[This post is from Phelan’s point of view.]
I was probably more harsh than I needed to be, Phelan reflected as he climbed the hill, the forge growing closer with each step. Sunshine slanted down through the trees that had grown old since the day he’d come to this place nearly nineteen years before. It was still strange to think of, how long it had been, how much had changed.
Some things, though, stayed the same. Families grew, but they still remained family.
He didn’t hear the sound of Matt’s hammer against the anvil as he grew closer and that made him frown. If Matt wasn’t working up there, then what was going on? His stomach sank. He’d expected this to be about Lin, about the boy’s encounter in the ravine. Something told him now that wasn’t going to be the case.
He ducked into the shadows of the forge, blinking slowly to let his eyes adjust. The space was dark and close but as clean as a forge could really be, lit by the embers of the firebox and a lantern hung on a chain from one of the ceiling’s beams. Matt stood near the anvil, forehead creased slightly in a frown, arms crossed against his leather apron. He glanced at Phelan as he entered, nodding slightly.
“That was faster than I expected,” Matt said quietly.
“He didn’t have very far to go to find me,” Phelan said, glancing toward the second figure that stood in the forge’s shadows, eyes finally adjusting enough to make out the features of his face. “Gilad? What are you doing here? I thought you were out on patrol.”
“The rest of them are,” Gilad said, scrubbing a hand over his face. “I came back to report. We decided it was best that it not wait until we finished our circle.”
“It would have been another week,” Matt said, clarifying the Huntsman’s timeline. The Wild Hunt ranged further and wider these days than they had almost two decades before when they’d settled in the Valley, though most stayed nearer to the home they’d created here—a welcome relief for a force that had spent centuries on the road. Gilad had ridden with them for longer than most, despite not looking like he was much older than twenty-five.
Phelan could empathize with him in many, many ways.
He glanced between the two men, his brow furrowing. “So what’s the report? What did you see?”
“Two caravans torn apart,” Gilad said quietly. “About four days’ ride south of here. The patrol diverted to check on New Hope. Orders were to send someone back after they did.”
Lara Duchnes was one of their earliest allies and had been the leader of the settlement at New Hope, roughly forty miles south down the lakeshore from the Valley. If something had happened there—
Don’t. Not yet. Phelan met Matt’s gaze, finding it as troubled as he knew his own was. He looked at Gilad again.
“What do we think did it? The caravans? What do we think hit them?”
“Nothing human,” Gilad said softly. “We all know what that means.”
“Aye,” Phelan said, stomach folding in on itself.
The peace is breaking. The seals are loose. They’re testing how far they can go, how strong those who would stand against them might be. The caravans are only the beginning—the camazotzi coming after Lin is an early warning.
It’s about to begin again and there’s nothing we can do to stop that this time.