Stalker jumped up so fast his chair fell over and the back snapped off.
Satara sighed. “Sit down; Johanna disappeared after you and the girls were poisoned.We’ve looked, but no one found a letter explaining her reasons.”
Thordvall stood up. It was hard for him to accept what he was telling Stalker: Johanna Hall, the guardian of the chronicles, had slipped away.“Come ’n Tara, let him think on it afore the rest comes out.Not too much all at once.”
Stalker barely knew they were leaving. Walking over to his desk, he opened a door and pulled out a green leather bound book.Opening it, he entered the date and wrote,
“Up and about again. Bearploltan has been watching me like a hawk.
Jo has run off….
He wrote so harshly, the pen pierced the page.
It was an hour later that he returned the book to its slot. A knock sounded on the door and Bearploltan entered.“Can I bother you?”
“Of course, sit down, please.”
The healer set a paper on the desk, and sighed. “I’ve had this for a while, and I didn’t relize what it was until this morning.I didn’t read it until this morning in fact.”
Stalker took it and held it at eye level. Jo’s heavy, awkward hand covered a section of the page.
You have taught me well; everyone has and I won’t forget.
I can’t think. I must be going insane.I’m not even sure I wasn’t drugged too.It’s as if I can’t feel anything, not even my own warning signals.
Gal Gor, I’m going towards Gal Gor. Not sure what I’m looking for, if anything.I’m sick of sitting, of waiting, watching, and not being of any use.
I’ll be back, when I don’t know, but I will.
I love to all, say good bye for me.
Stalker threw his door open so abruptly a few passersby were nearly knocked over.
“Bodie! Bodangalas!Get everyone up here in fifteen minutes; grab all the maps of the country you can get your hands on!Move!”
When they had assembled and heard the note, an uncomfortable silence fell. The warriors of Mordgorden held so still they could have been statues If not for the vivid colors, and varying textures.
Satara sighed. “I believe I may have encouraged this.I gave Jo the letters, but with them were an old map and some directions concerning Gal Gor.They are completely outdated, written by a general in one of our past wars.I left them with the packet; perhaps I should have removed them.”
“What do we tell the Netherlands?” Bearploltan gazed at the table.
Thordvall grunted. “The truth, Jo ran off and went to Gal Gor.Why hide it from them?What good would it do them just to know she’s gone?They aren’t even awake yet, and they’ll hear it from someone eventually.”
Stalker shook his head. “So, in short, she has a map, the training we gave her, and the sense she was born with.That against Dirkorin.”Thordvall cringed visibly.The swordsman went pale and leaned heavily against the table weakly.“Her doing this makes her seem a complete fool.”
Bearploltan gripped his arms. “Stalker, you sit.Bodie, get a chair.”
“Always orders. First it’s get everyone and the maps, then it’s get Stalker a chair.Anything else, or can the slave finish what he was doing?”
Thordvall squinted at the blue guard. “And what were you doing that was so all fired important?”
Satara slapped her hand on the table to gain attention. “Enough.Stalker, are you alright?”
“I will be.”
Bodangalas muttered an apology, and Thordvall shook his head, and gazed at Jo’s note. “Oh, that little fool.”
“I’m such a fool for thinking for a second I could do this!”Jo clambered over a stand of boulders.
Mordgorden grunted. “Cut the yakkin’.Not many go after Dirkorin.”
“Not many sane people you mean.” She ducked a branch.
The king shrugged his stringy shoulders and rebuked her gently. “Nope, shouldn’t have gone off like that.Not at all.But the idea is good; get him where he thinks he’s safe.You just don’t know how to pull it off.It could get you killed.”
“It probably will.” She remarked gloomily.
“What you need to do is think, girl!”
Jo rolled her shoulders sullenly. She and Mordgorden had fallen into an uncle and niece sort of relationship.He was thrilled to have company after so many years almost completely alone.He wanted to know everything that had happened at his home since he’d left.Jo was thrilled to have anybody around who could help her.It did frustrate her, as he generally showed her where she was wrong.Johanna was glad for the advice, yet irritated at how mistaken she really could be.
“How long until we get there, Mord?”
We’ll be at the turn in a few days, and it’ll be another two weeks after that.” He paused and turned.“Mord?”
Jo shrugged. “It fits.” She slid around another rock.Her eyes moved up to see the king watching her.She felt embarrassed for no real reason.He cleared his throat.“Since you’ll be here in Fher’den for a while, I might as well teach you some of the dances and customs.”
Jo was shocked at the offer. It was something she had wanted to learn, but swords and language had been needed first.“Sure!”
The old man straightened a little from his bent posture. The girl grinned.“This’ll be a great story to tell my grandkids one day.”
Mord raised his eye brows. “Who said you’ll get grandkids?”
Johanna was again learning at the hand of a legend.
Stalker leaned hard on the crutch. His left leg nerves had been severely damaged by the poison, though not permanently.
Thordvall shrugged his massive shoulders as he studied the map. “Most would go straight to the Gal Gor Mountains and get nabbed by Dirkorin.If Jo did any thinking, she’ll head for Village East, and then go to west to Village South.From there she could go through the Place of the Unknown or make straight for Village West.Once at that point, she could stand on Dirkorin’s back doorstep and he wouldn’t be aware of her presence until she decided to announce herself.”
Motag sighed. “That’s if she did any thinking.I learned something about Jo during our visits: Strategy isn’t her strong suit.Besides, from what I’ve heard about Dirkorin, he’ll have even the Unknown watched and patrolled.”
Bodangalas bristled. “She can think things through, especially when aiming at me.I know that from experience.She just hasn’t thought anything like this through before, so she’ll be dead soon.”With that blunt announcement, he resumed studying the map himself.
Bearploltan crossed his great arms, Apolingo continued to stare at the map and Stalker sighed.
“Jo has no one with her, and as Bodie pointed out, she’s never had to deal with a situation of war. Without help of some sort, she will die.”
The healer shook his massive, bearlike head and spoke for the first time. “If she is captured and it’s discovered where she’s from, they will do the best they can to get information from her.If she didn’t have so many friends around this place, it might not be so bad, but she knows at least a little of everything that goes on here.”Here, Bearploltan paused and looked at each of them in turn.“If they only find out our names, daily work, and a basic sketch of life here, no one will see the next year as free citizens.We will all be dead or enslaved.”
Stalker glanced at the huntsman. “Thordvall?You know more of Dirkorin than we do.”
The giant man gripped the edge of the table and said slowly, “What Bearploltan says is true. I have never known of the warlord to be merciful.His affections for people are rare and deep seated, never are they directed at a conquered race.If he wins, we are all dead.”
They fell silent. Thordvall had come from one of lands Dirkorin had dominated, barely escaping alive.Under his thick hair, scars, tattoos and missing patches of skin bore witness of the warlord’s cruelty.
Motag glanced at the elders. “Do you think Jo will betray us?”
“No, but she may be forced into admitting something.” Thordvall put a hand on the young man’s shoulder.“She’s young, a young girl, not a warrior.He will do whatever he has to, to get her to speak.”
Bodangalas glared at the map. “But we still don’t know where she is!None of this solves our problem, only gives us the ability to prevent worse from happening.Again.It there ever going to be war I survive that we started?”
Stalker shrugged. “Who knows friend?Whatever we do, let’s keep peace within these walls.Fighting within them would kill us faster and more surely than Dirkorin could.”