With the knowledge that the rest of our crew expected to meet us in a town we could not yet reach, I was anxious. They would wait, but for how long before disbursing? What would happen with my belongings? I wouldn’t begrudge their sale, everyone must survive, but I didn’t relish the idea of recruiting nobility to my cause while dressed in clothes a drowned rat would turn his nose to.

Prevot, Emeline, explained her plan while she turned the hare she’d caught on a spit above the fire. She had our unblinking attention.

“Deeper into the bog. With all the rain, it can be dangerous, but what are a few leeches between friends? We simply have to check ourselves and each other. Snakes are another problem, but this isn’t the hatching season. And of course the untu’ik trees, but,” she hesitated. “we’ll avoid those where we can.”

“You don’t sound particularly confident,” Dumas said, frowning.

“I’ve never traveled with this many untrained feet,” she explained. “You don’t know what’s safe to touch or where to put your feet. Pietro barely managed ten feet. It will be slow.”

“There’s no faster route?” I asked. The grease in the hare bubbled and spat as it dripped into the flame. Tiago groaned softly.

“We could go back the way we came toward the rocky gorge, but we’ll save no time and we have no relationship with those peoples. I imagine they’re as territorial as mine.”

“On that subject,” Dumas interjected, “should we expect to intercept your relatives or relations?”

“Unlikely after this rain. Isn’t the season for it.”

“How many dry places are there along the route?” I asked.

“Assuming they’ve all been maintained, we should find one within a day’s travel. They’re spaced as much on purpose as we could manage.”

Dumas shook her head while Prevot skillfully removed the hare from the spit and started slicing and laying out pieces of meat to cool.

“Captain?” I urged.

“Too many variables,” she explained, putting up fingers. “We have one guide. The territory isn’t only unfamiliar, but very dangerous. Landings are not guaranteed. Food is in short supply. No one knows where to look for us.” She bobbed her head toward Tiago to include him in her list.

“What other choice do we have for crossing, Captain? We cannot wait months, and at least we do have a guide.” I pointed out. I kept the desperation from my voice, I was almost sure. There was no part of me that wanted to travel through this swampland and I was happy to accept any reasonable alternative. Prevot shot me a glance. Dumas shook her head ruefully and accepted her portion of hare with a word of thanks.

We were silent except for chewing and the sounds of a mouth encountering too warm a bite. The hare was reduced to bones, which Prevot went about separating and stacking by the wall.

“Very well,” I said. “Prevot will lead. Tiago, then myself, Dumas, Ele, and Vana. I ask that we receive some rudimentary explanation of our route and things to avoid.”

“And how to manage them when they’re encountered anyway,” Vana added sensibly. “I know snakes, but not most of these and I’ve never heard of your untu’ik trees.”

Prevot winced and hid it with a wry smile. “Acceptable terms. We will need to spend one more night here. I’ll take Vana and show her what I can while we hunt down more food, and then I’ll teach you in a couple of hours what I learned throughout my first two decades.” She stood smoothly and waved for Vana to follow.

I looked at Dumas and Ele, my nerves showing.

Ele was checking the seams of her equipment bag, but shrugged and said, “Look, if we die, maybe it won’t be painful and our responsibilities are on the shoulders of others. But if we live,” she grinned wickedly, “we get to tell the tallest of tales.”

“I’m not very tall,” Tiago pointed out, “but I expect that should only enhance the height of my stories. Would someone be so good as to explain to me a leech?”

May 17, 2021

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