The stars only knew what might happen if she did not tell these Outlanders what they must do. She needed to find out if these were truly Kin’keska tracks as she suspected. She had battled over whether to leave the Outlanders at the cabin, or let them accompany her on this potentially dangerous errand. For that it was - Kin’keska tribes dwelled in seclusion and were notoriously less than affable with intruders or those who sought to discover wisdom and familiarity with the Kin’keska way of life. Finally Gabriella had resolved to bring them with her. If the situation warranted it, she could defend them with kyor’rashni, and if it did not, then they would see something of the enigmatic people that so many entertained such wonder of.
“Come,” she gathered them close to her. “From this point on, you are to make no noise, no sound. Walk as if a mother limba tracked you and your noise would alert her to your location.” She looked round at them. Their eyes were round, some with excitement, some with caution and fear. “Stay in the shadows and do not separate yourself from the party.”
Nothing else remained to tell them. All they could do was let Fate have Her way with them. The Kin’keska, like any group of travelers, posted sentries throughout the night, but they were likely to be less vigilant on a night such as this when surely the tribe’s mood was festive and food was plenty. She turned and bent to the wheel ruts. Noiselessly, she began to follow them.
The Outlanders behind her sought as best they might to conceal the sounds of their passing, but to her trained ear, their inadvertent crackling through the fallen autumn leaves was quite detectable. Never mind, winter drew near and opportunities would abound for instruction in the fundamentals of tracking, a skill that for forest survival, was vital.
After a few leagues, she halted, listening. Her hearing picked up the distant strains of Kin’keska music. If she could hear them, undoubtedly they would be able to hear her and her band of Outlanders. She crept closer, her eyes searching for sentries, her hand tightening on her sword hilt. Gabriella didn’t believe they would be posted this far away from the camp unless they were fleeing from an especially formidable foe, but even were that so, few would venture this deep into the Illyth without extreme need.
After half a league, Gabriella saw Fiaz stop and lift his black head, sniffing, his ears pointing toward the camp just another league away from them. Immediately she froze, her eyes searching. She held back a hand to freeze her followers. Finally, Gabriella picked out the figure of a sentry sitting on a fallen tree several yards away, surveying the late night gaiety around the camp’s fire and nodding his head to the beat of the music. She tossed a glance over her shoulder to ensure that no one was watching her and concentrated on her target. With a minute motion of enchantment, a heavy branch fell suddenly on the heedless sentry.
Without a word, the sentry toppled over, senseless. Gabriella closed her eyes and uttered a few more words to ensure the sentry’s sleep. Quite some time had elapsed since the practice of any upper level kyor’rashni had been necessary. Fortunately, most Kin’keska did not keep sorcerers or mages in their tribes; only a sorcerer would be able to detect the sleep spell she had just used. To others without kyor’rashni, the sentry would appear to have been knocked out by a falling branch. As close as those tracks had been to her camp, she was quite certain that they knew of her presence in the forest; Kin’keska always sent scouts ahead of their caravans.
She glanced behind her. Her protégés were staring at the Kin’keska camp below them, caught up in the magic of the music and the Kin’keska dancing and singing around the fire. Easy to become enraptured, yes, she thought as the jolly melody played on, but ever so much easier to have one’s throat severed by a Kin’keska blade. Gabriella turned around resolutely and silently gestured to the group to leave. They dared not tarry.
As they silently withdrew from the boundaries of the Kin’keska camp, Dar stopped suddenly. Gabriella saw him staring in the direction of the sentry. She watched his eyebrows crease in surprise as he took in the shape of the fallen Kin’keska; Gabriella hadn’t realized Dar had detected the sentry. Just like a shepherd, she thought, to guard for wolves….
He quickly threw his attention to her, the moonlight revealing a probing countenance. She smiled and put a hand on his back, urging him forward.
They stole back without delay to their own camp. She felt as they fled the senses of urgency and excitement that her group of Outlanders exuded and wondered, as she pulled her cloak tighter about her, if she had erred in bringing them....