[This post is from Matt’s point of view.]
The strangers reined up about twenty yards from them, arranged as they’d ridden—the three in front, the two behind, the last behind them. The outrider’s horse pranced a little, and the man—because it was a man but barely that—kept his head on a swivel even as he tried to hold his mount in check.
Matt tried to hide a frown. Once burned, twice shy? It would be a familiar feeling. His gaze went from the outrider back to the man who appeared to be the lead rider. He couldn’t see the other man’s face beyond the hood he wore, but he did see the glitter of dark eyes from the shadows. The lead rider was broad-shouldered, a sword strapped to his back and a rifle slung across his front. Matt had no doubt there were likely more weapons on the man than he could see.
He let the silence linger for a few seconds more, watching the riders as they watched him, Phelan, and Carolyn.
The lead rider drew himself a little taller, shifting in his saddle. It wasn’t as if he seemed uncomfortable under Matt’s eyes—no, it seemed that he was stretching his legs, resettling in case they were in for another long ride should they be turned away.
“We’re travelers,” the lead rider said, his voice a deep baritone, mellow and soothing, a type given to speech and song more than battle cries. “We ran afoul of some nastiness a few days back on the road north of here and we’ve been looking for a place to shelter since.”
“Nastiness,” Matt echoed, feeling his stomach twist back on itself. “What kind of nastiness?”
The lead rider glanced to the companions on his right and then his left before his gaze turned back to Matt again. “Seemed like outriders for something bigger. Not sure, but it reminded me of the army that wiped out a village a couple hundred miles east last year. Doubt it’s the same one.”
Oh. I don’t. Matt’s jaw tightened, not for the first time wishing Cameron was there. “How did you know where to find us?”
“We didn’t,” the lead rider said. “We’d heard about two settlements out this way. We just kept riding and hoped we’d find one.”
“One with a healer,” one of the two figures behind the lead rider muttered. Her voice was almost too quiet to hear, but Matt heard her all the same.
He glanced at Phelan, then at Carolyn. The grim set of their jaws told him enough—told him that they, at least, were mostly of the same mind as he. He nodded almost to himself, then turned his attention back to the riders.
“You’ll leave your weapons at the gate,” he said. “Your gear you keep. We’ll figure you out inside the walls. You’re not the only one who’s run afoul of nastiness lately.”
He turned to head back to the gate, waving for the riders to follow.