Making Out Like Bandits - 4


Previously:

Chapter 4

After the heat of the shared blankets, the morning air felt cool on Des's skin, but not biting, not cold. Just pleasantly cool. The sun was warm on her face.

She thought the swelling around her eye had gone down a bit, though she still couldn't open it. Certainly it hurt less.

Alone, she would have been in no hurry to climb back into her stiff, musty garments. In the company of her recent savior, she did so with her back turned, as quickly as she could.

"It might be that we can find something better nearby," Whisper said, a note of apology in her always soft, slightly silky voice.

"You think we'll run into a tailor who fled the war, whole shop in tow?"

"We might. Or there might be something else nearby that could help us."

"Are you seeing something?" Des asked. "Are we destined to find something?"

"I cannot tell if you mock me or not."

"I don't know what you're doing, to mock it in the first place," Des said. "How could I mock what I don't even understand?"

"Many manage," Whisper said. "But no, I cannot see even a hint of the outcome of events in which I have meddled. I may follow the path fate has laid out for me, or I may lay my own plans, but not both at the same time."

"I thought fate led you to me."

"It did," Whisper said. "But I liked not the look of the road beyond that point, so I plotted my own course for what is to come after, a long time ago."

"Would you care to clue me in?"

"Not yet," Whisper said. "I shouldn't get your hopes up until I know the state of my plan. Can you walk?"

"I'd like to try," Des said.

"Very well. We will be moving but slowly at first, in any event."

"You're that sure the danger's past?"

"I think it is likely we are moving out of the immediate dangers and into longer-term ones, such as how to survive in the wild," Whisper said. "I should still prefer to put as much distance between the opposing armies and ourselves as possible, as soon as it is possible to do so, but for the present we have a different goal."

"Can you at least tell me what that is?"

"Looking for something that was placed nearby once, and which may yet still be there."

"Or it may not," Des said. "Wonderful. Lead on."

Lead Whisper did. The previous day, Des had been sure they were following a definite, if invisible path. Very soon after they set out that morning, it became clearer. Little marked the narrow entrance to the winding canyon Whisper wended her way to. It was almost invisible except for one angle, and easy to overlook as an actual aperture even then.

"I hope this gets wider," Des said. Her lack of depth perception was making navigating the narrow confines a bit harder than it would have been, and it would have been no simple task under the best of circumstances.

Her already ragged clothes now bore several fresh rips and frays from glancing collisions with stray rock spurs, and the skin underneath wasn't doing much better in places.

"Assuming it has not been blocked off by an inconvenient rockfall, it should," Whisper said. "Very soon."

Des was not sure how her guide was maneuvering the cumbersome pack she wore on her back through the narrow gaps and around the tight corners, but neither it nor Whisper's fine green cloak ever seemed to snag on anything. Elves were said to be a bit magical.

Certainly much about Whisper would seem to confirm this. Des could see little of her from her rear vantage point, but there was something captivating about the way the cloak swirled and the figure beneath it twisted. The hawk-beaked hood was down, letting Whisper's spiky spray of auburn ringlets dance along with her.

Des found herself remembering the feel of Whisper's warm, brown skin pressed against hers in the dark of the night. With her attention focused on Whisper's back, she couldn't help but imagine what it would be like to be the "big spoon" in the arrangement, as Whisper would have it.

"Ah, that's better," Whisper said, slipping around a corner and out of sight as she did.

Des cried out in surprise, so quickly had she vanished from sight. The progress had been steady but slow up until that point, until, like a cork being worked out of the neck of a bottle, she had shot forward all at once.

"Are you alright, Des?" Whisper called back.

"Yeah, are you?"

"I am fine. The worst of it is over."

Des, rounding the corner behind her, had already put this together. The winding crevasse widened to something like a proper pass. Not the sort of thing you could drive an oxcart through, even if it had been open on both ends, but at its narrowest there would be room for two to walk abreast with their arms outstretched at their sides and hit neither each other nor the rock walls.

Des would have liked to take a moment to celebrate and catch her breath, but Whisper was already pressing on ahead.

