We were late starting off the next day.
I awoke to the sound of a great crash outside our rude shelter. I sat up, instantly awake. The Attolian was already on his feet and moving as I reached for my knife. I wished desperately for the protection of a cave, but there were none to be had along this particular part of the trail we followed. We were out in the open, so naturally fate had decreed that this would be the day that we were discovered.
I crouched by the entrance, waiting, for there was no way of escape, but it was already quiet again outside. Surely the Attolian could not have dispatched whoever it was so swiftly. Unless, of course, they had overpowered him.
"It's all right!" the Attolian shouted, and a second later poked his head in through the entrance. "Kamet, it's all right. It's just a goat," he said, voice fortunately lower now.
He was right there, in front of me, alive and safe and it was just a goat. Relief washed over me. Relief, and memory of the last time we had been so close together and face to face. I scrambled to my feet and moved far enough away from him that I could speak without betraying myself.
"Good," I said. "That's… good."
The Attolian came properly into the shelter, and reached for his bow. "I'm going hunting."
"Don't be too long at it, if you can help it," I said. I did not want to lose another day's travel in the cause of food. Not when the other side of the mountains was almost in sight.
"If I don't bag it quickly, I'll come back without it," he assured me.
And then he was gone.
I made the fire and sat on a flat rock beside it. I let my mind wander as I stared into the flames. I wondered what was going on in the world outside the mountains. Soon, all too soon, I would find out—assuming that the Attolian did not spend hours in pursuit of the interloping goat.
But he was as good as his word. Before much more than an hour had passed, he returned with the goat slung over his broad shoulder.
I kept my eyes firmly on the goat.
We had a good breakfast that day, the best that we had had since we had commenced our journey through the mountains. We cooked and ate what we could of the goat's meat, leaving the remainder of the cooked meat to rest and the juices to drain from it before we wrapped it.
We left the rest of the carcass some little distance from the campsite, and covered it in rocks, trying to make the pile look haphazard rather than a carefully constructed cairn. This time, the Attolian tore down our shelter before we departed. He had seemed unconcerned once he had discovered that our intruder was only a goat, but perhaps he too was thinking of how easily our campsite could have been discovered by anyone purposely searching for us.
It was still well before noon when we set off. From that point on, the day unfolded much as the day before, minus the painful conversation. In truth, very few words passed between us at all, until the track curved down and around the mountainside, and we both stopped in our tracks.
Spread out below us were the green slopes and plains of Zaboar, and beyond them the blue of the Shallow Sea. The end of our journey was in sight, quite literally.
We stopped a little further down the slope for our noonday meal. As on that very first day, in the lower slopes on the other side of the Taymets, we sat in the shade beneath a tree as we ate. This time, the tree was leafier and more verdant, and its great boughs spread out in a canopy above us, though I still did not know what sort of tree it was.
I would really need to see to filling the gap where my knowledge of botany should be, when I got to… wherever it was that I was going. We would part soon, the Attolian and I. It was not just the end of our journey through the mountains that was in sight.
That fist in my chest closed again around my heart. I had hoped that I had banished it after our exchange of words the previous day, but it seemed that I must carry it with me yet.
The Attolian touched my arm, and I jumped. I turned to find that he had drunk his fill and was now offering me the waterskin. I took it, for it was now too late to retrieve the other waterskin for myself, as I had intended. I placed my lips where the leather was still damp, no doubt in the place where the Attolian's own lips had been just a moment ago, and I threw back my head and drank as the fist clenched tighter around my heart.
It was all downhill from there, in every sense. We worked our way carefully down steep inclines, and picked up speed as we reached the lower slopes and at last the track widened out enough that we could walk side by side. I no longer had the opportunity even to avoid looking at the Attolian's back.
I told myself it was what I wanted.
When we climbed over a low stone wall and into a grove of olives the next morning, it was as if our journey through the Taymets, and everything that had occurred during that time, had never been.