away from me and asked, “Would it be possible for me to visit this church?”
“It would Lady and they would welcome you. Only …”
“The priests of the damned already make their lives hard. Should word get out that they helped The Lady …”
I sighed. I wanted to believe him but I’d been played a fool not once but twice in the recent past … first Tosha then Ronald Nealy … and it was hard to put faith in something that had not yet been proven to my satisfaction. “First off, please do not call me ‘The Lady’ like I am some unholy saint of the ancients. I am just me … Leeda Harper Linder … and I am quite human I assure you. If you don’t believe me just ask the ch … er … the youngers. If not for them I would have been dead many times over. Hunting was my first try at repaying their kindess to me.”
I ground my teeth and briefly closed my eyes. This was going to take longer than I was going to care for.
“Next, I do not wish to put those dedicated to compassion in danger. However, is there anyone else local that is able to send word to my cousin that I am indeed alive and endeavoring to return to him?” I had almost named the Sheriff as well as Nate but allowed diplomacy to rule my mouth if not my heart.
“We’ll do better than that. We’ll take you to the river so you can cross and tell him yourself.”
Not daring to allow my hope to expand beyond my good sense I asked, “How close to the river are we?”
“New Paduck be fifty clicks away … a few day’s travel this time of season normally … but we’ll need to cross before there which means we’ll have to cross both rivers which will add its own time to the trip. The way is longer but the priests have a strangle hold on New Paduck on this side still have a lot of influence in Old Paduck on the other side even with The Guardian’s Army wrapping it in their own tight fist.”
“Aye Lady … your kidnapping and reported murder started a war with both sides claiming that the other did the deed.”
“By all the Saints and Martyrs!”