The ground was choked with weeds and bushes in the patches where the most sunlight could slant down during the day, but clear if not exactly even in long stretches, and Des found she could keep up with Whisper's deliberate and cautious pace with a little effort.

She wouldn't have liked a sustained march of the speed and duration of their flight the day before, but having been so dependent upon a stranger and one-time enemy, she enjoyed the feeling of independence.

"It is quite nearby, or it was, I'm sure," Whisper said, surveying a wide, green spot in the narrow pass. "It has changed so much..."

"So you have actually traveled this way before," Des said.

"I told you I had occasion to visit the valley once before."

"You came in this way?"

"Out. I surveyed this trail, knowing I would one day walk it."

"And that was your plan, not fate's," Des said.

"Oh, we haven't quite left fate's road yet," Whisper said. "But two people, one wounded, wandering into the wilderness with nothing but a few scavenged supplies and the clothes on their back? One need not be a seer of any sort to see how that might end poorly."

"You buried a supply cache," Des said, laughing and shaking her head.

"A few of them," Whisper said. "I did not want us to be overly encumbered early on."

"But you didn't see yourself doing that, so you don't know how that part is going to turn out."

"Indeed. Nor can I see what will become of us as a result," Whisper said. Her gaze still swept the area around them. It froze on a weed-choked cairn of stones. "Are you well enough to help me shift some rocks, do you think?"

"Lady, if we can rest a bit first, I'll juggle them for you," Des said.

"That will not be necessary, but by all means, catch your breath."

Des sat down on a granite protrusion at the edge of the rocky hollow where they had stopped.

"You might have tucked some supplies away where we made camp the first night," she said.

"I had hoped we might make it this far before stopping," Whisper said.

"Your visions didn't show you otherwise?"

"They showed us camping down in the valley," Whisper said. "I pushed us onward farther and faster than we would have, absent my own intentions. I hoped to make it to my hidey hole before night and exhaustion overtook us."

"Sorry."

"It isn't as though you knew," Whisper said. "Or that you could have grown wings and flown, had you only the proper motivation. Nothing ill occurred as a result of our night on the slope."

"I suppose you're right," Des said. "Well, shall we see what we can find?"

"Let us," Whisper said. She extended her hand to Des, who accepted it and her assistance in rising to her feet. "I am hopeful. My stone markers have tumbled and shifted a bit, but they do not seem to have been disturbed by mortal hands."

Whisper had seemed strong enough, burying Des's weight in the valley and carrying most of the gear between them, but she seemed quite a bit daintier when it came to moving the stones.

Des wasn't about to complain about the work; she had quite literally not pulled her own weight the day before. Her own strength was not fully returned to her, but with a little leverage and a little dedication, she managed to move the stones aside, exposing the ground underneath.

"It does seem undisturbed," Whisper said, crouching down.

"Do we have a shovel?" Des said.

"We have no need of one."

Whisper put her hand palm up in front of her mouth and blew, like she was scattering puffweed seeds. The seemingly hard-packed earth scattered like dust, revealing a square of wooden planks, four feet on each side.

"You're more than a seer," Des said.

"It's a simple bit of elfcraft," Whisper said. "It was a bit tricky for me to set up, but easy enough to undo."

She touched the wooden lid in an unremarkable spot and it sort of bobbed up with a soft popping sound. She lifted it and moved it aside, revealing fresh clothes, clean linens, camping gear, water skins, a wine bottle, and...

"How long has that food been in there?" Des said, marveling at the bounty of fruits, vegetables, and even meat that appeared to fill one quarter of the crate.

"No time at all," Whisper said. "From the time I sealed the box until I opened it, no time transpired within it."

"Are we just going to leave the magic box buried here?"

"The magic, if you insist on terming it that, left when the seal was broken. It is a finely-made box. I do hate to leave it, but I can see no recourse. We shall, of course, bury it in a way that obscures its presence. It is my hope that no one seeking prey from the valley would find and follow our path out, but if they do, I would rather hide the most obvious traces of our passing."

"In that case, let me get changed and we can bury my clothes inside it," Des said. "I can't see the worth of taking them with us."

"That is a truly excellent idea," Whisper said. "I will take stock of our food supplies and select something for lunch while you do so."

(Continued)

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